Sunday, November 20, 2011


Poison Study (Study, #1) - Maria V. Snyder
Genre: Alternate/Fantasy
# of pages: 409 (pb)
Publisher: MIRA
Recommended for: Upper HS & Beyond

About to be executed for murder, Yelena is offered an extraordinary reprieve. She'll eat the best meals, have rooms in the palace-- and risk assassination by anyone trying to kill the Commander of Ixia. And so Yelena chooses to become a food taster. But the chief of security, leaving nothing to chance, deliberately feeds her Butterfly's Dust and only by appearing for her daily antidote will she delay an agonizing death from the poison. As Yelena tries to escape her new dilemma, disasters keep mounting. Rebels plot to seize Ixia and Yelena develops magical powers she can't control. Her life is threatened again and choices must be made. But this time the outcomes aren't so clear....


Finally I can add my name to the long list of YA bloggers who have read and reviewed Poison Study, which is one of the few high fantasy novels in the genre. It definitely came highly recommended, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this first book in the Study trilogy. I'm a big fan of high fantasy, although this book really seemed to push the envelope as far as a "high fantasy" label is concerned. For one thing, I was never able to figure out what time-period Snyder's world took place in - the country of Ixia seemed like a conglomeration of a medieval setting and a Cold War-era setting. I tend to favor more traditional-style fantasies (and some of the technologies in here seemed anachronistic, even if the storyworld is ultimately made up), but the further I delved into the story, the more I warmed up to Snyder's world. Ixia and its military divisions certainly was interesting, but the Commander reminded me of a Soviet Premier, and the world Yelena lived in reminded me of a medieval/1960s Communist society (which, I guess, would make Valek a KGB member).

I absolutely commend Snyder on creating likable, well-rounded characters all across the board. Every character in Poison Study has a purpose and a secret motivation. And out of all the many female leads I've read since I dived into YA fiction two years ago, Yelena stands out as one of my favorites. Why? Because she's not a perfect, kick-ass, take-no-prisoners type of character. She begins the novel as an extremely broken and desperate girl incapable of defending herself. Her change is slow and gradual, and that makes her more cheer-worthy. Like I said, the supporting characters - particularly Janko and Ari - were entertaining and brought a certain spunk to the story. On the subject of everybody's main character (it seems), Valek, I'm somewhat divided. On one hand, he was 100% entertaining in every one of his scenes, but on the other hand... I'm not really sure that there's anything particularly special about him. There's a lot that's special about Yelena, but Valek seems like YA's stereotypical "hunk with spunk" character. Not that there's anything wrong with that, does get a bit old. You know that they're going to end up together eventually. What I never appreciate is when a story's love interest tries - at any time - to cause physical harm to the person he ends up "falling in love" with. I mean, seriously? For most of the story's duration, Valek gives off the impression of being ambivalent to Yelena's safety or well-being. And call me old-fashioned, but that just doesn't say "sexy" to me.

The premise of Poison Study seemed riveting to me: food testing, poisons, political intrigue...oh my. The only thing is, there wasn't a whole lot of poison study...the studying of poisons. I was under the impression that most of the book would be spent on Yelena learning the tools of her trade, but she was trained and ready to go in just under 100 pages. The rest of the novel focused on spy stuff and the aforementioned political intrigue. I guess that stuff just isn't for me.
One thing I didn't really care for was the inclusion of magic in the story. It may seem like a strange complaint for a fantasy novel, but I just felt like adding magic into the mix made the story seem too "busy." There was enough plot going on to keep Yelena busy without adding magic, which seemed too convenient and was never explained efficiently. I know that stuff will be explored more in the sequel - Magic Study - but I'm not interested enough to pursue it. And I guess that's the only real complaint I have with this otherwise stellar novel. Poison Study started out just riveting, but the last half was just "meh" for me. The plot got more complicated, but in a muddled, overly dramatic sort of way, and I'm sorry to say that I ended up rightly guessing 1) who the bad guy was, 2) the Criollo "mystery" and 3) how the novel would end. And some things were just downright weird. The thing with the Commander...I cannot comprehend in what universe that particular plot revelation would go over well. It was so out of place with a fantasy novel and serves as an example of what happens when an author abandons all reason and goes for shock factor.

So...Poison Study was a fun novel and I'm glad I read it. But I don't feel drawn to any of the sequels, especially since I've seen so many reviews that say that the series goes downhill. I agree that it's pretty mature for the YA*** category, so I'd suggest this book to older high school readers only.

**While Poison Study was not initially meant to be a Young Adult book (the main character, Yelena, is 19 and Valek is in his 30s), it seems to be marketed as one. I do want to make the point that I know Poison Study isn't an actual YA book, but that it is often grouped into YA lit for some reason


Sunday, November 6, 2011


Daughter of Smoke & Bone - Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown (Hachette)
September 27, 2011
Daughter of Smoke & Bone @ Parental Book Reviews

One of the only times I've been able to venture out into the blogosphere this fall was to write my incomplete review/thoughts of Laini Taylor's newest book.
I've been finished with it for over about a month, and just going off the top of my head, all that comes to mind is "WOW."

I've been in a reading slump for...basically this whole year. A couple of gems have crossed my path, including Jellicoe Road, Divergent and Unwind, but most of the books I've read lately haven't left much of an impression.
This was the kind of book, though, that made reading *fun* again. I felt completely grossed in the story and constantly wondered what would happen next. I haven't felt this excited about a book in a long while.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone has quite a few strengths, and the first thing I should mention is Laini Taylor's exquisite writing style. Her prose is lovely, but it's also intimidating, and apart from making me feel just a tad inadequate about my own writing abilities, it was as close to a perfect experience as I can imagine. There was an underlying simplicity to it that, in actuality, is probably really hard to accomplish. But she makes it all seem so effortless.

As far as the story goes...WOW again. Look, I've read more than my fair share of angel books over the years. In fact, I try and stay as far away from angels in YA as I can. But I've never encountered a book that made the antithesis of angels - demons - so prominent. As an aside, I liked that the so-called "demons" were referred to as chimaera. So how to describe the setup of this story? I would hate to compare it to Romeo and Juliet because, as I've said before, I think Romeo and Juliet is one of the least romantic, pathos-heavy stories out there (but not West Side Story, which is one of the thoroughly *coolest* stories). But sure enough, there's a star-crossed love story featuring an angel and a chimaera, set against the backdrop of an otherworldly war. Akiva wasn't your typical YA love interest-useless-studmuffin, but he wasn't your (also typical) YA love interest-angry-jerk, either. And for the most part, I thought Karou was a lovely main character. A nice combination of strong/independent, but vulnerable/humble as well. I'd have to say, though, that my favorite character was good old Brimstone. Too bad we don't get to see that much of him. :/

The concept of teeth & wishes (won't elaborate further) was so ingenious and original, I marvel at how Laini came up with it all. And probably my favorite aspect of the story is, once again, something that will most likely go unmentioned in other reviews: Laini's fantasy universe is so brilliant because of her ability to make it all seem so realistic. I'm often distracted by fictional place-names that *sound* too fictional. But some of her places within that otherworldly universe - Loramendi, Astrae - sounded like they could be actual places. Also, the basic languages of the angels and the chimaera didn't sound particularly "made-up" either. That is something that is really hard to do - take a 100% fictional idea and make it sound like it could *actually* be real.
So yeah, it was a little thing, but it was a little thing that made all the difference to me.

There were really only two things about Daughter that I didn't find enjoyable, and I'm just going to mention them briefly. #1 - the first two chapters of this book could have been omitted, in my opinion. Daughter transforms into more of a fantasy, but the opening chapters read like your average paranormal: we see Karou deal with her loser ex-boyfriend, we hear her internal thoughts about all the regrets she has over said ex-boyfriend, Karou goes through a couple days as a "normal" teenager as an art school student, Karou and an almost-stereotypical "best friend" character wander around Prague discussing various really seemed like I was reading two stories packed into one. What I'm trying to say is that there were parts in the beginning of Daughter that I found unnecessary because it just seemed so average. Karou is such a butt-kickingly cool character, and the world of the angels-chimaera and the mysteries of Brimstone's teeth shop are so EXHILARATING that I didn't need that averageness. I don't want Karou to be "just like everybody else" because she's not! But once I got about 50 pages in, then things started looking up and changed for the better. Also, Kazimir - Karou's loser ex-boyfriend - was completely unnecessary. He added absolutely nothing to the story, and in my opinion, he even hindered it, because he made me wonder, "If Karou is so smart and resourceful and she lives with a FREAKING demon-"Godfather"esque Brimstone, why in he world would she get sidetracked by this idiot? She must not be so smart after all!"
Anyway, besides that...I didn't particularly like the ending. The last "big reveal" about Akiva just had me shaking my head, muttering, "Oh gee wiz." After such an amazing read, the ending bordered on "melodramatic" and makes me a little apprehensive about the direction of the sequel.

So...going by just the story alone, Daughter of Smoke and Bone would get a nice 4/5 from me. But Laini's beautiful-but-unpretentious prose, coupled with her extraordinary creativity and sheer originality bolstered the rating to a 5/5. For more mature readers, this is DEFINITELY a book I can recommend! Just skim over the first 40 or so pages :)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My Mailbox [17]

This mailbox post goes all the way back to August. :)

So...the last thing I need is more books, but I've accumulated a few since August -
This Dark Endeavor - Kenneth Oppel
The Son of Neptune (Heroes of Olympus, #2) - Rick Riordan
Witchlanders - Lena Coakley
The Faerie Ring - Kiki Hamilton
In the Forests of the Night (Goblin Wars, #2) - Kersten Hamilton
Bruiser - Neal Shusterman
Heist Society (Heist Society, #1) - Ally Carter
Uncommon Criminals (Heist Society, #2) - Ally Carter
Circle of Fire (Prophecy of the Sisters, #3) - Michelle Zink

Yay! Now if only I could read faster and get through all of that...
No more buying books till Christmas :)
And more books till ALA! :)
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