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YA

Books of My Life

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Books of My Life

Over the holidays I was inspired by my mother to reflect upon the books that have shaped my life.  I’ve been a reader since birth, so it’s hard for me to select only a few, but since that conversation a few have risen again and again in my thoughts.  The next few blog posts will be dedicated to these formative books and the way their stories changed my life.

The first of these books was not difficult for me to choose.  Bruce Coville’s sci-fi and fantasy books aimed at adolescents swept me away as a child.  I devoured his books whole and demanded more.  I completely lost myself in his pages, an experience so entrancing that it ensured I’d be a reader for life.  And among all of his books (his bibliography tops 100 books, and I’ve read dozens and dozens of them), the first one that captivated me, the first series I ever felt the pangs of waiting for a release date, was one of his very first: My Teacher Is an Alien.

The book follows three kids in an elementary school,  a popular girl, a bully, and a nerdy guy, who discover together that the old cliché is true—their teacher really does harken from a distant world.  However, [SPOILER ALERT] it ends with a twist.  Rather than the alien seeking to invade or destroy Earth, he came to learn, and when the alien’s identity is outed, Peter, the nerdy kid, feels compelled to leave with him.  Even two decades later, I can remember my excitement each time I returned to that book. 

My mother was already heavily involved in the American Library Association at the time, and one day she surprised me with an autographed copy of this book.  I opened to the cover page, and there I saw in slanted script my favorite author’s name, along with a dedication: Keep looking to the stars!  Thanks to this book, and to others like it, I’ve never stopped.

I still have all of my books from childhood.  Someday soon, I’ll pull them all down from the attic and hand them over to my son, starting with this book.  We’ll read the dedication, and I’ll tell him of how much this story resonated with me when I was his age, and how it still does.  And then we’ll read the story together, excitedly turning the pages, and hopefully he’ll fall under the same spell that has held me in its sway all these years.

I wonder, what books shaped your lives?  Perhaps it’s time to return to the books wherein you first beheld the magic of immersing yourself in other lives, other worlds.   

Keep reading, my friends! 

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The Crown's Game: Book Review

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The Crown's Game: Book Review

The Crown’s Game is an old one, older than the tsardom itself.  It began long ago, in the age of Rurik, Prince of Novgorod, when Russia was still a cluster of tribes, wild and lawless and young.  As the country matured over the centuries, so, too, did the game.  But always, always it retained its untamed fierceness. 

For the winner of the game, there would be unimaginable power.
For the defeated, desolate oblivion.
The Crown’s Game was not one to lose.

Thus begins The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, a fast-paced adventure of intertwining tales set in a reimagined imperialist Russia.  The story unfolds through the alternating perspectives of Vika and Nikolai, the two enchanters competing in the Game, as well as through the eyes of several minor characters.  These characters and their voices are what this novel does best.  The unique personalities of each character reveal themselves immediately, yet still our knowledge of these characters expands as their backstories and motivations are further explored the deeper into the novel you go.  Powerful and elemental, Vika captures your heart as the flames she can control.  She is wild and fierce, her passion can unload in a torrent, yet she cradled within her power is a tender heart.  As much as Vika makes your feelings lilt, Nikolai can cause your heart falter.  Dark and driven, he is a product of his upbringing—raised without affection to accomplish one task: to win the game.  His trainer, a forbidding and hard-hearted woman, instilled in him resourcefulness and cunning, though not as much savagery as she would have hoped. 

Compounding the challenges each enchanter faces is the presence of Pasha, heir to the throne.  Childhood friend to Nikolai, yet falling for the striking Vika, he will be pulled taut between them—though he doesn’t yet know both are participants of the Game, nor of its necessarily bloody conclusion.  Other tensions of competing ties and familial bonds course through the novel, woven in nicely (and at times surprisingly) to build upon and complicate the conflict between these two protagonists. 

The best aspect of the two main characters is how they are complementary foils.  They are stark in contrasts, yet, as the only enchanters in the land, they both fit the other in ways no one else can.  Their kinship can be read in their every “move” (as the acts of magic in the Crown’s Game are called), even in the ones that threaten the other’s life.

Overall, it was a great, satisfying read.  The writing is fast paced and lovely, including such gems as (describing Nikolai), “He was a poisonous autumn crocus: deadly beautiful with no antidote.”  Moreover, the descriptions steep you in the world of imperialist Russia’s Saint Petersburg, new territory for YA.  The magic was well imagined, both in how it functioned in the world building and in how it served to develop the personalities of the two enchanters. 

Overall, it is an experience that will draw you in and move you to turn the page.  Definitely, the next time you’re browsing the shelves of your friendly local bookstore, you should pick this one up!

Happy reading!

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Book Review: The Young Elites

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Book Review: The Young Elites

One recurring feature of my blog will be reviews of a variety of books, and the honor of the first review goes to none other than Marie Lu’s The Young Elites.  One of my favorite YA series of all time is Lu’s Legend series (if you haven’t read this yet and enjoy YA lit in any fashion, stop what you’re doing, reevaluate your life, and pick it up), so I was excited to start Lu’s new series.  In brief, I was not disappointed.  The writing is vivid and fast paced, always enticing you to read on, and the world is rich and rewarding as you delve further and further in. 

The Young Elites follows Adelina, a malfetto—those left scarred by a fever that ravaged the land a decade earlier—who has just discovered that the fever also instilled in her magical powers that are just now awakening.  And she is not alone.  Other Elites, as they are called, have developed powerful abilities, some forming the Dagger Society to band together to challenge the kingdom’s decree against malfettos.  Adelina soon finds herself among them, though she’s uncertain whether she can trust them enough to call herself one of their own.  But there are other forces at work, forces that pit her newfound loyalties against her old.  She’s left with nothing but painful options, made all the more challenging by the darkness gathering within her.

Traces of what I enjoyed about Lu’s first series show up in this one.  Just as with Legend, The Young Elites alternates among several characters’ perspectives to give a more global view of the novel’s conflict and also a fuller view of its protagonist.  Just as with Legend, the novel features a strong, compelling female protagonist who possesses agency and who, while she does become entranced by a man, does not let the whole of herself become subsumed by her feelings for that man.  I also enjoyed how Lu precedes each chapter with a quote from a source from within the world of the novel, adding texture to the culture and ideology of this world (something I do in The Nephilim, so of course I'm partial). 

Mostly, though, I enjoyed the novel because Adelina was, refreshingly, an anti-hero.  She is not simply a character with faults—a character who, despite her failures, is defined by her good heart.  She is someone who thrives on the brooding darkness within her.  She thrills in it, draws strength from it.  Her magical alignment centers on the threads of fear, passion, curiosity, and fury that course through her and those around her.  Her upbringing broke certain parts of her, crippling her emotionally so that these darker forces surface in her suddenly, and with violence.  And she’ll need that darker strength to navigate this world that pits so much against her, that demands so much.

I’m excited to pick up the sequel, which promises a broader view of this conflict as characters from other nations become involved.  Will Adelina find a route back to redemption, or will she entrench herself further in darkness?  Will her and her allies’ power be enough to rival that of her enemies old and new? 

I look forward to discovering the answer.

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