I find it funny that people are comparing this book to Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games but not to the Graceling series. Game of Thrones makes sense because of the crazy king who thirsts for power, uprisings from conquered peoples, and mystical power that comes into play… But I don’t think Hunger Games is too similar. I mean, yes, there is a competition in which people are trained to fight and then whittle down to a single champion — but they aren’t forced to join the competition in the first place and not everyone who loses the game will end up dead. The Graceling series, on the other hand, has a badass heroine who was trained as an assassin and used as a weapon of sorts by the king. Sounds an awful lot like Celaena Sardothien!
Celaena was known throughout Erilea as one of the greatest assasins of all time, but her legend didn’t include the fact that she was both beautiful and very young. When the Crown Prince, Dorian, went to see her in the salt mines of a prison camp called Endovier — where most people last only about a month, but she had already managed to last over a year — he came with a rather strange proposition. Even though she had been sent to Endovier by order of the king, he asked Celaena to enter the competition to be the king’s champion. There was a catch, of course… She had to use an alias so that the people of the kingdom wouldn’t know they had all been “petrified of a girl” all along, and she had to return to Endovier if she lost. Though it was tempting to simply refuse, Prince Dorian’s offer also came with a pretty awesome reward; if Celaena won the competition and served the king for a number of years, she could actually earn her freedom. She would have been a fool to refuse, but she also worried that she had been foolish to accept — especially once champions started turning up murdered… shredded by some unknown beast.
John “Smoke” Conlan is serving time at a juvenile detention center known to most simply as the Y. He’s there because he was convicted of murdering two people — but he didn’t really kill his teacher, Mrs. Cruz, and the boy he killed was an accident. That boy, by the way, happened to be the only other witness to Mrs. Cruz’ murder. Ack! (John feels so guilty about both of those deaths, though, he doesn’t really feel like he deserves any better than the Y.)
John earned the nickname “Smoke” because he seems to have the ability to go anywhere and see anything. No one knows quite how he manages to get all the information he does, but they’re more than happy to enlist his services. In truth, people probably wouldn’t believe him if he told them. You see, ever since his near death experience, John has had the ability to separate himself from his body and to navigate through the world in a ghostly form. That was how he witnessed Mrs. Cruz’ murder in the first place, and that is how he gets information for other people at the Y. If it wasn’t for a run-in with a girl he calls Pink, who can see and communicate with him, he probably would have given up on himself completely. But, because Pink seems to believe in him — and because he wants to protect her, since she wound up in danger after visiting him at the Y — John finds the courage to search a little harder and to try and clear his name…
Long-time readers of my blog have suffered through my constant lamentations that everything is a freaking series … I sometimes read a book not realizing that it is the first in a series (ahem, Cinder) and just about die waiting for the rest of the series to be published. Back when this book first came out, I knew it was part of a planned series and made the conscious decision to wait until after all of the books were out before I read it. I had heard it was good and all, but I didn’t hear enough to lure me into actually cheating. The final book of this series came out in November, so I decided I was ready to binge-read the series (well, binge-listen to the audiobooks) this winter. Part of me is glad I didn’t have any major gaps of time in between the stories, but part of me is so mad at myself that I didn’t just suck it up and read these from the start. Such is life, right?!? Darned if you do, and darned if you don’t!
The Finishing School series is just so amazing that it’s hard to explain, but I will do my best to point out the various things I loved. The cast of characters, both normal and nefarious, was fabulous. I think I may have clicked with this series so quickly because Sophronia has a very Georgia Nicholson feel to her — awkward but lovable; smart but bumbling. She’s awesome enough that readers might want to be like her and not so perfect as to be annoying, you know? And although it’s a mystery and a fantasy that takes place in a finishing school, it is a lot sillier than Libba Bray’s [Gothic mystery] Gemma Doyle series. It still had plenty of mystery, and there were conflicts with supernatural creatures aplenty, but there was a much lighter feel to it overall. Readers who enjoyed the steampunk airships of Oppel’s Airborn series and Westerfeld’s Leviathan series will appreciate the fact that Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is held aboard a dirigible. Not to mention the proliferation of gadgets, like exploding wicker chickens and mechanical wiener dogs! If you like steampunk, supernatural mysteries, and/or tales of girls who don’t quite fit in with their high society families, I recommend you check this series out.
Jeremy Johnson Johnson was rather unlucky. Not only did his mom leave him and his dad, but his father became so crippled by depression that he became a total recluse. Jeremy became, in essence, the adult of the household and started taking care of things to the best of his abilities. After Jeremy was involved in a prank gone awry, though, he was ostracized by the townspeople who had previously given him enough work to get by. With the final “balloon payment” of the mortgage on his father’s bookstore [aka his home] coming due very soon, Jeremy began to panic. Fortunately, he had a friend, Ginger, who had a crazy plan and a guardian angel of sorts, Jacob, looking after him. Whether he was actually an angel is debatable, but there was no doubt that Jeremy could definitely communicate with the ghost of Jacob Grimm — one of the famous Brothers Grimm. Jacob was pretty sure he had not yet passed on completely because he still had a purpose on earth, and he was certain that his purpose was to keep Jeremy safe. Readers who are familiar with Grimm fairy tales will surely guess that something “grim” is in the cards, but they’re not likely to guess exactly what until it’s already too late. This clever combination of old-fashioned fairy tales and modern storytelling has plenty of suspense and plot twists to keep readers on the edge of their seats, and I’m glad I can finally settle back in mine again. 🙂
Let me just start off my review by stating that I refuse to read any further books if this trilogy suddenly becomes a series with four or more books, like The Selection. As far as I am concerned, this trilogy is complete, there is no more story, and Jenny Hand and Siobhan Vivian should leave it alone! 😉 (Who am I kidding? I’m sure I would eat it up if they published anything else because I tore through these books!) Oh… And there is one other thing I would like to clarify before starting my actual review. Some people might start reading the first book and think the “sci-fi/fantasy” classification is unjustified. Even at the end of the first book, I was a little unsure if the supernatural element was quite enough to justify being in the “sci-fi/fantasy” section of the Teen Area. But, trust me when I say that it will make sense if you keep reading. Continue reading
This story had a little bit of everything. The whole enchilada, if you will. (Sorry, but I couldn’t resist using that pun!) But seriously. This story had drama, action, fantasy, humor, sports, and a love story all wrapped up in one. Fans of books like Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and Croak will definitely want to check this book out! Continue reading
As the outgoing President of the Youth Services Section of the NY Library Association, I had the honor of sitting at the head table for the 2014 YSS Empire State Award Luncheon. During the luncheon, the ESA winner, Jacqueline Woodson, was discussing some of the books she had read recently and could not stop gushing about Belzhar. (I didn’t realize at the time that she was also the featured blurb on the back of the book, but she had me sold.) I somehow managed to forget to add a request on the book when I returned to work, though. Fortunately, a colleague put Belzhar on the “Staff Picks” display last week and my friend [upon seeing it on display] asked whether I had read it yet. I said that I didn’t yet but certainly planned on it. She insisted that I take it home RIGHT THEN so that she would have someone with whom she could discuss the ending. Well, I picked it up for a “short” reading break yesterday afternoon, and I read more than half the book. I had to stop reading to eat dinner and to read bedtime stories with my kids, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Belzhar and had to finish reading it before I could go to sleep! Continue reading