hearn-emperor eightOrphaned and alone, Kazumaru must find a refuge when his uncle – greedy for his estate – tries to kill him in the midst of a hunt. Carrying with him the skull of the stag who died to save him, Kazumaru happens upon the hut of the powerful sorcerer, Shisoku. One who can bond the living with the dead, and man with beast.

With the help of the enigmatic Lady Tora of the Old People, Shisoku creates a ritual to bind Kazumaru with the dead stag. He is reborn as Shikanoko, the deer’s child. Though his old life is over, he has much to do.

The Eight Islands are in peril. The place of the rightful Emperor has been upset and forces are working to bring a different heir to power. The landed lords will have to choose their side, because a battle is coming.

Emperor of the Eight Islands is Lian Hearn’s latest novel exploring the multifaceted world of the Eight Islands. Told in multiple viewpoints, the novel chronicles the war that has divided the nation. Hearn’s inspiration for the novel comes from some of the historic warrior tales of Japan. She cites The Tale of the Heike and the Taiheiki as influences among others. These influences are clear in the structure of Emperor. It reads like an epic mythological tale set in feudal Japan.

There’s a lot going on in Emperor of the Eight Islands, but Hearn does a brilliant job of making the novel easy to follow. Quite a task considering that none of the names are familiar to most Westerners, and many of the names begin with the same letters as others.

The mythology and belief systems in Emperor are fresh and fascinating. With sorcerers, spirits – both evil and benign, ghosts and extraordinary beasts, the novel explores a world that is different to any fantasy I have read before. Hearn handles multiple storylines and perspectives masterfully.

While there are some fascinating characters with rich background stories and in depth development in Emperor, the female presence leaves much to be desired. Lady Tora is perhaps the most interesting of them, and her only objective is to reproduce.

Because Emperor reads like an ancient mythology the emotion is not high and not much emphasis is placed on description. The beauty of it lies in the fantastical elements; magic that is unleashed when the world falls out of balance, spirits that cannot rest until their duty is done and enchanted objects to aid the heroes on the quest.

Fans of Hearn’s Tales of the Otori will welcome this new series. It is a tightly woven, intricate tale that will stay with readers.

 

 

 

Emperor of the Eight Islands – Lian Hearn

 

Hachette (April 26, 2016)

 

ISBN: 9780733635137



bardugo-Six of Crows coverBelinda_kisses_tnBel:

Cover

I picked up both the audio and the paperback of this book, and they both have the same cover art, an illustration of a crow in flight against a snowy stormy looking sky.

Characters

This is the reason I ended up having to buy the paperback as well as having the audio book. There are sooooo many characters I just couldn’t keep them all straight in my mind.

Favourite

Nina, her sense of humour is in the right place.

Least Favourite

Van Eck because the loser of the year award should go to him.

Beginning

A drug has been invented to exacerbate the abilities the gifted people (Grisha) possess. It’s addictive and detrimental to the health of the Grisha who are forced to take it.

Storyline

A gang of misfits has been hired by some rich guy to abduct the man who created the drug.

Ending

It isn’t the most unexpected ending, but it is pleasing none the less.

Thoughts

This is a substantial door-stop of a book. There’s a lot of action and quite a bit of humour thrown in. I was a little disappointed to realise I really couldn’t keep the number of characters straight in my head, so reading along became my preferred consumption method. I did enjoy the narration provided by the talented team of Jay Synder, David LeDoux, Lauren Fortgang, Roger Clark, Elizabeth Evans, Tristan Morris, and Brandon Rubin. But as you can see, it’s a mammoth cast.

I do enjoy Leigh’s world building and political ambiance. I also love that her female characters aren’t all complete twits and can hold their own when it comes to intelligence and physical strength.

I’m really not sure if I’ll purchase the second book in the series, but maybe I’d borrow it from the library.

Quote

“I will have you without armor, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all.” ~Inej talking to Kaz

Bardugo_Shadow and BoneJoelene_tnJoelene

Cover

A crow flying against a mist-grey backdrop with towers sketched into the gaps of its wing feathers. The title font is antiquated and lovely.

Characters

There are rival gangs, rival countries, law-makers, law-breakers, magic-wielders and the magicless. Six people form the major characters – a team put together by teenage criminal, Kaz Brekker, to break into a seemingly impenetrable military stronghold.

Favourite

Way too many to choose from. Inej, maybe. She’s capable, knows her own worth and manages to keep some sort of moral code despite her occupation.

Least Favourite

None of them. They’re all pretty good characters in their own right, even the villains. Though I do hope we get to see Pekka Rollins and Tante Heleen fall.

Beginning

Kaz Brekker and his gang have been systematically destroying any competition to their territory. Apparently, they have done a good enough job to catch the attention someone who has an offer that might just be worth the near certain death they will have to court to claim it.

Storyline

When six people who don’t particularly like each other – and definitely don’t trust each other – team up to infiltrate a never-before infiltrated fortress; it’s going to take all they have to make it out alive and with their prize.

Ending

I don’t see how Bardugo is going to top the stakes in the next novel. This one pushes enough boundaries.

Thoughts

I’m glad I gave Bardugo another try. I liked Shadow and Bone, but Six of Crows has so much more political and emotional depth. It’s amazing how far Bardugo’s writing has come in such a short time. I can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Quote

She felt slightly guilty for eavesdropping on Kaz, but he was the one who had turned her into a spy. You couldn’t train a falcon, then ask it not to hunt.

 

http://www.leighbardugo.com/index1.html

Paperback, 491 pages

Published September 29th 2015 by Indigo (first published July 28th 2015)

ISBN 1780622279 (ISBN13: 9781780622279)

 

 



anderson_speakMelinda Sordino is an outcast. No one will talk to her at school. No one will eat with her during lunch breaks. No one will sit with her in class.  It wasn’t always this way. Before she called the cops at a party during the summer, she had friends. Ivy, who now hangs with the artists and thespians; Jessica who moved away; Nicole who hangs out with the Jocks. And Rachel Bruin, Melinda’s best friend, who she thought would stick by her no matter what.

She’s trying to fly under the radar. Has almost completely lost the power of speech. However much it may feel that her life is spiralling out of control, though, she is going to have to find her voice before it is too late.

Speak has been out for almost seventeen years now, and is still a book that crops up on recommendation and best YA reads lists. Mostly because in 2016 Speak is as relevant as it was in 1999. In 2004 the book was adapted to a film of the same name, starring Kristen Stewart.

While Speak has conquered a slew of awards, including the Golden Kite Award and the ALA Best Books for Young Adults since its publication, it is not without its critics. Some have referred to it as ‘soft porn’ and campaigned – sometimes successfully – to have it banned in schools. It’s kind of ironic since the novel is about an issue that girls and women, more often than not, feel silenced about. The fact that the events of this novel are seen as sexual rather than criminal, and that people are campaigning against a novel that might open a dialogue on things that are too often ignored, indicates how important this book and books like it are for young readers.

Rather than a social problem novel, Speak presents as a story about Melinda who is struggling to deal with various problems in her life. Like many teens, she doesn’t have the luxury of a ready support network. Her parents are too busy fighting with each other to notice that she’s not coping. Even when they finally realise that her grades are slipping, they consider it to be due to rebellion or laziness rather than because she’s struggling.

It’s interesting to see how Melinda gains strength as time passes. While she doesn’t have people to turn to, she creates pockets of safety in the world around her. Finding an abandoned janitor’s closet at school, she turns it into a refuge. Art becomes another one. As she finds ways to reclaim herself, she begins to find people that she can trust as well. David Petrakis, the boy who fights for the freedom-to speak as much as Melinda fights to remain silent, is one of them. Her art teacher, Mr Freeman, is another.

The message in Speak is an important one. Not only for the girls this novel is aimed at, but for women too. Without preaching, it explores a world in which a teenage girl needs to find her own source of strength to overcome the obstacles in her life.

 

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

Square Fish (October 22, 1999)

ISBN: 97031267497



Bracken-Passenger coverBel:

Cover

I have the audio book, which is a similar cover to the paperback. We see a bottle on the sea. In the reflection is a ship in a bottle, though in the actual bottle there is a view of New York City. The olde-worlde script the title is in, fits the story perfectly.

Characters

Even the evil characters have their own valid points for being who they are. I’m sure giving each character their own moral code isn’t an easy task, but it is certainly the key to making them believable, easy to relate to, and complex.

Favourite

I LOVE Etta. Making the best of every situation and gettin’ it done. Girl has a spine and a mind of her own.

Least Favourite

Hmm… This is difficult. Knowing why evil characters are the way they are makes it really hard to hate them. I think I’ll pick Wren. Buffoon in the extreme.

Beginning

In present day New York, Etta is prepping for her violin performance, and eavesdrops on her Mum and violin tutor arguing. Nothing goes as planned, and she ends up being accosted by one of the other performers.

Storyline

She wakes up on a ship in 1776. She’s been kidnapped to complete a task, and with the help of Nicholas Carter, she makes moves to get it done so she can go home to 2015.

Ending

There’s another book coming and Bracken is the queen of the cliff hanger.

Thoughts

Travelling through time isn’t a new concept, but this is hardly a wishy-washy half-baked idea. Alexandra has wielded her mastery of well written characters and immersive world building to fling us across the centuries at break neck speed.

Hold onto your hats folks. You’re gonna love the ride.

Quote

‘Etta stood at the same moment as Chase; only she was the one close enough to land a slap on the officer’s face. The crack of flesh on flesh stunned Nicholas, who’d leapt up to restrain his friend from lunging across the table.

“And these are the actions of a lady.” Wren sputtered.

“Aye,” Chase said approvingly, “and a damn fine one at that.”’ ~ Awkward dinner conversation.

 

Bracken-PassengerJoelene:

Cover

A glass bottle with New York City in side. Underneath the bottle reflects an 18th century ship. The cover alludes to the very different worlds of both main characters.

Characters

Five families in the world are born to travel across time. Etta Spencer belongs to one of the families that has almost died out. Nicholas Carter’s family is the most powerful, controlling all timelines that it has knowledge of.

Favourite

Both Etta and Nicholas are amazing characters. They work well together. I wouldn’t be able to choose a favourite from them.

Least Favourite

For inconsistency only, Sophia. She starts as such a promising character: someone who is able to read the weaknesses of others and exploit them to her advantage. Unfortunately, that initial ability is never touched on again and, in future situations, she proves incapable of reading anything about the people around her.

Beginning

Etta is preparing for her debut as a concert soloist. Despite her talent, she is debuting later than many of her peers. On the night of her solo, she witnesses the death of her beloved mentor and is shoved back into 1776.

Storyline

The formidable Ironwood family is after an artefact, and prepared to kill anyone who thwarts their efforts to find it. The patriarch, Cyrus Ironwood, believes that Etta is the key to finding the object.

Ending

Mixed feelings. It increases the possibilities for the next novel, but not necessarily in directions that I like. That said, it’s emotionally satisfying.

Thoughts

I really loved this novel. I’ve recommended it to quite a few people already, and am looking forward to the next book in the series.

The fact that Bracken engages the dark parts of history that people usually avoid is a massive bonus, though I would have liked some more detail on those aspects. Does Nicholas interact with other people of colour? Did his foster father? Where did either of them cultivate the idea that race shouldn’t be a barrier?

Quote

The moment her realised he would only ever be a valet to a half brother who would never, ever, not in a thousand years, acknowledge him publicly as such, Nicholas had merely swallowed the bile rising in his throat and finished retying Julian’s cravat the way he preferred it to be styled.

bracken_afterlightKrista:

Cover

I really enjoyed the imagery on the cover: the opposition of ship vs land, also the bottle. I imagine it represents how she feels trapped (she was kidnapped after all).

Characters

Favourite

Etta for sure. She is very witty and funny, and yet outgoing and vulnerable. Nicholas is a close second though!

Least Favourite

Pretty much anybody proud to claim the name if Ironwood. That family has some issues.

Beginning

Upon the night of her violin debut, Etta is surprised by a fight between her mother and teacher, and suffers something that at first look seems like a panic attack. She witnesses her teacher murdered, and she is pushed into a worm hole by a unknown girl, who jumps with her.

Storyline

Etta finds that she has special blood in her genes that allows her to time travel. She has been kidnapped under the order of the Eldest Ironwood family member and finds herself on a pirate ship traveling to New York, where she will ultimately be told what her purpose is and who will die next if she doesn’t fulfil his wishes.

Ending

Very much a cliff hanger. We are left not knowing how several storylines end and only small details of choices the characters have left. But, as this is a duology all the answers will be answered eventually.

Thoughts

Like Bel, I also listened to the audio book, which I felt was very good. I have never been a fan of time travel novels, and it’s really rare for me to read one that I would recommend. Unfortunately, I found this one fell onto middle ground; it was ok, but I really didn’t care much for the pacing. However, the characters held my interest in the story, and I will most likely pick up the second book to see what happens with Etta and her mother.

Quote:
“You cannot fathom the distance I would travel for you.”  – Nicholas to Etta

 

Discussion

If you were able to travel to any time and place in history, where would you go, and why?

 

http://www.alexandrabracken.com/

Audio CD

Published January 5th 2016 by Brilliance Audio

ISBN 151136114X (ISBN13: 9781511361149)

 



Joelene:

Keuhnert-Ballads coverCover

A slightly psychopathic-looking rocking duck in a kids’ playground.

Characters

There’s a pretty big cast. It’s easy to get mixed up or lose track of who’s dating who until it’s mentioned again. I like how everyone is initially described. They all seem larger than life and visually dynamic.

Favourite

Cass. Hands down. She’s in one of the most awful situations out of everyone, but instead of running away or lashing out at the others, she tries to look out for everyone.

Least Favourite

There were a few that might qualify. I’d probably choose Kara. Partially because this is her story so we’re stuck with her for so long, but partially because she just has no reason to be the way she is. It’s like she blames the world for giving her a raw deal when, by anyone else’s standards, she has it pretty good.

Beginning

Kara hasn’t been back to Oak Park since the night she almost overdosed in the park next to the boy she loved. She’s changed a lot since then, but going back brings a surge of memories.

Storyline

The story follows Kara and her friends as they make the choices that lead to the night she almost dies.

Ending

Is in keeping with the rest of the story. It’s a satisfying conclusion that brings the story full circle.

Thoughts

This is a book I would have appreciated when I was younger. Not that drugs or parties were ever my scene, but it was kind of hard to find out about things like drugs without trying them first-hand. Half the people said that you’d try them and die; the other half said that they were the best thing ever. There wasn’t a middle ground. I guess this book is the middle ground, though it’s kind of excessive.

I appreciate that Kuehnert explores abusive relationships, but wonder why her warnings are about the guy who listens to people’s problems, respects women and can see where he’s gone wrong in the past; rather than about the guy who carries a knife, likes to get in fights and has no respect for women. Sure, anyone can be an abuser, but one of those guys shows all the classic signs, and it’s not the one she picked.

There’s not much in this novel for me, but it’s a safe way for younger people to find out about darker parts of the world. When I was fourteen I would have gotten a lot more out of it.

 

Quote

When his gaze locked on mine, I mentally chanted my mantra of I can’t stay, and then I let him embrace me. His scent had always reminded me of a muskier version of the air off Lake Michigan, and as soon as it reached my nostrils, it shattered the icy indifference that I’d tried to force myself to feel about him. As I melted into his familiar arms, I could no longer deny it: I’d missed him and I’d missed home and I’d gone too long without facing all of my bad memories and old ghosts.

 

keuhnert_IWBYJRwebBel:

Cover

A playground at sunset. A fair representation of where most of the situations happen.

Characters

Between wanting to smack sense into all of them and then do it again, just to be sure it sunk in, it doesn’t bode well.

Favourite

Not sure that I had one.

Least Favourite

Pick anyone, they’re all really horrible for many different reasons.

Beginning

Teen in a social crisis because her friend moves away and decides to hang with the druggies.

Storyline

Self harm drugs, drinking, and teens thinking their lives suck because of external reasons (not at all because of their personal choices).

Ending

The ‘don’t try this at home kids’ message come through.

Thoughts

Did I think this book was well written? Yes.

Do I like the topics covered in the book? No.

As a teen, I felt like life wasn’t exactly a bed of roses. But even for me back then, drugs were not the answer. We had our druggie kids at school, and the number of times I ended up with a second hand buzz from the pot smokers who were never busted for lighting up on school grounds was ridiculous. Those kids were total LOSERS. Four years after graduation, one of them shot a local police senior sergeant. This is reality folks.

A book like this would have them revelling in how awesome it is that someone finally wrote a book about them. In other words, they’d be missing the point entirely.

As a parent, I get the fear factor. Be alert for what your teens are up to. Get help quickly. Do not be an absentee in their live or else THIS could happen.

This book was set in an era where, at least in Australia, safe sex, stay in school and keep away from drugs were HUGE campaigns in schools. I have no sympathy for any of the characters.

I just do not see what MTV was hoping to achieve by publishing this book. The truth is, this is a representation of such a small number of teens. The ones who would read it would either think it’s glorifying their behaviour, or curl their lips and look away.

All choices have consequences; it’s up to you to make good choices.

Krista:

 

Cover

A lot of the big moments in the story  happen in the park in which they all  hang out, so the cover does represent the story well.

Characters

There are a lot of characters in this story and part of the story of this book Ballads of Suburbia in which teens tell their stories of their messed up lives. The story focuses on Liam and Kara but we are really introduced to this whole community through their stories.

Favourite

None. I believe this story focused more on the negative side affects of life and although some healing does happen, there are no role models.

Least Favourite

Shelly: she is the one that throws the parties… every week. A place that supplies the drinks, drugs, atmosphere that never has an adult present. A lot of things stem from Shelly’s house and what it represents.

Beginning

Liam and Kara find out their parents are divorcing. Neither has any friends or other family to lean on for the emotional support and they look to others their age to fill that void. All of the characters in this story are going through emotional turmoil and don’t have a positive support system to lean on. They are all looking for a way to not actually have to live the life they are in. Being teenagers they do not feel they have any way out.

Storyline

It is a mixture of different stories from teens in the Oak Park area of Chicago during the early 90’s. The stories look at the variety of a ways that these kids are searching for an escape: self harm, sex, drugs, alcohol and a feeling of friendship and community with each other.

Ending

A lot of the kid’s stories are about hitting rock bottom and forcing their parents or police to take action. This causes a lot of them to separate into their own lives, graduating and moving on from the situation they put themselves in. And some don’t make it through.

Thoughts

While I agree with the points that Bel made regarding the book, I had a different childhood. I was lucky enough to make some very smart decisions, but also made bad ones. I even saw some very good friends and family make some of the bad decisions. I had this book on my want to read list because, looking back, I still question some of the decisions I saw being made around my life. When it came down to it, my decision to not participate is what made me the avid reader that I am. But I have always had a bit of interest of seeing what it was like for those I know who made other decisions.

This book is not for everybody, perhaps not the best book for a book club choice, but I still feel that there is no harm done by educating ourselves on things that may happen in the world. Even though everybody may not understand or relate to these characters, they do exist. It took me a long time to get through the story because it is heavy. It is sad and it has a powerful message.

Paperback, 344 pages

Published July 21st 2009 by MTV Books (first published July 15th 2009)

ISBN 1439102821 (ISBN13: 9781439102824)

 

Discussion Topics

Are the kinds of self-harming habits explored in Ballads of Suburbia – things such as excessive drinking, drug use and cutting – being glorified in novels, or is it important that these issues be explored?



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