Tag Archives: GoodReads post July 2009

Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater

Since I found out about Ballad, it’s been on my most-anxiously-awaited sequels list for the year. I was surprised at how much I liked its predecessor Lament, since it was a stretch outside of my reading box. I wasn’t sure if the under-the-hill, dark fairy fantasy was for me, but it turned out to be the beginning of a love for all books fairy. Ballad, too, was not quite what I expected, but it was a pleasure to have my at times limited imagination outstretched again.

In Lament, Deirdre (Dee) Monaghan and her childhood buddy James Morgan discovered the hard way that the teachers at the elite musical school Thornking-Ash wouldn’t be the only ones listening in. At the outset of Ballad, a new school year has arrived, and it’s no different: They are still after them. One singular kind of soul-sucking faerie named Nuala in particular, and it’s James she’s after. For he’s gifted, and she will survive only as the muse to his music. But James is prepared this time, and knows to keep his distance from any of Nuala’s kind. Besides, he has other worries. James is still lovesick over Dee, and he has to find a way to pass his classes and learn how to play the piano, since there’s no bagpiper teacher at the school that can match him. But with Dee never around, little by little James lets Nuala in, and he’s surprised by what he finds, and what he must do.

When I first found out that Ballad was about James and thus more of a companion book rather than a sequel, I have to admit my excitement for it waned just a bit. I was so looking forward to more Luke, and there really wasn’t enough of James in Lament for me to like him. He was no more than Dee’s joke-cracking, lighthearted best friend (with potential). Little did any of us know he would be so fierce and have so much more emotional depth. Fittingly, James became the best part of this book. He has so much going for him in the way of cool and interesting I couldn’t help but root for him. I mean, who’s instrument of choice is the bagpipes these days, let alone a funny, self-deprecating teenager? I wanted to hate Nuala at first, but I eventually warmed up to her as well. Her strength and tough, take-nothing attitude made for some smart exchanges with James. Dee, though in the background, also took me aback with some of her decisions. Apparently there are more books planned, and I can’t wait for more James, Dee, and (hopefully) Luke.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

With the movie coming out and my reading mood being more open to the topic, I decided to delve into this book. I enjoyed it much more than I anticipated, and I didn’t do the math but I liked almost 95% of it, which is quite high for a percentage.

Anna is the first “designer”, genetically engineered baby – not because her parents wanted her to be taller, prettier, or smarter, but because they needed a bone marrow match for their oldest daughter Kate, who has a rare form of leukemia. First it was the umbilical cord blood that was necessary, but now, after countless blood and marrow donations, it’s a kidney. But Anna’s thirteen, and struggling to separate her identity from Kate’s. Suddenly she finds her burgeoning self-awareness and duty to her parents’ wills conflicting. So Anna takes the extreme route and sues for medical emancipation from her parents. The resulting range of emotional reactions from her family, lawyer, and all those around Anna is complex and hard to imagine, making a thought-provoking read.

We’ll start with my likes first. I liked how the controversial topic was handled. Going into it, I thought it would be more black and white, but the ethical questions and answers are endless, multifaceted, and real. For the most part, the changing POV worked well. It fit the issue, and you really got a clear handle on several possible viewpoints. Although far-fetched, I even liked the subplot between the ad litem counselor Julie and high school boyfriend Campbell, Anna’s lawyer. I enjoyed 2 out of 3 twists and Jodi Picoult‘s writing, sans the astronomy analogies. After the first few setup chapters, I was compelled to read until I knew the character’s fates.

The first thing that bothered me was that I had no clue how old Anna was supposed to be after reading her first few chapters. Her voice sounded so mature and knowledgeable, I was certain she was 17 or 18. Secondly, I was uncomfortable with some of the decisions of Sara, Anna’s mother. In words it seemed like she loved her children equally, but her actions spoke differently, and Jesse and Anna went neglected frequently and at very young ages. But none of this compares to the final chapter, which was completely incompatible with the rest of the book. I absolutely HATED the ending and couldn’t finish the epilogue, I was so angry. It was contrived; it was manipulative; it was unrealistic; and worst of all, it was a cop out to an otherwise smart, engaging, uncompromising story. If you want to read My Sister’s Keeper, do yourself a favor and only read up until the judge has made his decision. As for me, I will not be reading another Picoult book.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

Wow. I’ll preface this review only by saying that Wildwood Dancing was the wrong Juliet Marillier novel for me to start with…

Young Sorcha is content with her life at Sevenwaters. Though she is the seventh child and only daughter of her father, Lord Colum of Sevenwaters and her late mother, she loves her six older brothers dearly and hasn’t felt lacking. She even feels a sense of belonging in the dense and magical forest which surrounds and protects their home from the invading Britons. When her brother asks her assistance in saving a young Briton imprisoned in their keep, she begins to learn the hard way that the forest cannot always shield her from the outside world. But the real trouble doesn’t start until Lord Colum brings home his new bride-to-be Lady Oonagh, who happens to be a sorceress with her own agenda. Before her brothers can escape her evil machinations, they are turned into swans, and only Sorcha, by completing a painful, near impossible task, can break the spell. The outlook is bleak, but Sorcha is helped along the way by the forest folk as well as a Briton warrior, which will lead to her most heartbreaking decision yet.

It was killing me to wait two paragraphs before I could shout this book’s praises, I loved it so! I liked so many things about Daughter of the Forest, it’s hard to name them all: the Celtic folklore, the fairy tale retelling, the main and minor characters (Finbar, Padriac, Simon, Red), the writing, and the love story. But what made it so good for me was how all of these aspects came together. The entire reading experience as a whole was amazing, one in which – at nearly 650 pages – was not one page too long. I’ve never felt more in a character’s shoes than I did in Sorcha’s, which made her story all the more joyful, heartwrenching, and engrossing. I leisurely savored the breathtaking descriptions of the forest. I cried in pain and sadness. I relished the poetic language. I sat alertly on the edge of my seat, arms tense, as the cycle of trial after trial was mounted and overcome, and mounted and overcome. I shed a tear of joy. I gleefully smiled and solemnly sighed at the ending. And I wondered afterwards when I’d ever have another experience like this one.

*One word to the wise: Although I loved this book, it’s not a gentle read, so tread carefully.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

I was delighted when this book was delivered rather unexpectedly into my hands (Thanks Angie!). I’d been eagerly awaiting Shiver from the first time I read about it, since it sounded so promising and I’d already been impressed by Lament, Maggie Stiefvater‘s first novel. The actual read definitely followed suit: I was recommending the book before I even finished it.

It’s September, and Grace’s junior year has started with a bang: bully Jack Culpeper was killed by wolves. While most everyone around her took notice and found a reason to be terrified of the wolves, Grace only feels worry. Grace, who ONLY happened to be attacked by the same animals six years ago, feels only sympathy. She’s been watching the woods for years from her backyard for HER wolf – the one with the yellow eyes. For some unexplained reason, she feels more attached to this wolf than her parents, who are married to their careers, and her two friends Rachel and Olivia, who are ignorant of Grace’s true feelings. But then Sam comes along, and his eyes look so familiar, and Grace feels like she already knows him.

I was surprised at how much Shiver grabbed me from the first page, when I was trying so hard not to let my expectations be sky-high, and because I had been so excited for it and it’s premise, which is right up my alley, and I didn’t want to be let down. Young Adult? Yes. Paranormal fantasy if at all erring on the realistic/scientific side? Yes(!) Romance/Love? Yes, yes, yes! With all these executed skillfully, the writing didn’t necessarily have to be great, but it was. It was beautiful. Stiefvater’s prose is lyrical, with a haunting beauty that fits the fantastical elements and her characters. My only complaints are that it ended too soon, and there were some loose ends, but *loud cheering* there’s a sequel, Linger! It is a huge relief to find out the ending you thought unsatisfactorily abrupt was actually a mini-cliffhanger.