Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow
Release Date: September 20, 2011
Audience: Young Adult
Source: Purchased in Bookstore
Reviewed by: Renée
Fiction * Fantasy * Adventure * Romance

Description from GoodReads:
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can't see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he's not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people's savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.

I loved this book so much. This has been sitting on my shelf for months, waiting for me to find some time to sit down and read it, and when I saw that it was recently awarded a finalist for the Morris Prize, I decided it was time to give it a try. The Girl of Fire and Thorns is unlike anything I have read in the young adult genre. While it will definitely appeal to fans of Graceling, Blood Red Road, and Tamora Pierce, this novel is something completely new and original (and Rae Carson's writing is incredibly beautiful).

The fantasy world in The Girl of Fire and Thorns is very special. The concept of someone being born every century carrying a Godstone -- a jewel on his/her stomach -- that marks her for greatness by God was a unique twist on the "chosen one" trope that comes up frequently in many pst-Harry Potter series. I loved the way that religion played such a strong role in shaping the characters' destinies, and how it placed this heavy burden on the protagonist, Elisa, to rise to the task. I know that many people, myself included, are wary of novels that even vaguely reference religion, but the spirituality in this book is not of the preachy converting sort. It's more a of a plot device that puts heavier responsibility on Elisa to fulfill her prophecy and acts as a means to emphasizing each character's unique traits, such as loyalty, obedience, and fear. The spirituality in this book definitely will not alienate or offend anyone, and is purely fictional.

Another unique thing about this story was the culture of the characters. Although, it is never stated, many of the characters have names like Alejandro and Humberto, and Spanish-sounding city names, which suggests that they might all be Spanish or Castilian. I really liked this, because the majority of mainstream YA focuses on White Americans or English protagonists, so it was nice to read about a different landscape, foods, architecture, and people for a change. Despite the fantastical/magical elements that characterize a lot of the action and plot development of the story, these cultural touches made it feel very real and excited the traveler in me.

While the writing was truly superb and mature, and the setting was special, the best part of the novel for me was the character development. Elisa is such a great protagonist. She is the overweight, moody, 'dark-skinned' second daughter to the king, and she undergoes such an amazing emotional transformation throughout the book. I liked reading about someone who was genuinely unpopular and insecure in an obvious way (with her being rather plump) and seeing her grow from that and become more than just what people see on the outside. I loved how Rae Carson handled the issue of being overweight and how she made Elisa's maturity and emotional journey something that is not solely tied to whether she loses weight or not. I also loved some of the secondary characters. There were definitely some guys that I loved in the novel -- some who I hope will become more than Elisa's friends and some who I hope just remain as close friends (but I won't spoil it by naming names). Also, I loved Ximena and, eventually, Cosme. I always find it refreshing when young adult books can include some strong female friendships or alliances, instead of always pitting girls against each other as competitors or scheming frauds. Even the villains in the novel were complex, and of a breed that I was not expecting at all. I finished this book and honestly felt like I was being parted from my friends.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns is fantastic, and went immediately to my "favorites" shelf after reading. It is intense, and Rae Carson doesn't hesitate to hurt or kill off characters, so beware. You will become very emotionally attached. The action is non-stop, the heroine is strong, and the romance is so sweet, and it will leaving you dying for Crown of Embers (Book 2).

I write books about teens who must do brave things. I'm originally from California, but I moved to Ohio to marry my husband, who is the smartest and therefore sexiest man I know. We live in Columbus with my teenaged stepsons, who are awesome. My books tend to contain lots of adventure, a little magic and romance, and smart girls who make (mostly) smart choices. I especially love to write about questions I don't know the answers to. Follow her on Twitter: @raecarson

Her website is: 

Destiny Binds: Character Interview

Sometimes strange circumstances bring you into contact with people you would otherwise never have met.  One of those circumstances led me to Tammy Blackwell.  At that time, Tammy was working on a manuscript for a YA fantasy story.  I offered to read her story and provide some feedback.  When I received the computer file, I opened up the document and started reading.  Several hours later, I had finished the manuscript and was emailing her a message that basically went something like this - "there better be more or else".  Destiny Binds is the finished version of that early manuscript that I read.  I will be posting a review of tomorrow with a giveaway.

As a teaser to get readers interested in Destiny Binds, Tammy answered a bunch of questions that I posed to Scout (the main character) and her brother Jase.  Hope you enjoy meeting Scout and Jase and get a taste of Tammy's humor.     

What's the worst thing about sharing a bathroom?

Scout: Wet towels that never seem to make it to the rack. A toilet seat that is never down. Basketball uniforms that get wadded up and thrown in the corner until they’re able to walk downstairs to the washing machine all by themselves.

Jase: Squeezable Lip Smackers.

Scout: Seriously? That was like five years ago.

Jase: And I spent four months never knowing when or where I would discover glittery, cherry flavored blobs on my person.

What are 5 things you would expect to find in your sibling’s backpack?

Jase: The Big Boring Book of Math; The Big Boring Book of English; The Big Boring Book of History; The Backwards Book of Weird Japanese Comics; and a pack of gum

Scout: Sports Illustrated; homework he should have turned in three weeks ago; a collection of McDonald’s receipts; an entire bag’s worth of potato chip crumbs; and the iPod Angel can’t find anywhere

Jase: I do not have Angel’s iPod

Scout: *raises eyebrows*

Jase: You’re not going to tell her, are you?

What is on your iPod/MP3 players?

Scout: I’ve been listening to a lot of Sea Wolf and Josh Ritter lately

Jase: What she means is, “I’ve been listening to whiny, folky crap that makes you want to slit your wrists.”

Scout: So says the boy who thinks Jay-Z qualifies as music.

Jase: Jay-Z does qualify as music. Just ask the Grammy’s.

Scout: You know who else wins Grammy’s? Taylor Swift.

Jase: Point taken.

What is your idea of the perfect date?

Jase: Front row tickets to a Lakers game and some In-and-Out burgers.

Scout: How on earth do you manage to talk girls into dating you? Does the word “romance” mean anything to you?

Jase: My date involves a trip to LA. That’s classy. But I suppose it doesn’t live up to the romance of all those nights you sat at Dairy Queen listening to Dalton Riley ramble on about he was going to go to Harvard because he was the smartest man to ever live.

Scout: I hate you.

Who is your favorite fictional character and if you could spend an afternoon with them what would you do?

Scout: That’s hard. Atticus Finch would be cool, but I don’t know what we would really do together. I mean, I don’t really have any desire to be involved in a racially charged trial and my dad is pretty awesome, so I don’t really need any of that fatherly stuff. Would it be too horribly trite to say that I would want to hang out with Harry Potter at Hogwarts? Because, seriously, that would be awesome.

Jase: I want a one-on-one match with Michael Jordan.

Scout: Michael Jordan is a real person.

Jase: Yeah. So?

Scout: So he’s not a fictional character. Pick a fictional character.

Jase: Fine. I want to hang out with Harry Potter, too. But not at the school. I want to go to that store Fred and George opened. That looked really cool in the movie.

Who was your favorite TV cartoon character as a kid?

Jase: Scooby Doo. He was the coolest dog ever.

Scout: A tie between Buttercup and Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls.

Jase: Mojo Jojo? Why do you always like the bad guys?

Scout: They’re not bad. They’re just misunderstood.

If you can have any kind of supernatural power/ability what would it be?

Scout: I want to be Batman. I know that’s not really a supernatural power, but those always seem so silly. I mean, immortals who are allergic to garlic or sparkle in the sun? Seriously?

Jase: Vampires are stupid, but people who can turn into animals? That’s cool. I would be one of those.

Last question, if you found your sibling’s diary, would you read it?

Scout: Jase doesn’t keep a diary.

Jase: But if I did...?

Scout: Honestly? I would probably read a few pages before the guilt made me stop. Unless it’s an account of your dating escapades. Then I would only make it a couple of sentences before the nausea hit. Would you read my diary?

Jase: Been there, done that.

Scout: You have not.

Jase: “Today I almost tripped Ashley Johnson in the hallway. I didn’t, of course, but I seriously thought about it. I imagined it all in my head. Her toppling over and bursting those stupid, fake boobs...”

Scout: Give me one good reason not to kill you.

Jase: Because I’m your brother and you love me.

Thanks to Miss Tammy for the character interview.  Tammy Blackwell is the Young Adult Services Coordinator for a public library system in Kentucky. When she's not reading, writing, or cataloging books, she's sleeping.  She is the author of the YA Novel Destiny Binds

Book Review - Fury of the Phoenix

Author: Cindy Pon
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (March 29, 2011)
Reading Level: Young Adult, Also an excellent Crossover Book for Adults
Source: ARC for review from Publisher
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Description from GoodReads:

Cindy Pon’s debut novel Silver Phoenix was called “fluid and exhilarating” in a starred review from Booklist, and Meg Cabot called it “an addictive gem.” In this companion novel, seventeen-year-old Ai Ling—her powers stronger than ever—stows away aboard a cargo ship in order to protect devastatingly handsome Chen Yong during his quest to locate his father. Masquerading as brother and sister, Ai Ling and Chen Yong face demonic predators on the ocean voyage, but their biggest threat comes from the kingdom of the dead. Part supernatural page-turner, part love story, and altogether stirring, Fury of the Phoenix further heralds the arrival of Cindy Pon as a stellar author of paranormal romance and fantasy. 

**** Review containers spoilers for SILVER PHOENIX.****

My Review:   About a year ago, I discovered Cindy Pon's 2009 debut novel SILVER PHOENIX.  In Pon's first book, she created a vivid fantasy setting influenced heavily by China and Chinese mythology.  This was high fantasy that moved away from the typical Celtic/British fantasy tales.  In the first book, we are introduced to Ai-ling - an independent, strong-spirited teen who leaves home to find her father and to escape an unpleasant marriage arrangement.  Ai-ling has special gifts that she slowly discovers throughout the book.  We are also introduced to Li-Rong and Chen Yong - two brothers that accompany Ai-ling on her journey.  The book concludes with a confrontation between Ai-ling and Zhong Ye, a powerful dark sorcerer, who views Ai-ling as someone who can re-connect him with Silver Phoenix, his first love.

Since finishing SILVER PHOENIX, I have been wanting to read the sequel. It is always a good sign when I really want to read the sequel.  There are so many books that I read the first one and think "when I get to the next one, I get to it".   However, Pon created a world that I wanted to spend more time in and to discover what would happen to Ai-ling and Chen Yong.  

When I started FURY OF THE PHOENIX, I was fully expecting a similar story to SILVER PHOENIX.  This is not a negative reflection of what I expected from Pon's writing but rather, an expectation of most sequels which tend to be very similar in format offering very little that is new.  Of course, when the novel kicks off with Ai-ling attempting to illegally board a vessel in order to stow away and attempt to save Chen Yong's life, I wasn't surprised.  My thought - great way to kick off the start of this tale.  However, as I kept reading, something wasn't falling into place.  This book had a different feel to it.  

First, this book has two narrators.  The story shifts between Ai-ling's perspective and time to Zhong Ye's perspective from when he was a young Eunuch in the Emperor's Court.  Initially, I wondered about this choice.  Yet, I was soon wrapped up in Zhong Ye's early life and his relationship with Silver Phoenix and what led him to become the sorcerer that we came to see him as in SILVER PHOENIX.  

Second, the action is significantly different in this story.  As the journey unfolded, I found myself loving the back history that is revealed and how the past and present provide a mystery & love story that sucks the reader in. It was at this point where I had to literally make a mental shift.  Pon wasn't being predictable and safe.  She had deftly added an additional layer to the story that I really found intriguing. Rather than just a fantasy adventure, this delved into aspects of motivation, choice, consequences, forgiveness, love and redemption. Throughout the story, I kept trying to figure out how she was going to pull it all together and do so in a way that would be satisfying and provide a fitting ending to her series. And guess what...she did pull the whole story together and I loved the ending.

I so wish I could say much, much more but I don't want to spoil this especially since the book won't be out for another 3 months. If you loved SILVER PHOENIX, you'll love FURY OF THE PHOENIX

If you haven't read SILVER PHOENIX, why don't you go read it now so that you can be ready for the release of FURY OF THE PHOENIX in late March.  I am pre-ordering my copy of FURY now so that I will have a lovely hardcover to match my copy of SILVER PHOENIX.  And I just may have to go all fan-girl and track Cindy Pon down at a author event/signing to get it signed as well.  

For more information about Cindy Pon, check out her website   

or you can find her on twitter: @cindypon