Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Rachel's top reads

I love end-of-the-year lists (like this one) and simply had to come up with my own.

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

A whole book

My library finally had Andrea Beaty's Cicada Summer in. As I've mentioned, I read the first 138 pages when it suddenly jumped back to page 110. It was a random binding error and I'm happy to have read the whole book now.

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.

Rating: 8/10

Yay Christmas

I had a lovely Christmastime; I hope everyone else did, too. And I hope you were all loaded down with gifts of fabulous books.

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

WTF Award

Congrats, The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough, you have officially won my December "wtf" award for your blatant plagiarizing and "huh?" ending.

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.

Rating: 3/10

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Reads

Here's my quickie list of Christmas-y reads, which actually all turn out to be mysteries, that aren't filled with eggnog, Santa and sappiness:

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!

Utterly charming

I was so tired at work today (thank the Lord for the Starbucks in my office building) because I stayed up too late last night finishing the most charming and adorable book. I simply had to finish it! Jeanne Birdsall's The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is a rare book, a sequel that's even better than the first.

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.

Rating: 10/10

Thursday, December 18, 2008


It's scary how time flies. It's been OVER A YEAR since I added Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation to be Amazon wishlist aka my to-be-read list. Where has time gone???

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.

Rating: 6.5/10

Not in a dissecting mood

I'm not in the mood to dissect Kate Ross' Whom The Gods Love, other than to say I liked it.

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.

Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dripping with emotion

I was somewhat looking forward to reading Evernight by Claudia Gray but wow, I didn't really enjoy it and here's why: teenage love. I just can't handle all the emotions teenage love comprises.

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's still LOVE. Okay, so you don't even know why they're in love other than they're both'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.

Rating: 6/10

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Almost like Mary Stewart

Evidently I had a busy week because I didn't post on here at all. However, I wasn't busy enough to not read.

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.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, December 8, 2008

Thank you, Civ Lit

At my college there were six "Civilization" classes everyone had to take. Sadly, I can't remember the names of all the classes (which just freaks me out...if my memory is already going in my 20s, I fear my 40s) but I do remember Civ Lit. The real name was something like "Civilization and Literature" and was basically an English class.

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.

This is another buzzed-about book--and with good cause. I think I read somewhere it took Davidson years to write it.

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.

Rating: 8.5/10

Sunday, December 7, 2008


The blog lands have been a-buzzing about Kristin Cashore's Graceling. The reviews have been very positive, so I picked up a copy to read.

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.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I had a Barnes & Noble giftcard left over from my birthday, which was six months ago, and I hate having unused giftcards lying around. So I ordered the incredibly cheesy and yet strangely addictive Holiday in Handcuffs (and yes, I know ABC Family is playing this movie all the time this month but I no longer have cable, so that doesn't help me) and They Came to Baghdad.

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

Just a well-written mystery

A FĂȘte Worse Than Death by Dolores Gordon-Smith was a random read for me. I saw the second book in the series in the library, liked the cover and the plot description, so I decided to read the first book.

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.

Rating: 9/10

Monday, December 1, 2008

Spy girl: part two

I snapped up Ally Carter's Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy. While it wasn't as good as the first one, it was still a fun read. And the male interest was a lot more interesting/challenging/yeah, I just liked him more. This is a fun, clean series--definitely worth checking out.