Wednesday, December 31, 2008
It's been fun skimming through my blog, because I've definitely forgotten what books I've read. That's partly why I started this blog; I wanted to keep track of books I liked and those I didn't. The ratings I gave each book also interest me. Why in the world did I rate some so high but others so low? Let's just leave it that my mood obviously influences my ratings.
So, here's a few random favorites I read for the first time in 2008 (and why):
It may have used an epistolary format, but it still managed to woo a 10 out of me:
Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer: A combination of Regency, fantasy and utter delight...this book made me happy and everything worked out so delightfully. I really enjoyed the romances in the book--both girls end up with different but thoroughly enjoyable men.
After the first few sentences, I knew I'd read everything she'd write:
The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen: I adore magic realism and this book is a shining example of how enchanting it can be. A mix of Southern lit, magic and romance, I love Allen's work.
Again, after the first page or so, this author had a fan for life in me. Her Lady Julia Grey series was my best new book series this year:
Silent in the Grave and Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn: I love this series...the writing, the characters (oh yes, Nicholas Brisbane) and the mood these books strike. Silent in the Sanctuary wins the award for the most re-reads this year--I probably read it four times or so.
Favorite series I didn't blog about:
Gardella Vampire Chronicles by Colleen Gleason: Sheer fun reading, I breezed through the first four books in this series in about three weeks. I loved the mix of Regency, fantasy and romance--and I'm so happy where the romance is headed (Go Team Max!).
Most eagerly anticipated (ok, it's a tie):
The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig and Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer: Willig puts out a new book every January or so and I'm always anxious for the next installment of her spy series (and then after I finish the book, sad that I have to wait another year for the next one). She's an author that I automatically buy. And as for Breaking Dawn, well, we all know why I was anxious to read it--Edward and Bella.
Author whom I devoured:
Barbara Peters: Her Vicky Bliss series drew me in and her stand-alone novels kept me coming back for more. Like a Mary Stewart novel, you know what you're getting with Peters...and I love it.
If I had children, I'd be forcing them to read this book right now:
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall: I gushed over this book in my review. It reminds me of my favorite childhood reads--innocent, interesting and a classic.
I seriously hate to admit this, but the most memorable:
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry: This book's ending rocked my entire interpretation of what I had just read. I couldn't stop thinking about it (mainly in anger--but also in admiration). It was truly a work of literature and one that probably deserved most of the attention it got. But dang, that main narrator is such a liar!
Hilarious classic read:
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons: Aww, my first blog post was about this book. It's so clever, witty and funny. The movie is funny, too. And it's one of Lauren Willig's favorites and she even makes a funny reference to it in Crimson Rose (I think--it's definitely in one of her novels).
Happy New Year--and happy reading!
Monday, December 29, 2008
So now that I've read the WHOLE book, I can give my opinion! First of all, one thought I kept on having was that this book could've been a much longer novel. I really could've seen it being stretched into a 300-page YA novel. I would've liked that.
I don't want to give away too much of the plot but here's a little summary: Lily, at age 11, is completely silent. Everyone thinks she's brain-damaged, but as you read, you realize there's a reason why she's silent. Lily is accepting of her quiet, silent life until Tinny comes to town. Tinny is slightly older than Lily but far more experienced in life. Tinny suspects Lily is hiding something--but then again, Lily knows Tinny is, too. The girls force each other to expose truth, bringing healing and hope and new lives.
I liked Cicada Summer. I wish I would've re-read all of it; that way I could've enjoyed the ending even more. A decent part of the book was done via flashbacks, which added to the story, revealing little by little. The language in the story was lovely and well-done. (And the cover is gorgeous, too.) The story is set somewhere in the Midwest, I don't remember where, but the setting is tangible--the heat, the cornfields, the farmlands. It's definitely a good summer read for children and adults.
With all the traveling and family time in the past week, I didn't do too much reading, but I did fit in Elizabeth Peters' The Murders of Richard III. It's the second Jacqueline Kirby mystery, involving a group of Richard III defenders. In my opinion, it was an okay read, full of English history. For some reason, the reign of English kings from about 1300 to 1800 has never interested me. I don't know why; give me Russian history any day but keep away Henry VIII and all his women.
Anyway, one reason I wanted to read The Murders was this post on Bookshelves of Doom. Basically, The Murders of Richard III caused some drama. You can read Peters' interview here but this is the relevant quote:
"I have several favorite characters: Akhenaton the Heretic, Hatshepsut the Female King — and Richard III. He's a mystery writer's dream. Did he or didn't he? (Murder the princes in the Tower.) The clues are inconclusive and subject to endless debate. My fascination with him led me to write a book called The Murders of Richard III, concerning a group of modern-day Ricardians, as they call themselves, who have met to discuss their theories. The book offended the Richard III Society of England; they actually threatened to sue, and my British publisher caved in. They have now forgiven me, but to tell the truth I was rather thrilled to have a book that was too hot to be published."
See? Makes the book sound intriguing, eh? I told my brother about the various theories presented in the book and we started arguing about them. After a few minutes, we had to stop and laugh--why argue about something you'll never truly know the answer to? (Or for that matter, really care about?) With that attitude, I suppose I'll never be invited to join the Richard III Society....
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
First of all, I adore L.M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle. It's in my top five favorite books ever. I've read it close to a dozen times. So I was a little upset when I started reading The Ladies and realized that McCullough completely ripped off Montgomery's story.
Here's a few similarities:
*Both Valancy from The Blue Castle and Missy from The Ladies are old maids, around age 30
*Both women aren't attractive yet have an alluring quality about them
*Both women live with their mother and an older female relative
*Both women are poor, forced to eat horribly bland food, wear brown-colored clothing and yeah, basically lead boring, repressed lives
*Both women are patronized/bullied by their relatives
*Both women compare themselves to their beautiful cousin
*Both women use books as an escape mechanism--but are forced to hide their beloved books from their nosy mothers
*Both women are intrigued by a mysterious male stranger that just moved to town but no one else likes
Okay, so just maybe these are just mere coincidences (yeah, right) but when both girls are suffering from mysterious diseases that give them courage to actually start living their lives, um, yeah, I couldn't handle it.
****Don't read this next paragraph if you haven't read The Blue Castle and intend to****
True, McCullough does make Missy aware that she actually isn't suffering from an incurable disease, but that made the whole "marry me because I'm dying aspect" so much worse.
Missy is a liar and cheats her way into happiness. She freakin' lies to her love interest about how she has a deadly disease because she wants him to marry her. When she became "spunky" and sticks up for herself to her family, I thought it was just plain meanness. Valancy's spirit and comebacks to her family were never cruel--she just stood up for herself and became a funny, interesting and supremely likable person. Missy was not.
And don't even get me started on the ending--WTF??? Evidently someone in the book is actually a ghost? I seriously didn't understand the ending until I went on Amazon and read a few reviews. And, at the end, Missy is still lying to her husband.
I really didn't like this book. I'm angry that McCullough stole from my lovely Blue Castle and made a shoddy, horrible imitation. I think I need to stop this review but don't read this book. Instead, please go read The Blue Castle and savor its perfection.
Monday, December 22, 2008
Halos by Kristen Heitzmann -- This book is actually pretty creepy. It's a mystery and romance, but dang, the mystery is creepy and scary. Just the thing to put you in a jolly mood!
Lions of the Desert by Linda Chaikin -- Another great mystery with romance. I love the setting (1910s Egypt)--but you really should read book #1 in the series, Arabian Winds, first.
Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn -- Love it.
Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley -- Another mystery that is filled with delightful atmosphere
I'll add more as I think up of more!
The Penderwicks sisters are back home after their wonderful summer vacation. Fall is about to start and with it, a change that will rock the Penderwicks forever. (Hmm, that sounds super-dramatic, but it's really not that sort of book. It's just sweet.) Their father will start dating again.
About four years ago, the girls' mother died from cancer. Since then, it's been the four girls and their professor father, happily chugging along. But when a certain letter forces Mr. P into the dating scene, the girls aren't too happy and concoct a "Save-Daddy-Plan," which of course, has disastrous results. (At one point, Mr. P says he's going off on a date with "Marianne Dashwood." That name sounded so familiar and after 30 minutes of on-and-off-thinking about it, I realized who she was and laughed. Again, charming.) The sisters all have their own separate plot lines which are never confusing and weave together nicely. It's a witty book, with clever, funny little sentences for adults. I was giggling out loud at certain paragraphs. (I can't find the page, but it's when Jane and Skye are talking about a poem of Jane's that Skye turned in as hers and the teacher just can't quite believe it's Skye's.)
Birdsall says she wanted to write a book that is the sort of book she used to read when she was a little girl. I'd say she did a fabulous job.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
That being said, I'm not sure this book was worth waiting a year to read. Okay, not that I really waited a year since I kept on putting reading it off, but anyway, here's my thoughts.
This is nonfiction, which isn't my usual fare. I'm not usually too into nonfiction writing but the theme of this book sounded interesting. The author is fascinated by presidential assassinations. She visits all sorts of assassination historical sites and writes about it in a very scattered manner. That's probably my main complaint: the book is divided into just three chapters (the three presidents assassinated) but, in my opinion, could have really used tighter editing and more divided topics instead of just "Abraham Lincoln." It's probably a sign of intelligence but Vowell hops from one subject to the next sooooo quickly. It's as if she has ADD and the mention of some random little word brings up a whole other topic of discussion. While most of it is interesting, it was just too un-cohesive for me to absorb all the details.
She's also fairly liberal, so sarcastic comments about Bush and the current state of American affairs are scattered throughout, which is not something I'm looking for in a book about historical assassinations. That's why I try to avoid politics; it's such a dividing topic--you can really turn people off your work by trumpeting your beliefs. I read to escape everyday life, not to stew about how awful America is.
So while I don't necessarily recommend this book, I wouldn't try to dissuade anyone from reading it. It's just a book I read that had some interesting facts...but honestly, looking back, I still don't have a clear picture of how McKinley and Garfield were assassinated. Oh well, at least I read something nonfiction. Good for me. And I like the cover. It's unique.
Book three in the Julian Kestrel mystery series, Ross crafts another fine mystery together. While not as engrossing as the first two books, it's still just an interesting story: a well-liked, popular dandy is found murdered at his own party. It's inconceivable that this doted-upon man had enemies (he's "whom the gods love"), so who could've killed him?
Julian is asked to help solve this mystery, as he's developed a bit of a reputation for solving unsolvable mysteries. He agrees to help and must discover who this dandy truly was--a decent person or a truly evil man.
While I did kind of guess who commited the murder, it was only because it was logical. And you understand why, whereas in some mysteries, it's totally random. All in all, it was a good story with good supporting characters. And I've mentioned this in my reviews of other books in this series, but I really like Julian. I'd want to marry him in real life. He's intelligent and attractive and just has a really likeable personality.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Evernight is about Bianca, a girl who's forced to go to boarding school (but don't worry; her parents are teachers there, so she's not alone but she's SUCH an outsider...yeah...) and is forced to make new friends. She feels like she doesn't fit in, is super shy, blah blah blah...but then she meets Lucas. She can be herself with Lucas! It's LOVE! So they have a little fight and don't talk for weeks...it's still LOVE. Okay, so you don't even know why they're in love other than they're both misfits...it's still LOVE.
Basically, the love aspect of the story was just dumb...I couldn't accept it at all. And the book reminded me majorly of Twilight. So much so, I was literally about to stop reading it...but then, Gray pulls out a nice twist that kept me reading. The book ventures into an un-Twilight-esque book from there, which is good.
Yeah...I just didn't like the book. Too much drama, too much "love," too much...teenageness.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
So I've been in the mood for a Christmas read. I had in mind a very specific type of Christmas read, though: one that is set at Christmas time but isn't a "Christmas" (aka sappy, ho ho ho, let's kiss under the mistletoe) book. Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Sanctuary is a fabulous example of the kind of book I wanted to read. The whole story revolves around Christmas and visitors, but is still just a great book. So I was thrilled when I somehow remembered that Susanna Kearsley's Named of the Dragon takes place during Christmas--but again, it's not a Christmas book.
(Does anyone have any suggestions for other Christmas-time-books-that-aren't-"Christmas"-books? I'd love to hear any ideas!)
I really, really like Kearsley's writing. It reminds me of Mary Stewart (a high compliment, indeed!), perhaps just more gothic. Both authors create great atmosphere that completely sucks you in to the story.
Named of the Dragon is set in Wales. A literary agent, Lyn, and one of her clients, a children's author, are invited to spend Christmas at a famous writer's home. There's a whole Arthurian plot aspect, as well as a small romance. The characters are all lovely and interesting. With all Kearsley books, there's a bit of supernatural activity, but this one was much tamer than some of her other works, like The Shadowy Horses. The Christmas aspects were subtle but a major part of the story. Still, you definitely could read the book any time of year.
Monday, December 8, 2008
In that class, we read all Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso. I'm happy I had to read those works; more than likely, I wouldn't have gravitated to them on my own. And if I hadn't have read Inferno, much of Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle would've been lost on me.
The story is about an unamed narrator, which to my shame, I was on page 419 when I suddenly realized I had no idea what his name was. Clearly my observation skills are still very, very lacking. Anyway, the narrator is a coke addict and a porn actor/writer/director. He's not a great guy. In the first few pages, he's in a car addict and is horribly burned. Davidson doesn't spare the reader in describing the suffering burn addicts go through. Let's just say while reading this book I may have prayed a few times that I'd never suffer such horrible burns.
The narrator is plotting his death when Marianne Engel shows up at his bedside, announcing that they were lovers in the 14th century. She weaves their tale together with other tales, creating sort of a Canterbury Tales-esque feel to the book. The book is also populated with Inferno images, as well.
The story is ultimately about redemption and true love. While it's certainly a different style of writing than I generally choose, it was still thoroughly engrossing. The ending wasn't completely satisfactory for me; I won't go into details because I don't want to spoil it, but yeah, I just wanted more. Still, all in all, the story deserves most of the buzz it has received.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
First of all, I'm a bit worried about my observation skills. I did a Google search to find an image of the book's cover--and noticed there's a huge, angry eye in the sword looking out at me. My first thought was, "oh, that must be a different edition than my copy. My copy doesn't have that scary eye on it." I just checked. It does. How in the world did I miss that? After all, I'm the girl that has a "creepy eyes" tag for her blog. I guess I have a lot of work to do before I can join the CIA.
I'm feeling lazy, so here's an edited description of the blot, courtesy of Houghton-Mifflin:
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace—or the terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.
Katsa is a strong, independent heroine. The development of the characters and plot are excellent and I imagine fans of Tamora Pierce will enjoy Graceling. Also, there is romance--and I really liked the male lead.
But honestly, overall, it wasn't a keeper for me. It's a book that I've read and will likely forget--but that doesn't mean it wasn't a good or well-written book. Katsa was just too strong-willed and unable to handle any part of surrender, which I didn't like. Love requires surrender and selflessness; Katsa didn't seem to grasp that at all. She just didn't want to be bound by anyone, which I know is caused by her background. Still, it bugged me. Love requires sacrifice of yourself--but the rewards are worth it.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
This is a re-read for me. It's one of Agatha Christie's stand-alone novels and for some reason, reminds me of Mary Stewart and M. M. Kaye (which is probably why I like it so much).
Victoria Jones is a liar--but at the same time, an incredibly likeable character. (For some reason, I really like Victoria. I don't know if I'd ever trust her to tell the truth if she was my friend, but she's still so cheerful and quick and clever.)
Fired from her secretary job for doing a spot-on imitation of her boss' wife (she thought the boss was gone for the day; he wasn't...and got to see part of her imitation), she cheerfully looks for a new job. While eating her lunch in the park, she meets her Romeo, aka Edward. She's convinced he's her destiny...but he's leaving the next day for Baghdad.
Never one to let a little thing like thousands of miles separate her from her destiny, Victoria lies and finangles her way to Baghdad, where she meets up with Edward. At the same time as all this is going on, there's a whole other plot about spies and Communism. Christie delightfully works the two together and creates a solid mystery that just oozes with 1950s flavor.
If you're a Stewart or Kaye fan, definitely give this one a try.
Rating: 9/10 (some of the Communist aspects were a little boring...and I even like Communist plots)
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Set in post-WWI England, this cozy mystery features Major Jack Haldean. He's visiting his relatives in the countryside when a murder occurs. As a mystery writer and sort of an amateur crimesolver, Jack offers his help to the local police. As Jack and the local inspector delve into the mystery, links to an incident from The Great War start to emerge--but links to his own family's involvement also emerge, making this mystery quite personal.
I thought the book was really well-written. It was one of those books that I'd periodically say to myself, "I'm impressed; this is good writing." There's no romance; just straight-up mystery. As always, the ending surprised me but made perfect sense.
I tend to like more romance in my mysteries, so I may not read the next one...or I may, just because I like Gordon-Smith's style. It was true to the era--the 1920s--and yet not annoying at all. Nicely done, Mrs. G-S.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
How sad for me! Now I have to request it from another library to see how it actually ends. (On a side note, sometimes books on Amazon have a "Look Inside" feature, which I have discovered how to manipulate. I've read whole chapters with that feature...but sadly, Cicada Summer did not have that feature available.) Until then, I'll hold my opinion of the book....other than this: isn't that a GORGEOUS cover?? It's simply beautiful and old-fashioned and a work of art.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Sixteen-year-old Cameron "Cammie" Morgan is a spy-in-training. She, along with about 100 other girls, attend the Gallagher Academy, a special preparatory school that teaches the girls all they'll ever need to know about being spy. (The descriptions about their classes are farfetched and yet so fun. Carter does a good job of making everything believeable--you can almost swallow the whole story without any hiccup. Since I love spy stories, I happily accepted everything she said.)
When Cammie meets an ordinary guy while out on a mission, she falls for him. But is he a good guy? Cammie and her friends do a bit of recon work on him (which, again, is really funny and entertaining) to make sure he's alright. He appears to really like Cammie--but can the super spy and the ordinary boy actually date?
I really like this book. It's fun, full of hilarious asides about spy escapades and even my brother admitted it looked good. It's an easy read that's thoroughly entertaining.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Okay, seriously, to read and enjoy this book, give up any expectation for realism. The characters, action, etc. do not fit the early 1800s. And while it is a Christian romance, it's probably one of the "edgier" ones.
Here's the plot: Dominique is being forced to spy for France in order to save her brother's life. She unwillingly does so, agreeing to become a governess for an English admiral's son. Surprise, surprise: the governess and admiral fall in love/lust. There's emotional turmoil because the (young) admiral has been widowed; he doesn't belive in God anymore; and dang, that governess is hottttt. Dominique, on the other hand, is the world's worst spy; it is simply amazing that the admiral was too blind to see her actions.
Anyway, there's a happy ending and all that, including the admiral turning back to God. That was probably my biggest issue of the book. I firmly, firmly believe that you need to marry someone on your spiritual level--and someone who believes the same as you. Otherwise, you're heading for a load of trouble. Dominique is a Christian and the admiral has turned his back on God. He starts to pray at the end and everyone seems to think that everything is all right again. There wasn't true repentance and salvation; it was a "ok, let's make everyone okay with God so they can get married" ending.
I think the best example of that sort of ending is the Cheney Duvall series--Shiloh actually leaves her and goes away for awhile to fully develop a true relationship with God, without any distractions. That spoke true sincerity to me and a putting of God first above everything else. I didn't see that in this book.
And a fabulous cover! I love it--and it's one of those rare books that has a cover that actually relates to the book. In the case of this one, that letter (and the seal) pushes the main action of the book forward.
The book is pitched as a story of Frances "Frankie" Landau-Banks' boarding school pranks. Sounds like fun, right? Well, it is, but don't go into this book thinking it's a tale of pranks. It's much more.
Here's the crux of the story: Frankie is being denied entry into a secret club of future history-makers merely because she's a female. She knows she's smarter than the male members and just as worthy of entry into the club, so she proves it.
There was a strong dose of feminism in the writing...I thought it felt a bit preachy at times. Which reminds me of another aspect that I found interesting in the book: Lockhart, through Frankie, explores some random aspects of modern history, including urban explorers, architecture as repression and a few other random topics. It was interesting but, maybe just to my eyes, a bit obvious. Perhaps that's just because I'm not 15, but it was something I noticed.
Overall I'm just a bit wobbly on whether I liked this book or not. I was expecting it to be a funny story but it was more of a "girl learns that females are not given as many opportunities as men, tries to right that wrong, and instead learns that it's impossible--oh, and you should fall in love with someone who values your mind, not your looks." Maybe this is E. Lockhart's story and she wanted to impart her wisdom? Anyway, I still love the cover and title.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I want to read these books now. March is SUCH a long time away!
The tale is set during the French Revolution. A band of Englishmen, led by the mysterious and unidentified Scarlet Pimpernel, defy the French revolutionaries to save the aristocrats who are being slaughtered. With disguises and sheer cunning, these men save the lives of many.
But who is the Scarlet Pimpernel? And when beautiful and clever Lady Marguerite Blakeney--and her dim-witted husband Sir Percy Blakeney--are forced into the affairs of the Scarlet Pimpernel by an evil Frenchman, will the Scarlet Pimpernel's identity be discovered?
I don't want to give away too much about the plot, but it's such a fun, fabulous read. There's disguises, an intense (that's not the best word, but I can't think of a better one...the story isn't exactly all sugar and spice, but you become so involved and root for the couple...) love story and a happy ending. There's suspense and humor and disguises...just go read it!
And when you've read it, then read another favorite series of mine by Lauren Willig, which also features flowered-named spies during the French Revolution.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
The story is a fantasy. Aly, the daughter of a spy and a warrior (both of whom are nobles), is kidnapped and sold as a slave to another noble family in a different land. Aly plots her escape but before she can enact her plans, fate intervenes in the form of a god. The trickster god (his name is very Greek-ish and I can't remember how to spell it right) makes a wager with her that will last just one summer; being a bold, smart girl, she accepts. Aly puts to use all she's learned from her warrior mother and spy father to keep the wager...and to keep alive.
The book is related to Pierce's earlier works, The Song of the Lioness quartet, which actually follows Aly's mother. So...there was a fair amount that zipped over my head, simply because I didn't know the backplot. I hate when that happens, but I admit, it's my own fault for not looking into the series more before I dived in.
Still, the story was well-written, interesting, fleshed-out characters and all in all a great YA read.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
One of my favorite Disney movies is Sleeping Beauty, which I'm shocked to learn was released in the 1950s. (I was completely positive it was released in the 1930s.) Anyway, Robin McKinley's Spindle's End takes the classic fairy tale and twists it up.
All the creatures on the front cover slightly creeped me out but they ended up being very appropriate for the story. Still, this book has earned the tag "creepy eyes."
The story follows the basic plot of Sleeping Beauty: a princess is cursed by an evil fairy--she will die by pricking her finger on a spindle. However, a good fairy (actually fairies) step in and raise the princess as their own, hiding her from the evil fairy and all prickly spindles.
McKinley really fleshes out the story, adding in characters and extra plot lines. There's also much detail about fairies, magic and talking with animals. This book is definitely a fantasy. I want to re-read the fairy tale itself to compare with this story--because we all know Disney makes very-happy-versions of fairy tales. (In the actual Little Mermaid story, Ariel turns into foam. No Prince Eric, etc. Just foam.)
One last note: Princess Briar Rose is blessed with all sorts of silly things--long, golden hair, a sweet singing voice, graceful feet, etc. I was prepared to hate this perfect girl, but McKinley doesn't make her beautiful or perfect! Instead, Rosie was an accessible character, one that was utterly ordinary. I thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed that.
This book was well-written and while targeted to a YA audience, it's absolutely great for adults, too. This was my first McKinley book; I think I'll be picking her up again.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
The Laughter of Dead Kings is the final book for the series--and written only 14 YEARS AFTER the last book in the series, which to my mind, felt like a series finale.
What can I say about Laughter? It was okay--by far not my favorite of Peters' work--and just didn't capture my fancy. The series has spanned years and years; the first book technically in the series was written in the '60s. But this newest book just felt too rooted in the modern era. Cell phones, texts and email abounded. While that's obviously accurate, it's just not what I want from a book by Peters. She does note this incongruity in the introduction but whatever, I still didn't like it.
The plot is similar to any other Vicky Bliss plot; however, characters from all the books are brought back. And at the end, Peters inserts herself, which was mildly amusing.
Basically, I have to admit I skim read it. Oh well, c'est la vie. On a positive note, I made absolutely delicious scones tonight, which is going to brighten up my morning.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Here's my version of the movie: Magical chocolate lady with daughter moves to French city. She makes magical chocolate, everybody eats it, they're happy, fall in love, etc. She falls in love with a gypsy. Everybody's happy, yay, yay, yay. There may have been a conflict but I don't really remember it.
Here's my version of the book: Witch lady with daughter moves to French city. She makes chocolate but it doesn't make everybody happy or really have that magical of powers. She clashes with the town priest, helps people defy him, etc. After pages of subtle digs and not-so-subtle digs at the Catholic church, the priest (and Easter) is defeated by chocolate and pagan happiness. Oh, and yeah, there's a gypsy man but he ends up with somebody else.
Can you see why I'm having trouble digesting the book version? Obviously I have to view them as two separate creations because their stories are so different. The book gave the movie its very basic outlines but wow, the screenplay writers added so much more--and made it a happy, much lighter story, too.
I really didn't enjoy Harris' continual slamming of Catholicism and Christianity. I'm a Christian--not Catholic--but I hate how she portrayed the Christian faith. Honestly, I barely finished the book. She's welcome to her opinion but I don't agree with it. So keep that in mind for my rating.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Book two didn't spark my fancy quite as much--mostly because Jane developed several romance novel heroine complexes. She and the male lead had a Big Misunderstanding, which seriously, if they just communicated a teeny, tiny bit, would be resolved within seconds. This book alone shows the importance of good communication to create a healthy relationship. (True, this book is geared to the YA audience, but still, Jane and Jehu, the male lead, had the dumbest misunderstandings. Just freakin' TALK to each, Jane and Jehu!) As it is a middle school YA novel, there isn't much romantic action at all. There's just more talk and no action.
The plot was a bit scattered and a large part of it was based on Jane's feelings--more character than plot driven. Still, there was plenty of pioneer grit and gristle in the book, with the promise of more to come in the third one.
Yeah...so from reading this entry you may think I didn't like this book. I did like it; Jane just annoyed me with her HUGE assumptions and failure to listen/talk/be reasonable--which, hey, we've all encountered those heroines in various romance novels. I just hope the third book, Boston Jane: The Claim, has a more consistent and likeable Jane in it.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
This is a re-read for me. I wanted a comfort read and this is definitely one. It's a caper with a happy ending for everyone.
Here's the plot: Kit and Evelyn are (male) twins. Kit, who serves on diplomatic missions, comes home to England because he senses his twin is in trouble. He's right; Evelyn is missing--and moreover, Evelyn is supposed to meet his soon-to-be-fiancee's family. Kit's mother convinces Kit to fill in just for that one night--the marriage is a society marriage and the couple barely know each other.
Basically, Kit get thrown in a masquerade and must spend oodles of time with his twin's fiancee. And you can guess what happens then...
It's a classic Heyer novel; you won't be disappointed if you pick it up. It's funny, a delight to read and one of her lighter works.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
The good news is that I'm heading to my new town's library tomorrow to get a library card. Yay! My other card is 19 years old...and it still works, which is actually pretty freakin' amazing. I love that card. I still remember going to the library and carefully scratching out my name. I should've known then that books were going to be a bit part of my future.
Tonight's plan is to snuggle in bed with an old favorite and plan for tomorrow. Sweet dreams.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Note: I apologize for any bits of wrong info in my review...I don't have the book handy, so I'm working off of my faulty memory.
The plot is this: Sirantha Jax is a jumper (a certain type of pilot that can jump time/long distances/something in space... That's the thing about sci-fi; it doesn't have to totally be understandable or make sense and you don't really have to care). She's been blamed for a major crash that killed everyone onboard--including her co-pilot (who was also her lover). Jax can't remember the crash and the crazy control-freak government is blaming her for it. She's being tortured by the gov't in hopes that she'll remember and acknowledge her fault.
She's offered an escape from certain death by a mysterious man named March who breaks into her jail cell. His offer doesn't come without risk...but also possible reward. Jax accepts and adventure and romance follows.
The book was just fun--plenty of action and enough romance to keep it spicy. I like how fast-paced it was, which kept my interest. It was actually a book I thought about and wanted to get back to when I wasn't reading it. One negative note: there was a lot of swearing, which was distracting. Still, it was a fun read. I'd definitely pick up another Aguirre book.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
In the book's defense, it's actually well-written. It's set in time of the American Revolution and the style and tone of the book is historically accurate, which took more concentration to read, but again, is well-done. Although it did bother me when sentences weren't actually complete--you know, lacking verbs and such. I suppose it was a stylistic thing.
The plot: A female tavern keeper, sympathetic to the Sons of Liberty, saves a drowning man, who turns out to be British aristocracy. This action ends up putting her life at risk and the drowning man whisks her away to safety. They might also fall in love. And that's where I stopped.
The book isn't a romance--it's historical fiction. The time of the Revolution was seething with emotions and politics; Norman explores these. Honestly, I was in the mood for something lighter and this was just too much. After someone gets tarred and feathered--and you read about how painful that was (seriously, ouch!)--I had to pick up something else to read. (My motto: no pain = happy reading time)
I'm enjoying my current read, Grimspace, and will post on that once I'm finished.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Again, I hate this cover. There were NO dogs in the book--only cats--so why is there a dog on the cover? I suppose because it's a Scottie and the book is set in Scotland. I really don't like these modern covers of Peters' books.
Anyway, classic Peters' story: girl accidently falls in adventure/mystery (this time, in a foreign setting). Guy becomes involved in the story--they fall in love. Humor abounds. This may be bad, but I don't get stressed about really following the plotline--how the characters arrive at certain conclusions and figure out the bad guys is a bit farfetched and oddly complex, so I just let it roll over me. Her books are just pleasure reading for me.
There was quite a bit of Scottish history thrown about (think Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlies, etc.) and a bit of modern history. The main guy evidently looked like a certain royal figure--but Peters was being so coy about who it was that it completely went over my head. Sorry, but I have no idea who was hott young royalty back then!
All in all, another satisying work by Elizabeth Peters.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
I love this cover--and for once, this is sooo close to how I actually picture Scarlett in my head--right down to her awesome lipstick.
The story has a nice, old-fashioned feel to it. Scarlett Martin and her family live in a New York hotel. The hotel has slowly been going downhill, with just an occassional guest or two nowadays. Scarlett and her siblings--Spencer, Lola and Marlene--know that the hotel is in trouble. But when an eccentric guest, Mrs. Amy Amberson, checks in, the hotel just might have a future again. Mrs. A. becomes involved in Spencer's acting career, Scarlett's love life and yeah, even saving the hotel. It's just a nice, funny, good story.
Scarlett and Spencer's relationship is such a good example of how close siblings could be. (I'm jealous. And I always wanted an older brother so I could meet his friends. Sigh.) I also really liked how Scarlett's love interest, Eric, was approached. Scarlett describes him as "ordinary plus," meaning he's not gorgeous but for some reason, he just attracts her. Let's be real; most of us will end up with ordinary people--I love that Johnson embraces that in her concept of "ordinary plus."
Did I mention the book was funny, too? Maureen Johnson's style of writing is clever and witty. I even re-read certain lines--they were just that amusing.
All in all, I recommend it!
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
On a side note, Angie over at Angieville gave me a shout out the other day. Thanks! As you can see from my blogroll, your blog is one of my faves.
Monday, October 6, 2008
In book talk, I'm re-reading Mary Stewart's The Gabriel Hounds.
It's a fun adventure set in the Middle East. Parts of it are a bit slow moving but the atmosphere is fabulous. It's one of those books where I can easily imagine whole scenes in my head, thanks to the descriptions.
The plot is a bit light on the romance, heavy on drugs (personally I find it fascinating to read other era's views of drug use and abuse and how they've changed--for example, one novel I read from the 1950s featured a pregnant woman smoking) and overall an enjoyable read.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
I think Twilight has been so successful because it's actually fairly simple and has classic archetypal story: Character moves to a new situation; character meets mysterious stranger. Character falls in love with mysterious stranger and adventure follows. In good archetypal storytelling, there is also magic.
Aren't some of the most successful stories retellings of a familiar plot? And this book surely has a familiar plot--but unlike others, I literally could not put this book down the first time I read it. It blew me away. That in itself makes the book a 10 for me--I couldn't get it out of my head for days. Plus, I really enjoyed the story. (Unlike The Lace Reader, which I still randomly think about--but mostly how I still can't believe the freakin' twist in that book. Has anyone else out there read it and can sympathize with me?)
So that's my literary thought for the day. Happy (almost) weekend!
Monday, September 29, 2008
Basically Paul was an ideal hottie: good-looking but with character (after all, looks fade). I admire his philanthropy and his commitment to his wife (that's her in the photo). He is definitely a classic in my book.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic but I haven't had much luck lately in finding a Christian novel that I like. Either the characters are all "oooh, God doesn't love me" (okay, yes, He does! Read the Bible--He loves you beyond fathoming.) or the book isn't well-written. So...I've been a bit discouraged of finding a Christian novel that wasn't pure cheese or just crap. This is why Lynn Austin has made me happy!
The story centers on the World Fair in Chicago in 1893. Violet Hayes, who has been sheltered and brought up a proper lady, finds her world rocked when her father announces his engagement to a stuffy older woman. Then Violet learns her mother isn't dead--her parents are just divorced.
Violet finagles her way to Chicago, where she learns her mother is living. She lives her grandmother and her great-aunts, all of whom have plans of their own for Violet's future. Each woman has a different man in mind for Violet, but Violet eventually learns what love really is and that true love is found in God.
The story was decently paced and interesting. Violet was a likeable, funny character. Nonchristians won't find this book overbearing in the least either, which is perhaps why I liked it. The book is Violet's story of a summer that changed her forever.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
First of all, I hate this book's cover. My own copy has an awesome early 1980s one, with fireworks and a couple running on it. While pigs do play a tiny role in the book, I just don't get this cover. Pigs--tulips--a statute?! Weird.
Anyway, here's the plot: American Elizabeth Jones is taking a vacation to Copenhagen. While on the airplane, she meets her hero: Noble-prize winning historian Margaret Rosenberg. A random accident leads to Elizabeth becoming Margaret's secretary. Oh, and by the way, Margaret's son is tagging along--he's handsome but a major stick-in-the-mud. Margaret gets kidnapped and the two are forced to work together to rescue her. They end up in love and experience danger, etc. It's a fairly typical Peters plot--fun, action-packed, plenty of humor.
Christian (the stick-in-the-mud guy) and Elizabeth supposedly fall in love. I just could not believe it. If it was reality, Christian would have thought Elizabeth was stupid and been terribly annoyed by her. As heroines go, Elizabeth isn't bad; Christian is just so serious. In fairness, he does loosen up as the book goes on, but there just isn't much romance and I can't belive they would actually fall in love.
Also, Christian calls his mother "Margaret"--never Mom, etc. Elizabeth never seemed to think that was weird, either. I thought it was odd.
All in all, it wasn't her best but it's still a fun, no thinking required sort of read.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Her fiction choices aren't necessarily new books--but the reviews are always thoughtful and compelling. It doesn't hurt that she's chosen quite a few books that I really like or that have been on my TBR list for awhile. She may have convinced me to go ahead and move a few of those choices up on my list.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Jane is a tomboy living in the 1840s in the New England area. (She's not actually from Boston, but her nickname is appropriate, as the book shows.) Her father surgeon takes on an apprentice that a young Jane falls in love with instantly. Jane ends up going to a young ladies school, inspired to be a lady worthy of the apprentice, William. However, William leaves to make his fortune in the Pacific Northwest. Jane eventually ends up sailing to the wilds of Washington, where William was supposed to be waiting for her--but isn't. She has all sorts adventures while waiting for William to show up. She is befriended by Native Americans, learns how to barter, collects oysters, makes pies, sews and fends off a few suitors. Jane is a fun heroine who learns throughout the book how to be true to herself and what's right.
I adore pioneer fiction and while this isn't exactly Out West Pioneer fiction, it's close--more like Pacific Northwest Pioneer fiction. It kind of reminded me of Little House on the Prairie, which was basically what I desired my life to be when I was 11.
There's a few more books in the series, so here's hoping for a little more romance and more adventure...
Anyway, Jonathan Sadowski has had smallish roles in both but his face is so distinctive and chiseled. And I liked him in both shows. (He's the one on the right. I wasn't in the mood to crop the photo. Also, Amanda Bynes is a rather interesting looking guy, isn't she? Do yourself a favor and watch that movie.)
Happy Hottie Monday!
Friday, September 19, 2008
I'm torn about this cover. I like it but the hair is so fake blonde. It's even more platinum blonde in real life. It reminds me of a white trash girl--probably not the image the designers were hoping to invoke.
Here's a short summary: Teen boy is a magical gypsy. He meets a bourgeouis girl and they immediately fall in love (or at least know that they will fall in love). An evil villian tries to take the girl for his own--and her money. Boy goes off to France to save the girl and drama ensues. There may also be a dwarf involved.
The story is a great YA read. I liked the book but I have no desire to read it again. The ending set up a sequel nicely, which maybe I'll read--but probably not.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Whoever designs Allen's book covers is so talented--they're simply works of art. (And what a pretty cover font!)
The story is about two sisters, Claire and Sydney Waverly. Each girl has a special gift--Claire's gift of gardening is basically her life. (I can't tell you about Sydney's.) The women deal with their past and their future, while weaving in plenty of magic realism. There's also romance. The story reminded me a bit of Paula Wall's The Rock Orchard (another Southern magic realism book).
This story is darker than Allen's The Sugar Queen. Sydney's past is uglier and her problems more real than Josey's. While I do prefer The Sugar Queen, I thoroughly liked this book. I'm a sucker for Southern lit and magic realism--mixed together, I was a goner.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
From delicious autumn feasts to the very essence of a New England fall, this is definitely a book for September through November. It's a VERY short read. It's also filled with subtle humor and like I said, great atmosphere. Now, time to find more fall reads...
Thursday, September 11, 2008
The tale is set in Regency England and is a series of letters exchanged between two cousins, Cecelia and Kate. Cecelia is home in the country while Kate is off in London having her first Season. The girls both accidentally stumble into a dastardly plot involving magic (and a Marquis and a not-so-stealthy spy). It was just a happy and adorable book! The letters weren't annoying at all--they featured only interesting details and weren't so freakin' long that it'd be impossible to actually write (cf. Pamela). It's a rare book that can make me like letter/diary novel. (Bridget Jones is another example of a diary book that I actually liked.)
Sorcery and Cecelia was one of those wonderful books where everything happened that I wanted but nothing was forced. I loved the two romantic leads in the book...and the romances themselves were adorable and developed so satisfyingly. I liked all the characters, the settings, the plot.....do me a favor and go read it!Rating: 10/10
Monday, September 8, 2008
I love this cover. It's so British and refined and pretty. I love that arched light, too.
The story is basically this: Julian Pinchbeck (a pseudonym) plots revenge against a prep school, St. Oswald's. An incident long ago began his feud with the school and Julian has been plotting its downfall ever since. The story is split into modern day and past events, with Julian and a teacher at St. Oswald acting as narrators.
The story brilliantly reflects a chess game, with strategy oozing off the pages. While Julian's actions are despictable, they're also fascinating to watch unfold.
My brother told me too much about the end and sort of ruined it, so I won't do the same to you. All I'll say is that there is an interesting ending.
On another note, this isn't a criticism of the book but rather, its publishers. My book was MISSING PAGES. The pages weren't torn out; they were simply missing. This happened at least three times. I don't think the pages were critical in the long run, but sheesh, if I read a book, I want to read all of it. So, do I recycle the book so no one else has to feel my pain or inflict my suffering on someone else? Hmm....
Thursday, September 4, 2008
I should be all good now!
Monday, September 1, 2008
On another note, he reminds me of John Krasinski. You see it too, don't you?
But the cover lured me in. Its tagline read: "Nancy receives an engraved invitation to danger." How could I resist? An ENGRAVED invitation to danger???? How exciting!
Unfortunately, there were no invitations anywhere in the book, other than vocal ones. Booo to misleading cover descriptions. And how disappointing that there was no engraving anywhere.
Basically the plot is this: Nancy, Bess and George go to visit Nancy's Aunt Eloise in New York City, who has to be the worst aunt ever. She lets the girls go wherever and do whatever they want--alone!--in freakin' NYC. The girls are only 18! Auntie E never makes them check in--at one point, the girls are trapped in a BURNING BUILDING and have a narrow escape but when they get home, Aunt Eloise is asleep. They wait until morning to tell her what happened. Her response? "Oh, you'd better call your father and tell him your adventure." Another time, Bess and George leave a party with two random guys who end up being bad guys. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Anyway, the book features about four different mysteries, somehow loosely tied together. There was something about a missing model, then a kidnapped reporter, then missing clothing, lying people, illegal imports, conniving employees and other connections I don't understand. This is kind of embarrassing, but it was too taxing to figure it all out and remember who all the random people were, so I gave up. I'm still not sure what happened. (This might be a good time to mention that I have a B.A. in English and a master's degree in library science...so I am literate. Still, that Nancy Drew was too much for me.)
Let's not even go into the believability aspects of the parts I did understand. A top designer let Nancy model, gave her sketches of his designs and let her wear his dresses to random parties. Whatever. Not even Nancy Drew could finagle that.
To be honest, I'm going to recycle this book. No one should ever read it--I love the original Nancy Drew books, but this was just pure trash that didn't make sense. On the plus side, it was entertaining at times.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Here's a shortened summary: "Dual story lines feature spirited English heroines—a 17th-century country girl and a modern-day craft shop owner—both with a gift for embroidery. As a farewell gift from her married lover, Julia Lovat receives a book published in 1625 and filled with a variety of sewing patterns. Inside the manual, Julia discovers the words, scribbled in pencil over the pages, of Catherine Tregenna ("Cat"), a 19-year-old British servant kidnapped by Muslim raiders and taken to Morocco to be sold into slavery." Then Julia goes to Morocco to learn more about Cat and falls in love with a native...as did Cat.
Who knew that pirates actually raided the coasts of England, stealing thousands of "infidels" to sell as slaves in Morocco and that area? I had no idea about that! Anyway, the plot was believable; Cat wanted more out of life than England could offer her. And her pirate/new master (I forget his name...he literally had 15 and everyone called him something different) gives her a chance to use her master-level embroidery skills on a far higher level than she could in England. Yet she had to become Muslim and accept that way of life--anonymity.
The idea that an English woman would easily give up her freedom bothered me in A Singular Hostage. It bothers me less in this book, but wow, that is something I could never do.
If you read the author bio at the end, you get the strong hint that the book is largely based on actual events that happened to her. While her own story is fascinating, I think some of her own personal struggles and opinions filtered too strongly into the book. That is the prerogative of an author, though.
Anytime you write a book about two cultures clashing, particularly Islam and Christianity, well, it's never pretty. Johnson got a bit too preachy and even had her 17th-century characters saying things like "we all serve one god." Seriously, would someone from that era even think that? Isn't that a modern relativistic idea?
The inspiration of the book is interesting and the book itself is well-written. Some of the plot just wasn't believable....and the one person who gave up so, so much to save Cat gets screwed in the end. Poor guy. Still, the dual story lines worked just fine for me--a rarity. I'd be interested to hear other takes on this book.
Friday, August 29, 2008
The basic plot is this: a family of six is stranded on a desert island somewhere in the tropics. Everyone else on the ship dies but them; thankfully, the ship is beached and the Robinson family can ransack it for EVERYTHING you could possibly ever need.
This is a fantasy; the family can do and make anything you can think of--bridges, a house, irrigation systems, a weaving loom, etc. Their life isn't hard; it's just busy making different tools and such.
Oh, and this island they live on is populated with an incredible amount of species. Don't worry though--Father Robinson knows every single animal that ever existed. Here's a sampling of the wildlife found on the island: flamingos, penguins, buffaloes, capybaras, condors, bears, tigers, lions, eagles, 30-foot-long boa constrictors, ostriches (which they TAME and RIDE) and oh so much more.
The family is very trigger-happy, though. At one point, they kill 40 apes. Wow. Comparing their attitudes toward wildlife to ours is a study in itself. At least the family generally eats every creature they kill. (At one point they eat a whale's tongue and bear paws! Disgusting.)
Read this book in good fun. It will make you laugh--but that probably wasn't the author's intentions. Oh well...
Rating: 8/10 (for sheer entertainment!)
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
First of all, Devil-May-Care is also the name of a James Bond book. Anyway, Peters' book is a stand alone novel, featuring an old mansion plagued by ghosts. There was definitely a more Barbara Michaels-esque feeling to this book, except toward the end when more comedy was added. The book was funny and interesting. The plot is this: Ellie and her tight-laced fiancé visit her crazy Aunt Kate, who is about to set off on an adventure. Ellie stays to watch Kate's house and animals but soon she has several midnight visitors...who appear to be ghosts. Add in an appealing and attractive neighbor and you've got a funny mystery. I love knowing that Peters' satisfies my reading needs each time!
While I like the art, for some bizarre reason, it reminds me of Théodore Géricault's The Raft of the Medusa. Perhaps that's just my art history classes peeping up in my subconscious...
One aspect I liked about this book was that it's a fantasy. There's magic and it's set in a different world. There was plently of adventure and swashbuckling scenes. While the main character, Kestrel, is a lady pirate, it seemed plausible. She was realistic about what she could and couldn't do. There wasn't as much romance as I'd like but hopefully there will be in books to come...
It's a debut novel and I think it shows a little bit (more telling than seeing). Still, it was a good read and I'd be happy to keep on reading this author.
Monday, August 25, 2008
When I look at a woman like Amy, one who gave up her comfortable life in Victorian England in service of Jesus, it challenges me. How can I make a difference?