Saturday, December 22, 2012

Water for Elephants

I first read Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants many, many moons ago. I love the idea 
of the old circus, the glamour and the sparkle and the majesty, even though I've never 
actually been to the circus! 

Once the movie came out, I meant to read Water for Elephants again to refresh my memory, but life got busy and books get packed (and moved and moved again) and other books get read instead and the movie was never seen. But it finally made it to the top of my pile! 

I enjoyed Water for Elephants as much the second time as I did the first. It encompasses the magic of the circus along with the devastation of The Great Depression.  It's a love story, love for a woman, an elephant, and the circus. It's a touching story with characters who come to life. I really felt like I knew the characters and I cared about what happened to them. 

The only thing I don't like about this novel is the bookending of the past by the present.
 Of course, I always say that about books like this. I don't feel the need for the small story
 of the present. I'm happy with the story of the past. It's enough for me. It's a great story 
and I think you'll like it too! Enjoy! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Of Two Minds & More Minds

Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman's Of Two Minds and More Minds, the sequel, are about Princess Lenora and her betrothed, Coren, while Lenora's stubbornness takes them on an adventure. I read these, and liked them better, when I was younger, but they're still a fun quick read with a good moral. These are best for upper elementary/middle school readers both in level and demographic. Happy reading! 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Gone Girl

On their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears. And Nick is the police's number one suspect.
Something's up, and evidence is mounting against Nick.  He's definitely keeping a secret, but did he kill Amy? And if not, what happened? 

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is quite the adventure and enjoyable read. It's so crazy, but I really liked it. I didn't really like the end-end, the wrap up. But what other ending could their be? I don't know. I think I would have left that out, but really. Great book. Go check it out. Now. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty

If I was quoted and it was put on the front of this book, it would say, "If you enjoyed Face on the Milk Carton as a teen, you'll love Jackson's A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty."  It's also reminiscent of  Esme Lennox with the southern feel of Harper Lee in today's world. Okay, it's not Harper Lee good, but I sure did enjoy it. It's almost a 5. Just not quite there yet. 

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty tells us the story of the three Slocumb women, 45-year-old Big, 30-year-old Liza, and 15-year-old Mosey. Yup, getting pregnant at 15 runs in the family, and even though Mosey is a virgin, she regularly pees on a stick to assure herself she's not pregnant. Big feels that God sends her biggest trials every 15 years, and this year is no exception. All three of these women tell us their part of the story as Jackson takes us down the winding road of Liza's past as we try to unravel her secrets as well as the truth. I liked the twist and the mystery, but I'm not sure that I loved this novel. It got a little blurry at parts, especially at the end, and the logical me things there are some legal ends that will need to be tied up that are not discussed in the novel. Granted, that's not the point of the novel or the moral of the story . . . 

It was weird for me, though, that I related more to Liza's high school years than Mosey's, that I'm closer in age to Liza at 30 than Mosey at 15. Regardless, I really liked this novel, and I think you will too! 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Albert of Adelaide

I didn't really know what I was getting myself into with Albert of Adelaide. I guess I was sort of hoping for a platypus on an adventure and kind of picturing Perry the Platypus in my head. That's how Albert of Adelaide presents itself. Albert is a platypus who has escaped from the zoo in Adelaide to find the Old Australia where he can be with other platypuses and live in the wild and be free. It seems like this will be quite the adventure of a read. 

Except it's not.  It's kinda lame. The story line is heavy on over-description and the characters were fairly flat and not very distinct from one another. It's really just about Albert suddenly becoming friends with different animals, then suddenly making enemies with others, and lots of fighting that's boring to read. I can't even think of anyone I would recommend this book to. Maybe those who like Westerns? That's my best bet. I just didn't enjoy this novel. 

*I won this novel from Goodreads FirstReads. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Knight, the Princess & the Magic Rock: A Classic Persian Tale

The Knight, the Princess and the Magic Rock is a retelling of a classic Persian tale. I was initially excited to read it because it looked like an adventure book, and because it's Persian lore, I was sure I hadn't heard of it before. But, really? To be completely honest? I thought it was pretty lame. Basically everything is wrapped up with the power of prayer. I mean, I'm all about prayer, but in a children's book that is about a princess and a magic rock, I didn't get how prayer related. It's really just not the book for me. 

*I won this novel from Goodreads FirstReads. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Mayfly Requiem

Lani, a child of time, is the narrator of Courtney M Privett's Mayfly Requiem. It is his apology, his requiem. And in his two thousand plus years on earth, he hurt his sister, Dia. But how? And why? And is his apology enough? 

It took a bit of time to get into the novel, to understand the character, setting, and style. Once I did, I liked the novel, the story, the characters. At times it was very gripping. At other times . . . not so much. It's a harder piece to read. It's not an easy book; you can't dive right in an read it in a sitting or two. Not to discourage you, it's worth the time to read. It's kind of fantasy, but almost mystic, too, I guess, but it's also a whole other world than this one. At first it seems post-apocalyptic or dystopian, maybe it is. I am having a hard time putting this novel into a genre, finding the perfect niche. But that's part of what's so neat about this book, is it's not quite like any other that I have read. But I wanted to know the ending, I wanted to know why Lani had to apologize, what he did. It kept me reading. I don't know if this "review" has done this novel justice, but I sure do think it's worth the read, so give it a shot! 

*I won this novel from Goodreads FirstReads. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

I was inspired to read Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes from Steinbeck's Ghost because the Steinbeck-loving character also loved this novel by Bradbury. It's about two 13-year-old boys, Jim Nightshade and William Halloway, and their strange experience with a rather creepy carnival in October. It's a mix of fantasy and horror as well as an allegory of the struggle between good and evil. 

It was a little dense and required more putting together than I expected out of a young adult novel, so it's certainly for a more advanced young adult reader. It was written in '62, though, so I guess that makes sense for the differences in language. But really, I didn't love it. It's just not a very clear story, or really my type of novel. I recommend it for those who can handle the density of the novel as well as enjoy the dark poetry of Bradbury and, perhaps, Tim Burton? It does remind me of Burton in general . . . But I digress. If you like creepy horror-esque stories, give it a go. If you find your style is generally more in line with me, give it a pass. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Snow in Summer

I'm not gonna lie, I picked up Snow in Summer because it was on the new releases shelf and it's by Jane Yolen.  And it was exactly as I expected: a fairy tale base placed into a new time period.  Yolen places Snow in Depression Era America. The magic of the fairy tale is present, but not overwhelmingly unrealistic, just right where you want it. 

Snow in Summer is an enjoyable young adult novel and suitable for any young adult reader. It wasn't super by any means, but a cute little read. It's a little odd, though, that this Snow is familiar with the story of Snow White and doesn't ever put the two together; I just wanted her to be a little smarter. I expected a little more from Yolen, but I still recommend this book. It's a fun, quick read.  

PS There's a bear named Ursa! :)

Before Versailles: Before the History You Know . . . A Novel of Louis XIV

Before Versailles  by Karleen Koen introduces us to a younger Louis XIV than we are used to.  This is Louis before he became the great sun god that we know him as today. This is a newly wed Louis trying to establish himself as a king, trying to decide what kind of king he wants to be and who he can trust. 

The story is not only told around Louis, but many characters at court tell their story and their interaction with the king.  Sometimes there are almost too many characters, but one can only fault history. 

Equally the main character as Louis is Louise, a lady-in-waiting to the king's sister-in-law, Henriette. Louise is new to court, and she, too, must decide who she wants to be and who she can trust. 

I began  Before Versailles with some trepidation; I wasn't sure how dense the reading would be.  Once I got used to Koen's style, I really enjoyed the novel. I learned a lot about XIV that I never knew before and now I want to read more about him.  I recommend this to any historical fiction junkie like myself, or anyone wanting to learn more about France and Louis XIV's early days. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Things I Do For You

The Things I Do For You by Mary Carter is about a married couple, Bailey and Brad, who live in New York. Baby-hungry Bailey is new to the world of real estate, but before she can get her big sale, she's called to the hospital. Brad has been in an accident with his great-aunt, who shouldn't have been driving.

Brad has a near-death experience, and sees himself in "the light." Previously agnostic, he is quite a different person. Bailey is a little annoyed by his undying optimism, but she still loves Brad. Nothing can change that, even an entire personality change. At first Bailey thinks it's survivors guilt, but it seems to be more than that. All Brad wants to do is talk about his experience and joins on online group for folks with experiences like his.

Brad finds out that his great-aunt has left her secret wealth entirely to him, which he then uses to buy a broken-down lighthouse upstate to turn into a bed and breakfast. Needless to say, Bailey is less than pleased, but goes along with his idea. The B&B, along with the continual presence of Brad's near-death experience, his support group, and secrets Brad has been keeping from Bailey, put their marriage vows to the test. Will Brad and Bailey make it? 

At first, I didn't really like Bailey. It bugged me how much she let Brad walk all over her. But then her faults started to show too, and while Bailey and I will never be friends, I became engrossed in the story. I wanted to know all the secrets. I wanted to know if Brad and Bailey made it. 

However, I felt like there were too many story lines going on. There's the baby-hungry Bailey with hesitant Brad line. There's the Bed and Breakfast, with guests, with possible ghosts, both the aunt and the old lighthouse ghosts. There's the near-death experience
rearing it's ugly head, along with the support group. This could have easily been been taken apart and written into two or three novels instead of one. It wasn't confusing, just a little overwhelming and scattered. It left some things unclear instead of delving in deeper. 

In the end, I liked The Things I Do For You, [though I could have done without the epilogue. Unnecessary  and he sounded much younger than 20] and recommend it as a chick-lit romance. Once you get into it, it would make a great beach or vacation read. Be forewarned, however, there's a little bit of sexy-time talk and some curse words. Read on, my friends!

*I won this novel from Goodreads FirstReads. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Of Mice and Men

My first introduction to Steinbeck was Of Mice and Men. And I still love it. The tender story of two grown men, one taking care of the other, for no real obvious reason. Talk about friendship. George cared for Lennie. And Lennie, with his great big heart, cared too much and knew too little. 

Of Mice and Men touches my heart in such a special way. I can't help but love Lennie. I can't help but wonder if I could be as strong as George, if I could care that much. At the same time, I feel so bad for both of them. Such a hard situation to be in. All they really wanted was their own farm, all to themselves. They wanted to mind their own business and live their own lives, and they just couldn't. 

If you're familiar with Steinbeck's life, you'll know he had a terrible relationship with his first wife. I wonder if that impacted how Steinbeck wrote the character of the woman in Of Mice and Men and why he made her so evil, almost made her the antagonist. 

Of Mice and Men also brings up the important question of how to treat those with handicaps. Do we pretend they're not different? Do we admit they're different? Do we protect them from others? I don't know. Would being upfront about Lennie and his needs have given the book a different ending? Maybe. Maybe it would have been the same. 

I absolutely love Of Mice and Men, and it's so great because it's enjoyable on so many levels. It's rated about a 5th grade reading level with the Accelerated Reader Program, so younger readers can enjoy it too. It's one of my highest rated novels, and I highly recommend it! 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

To Kill a Mockingbird

I first read To Kill a Mockingbird in ninth grade. We read it as a class, and, despite it being required reading, I loved it from the start. Mostly for May Ella. Is that weird? Probably. Too bad for you. But it's just such a heart-felt, touching story. The characters are so real, probably because they're based on real people. Regardless, they come alive. It's a great coming-of-age story and discusses many important issues. Race. Injustice. Judging others. Secrets. Addiction. Loss. And just plain growing up. To Kill a Mockingbird is an important novel to read, and it's worth every minute. 

I know most ya'll have already read it, so if It's been a while, I encourage you to read it again. And if you never have, go pick it up. 

Now here's some quotes for your enjoyment: 
"Naw, Jem- I think there's just one kinda folks. Folks." -Scout Finch
"Mr Finch, if you was a n----r like me, you'd be scared, too." -Tom Robbins
"A love story pure and simple" -Harper Lee

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Pig War

When I joined goodreads, one of the first things I loved, ya know, besides the whole thing about it being a website for books, was the giveaway section. For real? Free books? I was all in. Still am, if you want to send any my way! :)

The first book I received was The Pig War by Mark Holtzen. In exchange for the free book, they like the reader to review it. Perfect. I review all the books I read anyway! But since I did get this book for free, I took reviewing it a little more seriously than I would do otherwise. I read with more of an analytical eye than I usually do, so I will be pointing out things I didn't like or feel should have been clarified, but I do it with the aim of being helpful, not harmful!  It's obvious though the writing that Holtzen cares deeply about his novel and this story is dear to his heart; writing a novel is no small feat! The Pig War is a cute book, but it's obviously a first novel and just isn't quite there yet.

Our main character, Kell, has been marooned to the island of Mobray with his younger sister Grace to stay with their grandfather, who they'd never really met, as their parents are stuck in a foreign country. While on the island, Kell discovers an old revolver and ancient journal. While investigating their origins, he is directed towards The Pig War, which he'd never heard of before. [Neither had I!] In their research of The Pig War, Kell is set on a crazy adventure, and on the way, Kell learns about The Pig War, his aloof grandfather, and maybe a little about himself! 

The first problem I ran into with The Pig War, is that I didn't know how old Kell and Grace were. It made it hard to understand them as characters because I didn't know if their behavior was unique or stereotypical. The character development and consistency throughout was a problem. Kell and Grace didn't seem true to life. A kid like Kell is hard to find these days. At one point in the novel, he says he wanted to spend his summer doing "research." He doesn't say what he wants to research, just that he does, which I found odd. He just doesn't seem like any 12-year-old I know. [And I work with 6th graders!] Bookish, yes. Borderline obsessed with books and knowledge over anything else? I don't know. It made it hard to connect with Kell because I found him so stereotypical yet unreal. It almost would have seemed more real to me if The Pig War took place in the seventies or eighties. Folks were less distracted by electronics back then. It's almost like Kell would have fit in better back then, seemed more real. [Does that make sense?]

I also was unsure about the novel's demographic. I didn't know if it was written as an adult, for adults, looking back on his coming-of-age summer or for the young boys themselves. Ultimately, I decided that The Pig War  would be a good book for advanced middle school readers. It's strong on narrative, instead of action, which is more difficult for lower level readers, and the age of the characters would definitely appeal to readers that age. So it would be great for smart sixth graders. Unfortunately, my sixth graders are required to read novels with over 150 pages, so I can't recommend this to any of them for their school work. And heaven knows they don't read out of class! This also puts The Pig War in competition with the beloved Rick Riordan and Suzanne Collins.  

Overall, [oh, I'm so cliche! It's late, don't hold it against me!] I found The Pig War to be a good first novel from Holtzen, despite the fact that I read it like a draft. As previously mentioned, because I got it for free, I wanted to be as helpful and honest as possible. The Pig War just isn't *quite* there yet. Which, really, is good. Authors who succeed at their first novel (ie: SE Hinton) seem to go downhill, and I would like Holtzen to go up as a writer. We all want to improve in our endeavors. So, Holtzen, keep writing! And readers, at least give the back of The Pig War a read. You just might love it! 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sweet Thursday

Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday takes us back to Cannery Row after the war. He carries on with the same characters, but they, and the town, have been changed by the war. They're not quite the folks we've met before. But because of the way Steinbeck has written the two novels, and perhaps didn't initially intend for Cannery Row to have a sequel, Sweet Thursday  can still easily stand on it's own as a completely independent novel. 

Following the theme of Cannery Row,  the boys are trying to help Doc, this time, by marrying him off! It's easy to slip back into Steinbeck's world and really feel for his characters. He writes in such a real way; he's almost poetic and philosophical in his simplicity. It's amazing. I really liked Sweet Thursday, as I like everything I've read of Steinbeck so far. If you haven't delved into Steinbeck yet, it's about time you pick something up! Read on! 

Fun Fact: The novel was adapted into the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical Pipe Dream, which was nominated for nine Tony Awards. The movie version of the book's predecessor, Cannery Row, incorporates several of the story lines in Sweet Thursday

Friday, August 10, 2012

Alias Grace

I absolutely, 100% loooved this book!

Alias Grace is based on the true story of Grace Marks with a fictional narrative. In 1842, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery were murdered. Grace Marks and James McDermott, servants of Kinnear, were convicted of the murder. Despite all this, Grace believes herself to be innocent. She doesn't remember the murder. And this novel reveals how, exactly, this came to be and how the murders were committed, as Grace tells her story, her memories, to psychiatrist Dr Jordan. [Not for reals, though, ya'll. This is a work of FICTION] Like Grace's quilt, her story has a pattern which slowly reveals itself to the reader.  It's a great book. Go check it out from your library. You'll love it. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Blind Assassin

"A fist is worth more than the sum of its fingers"

Set in present day Canada, we read the story of sisters Iris and Laura in flashbacks working their way to the present. It definitely resounds as a Margaret Atwood novel, but it mostly reminded my of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox.  It's a story within a story, not only of the present and finding the secrets of the past, but another story, of science fiction that resembles reality. There is, as always, a gradual revelation to the truth. 

I found The Blind Assassin to be rather captivating, and while I could put it down, it took some persuasion. It's a puzzle of a novel, and I highly recommend it!

Cannery Row

Alrighty, folks, we are back to Steinbeck. This time he takes us to Monterey, California during the Great Depression. We meet the scientist, Doc, the owner of The Bear Flag Restaurant [the local whorehouse], Dora, and the grocer, Lee Chong, as well as their crazy friends. Doc, Dora, and Lee Chong aren't so much the main characters so much as the important people in town as the people in charge. They're the dominant characters even  though they don't get much screen time. [Page Time?] The gang of crazy friends is what makes the book worth reading. The gang keeps trying, and failing, to do something nice  for Doc, who has never been anything but nice and helpful to them. All the characters in this novel work together and show the friendship of folks living in a small town. The whole of Cannery Row comes to life. The novel just feels so natural, not forced or fake at all. The people are real and I want to meet them!

The thing I like most about Steinbeck and his work is that his characters are so real and relateable to me as a reader. Cannery Row is no exception, and one of his better works in my opinion. I really liked it. And, apparently, he revisits these characters in Sweet Thursday, which I look forward to reading. Steinbeck writes about regular people, which brings a whole new dimension of enjoyability to his novels. I highly recommend reading his works, especially this one. It's worth the read!  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Pearl

"It is not good to want a thing too much. It sometimes drives the luck away.
You must want it just enough, and be very tactful with God, or the gods."

John Steinbeck's The Pearl is based on an Indian Folk tale and explores the nature of man as well as delving into the topic of race. He shows us the importance of community and even songs. And he shows us how something made for good can lead to your destruction, how good intentions can turn to greed. It's really a beautiful story [as well as a quick read at under 100 pages!] and I highly recommend it! 

Travels with Charley: In Search of America

"A journey is a person itself; no two are alike"

I promised you Steinbeck, so here we go! 

Right off the bat, I knew I would like the tale of Steinbeck's journey across America.
The old owner wrote: "We see things as we are, not as they are."
Truth. Beauty. Steinbeck. 

Steinbeck drove across the country [starting in the north-east] because he "needed to discover all of America." He got himself a travel truck and named it Rocinante after Don Quixote's horse, which implies Steinbeck likens himself to Quixote. He is to travel alone with only the company of his poodle, Charley. He even left his wife at home, with only a mild break, from both his travels and his loneliness, in Chicago when the wife flew out.

Steinbeck had some really interesting insights in America. He writes: "Yellow Stone National Park is no more representative of America than is Disneyland." I can't say that I agree with Steinbeck's assessment that they are not representative of America, because I think that they both are representative of America and it's people, especially of tourism and travel, but also the things we as Americans like. 

Steinbeck also feels that American's have no roots. This is because we are descended from people without roots. The very people who founded America left because they didn't have roots, and so we are a rootless people. Those with roots stayed where they were. I'm not sure how I feel about this assessment, though he makes a good argument for his position. 

On his way back home, Steinbeck first travels through the South. Now, remember, this was 1960, so he encountered some unique perspectives on race, from both directions. In order to see these perspectives, he never revealed what exactly he thought. 

The end of his journey kind of fizzled out, and the book definitely reflected this of Steinbeck. It was just like he ran out of gas. He was tired. He was ready to go home. There was no real conclusion. It was just a journal of his experiences and loose interviews as he journeyed across this "New America" which did not live up to his expectations. This may be, at least in part, because of Steinbeck's age and heart condition. Thom Steinbeck, John's son, gives that as the reason for the trip in the first place. John wanted to see his country one last time, and Thom was a little surprised that the wife let John go on the trip alone because of his condition. Thom says he could have died at any time. This heart condition would have definitely come into play in Steinbeck's growing tired and wanting to come home.

Now, many folks find Travels with Charley to be a work of fiction, and maybe it is. Or maybe, in my opinion, Steinbeck is recounting his experiences, his truth. Maybe it didn't happen exactly as he said it did. Maybe he was an old man waxing sentimental about the country he loves. But we must take all memoirs or personal tales with a grain of salt! And this was a fairly enjoyable one, with just a titch of dry parts. So, you know, a regular memoir. I jest. But I do recommend this book if you love memoirs, Steinbeck, or America. 
Read on, my friends. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fox and Phoenix

So I started reading fox and Phoenix by Beth Bernobich, and I was a little lost, right off the bat. So I'm like, okay, it's a fantasy novel, I'll give it some time. But it just never kicked in. I was halfway through the book and I didn't understand anything. It was super scattered and everything was new and nothing was explained as far as her invented terminology and world, and there were references to a past adventure of sorts. So I start to think, "Hey, did I pick up a sequel?" and scan the cover. Nothing. The back of the book. Nothing. Look inside the book. Front flap. Back flap. Also written by. Nothing!! So I gave up. I didn't like it and I didn't understand it because I didn't know this world. Then internet research let me know that it is a sequel. TO A SHORT STORY PUBLISHED ONLINE. For real? Maybe do a better job of letting people know next time you write a book, Beth. Cuz this was just lame. 

Monday, July 30, 2012

Steinbeck's Ghost

Steinbeck's Ghost is a cute YA novel about a young boy who lives in California, near the John Steinbeck house as well as the Steinbeck library. The library is going to close, and it's up to him, and his fellow library patrons, to save the library!  Buzbee makes lots of Steinbeck references, which is neat if you're a Steinbeck aficionado, but makes a narrow demographic for a young adult novel. That is, of course, unless his goal is to encourage today's youth to delve into Steinbeck, but it's really too specific with certain novels. I really can only recommend this book if you love, and are well-read of, Steinbeck. However, it did encourage and inspire me to read more Steinbeck! So look forward to new Steinbeck posts from me! 

The Last Days

More of a companion novel than a sequel to Peeps, The Last Days tells the story of new characters: Moz, Zahler, Pearl, Alana Ray, and Minerva, as they form a band in apocalyptic New York. The vampires from Peeps continue to occur, under the guise of them going mad, the sewers are gushing black water, and the earth is shaking. Randomly, it reminds me of the Duck Tales episode when they're in the Bermuda Triangle. Overall, I had similar feelings for The Last Days as I did towards Peeps, but with the additional sex and language in this it's much more of an older YA novel than, say, a middle school YA novel. So, don't expect too much, but no need to hate. 
Peace out!

Friday, July 27, 2012

The First Princess of Wales

After I read The Irish Princess, I thought it would be worth it to look into more books by Karen Harper, and I found The First Princess of Wales. I thought it sounded super neat! An earlier time period than I've read and new characters; I'm always up for that! So I checked it out from the library and started reading it, when I realized that the original title was Sweet Passion's Pain. If I had known that in the first place, I don't know that I would have picked up the book. It sounds a little like a harlequin novel! But I was already into the book and liked it so far, and it didn't seem naughty, so I kept reading. 

The First Princess of Wales is a historical fiction set in medieval times about a young girl, Joan of Kent, who is brought to Queen Phillipa's court and meets and falls in love, and lust, with Edward the Black Knight, Prince of Wales, who returns her lusty feelings, and perhaps her love. However, the Queen and King do not find Joan to be a suitable match for their son and she is quickly married off to someone else., despite the fact that Edward and Joan have become lovers and intend to stay that way. [Their lovemaking is not described in awkward detail.] It felt a lot like that game we used to play: Do, Date, or Marry. Or was it Do, Dump, or Marry? Either  way . . .

This novel just didn't read the way I thought it would. It wasn't what I thought it would be. [I also came into the novel thinking it was about the York/Lancaster split. My bad! But I'd love to read a book like that if anyone knows of one!] What I thought would be at least the middle, if not earlier, was the end! It took so long to get there, and then there was nothing after! I wanted to read more and was disappointed that it was already over. If I wasn't so determined to finish the book though . . . it's just that Harper's books take soooo long to read! They draaaag on and on! Both of hers that I've read have taken me much longer than I would have though given the number of pages and subject matter. I feel like I should like her work, but I just really don't. I kept finding myself thinking that it would have been more exciting if Philippa Gregory had written it. She's much more of a captivating author. Gregory also includes a family tree when necessary, which Harper didn't. I really needed one, because Joan and Edward are related, probably third cousins given my reading, but sometimes they talked and made it sound like a much closer relation. A family tree would have been helpful. Gregory, as most historical fiction writers, also adds an author's note or a historical note at the end to explain what was truth and where liberties were taken. Harper did no such thing. So I went to my easiest and closest resource: Wikipedia. And Wikipedia makes Joan sound so much more interesting than the book ever did!  It talks about her plotting to get even with the king for her fathers death, as does the back of the book, but that was hardly present compared to her pining over Edward and their illicit rendezvouses!  Harper clearly took liberties with her characters, especially their ages in relation to one another and when events happened, and was inconsistent throughout. 

Really, it was like Karen Harper took some characters from history and instead of writing a historical fiction, she wrote a romance. And it was a very strange romance at that, given that *ahem* force was often used. Anyway, there were some good parts, but I expected a much higher caliber of writing and, frankly, research about the subject. The First Princess of Wales was a bit of a let-down for me. 

The Whipping Boy

For the sixth graders medieval unit, they were put into different reading groups with classmates on similar reading levels. The Whipping Boy was the book I read with my group. It's about Prince Brat and his whipping boy, Jemmy, and how they run away from the castle & encounter some real characters! 

It was a cute little book with a good moral, but the students thought it was pretty lame and I tend to agree a little. It was written to a much younger audience. I think Jordyn would like it much better than my students did. It's much more for a younger audience, and I didn't think it was that great for a Newbery. I expect a lot when I see that seal, and The Whipping Boy, while cute, didn't quite live up to that standard. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012


As I started my journey into the world of Peeps, I thought I was seeing how Westerfeld has matured as an author, how Peeps can easily lead into Uglies, but then I saw that all of his novels are published in (or near) 2005. Crazy. He must have had them all stocked up before he got a publisher. But back to the story: Peeps is an apocalyptic novel centered on parasites which cause people to become Westerfeld's version of vampires. Our hero is Cal, who is trying to save the world. 

Being a lesser book of Westerfelds, it was a neat read, though, because Westerfeld likens vampirism unto parasitical infestation in a very plausible and understandable manner. One caveat: this novel is geared towards middle and jr high schoolers, but there's lots of "horny talk." So read it before you hand it to your child and decide for yourself if it's appropriate for your kiddo. It's written for them & a decent read. 

Now enjoy this quote from Westerfeld on Peeps
"Maybe there are too many vampire novels, I thought. But that was part of the challenge, to see if I could do something that felt new and interesting, while still being full of bitey goodness. (Unsurprising confession: I am a Buffy fan.) So the book had to be original, but also icky, scary, funny, tragic, and (ahem) not sucky.
Besides getting a new take on the sunlight-impaired, my other big concern was that my vampires should actually make some sense as far as science goes. So I started doing some vampire research, reading a bunch of books about ratsparasitesbites and stings, and biology.
After consuming all there was to know on these subjects, I came up with the four important features that any vampire novel (of mine) had to include:
natural selection,
sexual attraction,
parasitic infection,
and Elvis memorabilia."
Read on, my friends! 

So Yesterday

So there's this really hip dude, Hunter, and he's a cool hunter. He finds and 
sells new trends to his corporate sponsor. He goes to 'cool tastings', or product testings. 
He finds what's cool, before it's cool, and then the sponsors make it cool. Until Hunter
meets Jen, a real-life Innovator. And together they go on a crazy adventure which
begs the question: Is cool real or not real? Is it real because we make it real?
Because we think it's real? Or is cool really cool on its own? 

The whole time I was reading So Yesterday, it felt like I had read it before. But it felt super current, so that couldn't possibly be true. So I checked the publication date. 2004. Wow. Guess not too much has changed. And it's possible I've read it. I don't think I have, but whatever. I digress. Back to the book. It was okay. A little predictable. No engaging characters. And let's be real: kind of a lame plot. But, you know, if you're bored and there's nothing else around, give it a go. You won't hate it. 

The Night Dance

"A person's fortune may rise or fall as the wheel of fate spins,
 but a person's character remains constant"

The Night Dance is Suzanne Weyn's version of "The 12 Dancing Princesses." She felt the original story was missing something, missing the why, so she wrote her own. Weyn places her tale in Arthurian times and it includes the legends of that time as well, especially of Lady of the Lake, as well as elements of a romance novel. It was a cute little story, but not anything special. I would have just as much enjoyed reading the picture book I had of "The 12 Dancing Princesses" when I was a child. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Tent

The Tent  is set up like a book of short stories; Atwood prefers to call them "mini-fictions", but to me, they almost seem like brainstorming blurbs, spurts of inspiration, or trains of though. This is definitely the weirdest and least favorite of my Atwood reading so far. I did like the following: "Three Books I won't write soon", "Bring Back Mom", "Tree Baby", and "But it could still". I especially like that in "But it could still" it gives the message that despite everything, it could still turn out alright. "Tree Baby" was also very touching. 

These little redeeming gems, though, didn't overcome the rest of the drudgery that just didn't work for me. 

Cat's Eye

Of all of Margaret Atwood's novels, Cat's Eye is most close to The Robber Bride. It's got a similar setting and similar characters, but it's more of a coming-of-age story. To be honest, I kept expecting a Jodi Picoult-style twist, and it never came. Like The Robber Bride, Cat's Eye is mostly told in flashbacks, starting with WWII, as it approaches the present of the 1980s, and discusses many of the cultural changes at that time, especially feminism. 

I really liked Cat's Eye, but at the same time, I kept waiting for the twist, waiting for the "so what?" of the story. It was good, but not my favorite Atwood. It was the Atwood version of a mean girls story, and how one must work to overcome it, but I didn't really like or need the grown up point-of-view. I felt like it didn't add too much to the story, but at the same time, we couldn't see the growth and change without the difference of time. 

So, it didn't really live up to my expectations, but at the same time, I don't feel like I wasted my time reading it. I did enjoy it and I recommend it as a coming-of-age or coming-to-terms-with-life novel. 

Read on! 

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Robber Bride

The Robber Bride is a different sort of novel than what I was expecting from Margaret Atwood, but it was still a hard book to put down! The title references 
the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale: The Robber Bridegroom which I had never heard of before, but you can read here

Atwood is writing to her age group in this tale, which is an older deomgraphic than I usually read, but it was still intrinsically an Atwood novel.  The narrative rotates between three old friends, Tony, Charis, and Roz, as well as the past and the present.  The three women are tied together by one more woman, Zenia, and the university the four attended.  Zenia, the dead and the vil, ties these women together as she destroys their lives, betrays them completely, but she never gets a chance to tell her story (though I would have loved a Zenia point-of-view!). 

The women think they have moved past Zenia and the pain she has caused, until they see her while they're out to lunch, or at least, they think they do. Is Zenia still alive? And how can she hurt them now? 

As I already said, I could hardly put this down.  This was a great novel. I loved it. Read it & read on!

Distant Waves

Well, folks, now that I'm caught up on blogging about my life, I think I'll start blogging about books again :) 

Distant Waves by Suzanne Weyn tells the story of a young girl named Jane as she comes to age in a world of mysticism, Tesla, and the Titanic. Jane's mother, a medium, is down-on-her-luck, and after a strange encounter with Tesla, she moves her family to the town of Spirit Vale, which is fully of mediums. Jane's mother and twin sisters are quite sold on the idea of mysticism, but Jane isn't quite convinced. 

Jane and her older sister are working hard to make it on their own, outside of Spirit Vale.  Jane encounters Telsa again, she even has a little crush on his assistant, and makes Tesla the subject of her article for a journalism contest. 

Thanks to mysticism, Jane and her family end up on England, and then the Titanic. Disaster, obviously, ensues, and Tesla may be involved!

I found Distant Waves  to be an interesting YA Historical Fiction read, though it was a little more speculation than actual history when you come right down to it. It was a cute book, nothing amazing, but I liked it well enough. Plus, Tesla's pretty awesome!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Glass Castle

"Walls has joined the company of writers such as Mary Karr and Frank McCourt who have been able to transform their sad memories into fine art." - People

Compared to Frank McCourt, I much more thoroughly enjoyed Jeannette Walls's memoir, The Glass Castle.  Though I've never read Mary Karr, so I can't compare, I did enjoy the tale of the unconventional and poverty-stricken upbringing of the Walls children by their uniquely dysfunctional parents. The Walls' parents chose an alternative lifestyle for them and their children which they saw as beneficial; the children only learned to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to break the cycle. I couldn't put down this heartfelt memoir. 

Dragon Bones

Dragon Bones is Lisa See's third book of the Red Princess series. I haven't read the first two, but I still understood it pretty well. It's a murder-mystery love story between Inspector Liu Hulan and Attorney David Stark, who happen to be married, but estranged as they separately mourn the death of their young daughter. Together they are assigned to cases near the 3 Gorges Dam along the Yangtze River in China. Liu is to investigate a suspicious death and David is to find out how Chinese artifacts are being smuggled out of the country. See paints a modern picture of China while tying in the mysteries of the past.  i like how See shows me her perspective of China and occasionally characters speak in Chinese that See translates for the reader. It wasn't an awesome book, but it was certainly enjoyable.  I liked reading about modern China (okay, 1990s China) and I enjoyed the characters as well as the mystery and journey of the novel.  If you think you might enjoy this Chinese murder-mystery style romance, give it a try!

When the Black Girl Sings

Bil Wright's When the Black Girl Sings tell the coming of age story of an adopted young black girl. Adoption is the texture, rather than the storyline, but the novel does deal with important issues such as race, religion (but it isn't preachy!), having to make choices, and growing up. 

While well written and teaching a good lesson, When the Black Girl Sings didn't really appeal to me. It just didn't pull me in. I didn't identify with any of the characters. I think I only recommend it to kids who are faced with the same issues the novel deals with. 

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is one of the best books I have ever read. Maggie O'Farrell gives us the story from three points of view: Iris, in the present, as she meets the great-aunt she never knew she had; Esme, in the past and in the present, who has been locked away in an "institution" for more than sixty years; and Kitty, the grandma with Alzheimer's, whose story is done in stream-of-consciousness. Kitty always said she was an only child, but Esme is obviously her sister, and Iris feels obligated to care for her great-aunt.  The institution is closing, so all the patients are labeled as harmless to clear the institution of responsibility.  Esme is clearly damaged, but is it because she's insane? And if she's insane, was she before? Or is she now, only because of how she was treated? 

The family secrets of Esme and Kitty come to the surface as Iris cares for and bonds with Esme.  it's full of hurt, pain, and the feeling of not belonging.  iris's own family secrets are revealed, and she is forced to make hard decisions.  The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is an  intense read that I couldn't put down until I figured out the secrets.  The ending is somewhat rushed and vaguely written, but it still packs and punch.  This great read shows that even when problems are resolved, that doesn't mean there's a happy ending.  Actions have long consequences.  I really enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Irish Princess

Karen Harper's The Irish Princess introduced me to Elizabeth Fitzgerald, the uncrowned Irish Princess of Tudor times and rule. The Fitzgeralds and Henry VIII don't exactly get along, and that leads to quite a few visits to the Tower of London for the Fitzgerald men. Elizabeth, or Gera, is also forced to relocate to London so Henry VIII and his men can keep an eye on her and her family. 

I enjoyed The Irish Princess; it was nice to be introduced to a new character and storyline. I feel like Harper really captured that Irish "feel" that Gera needed, though I'm no expert in that area. Gera was a fun character to read about; she's stubborn, outspoken, and reminded me of what I've read of Elizabeth I, which makes sense because they were close friends. It was also weird that Henry VIII was the bad guy, I usually like him, or feel sorry for him at any rate! 

Most of the story was true to history, Harper obviously took some liberties, but Gera was a real person and her relationships were also true. It was an enjoyable read, but at times I found myself wishing that Philippa Gregory had written it, because it got a little dry and felt a little long. I also wish Harper had included a family tree in the front of the book, like Gregory always does. Overall, though, it was a pretty good book and I recommend it to my fellow historical fiction lovers! 

Teacher Man

Teacher Man is Frank McCourt's final memoir. It is still disjointed, like 'Tis, but not as bad. It is more of an elaboration on the teaching aspect of his life, so it was a little more enjoyable to me. Regardless, I still recommend it with the catch as before -- only if you like Angela's Ashes more than I did! Read on!


Night is Elie Wiesel's tale of his life and experience surviving the Holocaust at the death camp of Auschwitz. To be completely honest, I didn't really like it. But how can you analytically critique someone's heartfelt story? Is it cruel to dislike a personal memoir of the Holocaust? It's really hard to compare one person's pain to another, but Night is not one of the most touching, shocking, or what-have-you holocaust novel I've read. He didn't come alive to me, as Anne Frank does her diary or the characters in Devil's Arithmetic do. Maybe there was a problem in translation? Night wasn't originally written or published in English. Maybe I've read too many novels about the Holocaust? I've read a ton; maybe that's made me hardened to it? Maybe I'm not a sap anymore? Okay, that's not true, because I almost cried at the middle school while going over the end of Anne Frank. But I just didn't really enjoy Night. It seemed rather disjointed to me. This is not to say it didn't have a good message, because it did. Wiesel teaches peace and equality. He sings his father's praises, as his novel is just as much about his relationship with his father as the camps they were in. Night  has a good message, but is not one of my favorites. Read on!