Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carre
Coward-McCann, Inc, 1963
256 pages
Thriller; Spy novel
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I'd always heard about John le Carre's spy novels but I had never read one so I picked up what is probably his most famous to give it a try.

This book is set in about 1962/63, sometime after the construction of the Berlin Wall when tensions between Great Britain and East Germany are high. Leamas is in charge of a West Berlin spy division but all of his agents are being killed by East Germans under the direction of Mundt.  He returns to England where a plot is hatched to make it appear as if he is disgraced so that he can seem to defect and implicate Mundt as a British agent.  A complication arises when he becomes involved with Liz Gold, a British Communist Party member, but the plot seems to be working.

I was so caught up in this story!  I kept trying to figure out what would happen next and what the ultimate outcome would be (I was not even close) as the layers of intrigue and betrayal unraveled.  The ending was completely unexpected to me and while not what I wanted, entirely fitting with the story.  I'm used to the more glamorous pictures of spying such as in James Bond but this is altogether different.  It's dirty, often crude, and certainly unglamorous.  As presented, there are no clear-cut "good" and "bad" guys in the Cold War battle as both the British and the East Germans use the same methods and motivations without the guidance of morals.

Leamas is painted as largely fed up with the spy game as bloody and cruel; he claims no specific ideology, whether to Communism or capitalism or something else.  It's just what he has to do and what has to be done.  Liz is a sweet girl, loyal to Leamas, but baffled by spying and the dark side that the public doesn't usually hear about.  Mundt is a great villain; he became a Communist because they were the ones in power but as a former Nazi, his main belief seems to be antisemitism.  He is cold and ruthless.

Overall: An intriguing look at Cold War tensions and spying.

Read for British Book Challenge

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Royal Wedding

[Prepared in advance; I'm currently sleeping to prepare for being awake at 3AM to watch the wedding; stupid West Coast time zone.]

Well, it's kind of like a fairy tale, right?  "Commoner" meets prince, they get married, they live happily ever after.  Not quite.  I put commoner in quotes because despite Miss Middleton's lack of a title, I hardly consider someone who attended exclusive and expensive private schools, common.  Maybe in ye olde Britain but in a more socially mobile society as much of the world is, I beg to differ.  Then there's the fact that it's taken eight years which has been excruciating for this royal watcher.

And then there's the ending, which we obviously cannot predict.  I think the time that they have taken to get to know each other and to acquaint Kate with royal life will add immeasurably to their personal happiness.  I know that I will continue to be a royal watcher and I wish them all the best on this, their wedding day!

And a picture of the dress (along with Pippa, her maid of honor):

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Goddess Test

The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter
Harlequin Teen, 2011
293 pages
YA; Mythology
3/5 stars
First in planned trilogy

Source: Received a free e-galley via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was excited to see a book combining Greek mythology into YA literature.  The premise sounded promising too: Kate's mother is about to die but she makes a bargain with Henry (Hades) that she will attempt to become his queen in exchange for her mother's survival until Kate is ready to say goodbye.  I imagined something like the 12 labors of Hercules or something equally excited.  Alas disappointment.

The Greek mythology was very subtle.  The fourteen Olympians are represented but because they used other names and generally lacked personalities, I had trouble identifying more than half of them.  Much more could have been done to weave in the great stories of the Olympians.

Then there are Kate's tests.  They relate to the seven deadly sins, which is odd as that's associated with the Christian faith and would seem unrelated to the Greeks.  They also weren't very exciting, leading to a pretty monotonous story.

However I liked Henry and Kate's relationship; he is heartbroken from Persephone's leaving him but Kate does her best to cheer him up.  She also has friends in Ava and James, the former who plays more of a role in the story but James will probably appear more in the second book.

Overall: Odd mythology and general lack of excitement.

Cover: The colors are very beautiful and I like that Kate's dress is sort of Grecian.  I also like the title font.

Read for YA Debut Author Challenge and E-book challenge

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Heretics by Jonathan Wright
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
302 pages
Non-fiction; Christian
4.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I chose to read this in order to learn more about heresy within the Christian faith.  Almost from the beginning, "heresy" blossomed.  I put that in quotes because there was disagreement about almost everything within Christianity.  Was Jesus God or man or somewhere in between?  How did one worship God? These and other questions pushed toward the solidification of an orthodox interpretation in a reciprocal relationship.

Then the entire setup changed as a relationship between church and state, beginning with Emperor Constantine, emerged.  This increased the stakes for enshrining an orthodoxy as well as the stakes for heretics, who were increasingly exposed to tortures.  Then came the Reformation and America's creation until we reach the modern period with our notions of religious pluralism and the consequence that the word heretic has somewhat lost its punch.  People are called heretics in circumstances that are unlikely to have them lose their lives. 

Overall, very interesting and scholarly and worth savoring slowly over a period of time.

Cover: I like the fire but it's not very eye-catching.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Perfect Scandal

The Perfect Scandal by Delilah Marvelle
Harlequin, 2011
374 pages
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My review of the second book in this trilogy: Once Upon a Scandal.

This book opens with Marvelle sharing about her Polish ancestry and how that inspired her to write a book with a Polish heroine-fascinating and totally unfamiliar to me.

The book proper drew me right in with Tristan worrying about his future and Zosia confessing her foreigner status as well as her Roman Catholic identity before suggesting that they marry.  I was struck by her boldness (as was Tristan).  The lightness of this early chapter is soon offset by some darkness as both Tristan and Zosia have hidden depths.

Tristan is a former self-mutilator with the scars to prove it and has a bit of an S&M fetish.  Although he longs for marriage, he feels that no woman could ever accept him, a "queer." That's the word used and obviously that pulled me up short because it has a very different meaning nowadays.  Furthermore his sole remaining relation, his grandmother who raised him after both of his parents committed suicide, suffered from an abusive husband resulting in fear of men as well as agoraphobia.

Zosia is in a much better headspace than Tristan.  She was amputated at the knee some years earlier but with the love and strength of her now deceased mother, she has accepted the loss of her leg and learned to look past it.  This disability also enables her to look deep into Tristan and see the good man inside.  But she is also confined to her home by her patron, the king of England, which hinders her ability to fight for Polish nationalism and freedom in the face of Russian aggression.  The novel is set in 1829, a year before unsuccessful Polish uprisings.

I loved the sweep of the novel as a journey to Russia also occurs in the novel although I am not a fan of the device used to reunite the temporarily separated couple. The historical aspect was fantastic and I am now very interested in Polish and Russian history.  I mostly liked the characters although sometimes the angst over their self-mutilation and amputated leg annoyed me.  Tristan's grandmother and a Russian soldier Maksim, although not initially entirely sympathetic characters as they attempt to interfere in the romance, are given more sides to their personalities as the book progresses.

Overall: A darker and more intense romance than my usual fare with fascinating historical aspects.

Fun Fact: Had I been a boy, my parents were going to name me Tristan (Tristan Ryne Surname)

Cover: I feel like his hair looks weird but I love the way the sheets are billowing out.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Dutton Books, 2010
372 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Some Spoilers!

I was really excited about this book after seeing near unanimous acclaim for it around the blogosphere.  And I loved the writing and Anna's voice (for the most part).

Anna's father (a Nicholas Sparks kind of writer) decides that she should be more exposed to culture so he sends her to a boarding school in Paris instead of allowing her to finish her senior year in Atlanta.  Obviously Anna is upset but she quickly becomes part of a group of friends with Meredith, Rashmi, Josh, and, most importantly to her, Etienne St. Clair.  Unfortunately for her romantic hopes, St. Clair already has a girlfriend, the already graduated Ellie.  Meredith also has a crush on St. Clair, which she confesses to Anna early on (that's important).

As I said, I really loved the writing.  Perkins immersed me in Paris and did a fantastic job covering the passage of time as almost a whole school year passes over the course of the book.  Anna loves the cinema and her interest in films mimics my own so that made me happy.  The characters were well-differentiated with their own personalities and interests.  They seemed like pretty typical teenagers.

But. (You knew there was a but coming, didn't you?) But the majority of the book is about Anna's crush on St. Clair, a guy who is in a relationship since before she knew him even if he FINALLY manages to break it off. I know St. Clair is supposed to be so great but I had many problems with him:

A. I do not get French names; is Etienne like John or Matthew here in the US because I cannot imagine how it's supposed to be pronounced and it just seems weird which meant that I thought of him as St. Clair which makes me think of St. John in Jane Eyre, not a good comparison. (I know, I know, hegemonic American but I can only speak from my own experiences)
B. He's short, which is mentioned many times.  His exact height isn't given, which might have been helpful for me because I kept picturing him as my height, which no. Not attractive.
C. He seems to have had a crush on Anna the whole time without having the guts to break up with Ellie.  I know he's going through a hard time, way harder than anything I've had to deal with, but it's just not the way a gentleman should act.
D. He confesses his interest in Anna while drunk and still officially the boyfriend to Ellie; he sleeps (platonically) in the same bed as Anna for three nights; and then later makes out with Anna (and while she's also culpable, I think he is more so). Not cool, St. Clair!

I'm not asking for a perfect person; that would be boring. His good traits are good; he's friendly to most people, loves history, adores his mother, and is loyal to people he's not dating. But I was not down with his behavior to Anna, Meredith, or Ellie.

Especially because of the way Anna acts and reacts.  She spends so much time confused by Etienne thus leading to making some spectacularly stupid decisions such as dirty dancing with him while drunk and sort-of dating a loser fellow student.  She's whiny and while she starts the book basically afraid of Paris, she ends being too good for America.  She does the same thing to Meredith that her American friend did to her (although I would argue that Anna is slightly worse) and it takes her forever to realize that.  By the end, I didn't even really like her though I still enjoyed her narration and descriptions.

Warning: Drinking (technically not underage since they're in France); swearing (especially toward the end)

I know I spent more time listing what I didn't like than what I did like but I really did enjoy reading this book; I'm cautiously optimistic for Lola and the Boy Next Door even as I question Perkins' judgment in naming her main characters Lola and Cricket.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Portrait of a Lady

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
The Modern Library, 2001
Originally Published 1881
565 pages
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I started this in order to add some more classics to my knowledge.  It was my first James and I chose it because it was one of his first masterpieces, according to canon.  I was thinking it would be something like Edith Wharton's writing.  That is somewhat true as the minutiae of upper-class people and the dictates of society are the focus. Let's start with a summary, which kind of has spoilers but this book is over 100 years old so I don't feel bad about that or anything.

Isabel is a young American who inherits wealth from her uncle.  She rejects proposals from the wealthy polite Lord Warburton and the energetic American businessman Caspar Goodwood.  Isabel eventually marries Count Osmond, a poor American in Italy, despite the objections from her cousin Ralph, her aunt Mrs. Touchett, and her friend Henrietta.  After several years of marriage, she finally realizes what they recognized from the start: Osmond is not a romantic exciting man.  He is narrow-minded and controlling; he raised his daughter to bend entirely to his will and he expected his wife to conform to his dictates as well, acting as an ornament to his pride rather than as an independent person.  He also wanted her money.  The first part of the novel covers her interactions with people and her decision to marry.  The pulls of her own spirit versus her perceived duty to her husband define the second part, ending with her decision to remain with her husband.

I chose this as the book considered one of James's earliest masterpieces.  I was hoping that it would be fairly accessible, which I found it to be and that the style wouldn't be too radical.  I think I've read that James went very extreme in later books but maybe not yet? I will need to read more of him before I can decide. Any recommendations?

I feel completely unable to embark on a full analysis of James's style but I can mention some things I noticed.  There were many instances where a single paragraph would take up a page or even two; there would just be pages and pages of lingering descriptions of Isabel and those around her.  As the story progressed though, there was more dialogue and less of a focus on Isabel.  Instead there were (seemingly) peripheral events described.  Important events are skipped over such as the actual marriage of Isabel and Osmond and the birth and death of their child while seemingly insignificant conversations are recorded.  The book is narrated by an omniscient narrator, who occasionally inserts himself into the book using "I."  While the narrator knows more than the reader, he doles out that bit of knowledge sparingly.

I am glad that I am already familiar with some of the old-fashioned mores and standards or I would have found them even more bewildering.  For example, Isabel is determined to not share her unhappiness in marriage with anyone.  She will not consider leaving her husband despite his brutality and the encouragement of friends. This could seem bizarre under current standards but this book is from the late nineteenth century with upper-class continental Europeans, a vastly different society.  Even so, there were some frustrating moments.

There were still several upsetting moments for me. First that Isabel threw away possible happiness with Goodwood in favor of her ill-advised attachment to Osmond.  She denied the idea that the slightly sinister Madame Merle influenced her marriage before finally realizing that it was so.  The other upsetting instant revolved around Pansy Osmond, the daughter of Osmond who he has trained to obey, kind of like a dog.  She represses her independent thoughts and gives up her love because it does not please her father's pride. While Isabel returns to her husband, it seems to stem partly from her promise to love and watch over Pansy.  However I fear that both women will continue to suffer under Osmond's thumb, leaving a tragic pall over the conclusion.

There's so much more to discuss but I'm going to stop now with my Overall: A surprisingly accessible example of Henry James's prose; I am eager to read more of his work.

Read for FITG Challenge

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Guardian of the Gate

Guardian of the Gate by Michelle Zink
Little, Brown and Company, 2010
340 pages
YA; Historical; Fantasy
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: Now that Lia knows about the battle between herself and her twin sister Alice, she is doing everything she can to prepare herself for the final battle.  She searches for more information and to develop her powers.  Betrayal, magic, and power lust fill the pages as the sad truth is revealed: only one sister will be left standing.

The Prophecy of the Sisters was one of the first books I reviewed, way back in December 2009 and I was very eager for this, the second book, but I am only just now getting to it.  In short, I was disappointed.  My biggest disappointment is a SPOILER but I have other reasons. However there were still some things I liked so I'll start with those.

For the most part, the book reminded me of LOTR: FOTR because Lia goes on a journey to Altus with a few companions, receives healing and shelter there with elegant creatures, and then resumes her journey.  When I was picturing most everything about this, I used visuals from the film.  Now while I mention those similarities, I don't think it was copying or referencing LOTR; that's just what my mind imagined.

I still mostly like Lia, whose troubles just keep increasing as we prepare for the final confrontation.  Edmund plays an increased role while Sonia and Luisa are still here.  A few new characters are also introduced (see spoiler for the most important one).

And now we come to the negative.  Because Lia and Alice are separate, there is not much of Alice which is unfortunate because the few scenes where they're together were great.  Alice as a character still does not have much of a personality beyond her desire for power and to destroy Lia but I still was intrigued by her.

In general, it also took too long for things to happen.  I kept waiting and waiting for something to occur to push forward toward the finale but it didn't.  There is some progress made in the later pages but it took too long to get there. I enjoyed the writing and the descriptions but I didn't need as much as I was given; I would have preferred more action.


My biggest source of discontent was the new relationship Lia formed with Dimitri.  I really liked James in the first book despite his limited presence and Lia for the most part just brushes aside thoughts of him for the "dreamy" Dimitri. Well, you know what? I don't like Dimitri and every instance where she thought about him, kissed him, touched him, made me like her a bit less. I also remain a bit suspicious of him although there are no outright reasons to be so.


Overall: It is a must to read these books in order but this seems like a filler book in between the world-building of the first book and the ultimate showdown in the third. It would be necessary to read this but I didn't really enjoy it.

Cover: I also don't really like the redesigned covers; I found the original first cover appropriately creepy and the new covers with the faces are less to my taste. The cover model is very pretty though.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ten Miles Past Normal

Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell
Atheneum Books, 2011
211 pages
YA; Contemporary
4.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free egalley through GalleyGrab in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book beyond the fact that it looked to be about a 14-year-old attempting to come to grips with herself.  And that is what happens, partly.  When Janie was 9, she thought it would be awesome to live on a farm...and her parents agreed.  But what was cool at 9 is less cool at 14 when you become known as the girl who came to school with goat poop on her shoe.  Plus she's far away from her best friend Sarah and oh so lonely at school.

That is until something changes.  Janie and Sarah are partners in History of American Women class who decide to do a project on a local civil rights activist and the school she helped found.  Additionally they become interested in Jam Band, featuring the attractive Jeremy Fitch and the mysterious Monster.  Plus Sarah's big sister Emma, who always seemed too cool for them becomes interested in their lives. What's happened and what is normal anyway?

I sped through this book because I could not get enough of it.  Janie is an immensely likable character dealing with a lot of problems that plague you when you are a teenager.  She doesn't fit in at school, she lashes out at her family, and is generally unsatisfied.  But through the course of this book, she changes.  She makes a few new friends; she learns how to play bass (so cool!); she has several crushes (don't worry, it's not a love story); she mends her relationship with her mother; and she has a greater appreciation for history and bravery.

While this might be aimed more at a middle-grade audience, I think it can be appreciated by us older folks looking for a sweet story with flawed but likable characters.

Overall: Delightful-I flew through this book falling more in love with every character along the way!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Library Hop on 4/21

I'm feeling kind of lazy here so I'm not going to type up all of the titles but this picture shows 13 of the titles on the YA Overlooked Book Battle List at The Shady Glade.  As a round 1 judge, I am hoping to read as many of these as possible by the end of April.  I've really enjoyed what I've read so far so I'm excited about this batch too.  Next up is probably The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell and then Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher but I'll see what appeals to me the most.

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde
Viking, 2011
359 pages
5/5 stars
Sixth in the Thursday Next series

Source: Won an ARC through firstreads.

Wow! This was such a delightful book.  While I was at first disappointed to discover that another Thursday book was coming (not because I don't like Thursday but because I'm dying for the second Shades of Grey book), I ended up adoring this book.

Here is a list of some of the awesome parts of it:
-A robot butler named Sprockett; I now desperately want one of my own
-An imminent genre war (between Racy Novel and WomFic)
-Worries about the rise of e-books and what that means for reading
-Quirky references to the giants of English literature
-Literary allusions and jokes that are aimed right at bookish people (aka me and you since you're reading a book blog)
-Multiple Thursday Nexts (really too many to count)

Now the basic plot of the book is contained in the title.  A Thursday Next is missing; sadly it is the real Thursday and thus the written Thursday has to step in to take her place and hunt her down.  She must do this while juggling a new understudy, a sadly little-read series, and those who want her dead.  Written Thursday also struggles with her desire for Landon, a character not in her books, and later the feeling that she might be the real Thursday.  She also has peace talks, a cheese smuggling ring, the ever present evil corporation Goliath, and various plots needing her attention.  Luckily she has the aid of my new favorite character Sprockett, the aforementioned butler and her own keen wits.

In order to solve the mystery, she visits many of the genres in BookWorld.  She of course lives in fantasy but ventures to Self-Published, Fan-Fiction, Crime (Conspiracy), Romance, and a bit of Comedy.  While the plot is frequently fantastical, it is also pretty easy to follow especially if you allow yourself to relax in the hands of a brilliant writer and are familiar with the other books.

Like all of the Thursday novels, this is a love letter to books set almost entirely in BookWorld and it is a delight from start to finish.  Highly recommended (although you should read the series in order).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Invincible Summer

Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz
Simon Pulse, 2011
269 pages
YA; Contemporary
2.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-ARC via GalleyGrab in exchange for an honest review.

I was conflicted about reading this book because the cover suggested somewhat trashy beach read while early reviews promised something deeper.  Throughout my reading, I continued to be conflicted.

The story is told over the course of four summers from the perspective of Chase, who turns 15 during the first summer.  He has an older brother Noah, a younger sister Claudia, a younger brother Gideon, and another sibling arriving in that time.  Their family is in disarray with Noah constantly leaving, Gideon deaf and unable to fully communicate with his family not fluent in ASL, and the parents fighting.  There's more but I won't spoil it.

Their next door neighbors, the Hathaways, have Melinda, who's a year older than Noah, and twins Bella and Shannon who are about the same age as Chase.  Bella is a ballerina and Shannon develops into a very college-obsessed boy.  The interactions between the children in the families (the Hathaway parents are barely mentioned) forms much of the conflict especially in the person of Melinda.  I did not like the triangle that develops between Melinda, Noah, and Chase (keep in mind Melinda is four years older than Chase). 

I thought the idea of a story told over four consecutive summers would be really interesting (sort of like One Day) but I ended up struggling to reconnect with the characters after the changes that took place over the year.  Furthermore every summer seemed to have a crisis that made this book much bleaker than I had anticipated.  Despite the fact that time had passed in the book, I read this in about two sittings so it all hit me at once.

Oddly while I hated most of the plot points and didn't fully understand all of the characters, I enjoyed the writing.  I felt like the characters were family even as I felt like a bit of a stranger intruding on some of their most private moments.  Chase was a decent narrator and he seemed like a teenage boy (not that I really know what they're like). I did think there was too much swearing, especially as the book goes on but that's a personal preference.

I also experienced some confusion.  The first summer chronicled about two weeks but the other summers seemed to be longer.  How does that work? Are the parents going to their jobs while the kids stay there? Are the parents freelancers who can work from home? I think they're not supposed to be independently wealthy because some money worries are expressed but they must be pretty comfortable in order to be able to rent that beach house every year.

Then many of the characters memorize passages from French existentialist Albert Camus, which they attempt to quote at appropriate times.  I had to read The Stranger in school and thus I did not understand this fascination as I don't like Camus.  I mean, these characters were really into him. Is Camus really that popular?

Overall: Didn't really work for me due to character and plot. I would be interested in trying Moskowitz's debut Break.

Warning: Language; some sexual content

Read for e-book challenge.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Lightkeeper's Ball

The Lightkeeper's Ball by Colleen Coble
Thomas Nelson, 2011
288 pages
Christian Historical Romance Mystery
4/5 stars

Source: A free e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

This is the third book in Mercy Falls Series and it features both of the couples from the first two who are expanding their families.  But the focus is Olivia Stewart who is coming to Mercy Falls from New York City in order to discover the answer to many questions.  Did her sister Eleanor, who's terrified of water, really drown herself? Could Eleanor's fiance Harrison Bennett have something to do with it? And
could Olivia bring herself to marry Harrison in order to help the Stewarts recoup their money?

First things first: Harrison Bennett is a fantastic hero! He is an honorable man of God, skilled at numbers and management as well as the mechanics that would enable an aeroplane to fly, thoughtful gift-giver (diamonds!), and eager to love and cherish a prospective wife.  I loved reading about him!

Unfortunately his mate and main character of this book Olivia Stewart is much less to my liking.  She spends most of the book masquerading as Lady Devonworth, her title true, but she ought to have told Harrison the truth much sooner especially because they're engaged for much of the book!  Originally it is a sham but once it is revealed to be made of love, she should have bit the bullet and told him.  Instead he suffers from the inevitable feelings of betrayal that might have been lessened had she told him earlier instead of hearing it from someone else.  After the troubles with Eleanor, Harrison had some (completely understandable) trouble with the Stewart family, so Olivia feared his reaction.

She also struggled with a woman's place in society; she had been trained from birth to be the "perfect" wife who plans parties and socializes.  But Harrison helps her to see that Jesus values her for who she is and that she can be much more than just a wife.  With his love and support, she can do anything.  Additionally Olivia is a remarkably clumsy heroine as she manages to sprain her ankle and a wrist in addition to other bruises; it got to a point where I just wanted her to sit so she could protect herself.

The mystery was less engaging to me than the romance although Harrison's efforts to help warmed my heart.  Basically Olivia thinks her father is dead but then finds a letter suggesting he may not be.  Plus it turns out he left most of his fortune to her illegitimate half-brother about whom she had known nothing.  And it seems that someone is trying to kill her.  The machinations by the villain(s) overwhelmed me.  I was much more interested in the romance, the friendships Olivia develops with Addie and Katie, and Olivia's growing understanding of God.

Overall: A good historical romance; definitely recommended for those who have enjoyed the previous Mercy Falls books and for those looking for a GREAT hero!

Cover: GORGEOUS-I love covers with a big, bold dress capturing the eye.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Betrayal of Maggie Blair

The Betrayal of Maggie Blair by Elizabeth Laird
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011
420 pages
YA; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Free e-ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn't sure what to expect with this book; I knew there was something about witches and Scotland in the past but what did the title mean by "betrayal?"  And then I saw it was quite long (for a YA book) and I was worried about if the story could be sustained-I generally encourage shorter works, whether it be book, movie, or song. I ended up pleasantly surprised as the pace was very good overall.

The story covers a huge journey made by Maggie, both physically, through Scotland, and mentally, as she examines her faith and her conscience.  The story opens with the young orphan living with her grandmother Elspeth in a tiny shack on a Scottish island.  A neighbor leads accusations against the two women that leads to their conviction as witches.  Maggie is fortunate enough to be able to escape and she goes to her uncle's house.

At her Uncle Blair's house, she is welcomed, not entirely warmly, and begins to integrate herself into their life.  They are Covenanters-Presbyterians who reject King Charles II's intrusion into their religious life and subject to dreadful oppression.  Indeed their beliefs lead to Uncle Blair's arrest where he is moved across the country. As their suffering increases, Maggie makes the decision that she will go save him.

This results in her journey to Edinburgh (I'm not entirely sure about distances as they're represented in how long it takes to walk-but about two days) with a friend Tam from her early days.  His wiliness gets them there safely but Maggie must figure out her own way to save Uncle Blair and to create her own future.

I was absolutely fascinated with the historical background; of course I'm well aware of historical persecution by the various sects of Christianity but the British Anglicans against the Scottish Presbyterians was not well-known to me.  I know the campaign against the Irish Catholics much better.  The work necessary just to survive, just to scrape by was also well represented.  I could feel Maggie's exhaustion over all of the work that had to be completed.

The world Laird drew was dirty and superstitious and confused.  The characters were complex with their good and bad side well-represented.  Maggie is somewhat naive at the beginning but that changes as she makes her way in the world; she is quite fortunate to move without molestation and generally finding a place to stay safely. The story is told from her perspective and I found her a good narrator.  Her questions about faith were fascinating to me.  She doesn't know much about religion but she seeks to come to some understanding of it as well as of her own nature, which leads to her concluding decision.

The other characters were also interesting.  Her grandmother's anger leads to her persecution but she looks out for Maggie until the end.  Tam, a thief and poacher, continually helps Maggie although he also brings the villainous Annie to her door.  Annie is mostly a liar and a thief but she also has a bit of the innocent to her in the beginning. The Blairs seem like good people, although they have their faults too.

I admit that I had expected some romance just because YA tends to have that but it doesn't really.  Maggie expresses some interest in a few guys but nothing comes of it and she retains her independence.  Like in StarCrossed, I appreciated this lack of romance because there was so much going on with the religious/political aspects that it would have been unnecessary.

From what I can tell, this was previously published as The Witching Hour, a title which I don't think fully covers what occurs in this book, but I'm not sure how I feel about this title.  I like the inclusion of Maggie's name but I feel like the ending is not a betrayal so it doesn't fully encapsulate this book either.  The author's note also reveals Laird's family connection to the events described as she had family persecuted in such a manner; that was interesting to learn.

Cover: I think the blues are very striking although some plaid would not have gone amiss!

British Book Challenge and E-book challenge.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Catching Katie

Catching Katie by Robin Lee Hatcher
Heart Quest, 2003
366 pages
Christian Historical Romance
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I was intrigued by the cover of this book as well as the description about a suffragist, Katie, working for a national suffrage amendment in conflict with her best friend, Ben, who loves her and just wants to be married with family.  At first I thought Ben would denigrate women's rights but he's actually supportive of national suffrage and Katie sharing her opinion.  He just wants her to choose a family with him (his dream) over a run for Congress (her dream). And that's where my problem was.  I liked both characters from the start and it was easy to support their friendship.  However their marriage comes about through less than ideal circumstances and it takes too long for them to reconcile (through very contrived means).  I was so frustrated that they married without trying to bring their different plans for the future more in sync.  While Ben outwardly supports Katie, he really wants her to stay at home and be his wife despite her long history of saying that marriage was not in the cards for her.  Both did need to listen to God more but their fights were repetitive and not engaging.

The other characters were fine.  Sophia is Ben's sister and Katie's return awakens Sophia's interest in suffrage and prompts her to make big changes in her life.  Blanche is the schoolteacher who just hates all men without exception and she ends up being the one to help Ben and Katie reconcile (entirely accidentally).  The debates that Katie provokes among the townspeople were great, even if sometimes they consisted of shouts that Katie needed to stay in the kitchen and get a husband.  It's weird to me to think that just one hundred years ago, not all American women were allowed to vote; I love being able to vote and I'm so grateful to women like Katie for fighting for that right for me.

Overall: My problems with Ben and Katie's relationship soured me on the romance but the historical and Christian aspects were good.

Cover: Adorable-especially with the title on the hat.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Longmans, Green & Co, 1932
307 pages
Classic; Satire
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Meg Cabot had recommended this book, which is how I first heard about it.  Additionally I really like this cover that I found, although my copy from the library was just a plain blue.  I wasn't sure what to expect other than hopefully a good time.

I really struggled at first to get into the story.  Flora was recently orphaned and she is looking around over her family relations to decide where she will live.  She ends up picking the family at Cold Comfort Farm, where she is sure to encounter problems that she can solve.  And she does.  She finds a bewildering assortment of relatives, surly and intent on their lives as they've always been.  However Flora wades in and sets their lives on a more modern path, arranging marriages for several and new career paths for others.

Apparently this book is somewhat parodying some rural life novels of the time such as DH Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, and the Brontë sisters.  I've only read the latter and references to them are explicit in the form of a character who argues that Branwell wrote his sisters' novels because certainly Wuthering Heights could not have been written by a woman!  I don't understand his rationale at all but I was fascinated.  Some of the characters also spoke in a "country dialect" akin to Joseph in Wuthering Heights albeit more comprehensible.  The other elements were probably lost on me as I am unfamiliar with those types of novels.

Another interesting element is that this book is technically set in the future (the late 40s) with video phones and a different historical path (I believe an Anglo-Nicaragua War is mentioned).  That was not a very important aspect though as most of the story is set on a very rural farm.

However I really liked the characters, especially Flora, the modern young lady who inserts herself into the lives of her relations and I would say makes them better.  She was a funny character and very likable.  The other characters were also enjoyable.

Overall: A funny story with likable characters.

FITG Challenge; British Books Challenge

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cinderella: Ninja Warrior

Cinderella: Ninja Warrior by Maureen McGowan
Silver Dolphin Books, 2011
314 pages
YA/MG; Fairy Tale; Action
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free egalley via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I had no idea what to expect with this book; turns out it's a Choose Your Own Adventure with different paths for your Cinderella story to take.  I love those but it's a bit harder with an e-reader than with a physical book. Regardless I made sure to read all of the possible paths.

And this book was a delight! I loved Cinderella and the combination of magic and ninja moves was an unusual addition.  Her stepmother is so horrid but also kind of fun because she keeps stacking up challenges to Cinderella who keeps passing them. The prince is great and he gets a bit more development than in the traditional fairy tale.  The stepsisters were also colorful and there are a few other characters who help Cindy on her path.  And Cinderella is the one who gets to finally defeat the evil stepmother!

Overall, love and belief in yourself are the takeaway messages. I definitely recommend this for a cute quick read. [I also recommend that you don't use the wand when that choice is presented-I thought the consequences of that choice were better than when you use the wand. But you can read both and decide on your own.

Cover: I think the blue cover is the actual cover but I liked both a lot so I included them.

Hosted by Irena at This Miss Loves To Read.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer
HarperTeen, 2011
327 pages
YA; Contemporary
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I wanted to read this for the Contemps Challenge but once I discovered the fact that it was in large part about music, I was even more excited.  The book is framed as a rivalry between soprano Kathryn and alto Brooke, who are outwardly as different as it comes.  One is retiring, petite, and blonde to the other's popular, tall, brunette self.  But they share a deep commitment to music, especially to the Blakemore, a music festival that offers $25,000 to the winner and could serve as a ticket out of Minnesota.

The story is told in alternating chapters and switching times.  Most of the time is spent during their senior year but it also flashes back to their junior year when their rivalry was cemented.  Each girl had a distinct personality and it was very easy to tell who was sharing her story. Additionally the timeline was not muddled, which could have occurred when juggling two characters and the passage of time.

I really liked both girls.  Kathryn resembles me more-taking honors classes, shy, with parents who love her and care about her.  But Brooke has her own magnetism as the most popular girl in school with popular older brothers and wealth.  I so wanted the girls to be friends.  And the thing is: they kind of were.

But misunderstandings plagued them.  Brooke didn't want to be popular; she wanted to be a "music freak" (and why are choir kids so maligned? I mean, I was in orchestra which is even geekier so it's not like I understand the social hierarchy but what's so wrong with singing? Is it because they care and aren't apathetically aloof?)  Kathryn was intrigued by the popular crowd though and neither girl was able to share their deepest feelings to create that strong friendship.  As the book progresses though, I just wanted them to sit down (alone with no one around) and hash everything out.  Luckily the ending hints toward a more positive future but without spelling anything out.

Overall: A fun book with two great main characters.  Especially recommended for anyone who studies classical music but it's not required.

Cover: I don't know about the cover.  I like the piano and the brightness of the flower but I'm not sure I like the flower itself.

Read for Contemps Challenge and YA Debut Author Challenge.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

William and Kate

William and Kate: A Royal Love Story by Christopher Andersen
Gallery Books, 2010
301 pages
Non-fiction; Royalty
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I know, I know-another book about the young royal couple? What can I say-I'm excited!  And the wedding is getting so close now!  This is the best of them so far, in my opinion.

I thought it balanced the perceived audience desire to read more about Diana with about equal amounts of William and Kate's life; Kate, as always, gets talked about less.  She is shown as a woman patiently waiting for her Prince; her life is a backseat and attachment to his and thus his life is the focus.  But the love between them also is highly emphasized as can be seen by the subtitle.  Kate is praised for the way she has conducted herself throughout the entire affair, although the snipes at her "commonness" continue to bug me.

Oddly the parts that irked me the most involved Harry.  Andersen had a tendency to call Harry "The Spare" and recounted the idea that he is actually James Hewitt's son. And of course, their constant drinking and partying is mentioned.

Additionally there are two sections of pictures, most of which are familiar but a few were new to me.  Diehard royal fans will probably know all of them.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Small Acts of Amazing Courage

Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whelan
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011
209 pages
MG; Historical
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-ARC via Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab in exchange for an honest review.

I wanted to read this book after seeing that it was set in 1919 India and was somewhat concerned with the India independence movement because I'm taking a class about Indian history this semester. Personally I would have liked more about Gandhi but Rosalind is an engaging main character.

She and her mother have lived in India while her father served in WWI.  Upon his return, he is disappointed with the freedom Rosy has enjoyed while her mother battled various illnesses.  He wants Rosy to be a proper English girl who spends her time at the club instead of traveling through the bazaar or listening to treasonous statements.  To that end, he has her sent to England to be with her two aunts who will have her brought up properly.

Throughout the book, Rosalind performs "small acts of amazing courage" from saving a little boy from poverty to nursing during a cholera epidemic to empowering her aunt.  This is not a big, flashy story but instead a sweet coming-of-age story.  Rosalind learns more about herself and about the world and I think she might be destined for big things.

There's also a cute boy in the person of Max Nelson, who served under her father in WWI and has one more year at Cambridge.  While he does not play a large role, it is fun to speculate how his India independence sympathies will be used to help in the future.

Cover: Very pretty and the design is continued inside the book. 

This books is set to be released April 19; to buy, check out:
Book Depository
Barnes and Noble

Read for e-book challenge.

Monday, April 11, 2011

You Wish

You Wish by Mandy Hubbard
Razorbill, 2010
284 pages
YA; Contemporary; Supernatural
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

For Kayla's 16th birthday, her mother throws her an unwanted birthday bash with pink galore.  Her best friend Nicole had let her down and she was secretly in love with Nicole's boyfriend Ben. As she blows out the candles, she wishes that her birthday wishes would come true.  The next morning, she finds a pink pony; the next day a year's supply of gumballs; the next day Raggedy Ann comes to life.  But Kayla must stop this because when she turned fifteen, she wished for Ben to kiss her.


I remember getting so excited about this book last year with its adorable pink color and cute concept.  However I am less enthusiastic about the final result.  Kayla is so cynical and it was a bit unpleasant being in her head.  Like many YA females, she is unpopular but content with her one friend Nicole, a similarly unpopular girl who nonetheless is still hoping for popularity.  Nicole's radical transformation in appearance causes a certain bewilderment in Kayla and their different goals causes some splintering in their relationship.  About one-third through the book, I really hoped this wouldn't be a book where the one girl ends up with her best friend's boyfriend at the end.  Now the situation is not as cliched as that because Nicole gives her blessing for Kayla and Ben but I couldn't cheer for them because of how much Kayla had wanted him while they were dating.  I wasn't very pleased with this segment.

However the wishes were cute.  Raggedy Ann and a Ken doll come to life leading to Kayla re-evaluating her life based on their simplicity and optimism (also leading to some match-making).  Her childhood wishes force her to confront the cynicism that overhangs her present life and to radically alter her attitude and outlook on life.  I was pleased with this.

The other segment was Kayla's home life.  Her father left them when she was quite young (also connects with some wishes) causing her mother to become a workaholic and her brother Chase and her to harbor some serious resentments.  Through the wishes, Kayla becomes at peace with her father's (bonehead) decision to ignore his family and to work on strengthening the relationships with the family that remains.  I love YA stories with strong family bonds (they ring true to me because that's how my family is) so this was a plus to me.

Overall: Kayla's wishes provide some extraordinary comedic moments but I found her general attitude off-putting. I'm glad that she grows but that growth took too long for me to raise my rating.

Cover: I love the pink but I think many people would be turned off by the pink even if they would actually enjoy the story (I know my sister would hate this cover although I'm not sure how she'd feel about the story itself as she tends to like darker books.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

She Walks in Beauty

She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell
Bethany House, 2010
392 pages
Christian Historical Romance
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I flew through this book as it was arranged just the way I like books with relatively short chapters and lots of section breaks.  That means I can read a section real quick while waiting for something or encourage myself to finish it faster as I say "I'll just read one more section...and then one more...etc."

Clara is a year away from her debut into New York society and grateful as she yearns more for books and academia than balls and a husband.  Her aunt however moves up the year of her debut in order to garner a marriage with Franklin De Vries, heir to a fortune and to a family that once wronged Clara's.  Soon Clara is the belle of the season but she finds herself far more interested in Franklin's younger brother Harry and troubled by her growing knowledge of the dirty world of New York politics.  When tragedy strikes, Clara must decide who she really is.

Clara seems like a pretty typical heroine.  Although too tall and without a fashionable figure, she's a devoted reader and pretty loyal friend and daughter.  Watching her struggle and then triumph navigating the tricky mires of society was amusing and exciting.  Although her aunt was often very harsh, I really loved her.  Toward the end, she explains that she was trying to help Clara survive in a world that is very harsh to women and I could appreciate her motivation. What about Clara's parents? Her mother died a long time ago, bequeathing to Clara a book of Byron (hence the title from a Byron poem) but her doctor father remains dispensing his miracle tonic and preparing for Clara to win the heir to the De Vries fortune and thus restore the family honor.

Of course there's a love story.  Franklin is a bore who loves to talk of himself and his horses while Harry is the friendly, sweet, well-intentioned man who naturally captures Clara's attention.  He is also the one who introduces the main Christian theme that God loves His creation which proves so challenging to Clara's faith.  I was expecting much more Christian language but it was very minor overall.  I imagine non-Christian historical fiction fans could read it and just skip the few passages where a relationship to God is discussed.

There were many little tidbits sprinkled throughout the story such as Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives; the painfulness of a corset; men's trips to the Bowery; newspapermen and celebrity; scandal!; the minutiae of society; and medical quackery that were fascinating but not given enough attention in my opinion.  Some receive more than others but despite Clara's sympathy for the poor exposed by Riis, there is never any mention of her attempting anything to help and little chance of that given the ending.  Obviously not all of them could be treated but I would have preferred a tighter focus on a few.

Overall: The Christian content was lacking but the historical details and the character Clara kept me engaged.

Cover: The cover is what attracted me to this book-I think everything about it is very pretty.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Girl in the Gatehouse

The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen
Bethany House, 2010
391 pages
Historical Christian Romance
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I tried to read The Apothecary's Daughter last year and was disappointed, leading me to label it a DNF.  But I thought this would be different when I opened the book to a quote from Mansfield Park and saw character names bringing to mind that book.  Anything that closely influenced by Austen will probably please me and this mostly did so.

Mariah has been kicked out by her father for her indiscretion and she goes to live in the gatehouse of her aunt's estate, contenting herself with novel writing and spinsterhood.  After her aunt's death, young Captain Bryant lets the house.  He is set on marrying a girl who previously spurned him as beneath her but also develops a friendship with Mariah.  Obviously a romance blossoms but I felt that their story was the weakest overall.  Mariah's feelings over her disgrace, despite being historically accurate, grated on me.  And Bryant acted like a jerk to her; luckily he has a friend who tells him so.

Besides the main romance, there were many subplots-too many in my opinion.  Mariah's former governess and now companion, Dixon, ends up in a love triangle.  Mariah's aunt's stepson intrigues in multiple ways.  A mysterious man lives in the poorhouse across the way; his past is deeply tied to the estate and the sea.  And then there are several little stories in the poorhouse itself.  I enjoyed these subplots and I was able to keep them straight in my mind but I just felt that there were too many.

The writing is fine, without the sharp edge of Austen, but still good.  Historical details were sprinkled in especially about the writing process and how Mariah had to keep it secret because novel writing was scandalous.  The bit that jarred was when the rake who ruined Mariah confessed to such and talked about the double standard.  Would that have really happened? I think not.

The religious aspect was pretty low-key but basically revolves around Mariah needing to forgive herself and Bryant needing to stop striving for his father's good opinion and finding contentment in his Father's grace.  There weren't many Scripture references but there were more than a few discussions about forgiveness and the afterlife.

Overall: A story that owes a great debt to Austen and is a fast, enjoyable read.

Cover: I love the gatehouse, the actual gatehouse that inspired Klassen she shares, and the green and purple.

Read for Christian Fiction Book Club. Hosted by Joy at Edgy Inspirational Romance.

2.  Mariah's situation (sent away after an indiscretion to live in relative isolation) was loosely based on the fate of one of Jane Austen's characters in Mansfield Park (although Maria Bertram was a married woman who had an affair). Did you think Mariah Aubrey's father treated her unfairly? How have attitudes toward "virtue and vice" changed since the early 1800s?
I think her father was a bit unfair.  I understand his decision to send away his daughter because she had disgraced the family but I think her siblings could still have been allowed to interact with Mariah, especially Henry who as a male was held to different standards.  He also could have given her sufficient money by allowing her mother to designate an allowance.  In general attitudes are more permissive (at least in America, a non-virgin woman can still marry anyone) but the double standard persists: women are more likely to be labeled sluts while guys are cheered.  There does seem to be some lessening of that but not enough in my opinion.
6. Did you find yourself growing fond of any character that you did not care for at the outset? Which character was your favorite? Why?
At first I didn't like Dixon because she made me think of the character in North and South, who I don't like.  But this Dixon is quite different and her romance ended up being one of my favorite aspects.  As to a favorite character, I guess I liked Martin the most.  I wanted to like Mariah and Matthew but they had a couple of really annoying aspects to their story so Martin's general goodness shined through the best for me.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler
HMH Children's, 2011
209 pages
4.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

After enjoying Hunger, especially the basic concept of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I knew I'd want to read the second book which looks at the Rider of War and Missy Miller, outcast and self-injurer. I ended up liking this book even more because I thought that I got to know Missy better. Also because Missy has a cat and a sister, like me.

Missy's beloved cat recently died, her sister seems to hate her, her parents are too busy to notice her, her ex-boyfriend brutally humiliated her, and her escape is either the pain of soccer or the sharpness of a blade against her skin.  But she has been chosen by Death and she has the opportunity to unleash all of her wrath and pain on the world through her new role.  She can leave behind her awful life for something unique.

Structured somewhat like the previous book, Missy also interacts with Death, Famine, and Pestilence (an intriguing character who will be the focus of the next book and who we've seen the least of so far) and forms a bond with her awesome sounding steed.  Missy has her heart broken by the reality of war and its effects on civilians which helps lead to her transformation.  She also has an unusual romance (that's all I'll say about that).

Similar to Hunger, the book concludes with Missy in treatment for her self-cutting and with an optimistic outlook for a healthy future but without promising some unrealistic happily ever after.  That's one of the things I like best about these books.  Kessler looks at some of the deepest, darkest pains experienced by young people and offers hope without sugarcoating it.  Also like Hunger, Kessler will be donating a portion of the profits to a non-profit; in this case, it's To Write Love On Her Arms or TWLOHA.

Read for e-book challenge.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


Stay by Deb Caletti
Simon Pulse, 2011
313 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free egalley from GalleyGrab in exchange for an honest review.

Looking at the cover I wasn't sure that I'd read any Deb Caletti before until I glanced through goodreads to discover that I had in fact read two previous books and enjoyed them but it looks like the general cover design of her books has changed (if that makes no sense, look at her books on goodreads and notice the similarities between the covers of four of the books.)

I began the story somewhat confused as it is told in alternating chapters between past Clara and her relationship with Christian and present Clara and her attempts to get away from his emotional abuse and to heal herself.  Once I understood the format, though, it was smooth sailing.  I really appreciate a good contemporary with strong emphasis on the characters.  Clara, her writer-father, and Christian all had strong personalities that jumped off the page and drew me into their story.

See Clara and Christian saw each other across the room at a basketball game and it was like fate.  Soon they were an established couple but as the story unfolds, hints of Christian's jealousy and paranoia begin to flare up.  Watching their relationship build to this point and Clara's dawning realization that their relationship is inappropriate was engaging and made me grasp my book (or rather nook) all the more tighter.  Why do people stay in an abusive relationship? Well, Clara explains the many good times and the history she shared with Christian and it takes her a very long time to get away from his machinations.  Although I found him frightening, I was hooked.

However.  I found the other part less interesting.  Clara and her father have left their home for a beach town, telling everyone they're in Europe in order to escape Christian who had become increasingly intrusive and frightening to Clara. She and her widowed father embark on new romances and attempt to mourn the loss of Clara's mother, a character who overhangs the story despite her death.  I wasn't invested in the new romance for either character and I mostly read through those parts to see the inevitable return of Christian and the conclusion of their story.

There are also footnotes throughout the story that act as, usually humorous, asides from Clara to the reader.  I love that in a book (see my love of Terry Pratchett) and that helped lighten the overall mood of the book, which as you can tell is rather bleak at times. The story as a whole is also beautifully written and perfect for a long and lazy afternoon on the couch.

Warning: Language (the f-word) and using the Lord's name in vain; some sexual content but very discreet.

Recommended for fans of Caletti and Sarah Dessen and of darker contemporary YA. A gripping read.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Trapped by Michael Northrop
Scholastic Press, 2011
232 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Library

This is another book I probably wouldn't have read if not for the Contemps spurring me onward.  The basic premise is that Scotty Weems and seven classmates are stuck at school after the storm of the century strikes, trapping them there for a week with limited electricity and food, and the knowledge that no one knows they are there.

This was quite a frightening book in that the monster snow storm that appears last about a week, covering even two-story buildings and pulling down the phone and power lines.  Now they are in a school, so there are bathrooms, food in the cafeteria, and rooms aplenty.  Unfortunately as the week progresses that becomes less important as the water, the lights, and the heat fail.

The beginning of the book suggested the death of some of the seven stuck at the school.  Not Scotty who narrates the entire book, but perhaps one of his friends Jason or Pete, one of the girls Krista or Julie, or one of the other guys Les or Elijah. I was disappointed with the conclusion of this plot line as I thought it would get a lot darker than it actually did.  Additionally as high school students they navigate the roles of cliques and interactions with each other in order to survive.  Their efforts to survive were sometimes ingenious but frequently repetitive without providing additional depth to my understanding of their character, which is my main complaint against the book. Perhaps it would work better for readers who are 14/15, the ages of the characters in the book.

I'm been debating if this would be more fun to read when it's really cold and snowy outside or when you know you are safe because of the very nice weather.  I think I'm the kind of person who prefers the latter so I'm glad I live in a warmer area that doesn't get snow.

Read for the Contemps Challenge.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Savannah Grey

Savannah Grey by Cliff McNish
Carolrhoda LAB, 2011
266 pages
YA; Horror
4/5 stars

Source: Received a free e-copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel, which I requested because the cover looked different and it was YA. And this was certainly different from anything else I've read.

I was actually most intrigued by the Orcassa, an incredibly adaptative creature who has flown through the universe and through the billions of years of earth in order to become the "perfect" creature.  Its chapters were black with white ink and covered the Orcassa's attempts to always triumph.  But nature has created its own weapons, culminating in Savannah Grey, an otherwise ordinary girl.

Savannah is the main character, obviously, and she realizes that she is prepared for something due to the mysterious creature (I'm still not sure what it is) in her throat.  Any attempts to come close result in Savannah's unconscious attack on that person.  Reece seems to understand her because he also has throat issues.  Together they seek to uncover the mystery with several twists and turns in their quest.

I did think the book was a bit long but the final climax brings Savannah and two friends against the Orcassa and his two main creations in a fight where Savannah must control utilize her unique powers in order to achieve victory and save the world.

Overall: While not entirely to my taste, this was a unique and mostly well-written horror story.

Cover: The throat is exactly what should be highlighted.

Read for British Books Challenge and Ebook Challenge

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Lipstick Laws

The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder
HMH Children's, 2011
237 pages
YA; Contemporary
3/5 stars

Source: Received a free ecopy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was intrigued by the cover of this and psyched to see another book eligible for the DAC.  However the story was less than pleasing to me, mainly because of the main character, April.

April's one friend has moved, leaving her again a pariah and vulnerable to popular Britney and her crew's "friendship."  I really felt April's loneliness and that helped explain how she was willing to compromise what she knew was right for the chance to have people to hang out with.  Soon she is caught up in the world of the popular girls until she breaks a "Lipstick Law" and is kicked out with Britney's continued vengeance against her.

In order to cope, April tries to find other girls who were ostracized and they form the Lipstick Lawbreakers to take revenge on Britney.  I was glad to see April make new friends but they went so far in their anger and I had trouble cheering from them.  I kept wanting to say, "Turn the other cheek, girls!"  April does have a brief epiphany that she is as bad as Britney but I'm not sure she will make any lasting changes.  Her treatment of a boy who she considers a major loser was what drew most of my censure; he seemed nice even if he didn't look the way her shallow mind wanted him to look.

I wonder if this book would be better for someone in high school, dealing with the brutality of cliques instead of someone who is almost a graduate of college (just over a month until graduation!) and who was never picked on (I had my group of friends and needless to say we liked to read a lot).

Read for YA Debut Authors Challenge and Ebook Challenge.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Water Wars

The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher
Sourcebooks, 2011
240 pages
YA; Dystopian; Adventure
2.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I wanted to read this because of the terrifying world it presents; in a not-too-distant future, most of the fresh water in the world has dried up and the rest of it is under the control of a greedy corporation.  I say not too distant because the main characters' parents remember a world that sounds much like ours but in only a few decades, the landscape has radically changed.  Wars are perpetually occurring as the battle for water rages.  I thought the background for this story was fascinating.

However that was not the main focus.  Instead it is Vera and Will, siblings, who meet a boy named Kai.  Kai, it seems, can find water making him a valuable asset to whoever can maintain control of him and putting his freedom at risk.  When he and his father are taken one day, Vera and Will set off after him leading to an action-packed, thrilling adventure.  Or what should have been-I had to force myself through the book because I wanted to count it for the DAC and because it's pretty short.  There were some interesting characters who befriend Vera (pirate Ulysses and rebel Sula) and their struggles to rescue Kai should have been interesting.  But because I didn't feel connected to Vera or Will, I cared less.

Overall: Enticing plot but weak characters.

Read for YA Debut Author Challenge

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Making of Star Wars

The Making of Star Wars by J.W. Rinzler
Ballantine Books, 2007
353 pages
Non-fiction; Hollywood
5/5 stars

Source: Library

This is a massive coffee-table book but it is covering a big topic: the genesis and making of Star Wars (A New Hope).  There are so many pictures, excerpts from early scripts, quotes from many of the principal figures, both on and off screen talent.  The best part is that those quotes are culled from interviews from about 1975-79, right as the instances happened and not as involved in the success and hype that followed.  Nobody anticipated the runaway success Star Wars was!

While I knew about some of the challenges faced during production, I didn't know the half.  In general, the technology of the time was not able to cope with the demands of George Lucas for this film, which resulted in a lot of frustration and compromise.  I think that helps to explain Episodes I-III, where the technology was so much more advanced.  Some of the parts were confusing to me as there are many people and technologies mentioned that were previously unfamiliar to me.  However a careful reading helps to sort that out.

My favorite sections were about the actors and John Williams' score, as they were the parts I sort of knew already.  It definitely made me want to go rewatch Star Wars and also listen to the soundtrack because it really is such great music.

Looking forward to The Making of The Empire Strikes Back so I can find out how they created Yoda and came up with that spoiler-you know the one ;) because as of the first film, that wasn't part of the plan.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Everything I Was

Everything I Was by Corinne Demas
Carolrhoda LAB, 2011
209 pages
MG; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received a free egalley via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Based on the cover, I thought this was a horror novel about some teenage sexpot terrorizing a town. That is NOT correct at all.  First the main character is 13, making this an appropriate middle-grade novel. Second the novel is more about family, friendship, and first love in a pretty sweet way.

Irene leads a very privileged life with a beautiful apartment and attendance at a private girls' school in New York City.  Until her dad loses his job and her parents decide to spend the summer with her grandfather in the country because they have little to no money.  Her mom is not at all pleased, having been accustomed to a certain way of life that is no longer available to her.  Irene is confused by the changes and feels hurt that her parents are making decisions without talking to her about them.  However once there, Irene's worldview shifts.  She meets new people like the boisterous loving family including a girl her age Meg and a cute boy Jim.  And she begins to enjoy gardening and a more simple life than she had lived previously.

Content: There was one page where Irene swears twice, which is my only hesitation in recommending this to a younger audience.

Overall: A sweet novel that is mostly appropriate for a MG audience. I didn't hate this book but I didn't love it either.  There were some cute parts but nothing grabbed me. I appreciated the diversion of a few hours and it was pleasant but nothing to shout about.

Cover: I've already shared what the cover made me think of the story; does anyone else get that impression?

March Stats

I had my first experience with EM Forster and ended disappointed.  Now this is a guy who said, "I am a Jane Austenite, and therefore slightly imbecile about Jane Austen" so I really want to like him but I did not.  Should I still give A Room With a View or Howards End or a different book a try or just give up on him (for now at least)?

I discovered that I have very high expectations for fantasy or paranormal or dystopian YA that tends to result in disappointment; hyped books also tend to make me unhappy although not always. I feel like I hold contemporary to an entirely different standard which you might be able to see reflected in my ratings and reviews. I don't know if it's because I prefer contemporary nor do I know why I prefer contemporary but for me contemporary > paranormal.

I also had some slow reading periods as my schoolwork increased but then really good reading periods such as my spring break.  I still have plenty of reviews planned, largely ebooks from Netgalley and Simon and Schuster's GalleyGrab (an awesome program).  I was also invited to become a part of Amazon's Vine program so I will be reviewing books from that.  And of course I am a frequent visitor at my library.

April also marks the start of judging for the YA Best Overlooked Book Battle of 2011. I can't wait to get started; see this post for more info.

Monthly Stats:
Books Read This Month: 36
Pages Read This Month: 11,133
Average Length of Book: 309 pages
Average Rating of Book: 3.81
Favorite Book: One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde
Least Favorite Book: The Trial by Franz Kafka 
Longest Book: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, 700 pages
Shortest Book: The Manchurian Candidate by Greil Marcus, 75 pages

Year Stats:
Total Books Read: 104
Total Pages Read: 30,177
Average Length of Book: 290
Average Rating of Book: 3.81

By Genre:
Science Fiction/Fantasy-1
Historical Fiction-3
Short Stories-0

Challenge Updates:
Contemps: 4 read, 7 total
Cozy: 1 read, 2 total
British Books: 6 read, 22 total
YA Debut: 1 read, 8 total
Ebook: 13 read, 35 total

Home Library-0
School Library-14
Other ebook source-4

Read for school: 4
Read for pleasure: 32

Stats for Previous Months: January; February;

Books Read (Link for those reviewed):
69. Found in Translation by Roger Bruner and Kristi Rae Bruner
70. She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell
71. The Water Wars by Cameron Stracher
72. Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell
73. You Wish by Mandy Hubbard
74. The Manchurian Candidate by Greil Marcus
75. One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
76. Stay by Deb Caletti
77. Wither by Lauren DeStefano
78. Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello
79. Matched by Ally Condie
80. The Making of Star Wars by JW Rinzler
81. The Trial by Franz Kafka
82. Everything I Was by Corinne Demas
83. Catching Katie by Robin Lee Hatcher
84. The Lipstick Laws by Amy Holder
85. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (Reread)
86. Bless the Bride by Rhys Bowen
87. Savannah Grey by Cliff McNish
88. Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler
89. The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen
90. Small Acts of Amazing Courage by Gloria Whalen
91. William and Kate by Christopher Andersen
92. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
93. Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz
94. Guardian of the Gate by Michelle Zink
95. Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer
96. William and Kate by Robin Nunn
97. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
98. So Shelly by Ty Roth
99. Cinderella: Ninja Warrior by Maureen McGowan
100. The Making of The Empire Strikes Back by JW Rinzler
101. The Betrayal of Maggie Blair by Elizabeth Laird
102. The Lightkeeper's Ball by Colleen Coble
103. Entwined by Heather Dixon
104. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
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