Fox on Books

Book reviews, opinions, musings and ramblings. General bookish excitement!

Archive for the month “December, 2012”

The Raven Boys – by Maggie Stiefvater

ravenI haven’t read anything of Stiefvater’s before, but this book kept getting mentions at work and online. Curious, I delved into the world of the Raven Boys: here’s what I thought.

Blue’s always been odd because she’s not psychic. This is only strange because the rest of the women in her household all are. Instead, Blue’s presence seems to intensify their readings and encounters. One thing all the psychics in Blue’s family have agreed on is that one day, Blue will cause her true love to die. Vowing that this won’t happen, Blue happily steers clear of boys altogether – no boyfriend, no true love, no problem – right?

Until one evening she sees a spirit for the first time: the spirit of a boy called Gansey, who’s not even dead. It seems that she was meant to meet Gansey and his friends, Adam, Ronan and Noah. Despite the warning that Gansey is destined to die this year, and despite her best intentions, Blue is inexorably drawn into the Raven boys’ quest, and closer to two of the boys than she has ever allowed herself to get before. In a Land of Myth, and a Time of Magic:

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I’ve Got Your Number – Sophie Kinsella

numberI’m a sucker for a good chick-lit blurb, and this one caught my eye a few months ago. I finally got the chance to read the book. Meet Poppy. Her life’s a wee bit complicated, with a wedding next week and a million things left to do.

Disaster! Poppy Wyatt’s lost her engagement ring (a priceless family heirloom ring, no less). Not only that, her phone’s been stolen! So there’s no way for the hotel to call her when they find the ring – until she finds a phone dumped in a bin in the hotel lobby. Thank goodness! Finders keepers, right? But as it turns out, this phone belongs to businessman Sam Roxton’s company, and he’d like it back, thank you very much. In order to use the number Poppy desperately offers to act as Sam’s PA for a few days. And if she accidentally reads some of the messages she’s passing on, well, that’s unavoidable really. And if she begins to help Sam out by organising a few things on his behalf, well, he should appreciate the help. Unless he doesn’t. Oh. Call Me Maybe:

The End of Your Life Book Club – by Will Schwalbe

bookclubThis is a biographical/autobiographical account of Will Schwalbe’s last years with his mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, after she was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. On the back of the ARC I found at work, it simply reads: A mother and a son. A life-long love of books. This was all I needed. Here’s what meeting Mary Anne and Will was like for me:

There’s no easy way to reconcile yourself to the fact that someone you love is going to die; and not in some vague, we’re-all-going-to-die-someday sense, but in the form of a terminal diagnosis. Will wasn’t ready to let his mother go – and neither was Mary Anne ready to leave. There was still so much to do. Over the course of her treatment and final years, Mary Anne and Will would meet for her chemo appointments and discuss whichever book they had both been reading, in an exclusive, two person book club. Their discussions were about the books, but also about their lives, their bond, and their grief. “Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.” – Napolean Bonaparte

Revolution – by Jennifer Donnelly

revolutionThis book came to me highly recommended by colleagues at work. I made the mistake of starting it after I’d just finished my last book, looking to cement myself a few pages into another world before I went to sleep. Which I eventually did, about two hours later than I had intended! This is why:

Andi isn’t doing so well. Her family fell apart after a tragedy that none of them speak about. Her Dad left, her Mum doesn’t talk any more, painting in silence all day instead, and Andi’s left alone. Alone with her guilt. Andi’s always blamed herself for what happened, and can’t forgive herself for it. Time isn’t helping. In fact, Andi’s not sure she deserves time at all, and some days it’s a struggle not to just end it, and stop feeling like this.

When her Dad takes her to Paris so he can keep an eye on his estranged, angry, miserable daughter, Andi stumbles across an incredible find – a diary kept by a young girl called Alexandrine. A girl who lived through one of France’s bloodiest and most infamous periods: the French Revolution. Alex’s story is as addictive as it is horrifying, and Andi soon becomes closer to this long-dead girl than she has been to anyone in a long time. As she becomes more invested in Alex’s fate, Andi becomes involved in a way no one could have anticipated with the events of that tear-stained time.

WOW. I was not prepared for how amazing Revolution is. Andi is a beautifully realised character, a broken young girl who feels so alone and yet is so easily understood by the reader. She blames herself for what happened to the family, but her father blames himself as well. The relationship between these two reserved, hurt, angry people has notes that would feel familiar to any girl who’s fought with their parents and had trouble communicating. It’s just as familiar, I imagine, for a parent trying so hard to understand their child while dealing with their own anger, guilt and pain.

Alexandrine is just as vivid as Andi, speaking to her as she does to the reader through her journal. She has so much ambition, hope and determination that later give way to fear and loyalty she never expected to feel. She is forced to think about what is important, and what she’s willing to risk: because the streets of Paris were safe for no-one in Revolutionary France. Alex and Andi form a potent bond, in spite of connecting only through one girl’s writing – something that’s all too easily understood, given that the same thing happens to a reader when you read a book with wonderful characters!

The other main strength of this book is the huge amount of research Donnelly has done, which shores up the plot with a wealth of information. Everything from the music that Andi turns to in order to escape her own head, to the details of DNA testing that Andi’s father is conducting in Paris, to the exploration of the motives behind the major players of the French Revolution is seamlessly included in the novel. This is generous and powerful of Donnelly, as it lets the reader learn more about these topics as they read and at the same time makes the world she’s created that much more real. One of my favourite aspects of this book was coming out of it with a greater knowledge of Revolutionary France and music in general than I had had before.

This was a fantastic book. The storylines were engrossing, the characters my friends, and the settings and research so vivid that I feel as though I’ve been to Paris for the last couple of days, or even that I was there during the Terror. A must read.

 

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Have you read anything by Jennifer Donnelly? If not, what are you waiting for?!

*Because I’m Australian, so it’ll always be Mum, okay?

Froi of the Exiles – by Melina Marchetta

froiMelina Marchetta is a beloved, award-winning Australian author. I remember loving Looking for Alibrandi when we studied it in high school, and when Marchetta turned her hand to fantasy, I was thrilled! I read Finnikin of the Rock, the first book in her Lumatere Chronicles, a couple of years ago, and finally got the chance to continue the tale with Froi of the Exiles this week:

Froi’s still learning what it is not to be alone, to have people you can rely on, and who truly care about you. Queen Isaboe and King Finnikin are the first family Froi has ever had, and he can’t imagine caring more fiercely about anyone. He’s spent the three years since the Queen and Finnikin reclaimed Lumatere training to be an assassin, a fighter, someone who can defend those he loves. When a man from the despised neighbouring Kingdom of Charyn comes to the Lumaterans with an opportunity, Froi is willing to take up the quest. His task is to impersonate one of the Lastborn – the final generation of children born to the Charyn people before a curse rendered the entire Kingdom infertile. As Olivier, he will infiltrate the Palace under the guise of trying to break the curse by impregnating the Charyn Princess, Quintana, and when inside the Palace walls, he will assassinate the King and Princess.

Loyalty to Lumatere aside, something else drives Froi to Charyn. Blood sings to blood, and something about the cursed Kingdom calls to Froi. It draws him closer than is wise to those he meets, embroiling him in new loyalties that may come to challenge those he holds for Lumatere. Gargarin, the former Royal Advisor, is a shadow of his former self, bitter and broken. Yet he retains a stubborn seed of hope for the future. His twin brother, Arjuro, was once closer to Gargarin than to anyone else, but time and betrayals have left the brothers with little trust in each other. Their relationship is uneasy and fraught with old pain. And there’s Quintana, the Princess. Despised by her people, called mad, cursed, useless, Quintana’s life has been nothing short of miserable, consisting of visits from Lastborn men who use her to try to break Charyn’s curse. Froi’s task becomes less straightforward as he finds himself drawn into Gargarin, Arjuro and Quintana’s lives.

Melina Marchetta writes an ambitious sort of fantasy, rich with conflict and convoluted motives. Her characters are fascinating, because they can be so unlikable – Quintana, for example, is a force to be reckoned with. I spent the first third of the book torn between disgust and disinterest when it came to Quintana. Her moods and attitudes were so unappealing. But a character doesn’t need to be liked to be powerful – they must simply be understandable. We can forgive a lot of unpleasantness in people if we can appreciate why they are the way they are. By the end of the book, I liked Quintana a little more, but more importantly I was irrevocably invested in her well-being.

Marchetta’s approach to characters is something I appreciate for two reasons: firstly, because it makes them more real – these are just people, with their strengths and flaws. They are not perfectly crafted two-dimensional vessels for a vapid fantasy tale. Secondly, the story is not contingent on the reader’s liking the characters. I’m not denying that identifying with the people you’re reading is important, but in this sort of story what’s more so is that their world is falling apart, and they are the only ones with any hope of salvaging it. In this case, the reader’s sympathy is for the land at large, rather than just in one heroic main character. I want Charyn to be okay. And over the course of this book, I began to respect these prickly people for their dedication to the same cause, and because of how much they were willing to give. By the time I had to say goodbye, I was as devoted to Gargarin, Arjuro and even Quintana as Froi had become – and that’s one hell of a character arc.

Froi of the Exiles handily avoids the all too common curse of the middle volume, wherein the book is nothing more than a placeholder filling in time before the real action takes place in the final book. Rather, Froi’s instalment is packed with plot development that is a contained adventure in itself as well as one that advances the overall series at great speed.

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Have you discovered the wonderful Melina Marchetta? Have you ever found characters you don’t love (at first) in series you adore?

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