The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper FfordeThe Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Dragonslayer # 1
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Number of pages: 281
My copy: paperback, from Fully Booked

In the good old days, magic was powerful, unregulated by government, and even the largest spell could be woven without filling in the magic release form B1-7g. But somewhere, somehow, the magic started draining away.

Jennifer Strange runs Kazam!, an employment agency for state-registered magicians, soothsayers and sorceresses. But work is drying up. Drain cleaner is cheaper and quicker than a spell. Why trust a cold and drafty magic carpet when jetliners offer a comfy seat and an in-flight movie? And now potions are eligible for VAT…

But then the visions start. The Last Dragon is going to be killed by a Dragonslayer at 12.00 on Sunday. The death will unleash untold devastation on the UnUnited Kingdom, setting principality against dukedom and property developer against homesteader. And all the signs are pointing to Jennifer Strange, and saying”Big Magic is coming!”

The Last Dragonslayer is fizzing with all the creativity and genius Jasper Fforde’s fans delight in, and will appeal as much to the young at heart as to the younger readers for whom it is written.

* * *

If you know me really well or if you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you’d know that I tend to gravitate towards contemporary fiction books. It’s not that I don’t like speculative fiction (I do, very much), but I just prefer reading about real life and the real world because it feels easier to understand than a world full of impossibilities.

However, I make an exception for some authors, and Jasper Fforde is one of them. Before I even got to know John Green, Jasper Fforde is the first author that can do no wrong in my book. I fell in love with his world in 2006 when I read Something Rotten (yes, I read the fourth Thursday Next book first. Gasp!) even if it’s the most outrageous world I have ever read. I searched for all his books after that and declared him my favorite, making me read more because of all his literary references. He’s one of those authors whose books I know I can get lost in easily whenever I need something to escape without the additional mental strain of having to figure out their world every now and then.

So it’s really no question that when he released his first YA book, I would be there to get it and gobble it up. You think?

The Last Dragonslayer stars Jennifer Strange, a fifteen (almost sixteen) orphan who manages the Kazam!, a magical agency that provides jobs for magicians and sorcerers. Magic has been on a steady decline for years now, and there were less and less jobs for them to use magic. They have gone down to use magic to bring down cats from trees and fix household items like replacing a bathroom faucet with magic just to keep Kazam up and running. Still Jennifer tries to make do, and for someone who’s mature for her age, she does it very well. Up until she hears a premonition about the last dragon dying. Dragons are fierce creatures that are said to eat humans and destroy homes but was contained by the Dragonpact years ago by the Mighty Shandar. Jennifer had no big concerns about the dragon dying until the wizards under her care started experiencing surges in power, but it became more of a problem when the premonition says that the dragon will die in the hands of a dragon slayer, and Jennifer is involved. What’s a foundling like Jennifer to do now?

This book had everything I loved about Jasper Fforde. The best thing about his novels is how real they are even in their impossibility. Fforde writes in such a deadpan manner that you just can’t help but believe what he writes no matter how outrageous they all seem to be. It takes a while to fully get into the world, but once you’ve accepted the world his characters move in, you’re in for a very, very fun ride. Fforde knows his worlds, and it’s amazing because The Last Dragonslayer‘s world is different from his other works — is there no end to this guy’s imagination?

In addition to the solid world building, the characters are also very real and wacky, with very fun names to boot! Jennifer Strange is a lovely narrator, akin to Thursday Next but with less of the adult jadedness. The villains were annoying all the way to the end, but that doesn’t mean they were less hilarious. :P Even the dragon (of course the dragon talks in Fforde’s world!) stands on his own, and if there was anything I would wish for this novel, it was more of the dragon.

If you’ve been a longtime fan of Jasper Fforde, you will not be disappointed by his YA venture, and I bet like me, you’d be clamoring for more! If you’re new to Jasper Fforde and his adult novels intimidate you (which you really shouldn’t be because they’re awesome), The Last Dragonslayer is a good book to get your feet wet. :)

Oh, and one more wish, if I may. I want my own Quarkbeast. :P One of Jennifer’s loyal sidekicks, a Quarkbeast is described as:

Often described as one tenth Labrador, six tents velociraptor and three tenths kitchen food blender, the Quarkbeast’s razor sharp fangs and hideously frightening demeanour mask a quieter side that rarely, if ever, eats cats.

I don’t know why, but whenever the Quarkbeast is mentioned in the novel, I remember Hyperbole and a Half‘s ALOT.

Does anyone else get the same impression?

More fun information on all things Strange in Jasper Fforde’s website. :) I’m not sure if this is a standalone novel or if it would become a series, but I definitely wouldn’t mind if this becomes a series. More YA, Fforde! :)

Quark! :3


Other reviews:
Bart’s Bookshelf
Mad Bibliophile
Stories in My Pocket

Jazz in Love

Jazz in Love by Neesha MemingerJazz in Love by Neesha Meminger
Ignite Books, 206 pages

Jasbir, a.k.a. Jazz, has always been a stellar student and an obedient, albeit wise-cracking, daughter. Everything has gone along just fine–she has good friends in the “genius” program she’s been in since kindergarten, her teachers and principal adore her, and her parents dote on her. But now, in her junior year of high school, her mother hears that Jazz was seen hugging a boy on the street and goes ballistic. Mom immediately implements the Guided Dating Plan, which includes setting up blind dates with “suitable,” pre-screened Indian candidates. The boy her mother sets her up with, however, is not at all what anyone expects; and the new boy at school, the very UNsuitable hottie, is the one who sets Jazz’s blood boiling. When Jazz makes a few out-of-the-ordinary decisions, everything explodes, and she realizes she’ll need a lot more than her genius education to get out of the huge mess she’s in. Can Jazz find a way to follow her own heart, and still stay in the good graces of her parents?

I had a pretty quiet childhood. My parents weren’t necessarily strict, but I wasn’t allowed to do many things either without their permission. They really didn’t have to worry, anyway, since I’m a pretty good kid. At least, I’d like to think I am, save for the occasional messy room and laziness with school work. I’d like to think I’ve outgrown that now, and I’ve found my own identity, but I know that I wouldn’t be me without my somewhat quiet childhood and teen years. :D

Jasbir Dhatt, also known as Jazz, is a lot like I was back then, except maybe she’s smarter. She’s always been the good girl, with good friends and good reputation, at least until her parents decided that it’s time for her to go through a guided dating program after her mother hears she hugged a boy. Before Jazz knows it, her mom presents a set of pictures of boys she could pick from to date, but Jazz doesn’t want to. She wants to fall in love the normal way — preferably with the new hottie in school, Tyler R. Jazz’s choices clash with her culture and her family, making her life spin totally out of control, leaving her wondering if she could still have what she wants without losing everything that she had grown up with.

Jazz in Love is refreshing. It’s contemporary YA with color, and lots of it. I loved how easy it is to relate to Jazz even if we’re different in terms of culture and religion. Even so, Jazz still had the same concerns as every teenager does. This is what really made this novel stand out for me. I haven’t really read many novels that feature Persons of Color so I’m not an expert, but being Asian (Filipino), the cultural references isn’t really new to me, despite not really sharing the same culture with Jazz. I guess it’s because I read a lot of Filipino fiction, and I know that our culture is already different from Western ones, so reading this felt just like reading an ordinary contemporary YA book. What I really liked, though, is how Jazz in Love opened my eyes to Jazz’s world without the oppression from another race that makes her and her friends a minority. Jazz has found her place where she lives, and sometimes I even forget that she’s Indian because she isn’t out of place. This just goes to show that you don’t need to put in violence or oppression to make a point about other cultures in novels set in Western countries. See — even seemingly fluffy sounding novels can tackle serious topics! :)

I think the best part of this is Jazz. Because she is Jazz and never for a moment in the novel that I thought of her as someone else. Her voice rang clear and true all throughout. She made bad decisions, she got into trouble, she “fell in love”, but she was always herself. It was hard to see her get in trouble because I know that she had the best intentions for other people, despite some of her selfish intentions, but still, you have to love a girl who just wanted to find out how it feels to fall in love without having someone choose who to love for you. Jazz’s overall situation resonates with a lot of teens — the search for identity outside of what your parents ideals of you, outside of your culture, and the search for that kind of love that makes your insides quiver then realizing that maybe that isn’t what you wanted in the end. She put it quite well herself:

Was I too busy looking for the giant, all consuming love I’d read about; the one that woke sleeping beauties out of eternal sleep and whisked lovely maidens away from their wicked stepmothers, transforming them into princesses in glittering ball gowns? A love that sent my heart racing, made my tongue go numb that made an FSL — Future Star and Leader — student like me do stupid things despite knowing better?

…What if Love wasn’t all that? What if it was quieter, like a whisper on a breeze that you had to listen real hard for? Or smaller, like a cardamom seed that’s soothing and pungent and explosive all at once?

Truth be told, I don’t think I’d have the same realization at her age. Heh. And true to the real world, the novel didn’t offer an easy way out or a clean ending, and those are the endings I like best. :) As a whole, though, Jazz in Love is a very good read not just about love but identity and growing up. If you’re like me who’s a lot like Jazz when you were younger, then you’ll probably enjoy this too. :)


My copy: Kindle edition

Cover & blurb: Goodreads

Other reviews:
The Book Smugglers

Love Your Frenemies

Love Your Frenemies by Mina V. EsguerraLove Your Frenemies by Mina V. Esguerra
Publisher: Independent
Number of pages: 144
My copy: ebook from Smashwords

Kimmy Domingo was the kind of girl everyone hated and envied — until her fiancé dumped her a week before their wedding. Soon after, she quit her job, hopped on a plane, and just hid from everyone who knew her. A year later and she’s back in Manila to be maid of honor at a wedding she can’t miss.

Kimmy’s home because she’s ready to start over, but she also knows that some people at that wedding were responsible for the mess her life turned out to be. The first step to recovery? Cutting off the ones who caused her troubles to begin with: her best friend and her first love.

* * *

The release of Love Your Frenemies by Mina V. Esguerra totally made my Monday morning happier, and it also made me lose sleep because I couldn’t put it down. I was so excited to read this that I put all other currently reads down, and the need to write my thoughts on feels more urgent than writing reviews for the two books that I need to review first. I can only think of two reasons why I have this urgency: it’s because I really liked this book and I need to share my thoughts ASAP, and because I’m such a Mina fan. ;)

Love Your Frenemies features Kimberly Domingo, a familiar character for those who have read Mina’s first book, My Imaginary Ex. For the uninitiated, Kimberly, also known as Kimmy, is the b*tch in her debut novel, the villain in Jasmine and Zack’s romance. It’s easy to hate her in that book as she was painted completely in black and white. More of a companion novel than a sequel (so you don’t have to read My Imaginary Ex to understand this…spoiler warning for that novel, though, if you haven’t read it!), this gives us a different picture of Kimmy, one year after she left after being dumped by Zack. Kimmy goes back home for her best friend’s wedding, changed from her one year absence. Determined to start over, she slowly faces all the things she left behind — her family, her Country Club friends, her old job. She’s also ready to cut off the people she’s declared toxic in her life, namely her bride-to-be best friend, Chesca, and her first love, hunky and charismatic Manolo.

I love spin-off stories featuring other characters, especially the villains, because it gives readers an entirely different perspective. It’s also a great character study and a perfect example of how our first impressions of people don’t tell us much. I like how Mina built Kimmy’s back story here, making her less evil and just another person who had issues to deal with on her own, issues that happened to entangle other people. It shows that people aren’t always black and white, but mostly gray.

I also liked that this one focused more on Kimmy’s self-discovery and friendships than the romance. Oh sure, Manolo’s hot (but I still find Lucas of Fairy Tale Fail hotter, LOL), but Kimmy’s relationship with him wasn’t the sole focus of the story. Love Your Frenemies isn’t really just about love but about, well, frenemies. :) I liked how Mina made the other characters three-dimensional. Like the first Kimmy in My Imaginary Ex, some of them were easy to hate at first, but as the story unfolded, I started to somewhat understand why they did what they did, even if it’s not what an ideal friend would do. I found myself feeling somewhat affectionate towards them in the end, and it further proves that people are not what you always believe them to be.

Love Your Frenemies is filled with flawed characters that paints a very accurate picture of how complicated and messy relationships — family, friendships, and romantic ones — are. It doesn’t have any of those heart-stopping, tingle-inducing romance, but more of the introspection of a woman who’s trying to build her life back from the mess that it has been and is determined not to make another mistake. The characters are far from perfect, and honestly I don’t think they’d be my crowd, but they’re definitely the kind of people that you’d want to be on your side even if they can be a pain in the neck more than half the time.

I think Love Your Frenemies show how much Mina really thinks about what she writes. It’s difficult to give a voice to a villain and make her human and deserving of sympathy, but Mina does it almost effortlessly in her newest novel. Kimmy isn’t your most lovable character, unlike Jasmine or Ellie or Carla from Mina’s previous novels, but she’s the type of character that will stay with you long after you’ve reached the last page, teaching us important lessons on discovering yourself, forgiveness and the ties that bind.

Highly recommended, and don’t think I’m saying that only because I’m such a fan. ;)


Other reviews:

House of Shelves

I found this photo in one of my favorite bookshelf tumblrs and I immediately salivated. WANT.

According to the source page:

This 52 square meter (560 square feet) private home in Japan was designed to artfully store the client’s massive collection of books. With pine shelves covering every wall surface, the open-plan home is a bibliophile’s dream!

Definitely a bibliophile’s dream! All those shelf space — even the steps have spaces for books! I would probably stare at the books all day and re-arrange them every now and then to change how it looks. And I bet I will have more reasons to acquire more books because of all this shelf space. I also love that there’s a little area that acts like a desk (or maybe a dining table) down at the bottom. I would have to live in this house — or at least have a room in my dream house built the same way!

I bet it would be kind of hard to dust this kind of house, though. Imagine all the shelves you need to wipe off every now and then.

Want Books: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now.

I try not to be wooed by new releases because I tend to give in to impulse buys. But there are some times when I want to give in just to cheer myself up, you know? It’s retail therapy in a different sense.

Hence this Want Books post.

I want this:

Rival by Sarah Bennett WealeRival by Sara Bennett Wealer

What if your worst enemy turned out to be the best friend you ever had?

Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star.

Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship.

The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal. With competition day nearing, Brooke dreams of escaping the in-crowd for life as a professional singer, but her scheming BFF Chloe has other plans. And when Kathryn gets an unlikely invitation to Homecoming, she suspects Brooke of trying to sabotage her with one last public humiliation.

As pressures mount, Brooke starts to sense that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. But Kathryn has a decision to make. Can she forgive? Or are some rivalries for life?

This sounds absolutely positively contemporary yummy. I’ve read some good reviews about this, but I’m waiting for some of my trusted reviewers to read this and post reviews before I actually give in to getting it. I like the premise, and I’m a sucker for contemporary novels with all its high school controversies and non-paranormal love stories and discussions on weight, self-confidence and blackhead removers (I should make a post about this). I’m no music genius but I loved the idea of the rivalry, and the excerpts really got me curious to what really happened and will happen between Brooke and Kathryn. I read the Kindle sample earlier, and my interest was definitely piqued.

iWant. But I don’t think I have the time to read this yet. Or if I do get it, I will read it immediately, and the other books would be waiting again. The good thing is I don’t think this is available here yet, so no worries right?

Oh wait, there’s still the Kindle version.