Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Claudia is ruthless in INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher

OK Junkies, I'm bending some of my own rules here.  Incarceron by Catherine Fisher has two main characters.  The story is alternately narrated by Claudia and Finn.  Sure, Claudia is the heroine of the story, but it's hard for me to focus only on her when Finn is so much more likable.

Claudia and Finn are each trapped in prisons that are worlds apart.

Three years ago, Finn woke in a cell with no memory of his previous life and the red eyes of Incarceron have been watching him ever since.  Finn has seizures in which he glimpses a world outside of the living prison.  Other prisoners call him a starseer and most consider him crazy.  Incarceron is limitless in its mechanization and ability to control the prisoners while reproducing itself.  Most prisoners know what Finn refuses to admit:  there is no world outside of Incarceron.

Claudia's father is the power-hungry and unscrupulous Warden of Incarceron.  The prison was sealed years ago, no one goes in and no one comes out.  The Warden is the only person who knows its location.  Despite the existence of advanced technology, Claudia's world has been frozen in time and Protocol is strictly enforced.  The rules of Protocol dictate everyone must speak, dress, and use objects from a time reminiscent of Victorian England.

But Protocol is only one bar in Claudia's prison.  Her father raised her to be a political pawn.  She's betrothed to a prince and the Warden will use his daughter to secure power.  At first, Claudia accepts her part to play in the political game.  She is so used to hiding her true feelings and playing mind games, that she forgets who she is.

Even though Finn is the thief and violent gang-member, Claudia is the ruthless one and she strays farther from her moral compass.  I couldn't help but like Finn so much more.

This story read like a wicked fairy-tale.  It's Rapunzel, the Prince and the Pauper, and Alice in Wonderland all rolled into one.

Catherine Fisher does a brilliant job of creating tension in each scene as Claudia and Finn discover each other and work towards what seems impossible: Escape.  Finn's prison is terrifying as is the Queen Claudia works to subvert.  I ended each chapter with my heart pounding.  The shackles squeezed tighter and tighter with each scene and escape seemed less and less possible.

The ending was a little disappointing.  After all the nail-biting tension, I feel like it just kind of fizzled out.  But that's probably because there's going to be a sequel.

Incarceron is a dark and intense ride and I can't wait for Sapphique.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ai Ling has some kick-ass spirit in SILVER PHOENIX by Cindy Pon

Silver Phoenix has been on my radar for a while, but I never found it in book stores.  Eventually I ordered it on Amazon.  It rose to the top of my TBR pile when I heard about the controversy over the new cover and I learned that Barnes & Noble and Borders never ordered the book with the original cover because it was too Asian.

Well some really smart people lament this horrible example of institutional racism better than I can.  But I just want to say, this book-buying-white-girl loved Silver Phoenix in all its Chinese splendor.

Ai Ling is the daughter of a scholar who was exiled from the Emperor's palace before she was born.  She wants to be a good daughter and honor her parents, but she has qualms about entering into an arranged marriage.  Unlike most girls in Xia, Ai Ling can read and write.  Without her father's knowledge, she's read all about mythical monsters in The Book of the Dead.

Ai Ling's father is summoned to the palace, but gives her a jade pendant before he goes.  When he doesn't return, Ai Ling decides to travel to the palace and bring him home.  So what if decorum dictates that single women shouldn't travel alone?

On her journey, Ai Ling discovers the monsters from The Book of the Dead are much more than myths. Ai Ling survives a demon attach thanks to her jade pendant and the courage of her spirit.

While traveling, Ai Ling crosses paths with Chen Yong, a young man whose fate has been intertwined with hers since before she was born.  They continue towards the palace together and embark on an adventure to fulfill their destinies.

I love how Ai Ling is a kick-ass heroine in a world that expects women to be seen and not heard.  Sure Chen Yong saves her the first time they meet, but pretty soon she does most of the saving and ass kicking.  I also loved the reincarnation/ancestor-worship/spiritual stuff interwoven throughout the fantasy.

In some ways this is a road-trip story.  Some friends travel to the palace and of course get side-tracked and have adventures along the way.  Of course, it's also a coming-of-age story as Ai Ling discovers her own strength.  I love how Ai Ling is not shy about eating and the descriptions of food made my mouth water.  The sexual tension between Ai Ling and Chen Yong definitely left me hankering for the sequel, Fury of the Phoenix.

Silver Phoenix  by Cindy Pon is a great fantasy and a quick read.  Buy the beautiful original cover before they're all gone!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hanna is crazy beautiful in BLEEDING VIOLET by Dia Reeves

This book is weird.
Don't get me wrong, I love weird.  Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves is a welcome relief from the swooning damsels, vampires, and werewolves plaguing the paranormal YA world.

Hanna talks to her dad everyday, even though he's been dead a year.  Hanna is bi-polar and has the stash of pharmaceuticals to prove it.  When threatened with hospitalization, Hanna beats her Aunt over the head with a rolling pin and flees to find her long lost mother.

When Hanna shows up on her mom's door step in Portrero, Texas, Rosalee is anything but happy to see her.  Hanna is determined to stay in Rosalee's house and make Portrero her home, no matter how many times Rosalee say she doesn't want her.

They strike a deal.  If Hanna can survive two weeks in Portrero--a town stranger and more dangerous than any of Hanna's hallucinations--then Hanna can stay.

Hanna encounters monsters lurking in the windows of her school, flying leeches on a walk home, and a man possessed by a serial-killing ghost while on a date.  Instead of running and screaming, Hanna decides she needs to hunt down a monster to prove her worth to Rosalee.  Hanna enlists the help of Wyatt, the cute boy sworn to protect the town and who is even freakier than Hanna.

I love Hanna's character in this book.  Her wild mood swings are fun and she's not easily rejected, no matter how many times her mother tells her she doesn't love her.

Hanna narrates the story through her girlish voice and overly simple view of the world.  And that's where it got weird.  These characters curse, have sex, and rip people's arms off, and it's all narrated in this childish tone.

The amount of blood in this book became so surreal that I stopped being concerned each time a character opened a vein.

But that didn't stop this from being a really fun read.  I whipped through the pages.  I enjoyed losing myself in Hanna's warped head and I stopped guessing what would come next.

Bleeding Violet is a great summer read.