The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

The Story of Owen by E.K. JohnstonDon’t be fooled–this is not the story of Owen Thorskard, dragon slayer of Trondheim. This is the story of Siobhan McQuaid, the first bard in over half a century. She is a loyal companion and fearless friend who revolutionizes a nation by being cunning, faithful, and brave.

The Story of Owen is set in modern-day rural Canada. With dragons. That feed on carbon emissions. It’s amazing. Seriously–there’s even a joke when Siobahan’s parents buy her a car and she asks, “What, you didn’t love me enough to buy a hybrid?”

For ages, dragon slayers protect the people from these carbon-eating dragons, and their trusty bards tell the tale. Until Henry Ford hired dragon slayers to protect his car factories and soon dragon slaying became commodified and commercialized, and bards become all but extinct. That all changes when, following an accident, Owen and his family of dragon slayers move out to rural Canada and decide to shake things up.

Enter Siobahan McQuaid. Music courses through Siobahan’s blood, and she sees the world as a composition waiting to be written. When she meets people, she can’t help but write them into the symphony in her head, identifying them by instrument–flute, french horn, trumpet. Before she even heard the word, “Bard,” she started composing The Story of Owen in her head, so when Owen asks her to be his Bard, it’s a fairly simple decision.

Owen Thorskard is a generational dragon slayer. His father and aunt is a dragon slayer, and his aunt’s wife is a blacksmith. Dragon slaying oozes through his blood as much as music does through Siobahan’s. His dragon slaying aunt is famous, so when he moves to a small town and starts high school, every one knows who he is. He takes it in stride, though, and adjusts quickly.

The pacing starts a bit slow. The story is from Siobahan’s perspective, and as she is learning dragon slaying history, so are we. So it starts off a little dry, but hang in there–it’s well worth it. The plot really starts to pick up once they realize the dragon population is booming in Trondheim, which indicates that something is not good.

As Siobahan and Owen train together, they form a friendship and partnership. They trust each other with their lives. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and one of my favorite parts of the story. In my opinion, the best part (spoiler alert) is that they DON’T have a romantic relationship. If you’ve read a YA novel at all, then you would know how hard it is to find a book about a boy and a girl who form a deep, trusting relationship and don’t date. It’s a wonderful thing, and I hope to see more of it. Romance is great, but I want to read more books that show how girls and guys CAN be friends without ulterior motives.

The Story of Owen is, without a doubt, my favorite book I’ve read this year. It is a fun, alternate universe, urban fantasy–WITH DRAGONS! I give it 4 stars only because it was a bit exposition heavy in the beginning. Otherwise, this novel is amazing, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I can’t wait for the sequel to come out!

4 out of 5 stars

2014 Debut Author Challenge

2014 Debut Author ChallengeI am happy to announce that I am participating in the 2014 Debut Author Challenge hosted by The Story Siren. The objective of the challenge is to help readers discover and read 12 new books by debut authors. The rules are simple: 1) Read 12 YA debut novels from 2014, 2) post a review either on a blog or goodreads, 3) complete the challenge by January 31, 2015 (to allow time to read and review December releases).

In addition to the challenge, my goal is to highlight mostly debut novels during my weekly Waiting-on-Wednesday posts. I’m looking forward to reading books by new authors! Here are just a few of the 2014 debuts that I’m most excited about:

The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco Camelot Burning by Kathryn Rose Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones Trust Me, I'm Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer
Salvage by Alexandra Duncan A Girl Called Fearless by Catherine Linka The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston The Chance You Won't Return by Annie Cardi

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Waiting on Wednesday #15: Killing Ruby Rose

Veronica Mars meets Dexter? I’m in. I can’t wait to read Killing Ruby Rose by Jessie Humphries.

When Ruby Roses’s LAPD SWAT sergeant father dies, her mom puts her into therapy to help her through the trauma. After 6 months of seeing a psychiatrist, Ruby Rose decides to take her healing into her own hands–by continuing her father’s work and going after the bad guys herself. When she succeeds and kills a murder, she catches the attention of the wrong person and ends up being hunted down. Ruby Rose has to figure out who it is before things get worse.

This debut novel by Jessie Humphries sounds like a lot of fun! I like the idea of a girl taking on the work of her SWAT sergeant father and getting herself in too deep. My only hope is that her schemes aren’t half-baked or thoughtless–I hope she’s conniving and clever (a bit like Veronica Mars).

Killing Ruby Rose by Jessie Humphries

Release Date: May 1, 2014killing ruby rose by jessie humphries

In sunny Southern California, seventeen-year-old Ruby Rose is known for her killer looks and her killer SAT scores. But ever since her dad, an LAPD SWAT sergeant, died, she’s also got a few killer secrets.

To cope, Ruby has been trying to stay focused on school (the top spot in her class is on the line) and spending time with friends (her Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks are nothing if not loyal). But after six months of therapy and pathetic parenting by her mom, the District Attorney, Ruby decides to pick up where her dad left off and starts going after the bad guys herself.

When Ruby ends up killing a murderer to save his intended victim, she discovers that she’s gone from being the huntress to the hunted. There’s a sick mastermind at play, and he has Ruby in his sights. Ruby must discover who’s using her to implement twisted justice before she ends up swapping Valentino red for prison orange.

With a gun named Smith, a talent for martial arts, and a boyfriend with eyes to die for, Ruby is ready to face the worst. And if a girl’s forced to kill, won’t the guilt sit more easily in a pair of Prada peep-toe pumps?

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.

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Lumberjanes – Issue #1

lumberjanes by noelle stevenson et alWelcome to Lumberjanes, a Camp for Hardcore Lady Types where the motto is “Friendship to the MAX!” The story centers on a group of five girls in the same cabin, who are wandering around the woods in the middle of the night. They’re searching for something and are about to give up and go back to their cabin when a pack of three-eyed foxes attack. The girls put up a good fight and fend off the foxes, but when the foxes tuck tail and leave, they shine a mysterious message into the sky with their third eye—Beware the kitten holy. Baffled and shaken up from the battle, the girls head back to their cabin.

They sneak in, thinking it’s all clear, only to be discovered by their cabin counselor! Enraged, the counselor marches them straight to the camp director. The girls are worried that they’ll get in trouble—with the camp and their parents—but as they tell the director their story, things become even more mysterious…

The most enjoyable part of Lumberjanes is truly the characters. The cabin of five girls are all different—different shapes and sizes, different skin tones, different personalities—but they’re still good friends. There’s the spastic Ripley; preppy and eager April; stealthy and mysterious Jo; nervous-about-getting-in-trouble Molly; and sarcastic Mal. Every character is unique and interesting, and I can’t wait to read more about them in the next issues.

The art style has clean lines, and every panel tells a lot about either a character or the setting. The dialog is sharp and snappy, which carries the pace of the plot throughout. Lumberjanes has delightful phrases such as, “Oh my Bessie Coleman!” that really creates a fun atmosphere for the comic.

Overall, the first issue of the new Lumberjanes series was spunky, funny, and altogether enjoyable. I highly recommend checking it out. For all of you who have read it and can’t wait for the next issues like me, check out the playlist below compiled from the one included at the end of the issue! 5 out of 5 stars

Librarian’s recommendation: Lumberjanes is suitable for all ages. The “cursing” in the comic consists of phrases such as “What in the Joan Jett are you doing?!” or “What the junk?”

Check out April’s Fox Fight Jams Playlist that was included in the back of the issue!

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Waiting on Wednesday #14: Deception’s Princess

Maybe it’s that the girl on the cover looks like Merida from Brave, maybe it’s that the novel sounds similar to the movie as well, but I’m really looking forward to Deception’s Princess by Esther Friesner. The book is about Maeve, an Irish princess who is trying to find her own way in the world and hoping to find someone to love her for herself, not just her title and the kingdom that comes with it. When she meets the son of a visiting druid, she has to decide whether to stay loyal to her heart or her family

Esther Friesner is a Nebula Award winner and the author of the Princesses of Myth series, which tells stories about mythological princesses, such as Helen of Troy in Nobody’s Princess.

Deception’s Princess by Esther Friesner

Release Date: April 22, 2014Deception's Princess by Esther Friesner

Maeve, princess of Connacht, was born with her fists clenched. And it’s her spirit and courage that make Maeve her father’s favorite daughter. But once he becomes the High King, powerful men begin to circle—it’s easy to love the girl who brings her husband a kingdom.

Yet Maeve is more than a prize to be won, and she’s determined to win the right to decide her own fate. In the court’s deadly game of intrigue, she uses her wits to keep her father’s friends and enemies close—but not too close. When she strikes up an unlikely friendship with the son of a visiting druid, Maeve faces a brutal decision between her loyalty to her family and to her own heart.

Award-winning author Esther Friesner has a remarkable gift for combining exciting myth and richly researched history. This fiery heroine’s fight for independence in first-century Ireland is truly worthy of a bard’s tale. Hand Deception’s Princess to fans of Tamora Pierce, Shannon Hale, and Malinda Lo.

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow RowellWould it be too cheesy to say that I’m a fangirl of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell? Well I am. This book is amazing. After reading Eleanor and Park, when I found out that Rainbow Rowell was publishing another novel, I was very excited. Luckily the novel lived up to my expectations.

PLOT
Fangirl is a coming-of-age story about a girl named Cather who is starting her freshman year of college. The novel begins as Cath is moving into her dorm room, and we quickly learn that she is upset because she’s rooming with a stranger rather than her twin sister, Wren, with whom she expected to share a dorm room and the college experience, as they’ve shared everything else for their entire lives. Wren, however, wants to learn what it’s like not to be part of a pair. She wants the full college experience of branching out and experiencing new things, and she believes the best way to do this is separate from her sister.

Cath deals with this frustration and separation from her sister, which is exacerbated by her severe social anxiety, which keeps her from even going to the food court for weeks until her roommate finds out and drags her along. As she warms up to her roommate, she also warms up to her roommate’s boyfriend, or at least who she thinks is her roommate’s boyfriend, considering he’s always hanging around.

The college experience challenges Cath all around, and in her writing class, her professor challenges her beyond fanfiction, and Cath starts to question whether she can even be a professional writer. Fangirl is filled with the ruts and bumps that go hand-in-hand with growing well beyond one’s own comfort zone and will have you rooting for Cath along the way.

CHARACTERS
Cath is more interested in her world online where she writes popular fanfiction than what is actually going on around her. She’s a huge fangirl over a Harry Potter-level famous wizarding story called Simon Snow, and her fanfiction is sprinkled throughout the novel, adding a charming touch of insight to Cath’s world.

She also suffers from severe social anxiety. While having lunch with her sister, Wren is shocked that Cath has hardly spoken to her roommate:

“’You still haven’t talked to her?” Wren asked at lunch the next week.
“We talk,” Cath said. “She says, ‘Would you mind closing the window?’ And I say, ‘That’s fine.’ Also, ‘Hey.’ We exchange ‘heys’ daily. Sometimes twice daily.”” (p. 31)

Cath struggles with her relationships with everyone around her, making mistakes and learning from them. She fights with her sister, but she never gives up on her, although more than once she gives up on herself. She doesn’t magically learn her self-worth by the end of the story, nor does she “cure” her social anxiety, but she makes great steps toward learning who she is, standing firm in her boundaries, and mending relationships with the most important people in her life. This is what makes her not only relatable but a great role model.

Wren is the opposite of reclusive Cath; Wren likes going to parties and drinking, while Cath is horrified by the notion; Wren responds when the mother who abandoned them reaches out, while Cath puts up a wall and refuses to have anything to do with her; Wren wants to move past their Simon Snow obsession, while Cath wants to cling on. Although twins, they are very different, something that they have work through together.

Reagan is an upperclassman stuck in a freshman dorm due to overcrowding. Her bold yet apathetic personality is a good foil to Cath’s reclusion, since she helps nudge Cath outside of her restrictive personal limits without being pushy or crossing boundaries. Reagan is also very flirtatious and Cath notices that she stays out with different guys a lot. The great thing about Fangirl is that it doesn’t feed the culture of slut shaming. Cath notes her roommate’s habits but doesn’t pass judgment on her, other than wondering if her “boyfriend” realizes, but then considering that maybe he knows and is okay with having an open relationship.

Levi is one of my all-time, absolute favorite love interests ever. He always has a big, goofy grin and has the persistence and eagerness of an adorable Labrador puppy. He’s a down-to-earth country boy Ag major who drives a truck, works at Starbucks, and shares a house with way too many guys than is sanitary. The best part of Levi is that he is flawed. He is not a perfect character, despite his magnificence, and he makes a huge mistake that he and Cath have to try to work through.

STYLE
Fangirl is straight-forward, without any flowery language, which is good for keeping the reader in the story. Well-written language is a pleasure to read, but sometimes it can pull the reader out of the story when they stop and say, “Wow, what a beautiful description,” rather than being immersed in the world the author created.

At the beginning of each chapter is short passage or quote from Cath’s Simon Snow fanfiction, and throughout the novel, the reader gets longer excerpts when relevant to the story. The inclusion of the Simon Snow fanfiction was a great touch, since it brings insight into Cath’s world, as Simon Snow is her obsession and takes up most of her focus. Fanfiction played a big role in my life, especially in the height of my Harry Potter obsession, so I appreciated reading the excerpts.

OVERALL RECOMMENDATION
READ THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW. Seriously, if you haven’t read a Rainbow Rowell book yet, what are you waiting for? Her books are amazing, especially Fangirl.

5 out of 5 stars

Librarian’s recommendation:

Recommended for teens 14+. References sex and shows alcoholism, but portrays alcohol negatively.

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An Eleanor & Park Movie?!

Eleanor & Park 1 by Rainbow RowellHey book lovers. I’ve just heard some fantastic news. According to Entertainment Weekly, DreamWorks has picked up the rights to Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park!

Now the news of a movie adaptation of a beloved book can be cringe worthy for many people, and for good reason. (I’m looking at you, Prisoner of Azkaban.)

There’s even better news, though! Rainbow Rowell herself will be writing the screenplay! What’s more, she has expressed her fears of Eleanor being cast as a thin girl or Park being cast as “Keanu Reeves,” and the studio calmed her fears by promising that they don’t want to to that either. They want to adapt the novel true to the text.

I for one am excited! Eleanor & Park is a fantastic story, and I can’t wait to see it on screen. Now it’s time to sit back and speculate who’s going to be cast! Who do you think would make a good Eleanor & Park?

Waiting on Wednesday #13: The Geography of You and Me

I am jaded against teen romance novels, and I tend to avoid them on principle. Jennifer E. Smith is slowly changing my opinion on the matter, though. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight was absolutely wonderful (and one of my all time favorite romance novels, at that) and This Is What Happy Looks Like was equally delightful.

Her new novel, The Geography of You and Me, is about Lucy and Owen who get stuck in an elevator together during a city-wide blackout. Once they are rescued, they spend the night in each other’s company before they both travel to opposite sides of the globe. Once separated, they struggle to keep in contact with each other in a long-distance relationship.

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

Release Date: April 15, 2014

Lucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they’re rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.

Lucy and Owen’s relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and — finally — a reunion in the city where they first met.

A carefully charted map of a long-distance relationship, Jennifer E. Smith’s new novel shows that the center of the world isn’t necessarily a place. It can be a person, too.

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

John Green is one of those prolific authors I’ve heard about for a while and whose writing I was fairly certain I’d enjoy, though I never actually got around to reading any of his books. With all of the excitement over the upcoming movie, I was bound to eventually be spoiled, so I decided to delve into The Fault in Our Stars.

PLOT
The Fault in Our Stars is about Hazel Grace, a teenage girl with lung cancer. Although Hazel’s cancer plays a big role in her life, the story is about her growing as a person and learning to let people in and learning to let herself fall in love even though she may be a metaphorical grenade that could go off at any moment, leaving those she loves emotionally devastated.

One day at Support Group, Hazel meets a boy named Augustus Waters. They eye each other throughout the meeting and afterward, hit it off right away. Hazel goes over to his house to watch a movie, and on her way home, they exchange their favorite books and promises to see each other again. The romance is a push and pull of Augusts’s eagerness and Hazel’s weariness, which shows even on the first day, when Hazel doesn’t agree to see August again until he finished reading her favorite book.

Much of the plot is driven by Hazel’s favorite book—An Imperial Affliction. She gives Augustus the book to read, and as they discuss the terrible ending (which stops in the middle of a sentence, after the main character presumably dies from cancer), Augustus decides to contact the author and succeeds! Peter Van Houten writes back, explaining that he won’t put in writing what happened at the end of the novel, as that would qualify as a sequel, but if they were in Amsterdam, where he lives, he would gladly tell them in person. So Augusts decides they should go to Amsterdam! And he conveniently saved his Wish from the Make A Wish Foundation, which will completely pays for him, Hazel, and Hazel’s mom to fly to Amsterdam and meet Van Houten.

They have trouble along the way, including getting clearance from Hazel’s doctors, but eventually they make it and meet Van Houten, and in the process learn about each other and Fall In Love.

CHARACTERS
Hazel is a pretty awesome character. The narrative gives the reader a look into Hazel’s thoughts, which she mostly hides from everyone else. She’s very real and upfront about what she’s going through and her view of the world, which can border on cynicism but would better be described as realism. Hazel has faced death and constantly lives with a countdown hanging above her head, and that kind of experience can only serve to bring into perspective what’s truly important.

When she meets Augusts, his eager attention unsettles her, and she is afraid of letting him get too close—not because he might hurt her but because she might hurt him.  She falls for the tempting act of deciding what’s best for someone else and pushes him away. Later, though, she realizes that Augustus “knew what he was doing, didn’t he? It was his choice, too.” (p. 104). Hazel’s journey of emotional growth is definitely worth reading.

Augustus, on the other hand…is Augustus. I’m sure he’s a fan favorite, but I didn’t much care for him. Augustus is kind, sweet, giving, understanding, and altogether perfect, rolled into a nice ball of pretention, which made for a character that grated. One of the first things that we learned about Augustus is that he has this weird thing for metaphors, which, sure, fine that’s cool. Except for this:

“Then Augusts Waters reached into a pocked and pulled out, of all things, a pack of cigarettes. He flipped it open and put a cigarette between his lips.
“Are you serious?” I asked. “You think that’s cool? Oh, my God, you just ruined the whole thing.”

“They don’t kill you unless you light them,” he said as Mom arrived at the curb. “And I’ve never lit one. It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.”
“It’s a metaphor,” I said, dubious. Mom was just idling.
“It’s a metaphor,” he said.
“You choose your behaviors based on their metaphorical resonances…” I said.
“Oh, yes.” He smiled. The big, goofy, real smile. “I’m a big believer in metaphor, Hazel Grace.” (p. 19-20)

It was quirky and endearing when he did it the first time, but as this odd habit continued, I found myself rolling my eyes and sighing in frustration. Really, though, my biggest problem with Augustus is that he’s too perfect; he is virtually flawless. Like the male counterpart to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Augustus swoops in and shows Hazel How To Live Life To The Fullest! If Augustus had a little more character definition (and a little less metaphorical cigarette non-smoking), then he would have been a much better character.

The supporting characters were fantastic—especially Isaac, who receives the Best Character Award. Isaac is Augustus’s friend, though Hazel knew him before from Support Group. Isaac has eye cancer and, after living for years with only one eye, is getting his second eye removed, making him blind. To top off the awful, Isaac’s girlfriend dumps him right after his surgery, so not only does he have to deal with his blindness, but he has to deal with losing the relationship he thought would always be there. Isaac’s reactions are just so real, and I appreciated it. I enjoyed every scene he was in and wished there was more of him.

LITERARY STYLE
One common criticism of TFIOS is that the characters are unbelievably smart and don’t talk like teenagers. This criticism is definitely true, but I don’t really think it’s a problem. The dialog is sharp and witty, which makes its over intelligence forgivable.

One stylistic choice that bothered me was how sometimes words or phrases were capitalized to show that they were Important Special Words You Should Pay Attention To. (I sprinkled a few immersive examples throughout this review.) Like Augustus’s metaphorical non-smoking, it was endearing the first time, but after the hundredth time, it got old.

ISSUES
My biggest issue with TFIOS was that it was pretentious. For example, Hazel and Augustus would fawn over Peter Van Houten’s letters, saying how brilliantly written they were, which basically is John Green writing about how brilliantly he wrote Van Houten’s letters. That in addition to Augusts’s entire character made for a rather pretentions novel. A very well-written pretentious novel, don’t get me wrong, but still pretentious.

Furthermore, in the very beginning of the novel when Hazel is describing her favorite novel, An Imperial Infliction, a book about cancer, Hazel makes a point to say, “But it’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck” (p. 38), which was John Green’s way of saying that TFIOS is NOT a Cancer Book…but it is. Sure, the plot isn’t about Hazel’s cancer, but everything in the novel centers around it and we’re made to feel deeply for these characters solely because they have cancer and it sucks.

OVERALL RECOMMENDATION
Issues aside, The Fault in Our Stars is a good book and worth the read, so long as you don’t mind crying. A lot. Be prepared—read TFIOS with a box of tissues handy.

3 out of 5 stars

Librarian’s recommendation:

TFIOS contains mild profanity, mentions of sex, and very emotionally taxing situations. Recommended for mature teens (14+).

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