Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , | Posted on 6:31 AM


Rating: 5 / 5 stars, plus AWE

My eternal gratitude goes to the young woman at the ALA conference who convinced me to pick up this book and take it home with me. Where it shall now stay.

Andi Alpers is in Hell. Her brother is dead, her mother is insane, and she is about to be expelled from her prestigious prep school in Brooklyn. At this point, Andi really couldn't care less. The pills and her music are the only things keeping her here, but she's slipping further every day...

Until her famous geneticist father gets wind of her impending expulsion and drags her off to Paris to finish her senior thesis. Desperate to get home, Andi throws herself into her research, a project on the musical 'genetics' of Amadé Malherbeau, a 19th century French musician who composed the mysteriously-titled "Fireworks Concerto."

Andi just wants to get back to Brooklyn. She doesn't care about her father's controversial project: testing an ancient preserved heart that may have belonged to the son of the late Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette -- a little boy who saw his world crumble during the Revolution. But then Andi finds a beautifully-preserved guitar among the collection of artifacts. And inside the guitar case, she finds a hidden compartment with what seems to be a diary...

Trust me, this book is so much more than its plotline, although Donnelly does a flawless job of weaving two narratives together, as Andi reads the account of a girl her age during the Revolution -- Alexandrine Paradis is a street performer with aspirations to the stage, but she finds herself drawn into roles she cannot control as her countrymen tear each other to pieces. Until there is nothing left in her but the drive for one mission; this girl, who watched her world burn and her people close their eyes, becomes determined to set the skies on fire.

I loved how much of the story was interlaced with music, and its power to express when words fail us. And even though I'm not a total music nerd like Andi, she made me appreciate the complexity of the musical tradition, how musicians draw from each other and leave their legacies, so that even today a rock star can carry echoes of Beethoven in one haunting chord.

Really, this book is full of beauty as it circles around one ultimate question: Why? In a world choked with madness, cruelty, grief, fury, and despair, rolling endlessly along the iron rails of History -- why bother? Why try? Why even dare to hope?

Read this book. It may not stay with you in the same way; it may not change you or the way you see the world, even slightly.

But I doubt it.

Clockwork Angel

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , , | Posted on 6:30 AM


Rating: 3.5 / 5 stars

Tessa Gray has a problem. Several problems, actually. Her aunt has died suddenly, leaving her an orphan in New York in 1878 with no worldly belongings and little cash. Fortunately, her brother Nate has just sent her steamer tickets and a letter, inviting her to come live with him in London. Except that when she gets there, Nate is not, and Tessa is kidnapped.

Oh, dear.

This is actually a prequel to Cassandra Clare's bestselling Mortal Instruments series, but you don't need to have read those to enjoy Clockwork Angel. Honestly, besides one lovely side character and a few surnames, I didn't recognize much - though it should please fans of the 'later' books.

Also, do not fret: this may be set in Victorian times, but there is no shortage of blood and battle and even some scandalous drenched-shirt action. After all, Clare specializes in three things: action, witty banter, and sizzling chemistry (with some banter on the side).

Tessa is a great protagonist; she is tossed into an overwhelming supernatural world and yet avoids becoming either a) google-eyed and passive or b) improbably adept and Chosen One-ish. The second option was a definite possibility, since Tessa soon discovers that she may not be altogether human. Which is rather a nasty shock.

But, our heroine keeps her priorities straight! First, she must find and rescue her brother from Certain Peril. And if this means consorting with the Enclave, a secret band of supernatural warriors pledged to defend the human race, so be it. And if that means dealing with Will Herondale, a beautiful, magnetic boy with a worrying lack of self-preservation instinct or respect for personal space...well, all in the name of duty!

Will is the obligatory devil-may-care-but-I-sure-as-hell-don't male lead, but I found myself more interested in the other characters through most of the book. And they are well worth the attention, especially Jessamine, a Shadowhunter who is trapped as warrior in a society that values gentle wives -- and the way that she deals with this is fascinating. Yet also frequently annoying.

This book is the first in a trilogy, so do not be surprised at cliffhangers! Because Clare has a nasty habit of those. But I care far too much about the characters now (and my love for Victoriana is neverending) so I'm just going to have to wait with the rest of you. Oh, the pain!

Guardian of the Dead Review

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Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:45 PM


Rating: 4 / 5 stars

You'll probably like this book if you enjoy the following:

*a (literally) kickass heroine

*an intriguing and engaging romance

*an intricate, magnificent mythology

In Guardian of the Dead, the landscape and legends of New Zealand deserve just as much focus as the main character (who is impressive in her own right). I'm not terribly myth-knowledgeable beyond some of the basics -- certain Greek stories about incest and such, the old faeire tales of getting stolen away, a few creation myths here and there. So it was a real pleasure to enter Ellie's world and find a rich cultural tradition waiting for me...which makes it sound way too academic and dusty. Believe me, this is about blood and fury and fighting for your life and soul, not to mention dealing with incredibly creepy things happening to eyes. (Aghgh).

But Ellie really sold the book on me. This girl is strong. Yes, physically, since she's a black belt in tae kwon do and not a lightweight either -- but also emotionally and mentally. She's dealt with her mother's battle with cancer and adjusting to a new boarding school without becoming bitter, and she's steadfast in her commitments to friends. She's also nobody's fool, which made the mythological events in this book really work -- if Ellie could come to terms with this crazy stuff happening, then so could I.

And what crazy stuff it is. Besides the not-unpleasant oddity of her longtime crush Mark suddenly taking notice of her, Ellie is also experiencing sudden lapses in memory followed by vomit-inducing migraines when she tries to fill in the gaps...not to mention that a deeply creepy red-haired woman has come striding out of the nightly mists to join their school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. In the role of Titania, of course. And this lady is taking an odd interest in Ellie's best friend Kevin...

Ellie's only involved in the play to direct the fight scenes, which is both totally awesome and totally appropriate. Other bloggers have made note of how often Ellie gets beat up in this book, and it is true -- our girl takes it on the chin a lot. But she dishes it out, too, and I don't want to spoil the book but I will pose a question: Wouldn't you just love it if the heroine's response to Mysterious Boy Being Frustratingly Mysterious was to punch him in the face?

Answer: yes.

So read this book for Ellie. Because she rocks.
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