Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere, #2) - Melina Marchetta
Genre: Fantasy 
Publisher: Candlewick 
Source: ALA Midwinter 
(note: the reviewer is way more enthusiastic than I am in in this post, and while I do not agree at all with her opinion of the novel or its 'educational value' and 'characters as role models,' I do agree that her content assessments are accurate)

This review is written to be a continuation of the previous post, which was a review of Finnikin of the Rock, the previous novel in this series. I wasn't even going to post this "review" on my site, because I don't usually take the tone that I'm about to take, but I do want to go on the record and not beat around the bush about my feelings...

Admission: I only read the first 100 or so pages when I wrote this review. That is all I needed to read in order to fully decide how I felt about this particular installment, given that I already trudged through the first book, and Froi of the Exiles is nothing but the second verse of the same old song. 
I don't think I will ever finish this, and it's because I don't want to join the ranks of all the other delusional readers out there who think that characters like this are okay. Maybe I just have a problem with this book existing. After all, the "beloved" main character is a guy who tried to force himself on someone in the first book. How dare we try and tell teenagers that that behavior is acceptable, or even redeemable. I want no part of it. I don't have to answer for anyone's behavior but my own, and I don't want to be "enlightened" enough to ever think that these characters - most of whom are absolutely scum-of-the-earth disgusting, are good or heroic. It's too bad that this is what fantasy has become - there's no goodness, integrity, or decency anymore. All characters are soot-stained and all feed into this concept of moral relativism that our society just loves to perpetuate. Literature ought to build us up and inspire us to be better than what we are, not remind us all how flawed and mediocre we all are.

And as weird as it sounds, considering that Jellicoe Road WAS the closest thing to a favorite novel that I have, I will not likely be picking up any more of Melina Marchetta's books. As I said in my Finnikin review, I just don't have any energy to spend on any more characters either as 1. seriously broken or 2. morally ambiguous as she likes to write. It's my perception that there's this feeling among YA readers that if a book isn't seriously complicated or morally ambiguous, it's not worth reading. As far as literature goes, it makes me wish that I could go back in time and read The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Prydain and the Redwall books again for the first time, because they have yet to be matched by anything modern literature has produced. As skilled a writer as Marchetta is (and she definitely has a way with words), her characters Finnikin and Froi are utterly laughable when placed next to such others as Aragorn, Faramir, Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, and a host of swashbuckling, sword-wielding mice. That's my disappointment with Marchetta's novels: the characters she creates. Forget Froi. Give me more Reepicheep. And as popular as this modern fantasy series is, it'll never outsell the Lord of the Rings series. Ever.

Anyway...what else can I say? I like my fantasy stories more in the tradition of Tolkien, Lewis and Alexander. I like my characters to have integrity and act with honor, and therefore I guess this is where Marchetta and I part ways. 

In short, I do not recommend the Lumatere Chronicles to anyone but adult fantasy buffs. I would never, ever suggest these books to young adults - I'd be concerned that it would look like I was condoning or dismissing the behavior of the "heroes" in this series.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

review: FINNIKIN OF THE ROCK, or why I won't read Melina Marchetta anymore

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere #1) - Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Candlewick
Recommended for: Adults Only (in what I can only describe as a complete travesty, this book is marketed to Young Adults. I severely object to this book - and its sequel - being labeled 'YA' anywhere or by anyone)
At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh to save his kingdom. He stands on the rock of the three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar's cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to safeguard Lumatere.

But all safety is shattered during the five days of the unspeakable, when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An impostor seizes the throne, a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere's walls, and those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

Ten years later, Finnikin is summoned to another rock—to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, heir to the throne of Lumatere, is alive. This arrogant young woman claims she'll lead Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, to the prince. Instead, her leadership points them perilously toward home. Does Finnikin dare believe that Lumatere might one day rise united? Evanjalin is not what she seems, and the startling truth will test Finnikin's faith not only in her but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.


I originally wasn't going to put this review here, because it is less of a 'review' and more of a rant. But I'm trying to move all my reviews from Goodreads over to my blog, so here it goes.
Even though she wrote one of my favorite novels, Jellicoe Road, I really don't care for Melina Marchetta. And it's because of this series, the Lumatere Chronicles, the foray of a mostly contemporary Australian author into epic fantasy. Readers, if this is what constitutes a modern fantasy, then I really need a time machine so I can go back to the '50s and hang out with men who really know how to write fantasies: Tolkien, Alexander, and Lewis. Even Philip Pullman (whose His Dark Materials are not exactly 'fantasies') seems decent compared to this.
And once again, it's frustrating because I'm definitely in the minority on this one. If you know me, you can probably guess why I didn't like this book. I'll be brief and just sum it up in one word: protagonist. Yes, the main character, Finnikin, that everybody loves to drool over, was the worst part of the book for me. I mean, he was just a disgusting character. I really would like to know how readers (especially girls) can get through this book and rate it 5 stars. It completely escapes me. I guess I like my heroes to respect women. And when I say 'respect women,' I mean not seeing them as objects of gratification. Without dropping a spoiler, and without wanting to get into it, because it's just downright disgusting, I will say that what Finnikin does in this novel is something you would never EVER see a character in Tolkien's universe commit. And frankly, I don't think young readers ought to be subjected to such behavior on part of the hero. I think it might confuse them or give off the message (as Marchetta no doubt gave off to me, a grown woman) that the behavior in question is no big deal and something that ought not warrant any thought. But hey, as long as girls are okay with it, and continue to excuse it, I guess it's not really a big deal, right?
And reading an advance copy of Froi of the Exiles has made me's not just Finnikin. I didn't like anybody in this novel, except for Evanjalin, and even she annoyed me at times. Girls in fantasies fall into usual tropes: either they're damsels in distress, old crones, or scheming, conniving shrews (Evanjalin!) I hate to say it, but I'm noticing a pattern with Marchetta's books: broken characters can always be redeemed, so she seems to say. And call me what you will (view spoiler), but I don't agree with that philosophy - at least, not in books. To me, there is such a thing as making characters too 'screwed up' to the point of being past redemption. Finnikin and Froi were too 'icky' for my taste.
And yes, having a character (the illustrious and heroic 'Froi') attempt to rape a character in one novel, only to wind up as the misunderstood but no less heroic protagonist in the sequel, is what I would call 'icky.' It's the kind of characterization I expect to see in a George R.R. Martin novel; Martin can get away with it, though, because he's not shoving his work at kids. can I say that Jellicoe Road is the closest thing I have to a favorite novel, when I'm not even sure that I like Melina Marchetta? Don't get me wrong, she's a fabulous writer with an incredible and thoughtful eye for detail, but as far as a storyteller, I'm finding that the more of her novels I read, the more dissatisfied I become. Why does everything have to be so complex? Why do all her characters have to be so depressingly broken?
I've already severed all reading ties with Cinda Williams Chima, and I might have to do the same with Melina Marchetta...

Mostly, I just don't think modern authors know how to write good fantasies. The two most popular YA fantasies - at least on Goodreads - seems to be this book and Graceling, both of which are products of modern authors with highly worldly and progressive messages set in completely nihilistic universes with characters that Nietzsche himself might like. 
In the fantasy genre, there is something to be said for traditional-style storytelling. Look at C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, and J.R.R. Tolkien. All of their fantasy novels featured characters with integrity and a moral code. It's disillusioning to me that integrity is no longer required in a fantasy hero or heroine...

This is one such book that I recommend to no one, but I think that some adults might be impressed with Marchetta's fantasy universe, doom-and-gloom as it is.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


This Dark Endeavor - Kenneth Oppel
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Gothic Horror
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
# of pages: 298 (hb)
Recommended for: High School & Beyond  

In this prequel to Mary Shelley's gothic classic, Frankenstein, sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein begins a dark journey that will change his life forever. Victor's twin, Konrad, has fallen ill, and no doctor can cure him. Unwilling to give up on his brother, Victor enlists his beautiful cousin Elizabeth and his best friend, Henry, on a treacherous search for the ingredients to create the forbidden Elixir of Life. Impossible odds, dangerous alchemy, and a bitter love triangle threaten their quest at every turn.Victor knows he must not fail. But his success depends on how far he is willing to push the boundaries of nature, science, and love ? and how much he is willing to sacrifice?

This Dark Endeavor is an incredible book! I don't know where Kenneth Oppel got the idea to write a prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein starring a teenage version of the eponymous character, but what an ingenious idea!

Truth be told, I never had read Frankenstein in school. My class was on a different track and I had a teacher who made the famous declaration to our class that he'd rather teach 'that Dumas man' than teach Frankenstein. Basically, my knowledge of the source material has come from Kenneth Branagh's film version, and Mel Brooks.

Still, even I could recognize the level of detail, skill and panache that Kenneth Oppel put into this fascinating novel. And for those of you who did read Frankenstein, have you ever wondered what might have happened to make Victor Frankenstein the man who actually dared to create life? Here, it's simple: Victor has a brilliant, charismatic and practically perfect twin brother, Konrad. Light to his shadow, and all that. I think this may be the only major divergence between the real Frankenstein and this adaptation - I don't recall a twin character in the original novel, but then again, I never read the original. When Konrad falls ill with a rare condition, Victor takes it upon himself to find a cure, believing that practical science has failed. His course of study is the dark arts of alchemy - the first of many such introductions into dark and creepy arts. Joining him in his "studies" are his cousin, Elizabeth Lavenza (yes, *the* Elizabeth Lavenza and best friend Henry Clerval (and don't we know what fate eventually has in store for them!)
I loved the way Oppel chose to portray Victor. It must have been hard to try and make one of literature's most megalomaniac characters into a sympathetic boy, eager-to-please and desperate for attention. I actually liked the guy! It was easy to root for him in his endeavors (dark and twisty as they were) and I found myself even making excuses for him on several occasions. Even though you know, ultimately, that Victor Frankenstein is a completely doomed character, I still wanted him to succeed. Let me clarify that at this point in Victor's life, he's only interested in successfully making an Elixir of Life for his sick brother - not creating the Boris Karloff creature...
Hats off to Kenneth Oppel for making me care about a character I never thought I could admire. And I loved seeing Victor gradually become more and more twisted, more aggressive, more desperate, and *still* remain sympathetic. I guess I'm drawn to characters with delusions of grandeur who want to prove their worth. Those must be the characters that leave an impression on me. :)

This Dark Endeavor was simply unputdownable, and I rarely say that. My little ADD-self can put down the most thoroughly interesting of books, too, so that should say something to this novel's overwhelming power of intrigue. If you haven't yet, I highly recommend picking up this novel. It clocks in at slightly under 300 pages, so it would be a quick read. And like I said, it's practically unputdownable!

Monday, March 12, 2012

an update

Greetings, fellow padawans! 
(okay, okay, so that is totally geeky, but I couldn't resist)
So...the job is going really well and so far I've been able to keep up with my reading.
This is a cute random bookish picture

I haven't posted any of my reviews on here because the majority of books I've read recently have been ARCs, and I'm not sure if there would be any interest in reading my ARC reviews before the books are actually out. I've read Enchanted (Kontis), Shadow and Bone (Bardugo), Masque of the Red Death (Griffin), When the Sea is Rising Red (Hellison - but I skimmed through this one) and This Dark Endeavor (Oppel). Unfortunately, with the exception of This Dark Endeavor (which I absolutely loved), I disliked all the others and when I finally do get around to posting the reviews, they won't be all that praise-worthy. Wanted to just get that confession out of the way. 

Due to these less-than-stellar experiences, I've dubbed 2012 the Year of the Re-Reads. I'm going through some of my favorite books, as well as books I haven't read for years, and reading them again. I'm giving myself all year to get through Lord of the Rings, and I've already finished reading through the five books of the Chronicles of Prydain series. 
What's next? Probably re-read the Harry Potter series at some point (it's been since 2009 since I've read those) and...I want to re-read Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Have any of you all read that? 
It was part of our required reading in middle school, and at the time I thought it was 'okay.' But now that a movie version is in production, I'd like to read through it again and figure out who's who. All I remember is that Peter is a sick SOB and Mazer is cool. And something about xenocide. Anyhoo.

In other news, I've decided that I'm interested in sci-fi. I'm about to start Across the Universe and A Million Suns by Beth Revis, whom I hear is the newest popular YA sci-fi author. 

And by the way...has anybody seen Martin Scorsese's Hugo, adapted from The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick? I don't even remember this movie being marketed back in the fall (unlike the frickin headache that is The Hunger Games - I see that stupid preview multiple times a day!). 
But when I watched the Academy Awards a few weeks ago, they said that this was the most nominated film of the year. Naturally, a Martin Scorsese movie that does not contain the 'F' word piqued my curiosity. And let me tell you, this is now my #1 favorite movie ever, tied with the Lord of the Rings films. IT IS THAT GOOD! The only thing I would've liked is for them to keep the whole title - calling it "Hugo" made me think it was a biopic for Victor Hugo or something. LOL - would've still seen that movie, too!
I gotta tell you, set aside whatever book you're reading right now and watch this movie! It is AH-MAZING!

Peace out padawans,

Monday, March 5, 2012

Review - BRUISER

Bruiser - Neal Shusterman
Genre: YA Contemporary plus Paranormal
# of pages:
Recommended for: Everyone

"There’s a reason why Brewster can’t have friends – why he can’t care about too many people. Because when he cares about you, things start to happen. Impossible things that can’t be explained. I know, because they're happening to me."

When Brontë starts dating Brewster “Bruiser” Rawlins – the guy voted “Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty” her twin brother, Tennyson, isn’t surprised. But then strange things begin to occur. Tennyson and Brontë’s scrapes heal unnaturally fast, and cuts disappear before their eyes. What at first seems like their good fortune turns out to be more than they bargained for…much more.
 Bruiser is the second Neal Shusterman book I've read, and I enjoyed it just as much as when I read Unwind this past summer. I think the main thing about Neal Shusterman that I like is his writing style. He has a way of saying everything that needs to be said in a quick, simple and efficient way. I always knew just enough about the characters' thoughts and motives to get me through what was happening, but he didn't let me in on everything, if that makes sense. Just like with real people, you can't always know what they're thinking or what makes them tick. Shusterman gives just enough to help readers navigate the story, but there's always an enigmatic quality that I think is special.

And while Unwind was a solid dystopian, I don't really know that Bruiser fits into an easily-defined category. I guess magical realism wouldn't be a completely accurate label, but the whole premise revolves around something definitely supernatural and wholly thought-provoking: a boy who literally takes on the pains of people close to him. And so the story is told from the points-of-view of multiple characters, including Brewster - called "Bruiser," and the siblings Tennyson and Bronte, who literally invite themselves into Brewster's powerful but complicated world. As an aside, I'm normally very distracted by weird names, but in this book they seemed to have a real purpose. I have to say that Shusterman has a gift for creating lovable but complex characters who reveal themselves to be more than what they seem. However, I didn't always like Bronte, Brewster's girlfriend. She's the kind of character who's outwardly perfect and upright but who harbors the ability to be extremely egotistical. As the novel grew more complex, I found myself very put-off by some of her actions. I was appalled, but I also figured that Shusterman was angling for that reaction. And to be honest, I kind of liked that part of the story. I liked how easy it was to place one person's happiness above the welfare of another. I liked seeing that kind of tension and I liked seeing the characters realize the magnitude of what they'd done. Now THAT is how to create tension in a novel! My favorite character, though, would have to be Tennyson. In my opinion, he seemed to be the most misunderstood character and underwent the greatest character evolution.

I could go on an on about the brilliant qualities of this book. Not a single sentence was out of place (though I still don't like the present-tense writing style or the multiple shifts in narration) and every scene built up to an explosive finale. And the ending was satisfying but also open-ended.

I'm definitely proud of our Texas librarians who picked Bruiser to be a Lone Star book for this year. It's the perfect book I'd recommend to teen readers because it has all the elements needed in a true winner: there's action, there's suspense and sometimes even extreme tension, there's a sweet, simple romance, there's manipulation, there's heartache, and there's just a little bit of the unexplainable. Ahh, Bruiser is without a doubt one of the most memorable novels I've ever read.
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