Ash

It is no secret that I love fairy tales.  I especially like retellings of these tales, particularly when they have a twist.  My latest read, Ash by Malinda Lo, is a retelling of Cinderella, and it definitely has a twist (many twists, in fact).  I’ll get to the changes soon, but I must say that this story is beautifully written, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys fairy tales.  Malinda Lo has crafted a timely version of the Cinderella story that is so haunting, so rich, and so vibrant that readers who take the time to truly appreciate the story will not be disappointed.

Ash seems to lose everything in the blink of an eye.  First, her mother dies.  A short time later, after remarrying suddenly, Ash’s father becomes sick and leaves Ash all alone.  Her cruel stepmother forces Ash to become a servant in her own home, and Ash grieves for the life she once knew.  Her only solace is in reading the fairy tales her mother passed on to her.  Ash wonders if the fairies are real, and, if they are, will they take her away from her current life and the pain that comes with it?

Her answer comes in the form of Sidhean, a fairy who seems to have a strange connection to Ash.  Ash wants Sidhean to take her with him to the realm of the fairies, but he resists and insists that she is not ready.  Ready for what?  Ash does not know, but she can feel Sidhean’s presence with her, and she knows that the time will come when he will claim her forever.

Everything changes, though, when Ash encounters Kaisa, the king’s huntress.  The more time Ash spends with Kaisa, the less she focuses on Sidhean.  She grows closer to the huntress and does whatever she can, including making wishes of fairies (which are never simple and always come with a price), to spend more time with Kaisa.  Ash and Kaisa develop a friendship, which soon evolves into something that neither young woman was expecting.

When Ash realizes that her time with Sidhean grows closer–and her time with Kaisa comes to an end–she knows that she has a choice to make.  Will she go with the fairy who has given her all that she has asked, or will she risk everything for the love she has always wanted?  Read Ash to discover what happens when one young woman must decide between the fairy tale and true love.

Although I kind of knew what to expect when I began reading Ash, I was not prepared for the absolute beauty of the story.  I was utterly captivated.  It did not (and does not) matter to me that the Cinderella in this story did not want the handsome prince.  She just wanted love.  I think that’s all that anyone wants, and I applaud Malinda Lo for telling a story that will resonate with gay and straight readers alike.  I look forward to reading Huntress, the prequel to Ash, and I know that it will be just as beautiful.

For more information on author Malinda Lo and her writing, visit http://www.malindalo.com/.

Ascendant

Before you read Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund:
1.  Read Rampant, the first book in this series.
2.  Discard any and all preconceived notions about unicorns.
Thank you.

Well, it is now after midnight on Election Day.  Since I don’t have to work on this lovely and nerve-wracking school holiday (YAY!), I decided to stay up later than I normally would and finish my latest book, Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund.  I read the first book, Rampant, in April of this year, during what was probably the darkest period of my adult life.  (It’s a long story.)  A lot has happened since then, but, oddly enough, this past weekend, when I really got into Ascendant, I was going through another dark period.  (Yet another long story.)  Both of these amazing books helped me to escape my life for a little while, and I will be forever grateful for that, even though these books made me take a whole new look at a creature I had always viewed as innocent and pure–the unicorn.  And that’s quite enough about me…onward to Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund.

In Ascendant, we return to the Cloisters in Rome, where Astrid Llewelyn and the other girls around her are fully trained unicorn hunters.  Since the world has discovered the existence of the mysterious–and deadly–unicorns, the hunters have become celebrities, in a way.  Astrid’s mother is at the forefront of this newfound popularity, but she really has no idea what the hunters are facing:  possible death at every turn, no semblance of a life, a world that is falling apart around them, and being seen as freaks to everyone outside their safe haven.

When things begin to change all around Astrid–her best friend’s diminishing powers, her boyfriend’s departure, and new rules imposed on the unicorn hunters–she takes an unexpected opportunity to get away for a while.  She becomes involved with the very company that was sabotaging the efforts of the unicorn hunters just a short while ago.  The company is under new leadership (since the previous leader was killed by a giant unicorn), and Astrid thinks things are changing for the better.  She takes a place guarding captive unicorns, she begins to study science, and she spends each night in a comfy bed instead of in a tree waiting to kill murderous unicorns.

Life is better for Astrid outside of the Cloisters, and she begins to question what she’s been doing for the past several months.  As she grows closer to the unicorns she guards, she becomes convinced that is not strictly necessary to kill each unicorn she encounters.  What if they can be controlled?  What if not all of them are violent?  What if they’re just doing what they must to survive?

As events unfold, and Astrid learns of several secrets being kept, both the unicorn hunters and the animals they hunt are in more danger than ever.  Can Astrid save the unicorns, those she loves, and herself without losing who she truly is?  Is it even possible?  Read Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund to find out.

While Rampant added unicorns to the long list of things that scare me, Ascendant redeemed these creatures a bit.  With Astrid’s help, I came to understand the beings a bit better, and I’m not quite so scared of them anymore.  (Yes, I know this is a work of fiction, but some of us would rather live in a fantasy world than deal with the realities of life.  Cut me some slack.)  I hope to understand these unicorns a bit more in the future, but, according to Diana Peterfreund’s website, http://www.dianapeterfreund.com/, there are no current plans for a third book in this series.  Hopefully, that will change soon.  There are a lot of questions that need answers.  Even without these answers, though, I think both Rampant and Ascendant are excellent books with strong female characters.  My inner feminist is rejoicing.

Firelight

As many people know, I’m a fan of fantasy novels.  I like vampires, witches, werewolves, mermaids, and many other seemingly mythical creatures.  One creature that has never appealed to me, however, is the dragon.  I don’t really know why.  Well, that may have all changed after finishing my latest read, Firelight by Sophie Jordan.  This book is freakin’ awesome!  If you haven’t guessed by now, dragons, or at least their descendants, play a major role in this book, and I am now convinced that dragons are awesome and not just a cruel part of the first challenge in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Jacinda is draki.  She and those in her pride are descended from the dragons of old.  Unlike the dragons that came before them, the draki can take on human form.  This is their greatest defense and how they escape the hunters that are always after them.  Even among the draki, though, Jacinda is different.  She is a fire-breather, the first born in her pride in generations.  She is constantly watched, and her fate does not seem to be her own.  She yearns for freedom, and this urge to fly free causes Jacinda to break one of the most basic rules of her kind.  She is nearly caught by a hunter, and she and her family must flee the pride in order to remain safe, both from the pride and those that would hunt and kill her.

Jacinda’s mom decides to settle in the desert.  The hope is that the arid climate and inability to transform will kill the draki inside Jacinda and force her to become wholly human.  Jacinda fights against this and wonders why her mother and her twin sister, Tamra (who never managed to manifest into a draki), cannot accept her as she is.  Why do they want to kill such an important part of her?

Jacinda is convinced that she will wither in this miserable new environment…until she encounters Will at school.  They’ve met before, but he doesn’t remember.  He was a hunter who let her go.  Despite knowing what Will is, Jacinda is as drawn to Will as he is to her.  She knows it’s dangerous to be around him, not just because he could discover her secret, but also because she feels her inner draki stirring whenever he is near.  He may be the only way to keep her draki self alive.  Her greatest threat could be her ultimate salvation.

Can Jacinda survive in this new life?  Will she try for her mom and sister?  What will become of her relationship with Will?  Is there any hope for Jacinda to truly be herself when she feels that those who should love her most wish part of her would die?  Will she stay?  Or will she return to the pride who wishes to control her?  Discover these answers and more when you read Firelight by Sophie Jordan.

I may have given too much away in the post above, but it’s hard to know when to stop talking about such an amazing book.  I especially got engrossed in the relationship between Jacinda and her sister.  I spent most of the book extremely mad and irritated at Tamra.  She was just so self-centered.  So was the mom.  I know they had their reasons, but it was still very frustrating.

Firelight is just the first book in this new series, so look for more information on upcoming sequels.  I know Firelight  has already been optioned for a movie.  If done right, that could be pretty awesome.  Fore more information on Firelight and author Sophie Jordan, visit http://www.sophiejordan.net/ya/news.html.

Rampant

After completing my latest read, Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, I can now add unicorns to the long list of things that terrify me.  (The list includes but is not limited to:  clowns, balloons, the dark, thunderstorms, arachnids, other creepy crawlies, any rodent, most birds, evil children (like in Children of the Corn), heights, falling, failure, and attics.  I’m a little neurotic.)

In Rampant, the story begins with our main character, Astrid Llewelyn, reading a happy story about unicorns to the kids she is babysitting.  The story paints unicorns as light and fluffy creatures who are friendly to all.  But Astrid has always been told a different kind of story.  She has been raised with stories of killer unicorns with venomous horns and razor-sharp teeth who think of nothing but devouring those in their paths.  According to family history, Astrid comes from a long line of unicorn hunters, dating back to the time of Alexander the Great.  Now, Astrid thinks this stuff is a bunch of hokum, but things begin happening that force her to change her mind.

After Astrid gets the kids to sleep, she calls her boyfriend over for some make-out time.  They’re in the backyard, doing what teens in “love” do, when Astrid gets a weird feeling.  She sees something in the distance.  It gets closer and closer.  Astrid can’t really believe what she’s seeing.  It’s a unicorn, and it wants to kill her boyfriend.  Astrid doesn’t really know what’s going on, but after her boyfriend is attacked and begins to succomb to the unicorn venom, she knows just who to call–her mother.  (That’s probably who I’d call, too.)  Dear old mom just so happens to have the one thing that can heal Astrid’s boyfriend, but after all of this, Astrid knows she can kiss her date to prom goodbye.

So, unicorns are real, and Astrid is sent to Rome to learn how to become a unicorn hunter.  (Remember that whole family history?  Turns out it was true, and only female virgin descendants of Alexander the Great can be unicorn hunters.  Much to Astrid’s dismay, she qualifies.)  She stays at the cloisters, kind of a convent for unicorn hunters, and knows she’s susceptible to unicorn attack each time she steps outside the walls.  Unicorns are drawn to the hunters, and each side knows that a war is brewing.

Despite all that she faces, both as a unicorn hunter and a teenage girl discovering her identity, Astrid comes to realize that she is an integral part of what is going on around her.  What will become of Astrid and the other hunters?  Can they survive against marauding bands of killer unicorns?  What makes the hunters so special, and why is Astrid believed to be a particularly skilled huntress?  Can Astrid ever be a normal teenage girl?  Believe and beware when you read Rampant by Diana Peterfreund.

Even though the unicorns scared me a bit, I really enjoyed this book and will recommend it to adult and teen readers.  If you would like more information, visit Diana Peterfreund’s website at www.dianapeterfreund.com.