Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon (HarperCollins - Greenwillow)
Do not read this book while you're watching a TV show about dim sum. You have been warned.
First, Cindy Pon is one of the most cheerful authors I've run across in a long time. She's like a sunshine. And overall, I enjoyed her Silver Phoenix, the story of Ai Ling, a girl who must discover her own powers and go on a journey to save her father. Along the way, she battles monsters and finds friendship with two brothers--all set against a backdrop that is drawn from Chinese tradition. Thank you, thank you, for a fantasy book that's not set in pseudo-medieval Europe! I was fascinated by the elements drawn from Chinese traditions.
I thought the setting was fantastic and I thought the overall story arc was good, and I thought that the writing and characterization got stronger as the book went along. I also adored that Ai Ling was HUNGRY. She eats, guys, and she's hungry for life.
No review of this book nowadays can come without a note that the cover of this book, and the next, will have a very different design from the cover I've linked here. The best summary for people not in publishing to read is probably this one, where Pon explains the situation. I have some thoughts on why this cover didn't work so well (not connected to the cover model being a Chinese girl)--but then again, I'm not a designer or publisher.
Cindy Pon and her publisher have come up with a strategy together that they can go forward with, and I truly wish them success. I'm definitely looking forward to what comes next. That said, I encourage you to buy books with covers like this: let's not have all the same cookie-cutter books and people on the outsides or insides of books, and the best way to do this is to vote with your wallet. There's nothing that drives business--even artistic business--like sales.
Also, for some fabulous art commissioned for the sequel, check out this post.