Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Review: Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

Who likes the paranormal? Graphic novels, anyone? I know I'm nodding my head enthusiastically for both of these, particularly the latter, but what about you? Yes? Then I have the review for you.

Spunky, sarcastic Anya, being a native Russian now living in the U.S., has found that acting "normal" is the way you survive in an average high school. She's done everything she can-- getting rid of her accent, finding things to wear that aren't from Goodwill, avoiding certain...people. Like Dima. Dima, a fellow classmate and Russian, is the small, skinny, bespectacled "nerd" (who commonly gets picked on because of this), and with him trying to follow you around, even if he does need someone else to relate to, doesn't make Anya's goal of being an average kid that easy. Not only that, but her only friend doesn't seem to know "being funny" from "making fun" too well. 

Well, that is, until Emily comes along.

Emily seems nice enough. She even helps Anya in school. They soon become good friends. There are a few teensy problems, though. Like how she can't touch anything on her own. Or that Emily can fly. And pass through walls. Like the fact that, well, Emily's been dead for the what, past century or so?

Okay, back up. If Anya hadn't accidentally fallen into the cemetery well on a detour on her way to school, this book wouldn't have any plot. She also wouldn't have found a skeleton waiting for her at the bottom. Guess what? As if she wasn't creeped out enough, it turns out that skeleton isn't as dead as she thinks.

But we know better. So when the dust settles, what she isn't expecting to find is her new best friend--and future worst enemy.

Although, they don't exactly hit it off at first. In fact, Anya wants nothing to do with her new ghostly host. Her main priority is to get out of the dark, creepy well and get home to resume her normal life, which does not include Emily. And, once she is finally lifted up and out and back home, that's exactly what she expects. 

She knows (Emily herself told her) that ghosts can't get away from their bones; they're kind of "bound" to them. And as far as she knows, Emily's skeleton is still resting in peace at the bottom of the well.

But when it turns out that she accidentally took some of Emily with her, Anya's life is about to get a lot more...well, interesting. At first, Emily uses her skills to help Anya in school with tests (the ultimate shrinkable friend), and to aid Anya in winning over her crush, Emily being a bit oblivious the fact that he already has a girlfriend. For once, things in Anya's life are looking up.

Unfortunately, Emily isn't all she seems. Soon, everything about her comes into the light--the life she lived, the motives she holds, the lies she's told and the grudges she's held surrounding her death. Anya knows she needs to stop Emily before she gets out of control, but is she already too late?

Okay, this is an amazing book. Not only do I like the story and the characters, good and bad, but it offers something else that you can't get out of a normal book that I absolutely adore: the artwork. Vera Brosgol's style is bold, simple, Scott-Pilgrim-ish, but still appealing and unique. It has a nice texture (I can't put it a much better way; yes, I know it sounds weird) and feel to it that's smooth, flowy, and fun to just look at. The artwork is more than half the reason I read these graphic novels/manga. Sure, the story can be great, but a style I really don't like will make the reading--let's just say not very fun. In the case that I do like the style, I hoard the book as long as I can (sorry, public library system) and study the drawings and try to imitate them. Good art can sometimes almost make up for a bad storyline. Fortunately, Anya's Ghost doesn't even need the backup.  :)

Read and enjoyed Friends With Boys? If so, you'll almost fool-proof love this like I did. If you didn't? Read it after this one. It's just as good. And they'll both take you on a wonderful high-school-supernatural ride.

Five stars

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordian

Okay, let's recap. Percy, Hazel and Frank have gone on the quest to Alaska. That's done. But the Prophecy of Seven is far from over. This one in particular is very deeply layered. We already know six of the seven heroes: the aforementioned three, plus Jason, Leo and Piper. It turns out that the last demigod plays a more vital part in this quest to stop Gaea from awakening thank even she knows.

But for now, Annabeth has almost been worried out of her mind looking for Percy for an entire half a year, and finally she is able to reunite with him after the Argo II (the Greek trireme/warship that travels by both air and sea, built by none other than Leo Valdez, which he doesn't get nearly enough credit for) descends on Camp Jupiter, with her and the original trio from the Lost Hero of Jason, Piper and Leo.

But even though they came in peace, Romans can be known for attacking anything dangerous-looking on sight, and the Argo II does not exactly look friendly, considering the Greek ballistae, a martial-arts-obsessed satyr with a violent streak (and a vicious baseball bat) on board, and a steaming, smoking dragon figurehead (none other than Festus) that can shoot fireballs at an opposing enemy. Even when a team of friendly demigods come off, including Jason Grace, the beloved son of Jupiter and camp praetor alongside Reyna, the Romans still have their doubts. Greeks and Romans have never met without bloodshed; even though, the success of stopping the Earth Mother's rise to power lies in the two groups becoming allies, and while distrust lingers on both sides, it's very likely this time will be no different.

Unfortunately, it isn't very long when everything goes downhill. The Argo II begins firing its ballistae on New Rome, and before you can say "gorgon" the power-hungry Oracle Octavian has the half-bloods of Camp Jupiter whipped up in a battle frenzy. It's all the original seven (including the Romans, which are contributing to the "sides getting along" part) can do to get back on the ship and escape before they get killed. Then they realize that it's now their job to start the next part of the quest: returning to Rome, the original Rome, and facing a greater danger than almost any demigods before them.


First, a little note to the author: this is Percy Jackson, not a romance novel! I could tolerate the first two books pretty well, but this time around Riordan is laying on the love aspect a little thick. As much as I like Annabeth, as she was awesome in the original series, her chapters (these books alternate viewpoints) are the worst. Yes, I know you and Percy, your newfound boyfriend, have been apart for six months. Okay, I get that. But it does not give you an excuse to talk about him every other paragraph. Combined with her and Jason/Piper, it's all I can do not to roll my eyes and sigh in exasperation every time they mention him. (Plus give myself a migraine via whacking myself in the head.)

Now, don't get me wrong. I understand that Riordan is trying to write for the mid/older teen range, and in my view, he's doing pretty well. Love can be an essential part of these books. But if I wanted to read a romance novel (which, by the way, I almost never do), I'd read a romance novel. This is a little ridiculous.

And while some of the relationships just fall into place pretty well ("Percabeth", for example, despite the whole Annabeth problem), I have a feeling that Jason and Piper just won't work. It feels forced and artificial, not necessarily because of Piper talking about her boyfriend 24/7 (though this really doesn't help), but because of Jason. If there ever was an example of a "Mary Sue/Marty Stu" (a "perfect" character that does everything right and who everybody loves, either female or male, though they are commonly female) in this series, then he is it. He's the perfect son of the sky god; powerful, handsome, always making the right decisions, praetor of Camp Jupiter, respected by everyone on the Argo II and otherwise. He had a bit more of an excuse for being a flat character when he had amnesia, but this is going too far into the series. Besides, even Percy still acted like himself, even when his memory got stolen by Hera. Jason, on the other hand, has no excuse whatsoever.

Overall, the plot was really, really good and well thought-out (as usual), but from those previous paragraphs, I think you get my drift. In my opinion (hey, that's what this blog is all about!) the love needs to be toned down, BIG TIME. Good writing (really, really good), and even more good jokes than the last two books (Team Leo and iguanas; need I say more?), but it's getting suffocated a bit by the romance. I'm really hoping Riordan's gotten ahold of himself for the fourth installment of the House of Hades.

4 and a half stars

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Book Review: The Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup

I'm sure there have been books written all over the place about books and stories being real. (I know, I'm about to write one.) But what about stories you create on your own?

This is where we meet the Book of Story Beginnings.

Other than being the title of the novel I'm reviewing, the Book of Story Beginnings is an actual book--in the story, at least--that is built on imagination. It is a special book (well, more of a blank journal) that holds more immense power than you could imagine.

Why is it called the book of story beginnings? Because within its pages and outside them, stories come alive and take on a path of their own. The Book even warns you on its cover:

"Beware, you writers who write within;

Be mindful of stories that you begin;
For every story that has a beginning
May have a middle and an end.
Know this, too, before you write:
Though day must always lead to night,
Not all beginnings make good tales;
Some succeed, while others fail.
Let this book its judgment lend
On whether and how your beginning ends."

And it all starts when you write "Once upon a time."

Lucy is one of these people who has written in it. She's a writer, albeit a young one at only twelve years old. So when she and her family move from the big city to the middle of nowhere in their relative's house in Iowa, she has no idea she's going to be going on the adventure of her life.

It all began when Oscar, her present great-uncle, wrote in the book of story beginnings back in 1914. He was an aspiring 14-year-old writer, and thought of the book as not much more than his countless other notebooks filled to the brim with his stories. So when he wrote about a boy who rowed out to sea from his house in the middle of Iowa, it gave him a big surprise when one night in bed he heard the sound of waves crashing against the hill on which his house was perched. Not knowing what else to do, he went outside and upon finding a rowboat and oars waiting for him on the front lawn and suddenly there he was, rowing out to sea from the middle of the United States, to never be seen again.

The only one who knew what had really happened who could still tell the tale was his younger sister, Lucy's great-aunt Lavonne. To the day she died, nobody believed her. They thought Oscar had run away, because the ocean had disappeared at the morning light. But before she had died, she had written Lucy a letter. She recounted a recent dream she had seen, and it was of the night Oscar had gone. In the dream, when she had called out to Oscar, he had yelled back over the roaring waves: "Lucy will explain."

Almost a century after that night, Lucy moves into the house that Oscar once lived in with her family and finds the book of story beginnings. Like Oscar, she has no idea what it can do. Her life is turned upside down as soon as she writes the words, "There once was a girl who had a father who was a magician."

All she wanted was for him to be able to fix her parents' problems: fights between them, the family's money, her father's unstable job. But all of a sudden her father is tinkering with alchemy and magic from Lavonne's old books and studies, and when he makes a potion that transforms things by imagination, Lucy watches in horror as he turns himself into a crow and soars out into the world beyond.

The potion also reveals Oscar from the most unlikely hiding place, and it's up to the two of them to embark on an adventure to save Lucy's father and enter a world woven of stories that they never could have imagined.


I don't think I have any problems with this book. For being the author's first novel, it is incredibly richly and intricately woven with interesting characters and settings, as well as a fresh and original plot, and definitely is the kind of book that takes you in and makes you read it to the end. It may be written for a slightly younger audience than the teen genre (maybe around ages 7-12), but that shouldn't matter. I loved the Book of Story Beginnings, and you will too.

5 stars

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Book Review: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordian

Okay. You've already read the Lost Hero. I've just written a review for it that's almost as long as the actual 1-inch-spine book (well, it might as well be). Well, guess what? There's more.


[A WARNING: This is a sequel, so it contains critical information (yes, spoilers) from the end of the previous book, so I'd recommend reading the Lost Hero before reading this review. Thank you.]


The three-demigod team of Jason, Leo and Piper have returned from their quest. Not only that, but along with them, Camp Half-Blood puts together the pieces and has discovered something: their camp isn't the only safe place for demigods. There's another camp.

Another Roman camp.

The thing is, our protagonist from the original series, Percy Jackson, doesn't know that. He's lost his memory, met a pack of wolves lead by none other than the she-wolf Lupa, and has found himself in the least likely of places--southern California, no less--fighting for his life against a pair of Gorgons that wouldn't die.

Unfortunately, Camp Jupiter doesn't know about Camp Half-Blood any more than Percy does. So when he finds his way there and finally kills the Gorgons by dissolving them in the Little Tiber, the river that runs near camp, and reveals himself to be the son of the Sea God, nobody knows how he survived as long as he did. A sixteen-year-old demigod would normally have been killed by monsters a long time ago. To everyone at camp, Percy is a mystery.

Unlike in the Greek world, Poseidon (Neptune, whatever) isn't exactly the most popular god. Romans feared the sea. So it's nobody's surprise when he joins the Fifth Cohort at Camp Jupiter--the "loser" section. The cursed cohort. That's where Hazel and Frank are, and they know why. Hazel is cursed even more than the cohort itself. The only thing Frank is good with is his bow, despite being the size of an ox, a weapon frowned upon by New Rome, and still hasn't been claimed; he hopes desperately that his godly father is Apollo, so he'd have an excuse for his choice of weapon. And as for Percy, it isn't just the fact that he's the son of the sea god. Reyna, the camp praetor, has heard things about a child of Neptune. Unfortunately, not all of them are good.

The already unusual setup gets even stranger when a god--yes, another one, after Hera (sorry, Juno) gave Percy passage into Camp Jupiter--appears at camp, claims Frank, and issues a quest led by his son. After choosing his two companions--Percy and Hazel--Frank and his teammates are sent off on a quest to Alaska, the land beyond the gods, to free Death so those who die stay dead, including monsters. As they get closer to the icy state, they get even closer to the root of Hazel's curse, and soon begin to realize that they may be a bigger part of the Prophecy of Seven than they imagined.


Man, this series really is living up to its high expectations--the Son of Neptune is just as good as its predecessor, the Lost Hero; if anything, it's even better. The romance element isn't totally gone (this time around, it's Hazel and Frank), but it's definitely toned down and definitely feels more honest than with Jason and Piper. (At least, I'm not banging the book against my forehead in exasperation or mentally yelling at the characters to SHUT UP ALEADY! GAH!...) Not only that, but even with the couple thing going on, both characters still remain consistently realistic (well, as realistic as possible for a YA fantasy novel) and inherently awesome.

So, what are you waiting for? Read this already!

Five stars (obviously...)


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Review: Arclight by Josin L. McQuein

In Marina's world, there are only three things: 

The Arclight, the Grey, and the Dark.

The Arclight is life. Home. Safety from the Fade. The Grey is a barren no-man's-land, devoid of life. The Dark is danger. The Dark means the Fade. And if the Fade take you, if they can convince you to come with them, to be one of them...all is lost.

The world we live in now, the world as we know it is now darkness and oblivion, remembered and seen only through mementos from the past: photographs, newspaper clippings. The Arclight is the only safe haven for humankind left, the light creating a so-called barrier against threats; the only other known life is the Fade.

Whether or not the Fade are considered life is another story.

They appear to most as ghostly figures composed of entirely shadow, hooded, tattered robes falling over silver eyes. Pure evil. That's how Marina describes them. But when the purple warning lights begin to blink to inform the residents of Arclight that the Fade have found their way around the barrier, everything changes.

The one thing Marina knows about her past, the one thing they told her as she lay recovering in the Arclight's infirmary: She survived the Fade. And nobody survives the Fade. And when they invaded...everyone's suspicion was that they were coming not to attack, but to bring someone back. And Marina is thinking the same thing: they were coming for her.

Nobody knows why. All they know is that it has something to do with Marina surviving the Fade. But when she meets one of them, one of the Fade the Arclight has within its borders of light, Marina's already pain-filled, chaotic life gets turned upside-down. He leads her into the Grey, into the Dark, and after meeting some of his kind, his kin, Marina begins to realize with horrible certainty who she really is.


While this book is somewhat confusing at times, it's still a well-written, creative, imaginative first novel from McQuein. Though the setting has changed, the human race is nearly decimated, the characters are still very authentic and very real. The story takes a very surprising, yet very interesting twist at the end, and really pulls the book together. It was, as I mentioned before, a little confusing and rather fast-paced, but I think that may be just me. Enjoy this book. Give the new YA book arrival Arclight a read.

4 and a half stars