Stacking the Shelves: March 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015
Button  owned/made by Wilde Heart Book Blogs
Stacking the Shelves is a meme created by Tynga Reviews in which bloggers post photos and information on what books they've purchased/received/borrowed during the week!

 

At the beginning of this month, I visited my aunt & grandmother in Arizona for a week, and my aunt, knowing how much I love books, brought me to the bookstore for a shopping spree! First, she was said, "Choose a book!" So I went and picked The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski (it had just came out that day). When I showed the book to her, she said, "That was fun. Pick another!" and so I picked out A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. When I brought her that one, she said, "One more. Pick one more!" Which led me to The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Best shopping day ever! & Best Auntie Ever :)

After binge-watching Game of Thrones Seasons 1-4, I was on a high fantasy kick. I spent way too many hours on BestFantasyBooks.com & ended up ordering three first books in highly acclaimed series.

1. Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, the first book in a YA high fantasy series (Shattered Sea series) set in a Nordic-inspired empire.
2. Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb. This book topped BestFantasyBook's "Best Romantic Fantasy Books" list, which is one of my favorite sub-genres of fantasy, if not my favorite. (This just means it's high fantasy but with a strong romantic sub plot). Plus, I've never read a Robin Hobb book, although I've heard brilliant things about her writing & characters.
3. The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley. This one made all the Best Fantasy Debuts of 2014 lists, and the sequel, The Providence of Fire, which has just been released, has been getting rave reviews. Plus, I believe it's Asian-inspired, if that gorgeous cover is any indication.

Anyway, looking forward to reading all of these books!!! If you've read any, I'd love to hear your thoughts. And if you got any books recently you're excited to read, I'd love to hear about them! 

Book Review: The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley

Thursday, March 26, 2015
The Seer and the Sword (Healer and Seer, #1)
Author: Victoria Hanley
Genre: YA Fantasy > Second-World Fantasy, Medieval
Setting: A Medieval Fantasy Kingdom
Copyright: 2000
Publisher: Dell Laurel-Leaf [imprint of Random House]
Paperback: 352 pages
Legend states that there exists a mighty sword that makes its possessor invincible to his enemies. But there is a curse on anyone who lifts the sword for conquest. King Kareed of Archeld goes after this sword anyway, winning it from the King of Bellandra. When he returns home from battle, he brings his daughter, Princess Torina, two special gifts. One is a unique crystal, in which she can view visions of the future. The other gift is the defeated king’s son Landen, who is to be her slave. Torina immediately releases Landen, who becomes a member of the King’s army and her close friend.

But trouble is lurking in the kingdom of Archeld and people are accusing Landen of plotting against the King. Torina refuses to believe he would hurt her family. Then Torina begins seeing deadly visions in her crystal. Can she save her father’s life and the future of her kingdom?
I've read a lot of YA fantasy from the 90's to the early 00's, which pretty made up my childhood and cemented my love for fantasy - authors like Tanith Lee, Philip Pullman, Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley...they made me into the epically voracious reader I am today.

I recently re-read The Seer and the Sword and now I'm on a High Fantasy kick. I already ordered the first book in Robin Hobb's Liveship Trilogy and Brian Staveley's The Emperor's Blades. I need more worlds to explore! & characters to love :)

Reasons WHY you should read this book:
**Old School Fantasy. This is old school YA fantasy at its best. It's a typical sword & sorcery with warring kingdoms & a princess and prince.
**True Love. At it's core, the story is about a friendship between a boy and girl, begun in childhood, and how something as simple as trust & love can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and hardship.
**Magical Objects! There's a SWORD! There's a crystal orb in which the SEER looks into. Not-really-a-spoiler alert: The Sword = The Prince. The Seer = The Princess. They're in the title!
**I've Loved You for Years. Landen and Torina meet when they're children (she's 9, he's 13), and the narrative follows them through the years. At the end, she's around 19, he's 23.
**Standalone. Although there are "sequels", the sequels focus on the generation of Landen & Torina's children. This book can be read as a self-contained story.
**Riches to Rags to Riches. Both characters go through many hardships throughout the story. Both of them at some point lose their royal status and have to start entirely over, without family or friends.
**Great Secondary Characters. Self-explanatory. & they get point-of-view chapters as well.

Plot: After Princess Torina of Archeld's father conquers the neighboring kingdom of Bellandra, he brings back the prince of Bellandra to be her slave. Upon meeting the sad-eyed boy, who'd lost both father and kingdom in the war, Torina immediately frees Landen. This begins an unlikely friendship, between a wild-haired princess & a quiet, kind boy. As they grow older, their situations (she, a princess; he, a soldier and foreigner) keep them apart, until a series of fateful events drive them both away from Archeld, in separate directions -- to start over as entirely different people, without family or friends. In time, Torina must go back to her kingdom, now under the rule of a usurper, and reclaim her rightful place; while Landen must find his own way in the world -- a way that hopefully brings him back to Torina.
Welcome spring sunshine warmed her as she rested from turning the earth. It was Avril, the month of her birth. She was sixteen. No lustrous gowns or pretty minstrels marked the day; no loving parents at her side, smiling in celebration. Instead, she was planting a vegetable garden. - The Seer and the Sword 
Main Characters: Torina. Great development of her character in this book, from a spoiled princess with a big heart to a fearful princess without a kingdom to a brave princess fighting for her kingdom and the boy she loves. Landen. I adore Torina, but I just love Landen. He goes from prince to slave to soldier to mercenary to leader to king. It's epic.  
Favorite Secondary Character: King Dahmis. Everyone loves a young peace-seeking king.
Villain: Vesputo. Even his name starts with a V for Villain. Every fantasy book needs a power-hungry traitor who does awful things and is the worst ever.
World Building: Typical YA Fantasy world building. We have kingdoms...we have war...we have magic!
An image of Landen’s eyes flashed across Torina’s inner vision: the glowing fires of a sun merging with cool depths of still water. - The Seer and the Sword
Writing: There's a reason I love old school YA Fantasy books. The writing is smooth, a type of natural storytelling that is somehow...comforting. And there are jewels, like that ^^ quote above. Absolutely beautiful.

Recommendations: For Old School YA Fantasy, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. For another "regain your kingdom" type of story, The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Both have sweet romances in them, too!

Axie's Rating: 5 out of 5. Old Favorite. Old School YA Fantasy. The 1st half of the book is really good, but it becomes truly epic in the second half. 

Film Review: Cinderella (2015)

Monday, March 23, 2015
Fairy Tale Re-Telling | Cinderella
PG
105 minutes
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Chris Weitz (Screenplay)
CastLily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Stellan SkarsgÄrd, Helena Bonham Carter, Nonso Anozie, Holliday Grainger, Sophie McShera, Derek Jacobi, Hayley Atwell


It begins with the Disney logo…and already nostalgia sets in...

Well, I guess before that is the Disney Frozen short, which was unsurprisingly adorable. I cried. It's not sad, I just cry at everything. I cried twice during Cinderella. 


Moving on... 

7 Reasons to Watch Cinderella:

1. Frozen opening short.
Everyone expected it to be cute. EVERYONE WAS RIGHT. This just makes waiting for Frozen 2 bearable.

2. Visual Effects. 
I love live-action remakes of fairy tales. It just makes for a ton of eye candy. Other than the mice...which, I'm sorry, real-life rodents are not cute (I am an evil stepsister in this regard and/or Lucifer the cat)...the special effects in Cinderella are stunning. Especially since they center upon important things like Costumes & Castles & Magic (& Shoes). Which leads me to...

3. Costumes. Cinderella's dresses are all prettier updates of the cartoon classic. She spends the most time in her ^^blue dress which somehow never gets dirty even though she's worn it every day for years. The iconic blue ballroom gown (see above) which emphasizes Cinderella's tiny waist when contrasted with the epic hoop skirt is appropriately puffy. And also looks like it'd be really hard to dance in. Lastly, who's idea was to put Kit (Prince Charming) in tight white pants?!?! Thank you.


4. Lily James as Cinderella.Great casting with Lily James, who apparently auditioned for a role as a stepsister, but was asked to audition for Cinderella by the casting director right then & there. She even looks like Hayley Atwell, which makes it totally believable they're related. She has a really pretty singing voice (She sings "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" on the the Cinderella soundtrack) & most importantly she somehow exudes "kindness" and "goodness" in a very believable and genuine manner. No camp or awkwardly disingenuous moments here! (I'm looking at you, Mirror Mirror). 


WHICH IS WHY I MOVED TO DISNEY!!!
5. Robb Stark gets a happy ending. [this will just be a bunch of Game of Throne jokes]
I wonder if, when addressed as “Kit” in the movie by his co-stars, he looked over his shoulder thinking to find Kit Harrington.

Let me just say this. Richard Madden without a beard really tripped me up. He has no beard. It's weird. 

His character also wants to marry for love instead of duty. Good thing there aren’t any terrible consequences this time around.

I wonder if Richard Madden & Nonso Anozie realized they were in GoT together. After all, they were on opposite sides of the Narrow Sea.

Obviously I paid a lot of attention to his performance as Prince Charming in this movie & not the fact that he was in Game of Thrones. The casting for Cinderella is pretty daring overall (besides Cate Blanchett as the evil Stepmother) - I kind of love it. They’ve using all talented actors & they’re not “obvious” choices. I mean, casting Robb Stark as Prince Charming is pretty brilliant. Technically, the two audiences for Game of Thrones & Cinderella should NOT overlap. But if you don't know Richard Madden from GoT then you might be think he'd be a weird choice, cause A. you wouldn't know him from anything else, presumably & B. He's not a princely boyish Josh Hutcherson/Zac Efron type.


6. Rest of the superb cast Everyone’s raving about Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother, and she is undeniably a good evil stepmother. However, it’s not like she does anything truly different. I felt like Angelica Huston sold that role better in Ever After. Helena Bonham Carter - this was a strange carryover from Alice in Wonderland, but I liked it. I’d rather the godmother was kind of kooky rather than just a pretty, white-haired lady. 

7. All the promotional stuff
Lots of red carpet events/premieres means lots of pretty Cinderella-type dresses! Yay!

Fun Fact: 
Looking Forward To Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast (2017) directed by Bill Condon (Twilight).
I'm cool with the Beast casting, considering Dan Stevens has piercing blue eyes which will translate brilliantly in a high definition movie. He looks like an older Draco Malfoy, aka evil, which is what the prince is supposed to be...before he's changed into a Beast. 

I'm not sold on Emma Watson as Belle yet. One of the great things about Cinderella is that it casted (generally) new faces in iconic roles, so they could inhabit the role. Not saying Emma Watson isn't a great actress, but this movie seems to be making the same mistake as when it cast Kristen Stewart as Snow White. Their previous roles aren't far enough away from THIS role. Bella = Snow White-esque (both damsels in distress). Hermione = Belle-esque (both intelligent women).


Series Review: The Bloodlines Series by Richelle Mead

Thursday, March 12, 2015
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance > Vampires
Copyright: 2011 (Book 1), 2012 (Book 2), 2013 (Book 3)
Publisher: Razorbill
The Fiery Heart (Bloodlines, #4)Silver Shadows (Bloodlines, #5)The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines, #6)

Genre: YA Paranormal Romance > Vampires
Copyright: 2013 (Book 4), 2014 (Book 5), 2015 (Book 6)
Publisher: Razorbill

Back in the day (aka back in the Fall), I was looking at some friends' goodreads updates on the Bloodlines series, and thinking to myself: What is this Bloodlines nonsense? Why is there a whole spinoff series off of Vampire Academy? Also, those covers look horrendous. Fast forward to now, in which time I've read....all of the Vampire Academy books...and then all of the Bloodlines books.

I even did an epic review of the Vampire Academy series. Check it out: here.

I also went to a book signing last month w/ Richelle Mead, in which she talked about the Bloodlines series & future projects. Check it out: here.

Read this series if you like:
**Paranormal Romance. It's a romance between a human and a vampire, but it somehow goes beyond that. The human has powers in her own right (witchcraft!) & the vampire is more like a skinny guy who has magical powers & needs to drink blood. Aka he's not immortal & super powerful. And he can't turn into the bat (lame for him).
**A super smart heroine who loves school and cleaning. The best scene in the The Indigo Spell is when Sydney is scoping out the bedroom of a potential enemy and folds his clothing.
**Witchcraft! Oh, and did I mention Sydney's a burgeoning witch?
**Magic. Witchcraft works the normal way (is there a normal way for witchcraft?) w/ spells & potion-making. As for the vampires, Moroi (genetically-born vampires) can control the elements; including the fifth element - spirit, which has healing powers, as well as the power to manipulate dreams & compulsion (a slight form of mind control in which you can get people to do what you want).
**Unique Worldbuilding using Vampire myth & culture. Like the first book, vampires are categorized as Moroi or Strigoi. Moroi vampires are not immortal, but have magical powers, drink blood & look like supermodel humans. Strigoi are powerful immortal demons of the night--evil and want to eat you! Then there are the Dhampir. These are super strong humans, born from a Moroi & a human. Finally there are Alchemists & Witches. Alchemists are humans who reluctantly ally with the Moroi to protect humans from Strigoi & to protect the world from finding out vampires exist. Witches are humans with magical powers who do their own thing, sister!
**Re-occuring Cast of Characters. Richelle Mead runs the side character show. Her side characters are brilliant. Every single one of them is interesting and memorable, with motivations & back story.



Plot: 19-year old Alchemist Sydney Sage, who was one of Rose's main allies towards the end of the Vampire Academy series, is assigned to help protect and pose as a relation to Jill Dragomir, vampire princess, at a human boarding school in sunny Palm Springs, California. Sydney, already having conflicting feelings over vampires (are they really as evil as she's been taught?), is reluctant to take the assignment, but finally agrees in order to prove to her organization (and to herself) that she's Team Human. Of course, when she ends up in Palm Springs and finally meets the group accompanying Jill, she's surprised to see gorgeous Adrian Ivashkov tagging along. What ensues is a series surrounding Sydney as she befriends Jill, Adrian & the gang, fighting evil & paving her own path in the world.
Main Character: Sydney Sage. After writing the Vampire Academy series, Richelle Mead said she wanted to write a series about a heroine who fights with words rather than her fists. Sydney is a smart, matter-of-fact & courageous heroine. She's very steady-hearted and kind, as well as a necessary contrast to all-over-the-place emotionally Adrian. Which brings me to...
I’d bought and downloaded the “bad boy” book online, but it had been completely useless in advising me. - Sydney in The Indigo Spell 
Love Interest: Adrian Ivashkov. I l<3ved Adrian in the Vampire Academy series. He is his adorably sensitive, incurably romantic self all throughout this series. 
Favorite Secondary Character(s): Eddie! & Jill. By the end of the series (after Sydney & Adrian become a duo), I was all about Jeddie... Also, Ms. Terwilliger (Sydney's mentor) is such a great character. She's like an older, kookier version of Sydney. 
Villain: The main villain of this novel is the prejudice that humans have for vampires & vice versa. If Sydney's organization, the Alchemists, ever found out she was getting friendly with the vampires, let alone falling in love with one of them, they would...come after her...in a bad way.
World Building: It's modern day USA, but vampires exist! As do witches & alchemists & vampire hunters. Vampires themselves are classified into three categories: Moroi (pure blood vampires that drink blood for sustenance, but age like humans & have the same moral compasses as humans), Dhampir (half vampire/half human), and Strigoi (immortal, evil, drink your blood until you die vampires).
Writing: No-nonsense, straight-to-the-point narration. & oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny.

“But I’m telling you, if you want to get a guy to do something that might be difficult, then the best way is to distract him so that he can’t devote his full brainpower to the consequences.”
“You don’t have a lot of faith in your own gender.”
“Hey, I’m telling you the truth. I’ve been distracted by sexy dresses a lot.” 
 - Sydney & Adrian in The Indigo Spell   
Recommendations: This is a tough one. Maybe for a heroine who's smart & independent, try the Daughter of Smoke & Bone series by Laini Taylor. For a similar-ish hero POV try Holly Black's Curseworkers series.
Overall Series Rating: 4.5 out of 5. I took off .5 stars b/c I do think the last book was rushed (which Mead explained at her signing was due to time constraints). & I honestly wish the book had stayed in Sydney's point-of-view the whole series. Don't get me wrong--LOVE Adrian, but I felt like Sydney was sometimes overshadowed by his overpowering "voice", especially in the last book. I added .5 stars b/c the cast of characters is so endearing & after twelve books, you can't give a series less than 4.5 out of 5 stars. Come on.

Also, can we take a moment to revel in this Sydney & Rose moment--which is really what this whole series is about:
The two of them made a striking combo, one dark and one golden, both utterly fearless in the face of this danger. They were beautiful in their deadliness - The Ruby Circle   
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