Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rilla of Ingleside

Rilla of Ingleside by LM Montgomery
Bantam, 1998
Originally published J.B. Lippincott, 1921
277 pages
Children's Classic
5/5 stars

Source: Own

This is the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series and one with a more serious tone as World War I breaks out and several of our beloved male characters enlist. However this book, as you might guess from the title, focuses on Rilla, youngest child of Anne, and life on the homefront in Canada during the Great War.

There was a lot to love about this book. First unlike the previous two books, this one focuses one just one character: the lovely spoiled 15-year old Rilla. Because it follows just her, I had a greater understanding of her, of her hopes and dreams AND was still able to learn the fates of my favorite characters.  Over the course of the book, Rilla matures so much and endures a lot. She was a great character and even had some of the irrepressible joy of her mother.

Second, this book is mostly set during WWI. The beginning of the book overlaps with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, an event the papers mention but few take notice of. How could the death of an Austro-Hungarian archduke affect the denizens of Canada? But too soon, everyone is swept up into war. Rilla has three older brothers and various other young men around the island enlist, including Rilla's sweetheart. No one is spared the pain of missing loved ones and some do die. Thus the emotional stakes are very high.

Third, this was a different book for me. I've read several books set during WWI and other wars. I've read books about serving at the front and about staying at home. But I'm an American and most of the books I've read have been about the American experience. This is a Canadian book and thus follows the fortunes of the United Kingdom and Canada. Thus I got to learn a bit more about the Great War!

Overall, an excellent mix of the serious with the humorous to leaven the tense parts as well as featuring a great character arc and some history lessons.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rainbow Valley

Rainbow Valley by LM Montgomery
Bantam, 1998
Originally Published Frederick H. Stokes Co., 1919
225 pages
Children's Classic
3.5/5 stars

Source: Own

This book is still technically part of the Anne of Green Gables series (packaged all together, this is labelled as the seventh) but it focuses much more on children, who are very like her in sensibility, and their adventures rather than Anne. Thus I feel that this is slightly misrepresented as Anne barely appears and in fact it is the new Presbyterian minister's children who have most of the page time with Anne's kids occasionally showing up as well. They are neighbors and spend a lot of time together in an area named Rainbow Valley by the Blythes.

Like the previous books, these are mostly vignettes alternating focus on the kids and allowing all of them to have a bit of spotlight. While I did like those kids for the most part, as they have good hearts and intentions even if they run wild, I feel a little upset with the publisher for marketing them all together. Surely there were stories about Anne's bunch that could have been told instead! This is compounded by the arrival of a character called Mary Vance, who seems okay at first but then becomes very annoying as she is a bossy know-it-all. It also seemed like she received more page-time than the Blythes and was supposed to be funny.

I also find myself growing a little tired of the necessity of everyone being matched up, of the incessant gossip within their small town, and the little things like that. I do enjoy the children's misadventures still as they always seem able to come up with new stuff. I was also struck by the foreshadowing to a coming war. It is my understanding that this was published in 1919 but is set probably in about 1912-4 or thereabouts and certain passages helped me ponder what would happen in the next (and last) book, which does cover the years of the Great War.

Overall: Definitely my least favorite of the Anne books as it doesn't have much Anne nor does it have a fully cohesive plot.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Anne of Ingleside

Anne of Ingleside by LM Montgomery
Bantam, 1998
Originally Published Frederick A Stokes Company, Inc., 1939
274 pages
Children's Classic
4/5 stars

Source: Own

By this book, Anne has five children (with one more on the way) and is consequently very busy. Thus this book tends to focus more on the adventures of her children rather than her own, giving me somewhat of a Cheaper by the Dozen vibe. Of course, I am sad to not have as much Anne but her children are a lot like her and there are still some good bits. This is especially disappointing as the book jumps around and alternates focus; I would have preferred a narrative that only followed Anne as the previous books did.

My favorite part was in the beginning when Gilbert's aunt comes to stay for two weeks, which is soon extended indefinitely. This woman is not pleasant and she grates on the nerves of everyone: Gilbert, Anne, the children, and their live-in maid Susan. Still she provided much entertainment to this reader, especially whenever she took offense at something.

The other part I anticipated was Anne's doubting of Gilbert's affections for her. She works it up into a big thing, terrified that Gilbert may now care more for the girl he hung around with in college (while Anne was seriously dating another man, I might add!)  This is teased on the back cover and I assumed it would cover many pages and chapters. However it was vastly overstated and of course Gilbert cares for no one but Anne. It's patently ludicrous to suggest otherwise; he's been hers pretty much since they met.

Overall, I would have to say that this is one of the lesser efforts. I kind of feel like even Montgomery was over Anne by this point and just wanted to get one more book out there for her publishers even though she wanted to explore other worlds and characters.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Anne's House of Dreams

Anne's House of Dreams by LM Montgomery
Bantam, 1998
Originally Published Lippincott, 1922
227 pages
Children's Classic
4/5 stars

Source: Own

In this fifth Anne book, Anne and Gilbert are married (!) and are living in their "house of dreams" in Four Winds as he sets up his practice and she takes up housekeeping. She also makes new friends: Captain Jim in the lighthouse, Miss Cornelia, a staunch spinster and Presbyterian, and beautiful morose Leslie Moore and her tragic life.

All together in some ways this book is a sadder one than the previous stories. Leslie lives a miserable existence and Anne suffers some serious heartbreak, although I won't tell you why since it caught me surprise. Still there are the happy times to balance out the sad, just as in real life. And the end of the book exemplifies that. As Anne and Gilbert expand their family, they must leave their beloved house of dreams for a bigger house in town. Good-children, bigger house, more respect for Gilbert's skill as a doctor; Bad-leaving a place where they were happy: good and bad just like real life!

And while Anne and Gilbert are married, I didn't feel they had enough scenes together. I feel bad comparing it to Betsy's Wedding by Maud Hart Lovelace (and the whole Betsy series in fact) but since the main characters in both are women who like to write who've grown up over a series of books before marrying her childhood sweetheart, I inevitably find myself doing so. And I feel like Betsy and Joe spend way more time together; the romantic in me finds this more pleasing.

Another thing I noticed about this book were the descriptions. Having read all eight books by now, I felt like this one especially depended on descriptions and Anne's sometimes fanciful imaginings of her scenery. While I found this charming in the first book and tolerable in the others, I was a bit tired of it by now and skimmed certain passages when I found myself growing bored. I like to read about the local gossip and about their lives, not what things look like. Of course, that's a personal preference; I'm sure others will find it enchanting as they read through the series.

Overall, this is probably among my least favorites due to the excessive descriptions and lack of Anne/Gilbert love.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Anne of Windy Poplars

Anne of Windy Poplars by LM Montgomery
Bantam Books, 1998
Originally Published McClelland and Stewart, 1936
258 pages
4/5 stars

Source: Own

Okay, so this was a good book but Anne is without Gilbert and I happen to really like them together so it loses in that regard. The narration is also a little odd as it switches from Anne's letters to Gilbert to third-person narration without any warning. I was fine with the letter technique and am not sure it needed to be changed up like that.

In this book, Anne is the principal of Summerside High School. I'm not entirely sure what principal meant at that time but I do not understand how a twenty-something would be in that position. Of course, I didn't understand a sixteen-year teaching in previous Anne books so I guess it fits. Meanwhile Gilbert is in medical school so they have a three year separation to endure-sadface for this reader.

But Anne has plenty to do in the meantime. She has to find a place to live during her tenure and she has to charm the Pringles, the clannish, well-to-do family who object to her placement when one of their own could have had the position. The first problem is easily remedied when she finds Windy Poplars with two widows, Rebecca Dew, and an adorable like-minded next door neighbor whose spirit is being crushed by her strict grandmother. The second problem soon ends as Anne displays her backbone, charm, and a little bit of luck.

We follow Anne over the course of her three years there, each with new scrapes and new adventures as well as new couplings and the signature Anne charm. Pretty much everyone falls for her eventually.

Overall: Really quite good.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A-Z About Me

Saw this at Squeaky Books and enjoyed it so much that I decided to do it too.

Age: Twenties with my birthday coming up on December 14

Bed Size: Twin

Chore that you hate: Washing dishes...thus I stick to just drying them.

Dogs: Well I'm a cat girl (orange tabbies forever!) but after seeing some that had been abused :( on the news this week, I also kind of want a beagle.

Essential start to your day: Breakfast and brushing my teeth

Favorite colors: Sky blue, cotton candy pink, and Eagles green.

Gold or silver: Silver for jewelry-I think it looks better on me.

Height: 5'4"-average.

Instruments you play: Viola and piano

Job title: Sales Support/Customer Service Representative

Kids: Probably not for a while yet.

Live: USA

Overnight hospital stays: I think I stayed over night the day I was born...otherwise none. I'm very healthy (thank God.)

Pet peeves: Lateness for starters.

Quote from a movie: "Do you know what's wrong with you?...Nothing!" [Great movie-highly recommend!]

Right or left-handed: Right.

Siblings: Younger sister.

Time you wake up: 6:30-6:45

Underwear: I am in favor of it.

Vegetable you hate: I actually do prefer vegetables to fruit in general but I loathe rutabaga now.

What makes you run late: If the clock stops? I'm VERY punctual.

X-Rays you've had: I think just teeth.

Yummy food that you make: Popcorn? Does microwaving count? I'm not really a cook.

Zoo animal: Bears!

Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island by LM Montgomery
Bantam Books, 1998
Originally Published LC Page & Company, Inc., 1915
243 pages
4.5/5 stars

Source: Owned

This is the book I was waiting for after Anne of Avonlea, the one where Anne and Gilbert get together (and I may have peeked at the last page just to make sure!) While there could have been more of them (as if I wanted to read about Anne and some other guy or Gilbert and some other girl), I was happy with the scant passages we did receive (am now imagining fan fiction that rectifies this lack).

Happily beside the romance, Anne is having plenty of adventures at Redmond College with her roommates and classes. There were a lot of humorous situations and one dreadful one involving a cat, but I don't want to spoil any of those surprises for you! Marilla, although not having a huge role in this book, is still there and I'm grateful for her steady presence and Mrs. Rachael very much endears herself to me by deciding that Anne and Gilbert should marry.

As I write this, I am almost finished with the Anne series, and I'm struck by how much of the books revolve around romances. I know that shouldn't seem very special to me but I guess I'm used to a lot of contemporary YA novels which have one primary love relationship (either a duo or a triangle) whereas these books bring in a lot of characters and match them up and sometimes send them out of the story when no longer necessary. It's not a bad thing; it's just a recurring plot element.

Overall: Yay-Anne and Gilbert, FTW!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Anne of Avonlea

Anne of Avonlea by LM Montgomery
Dell Laurel-Leaf, 2003
Originally Published L.C. Page & Company, Inc., 1909.
276 pages
4/5 stars

This is the second book in the Anne of Green Gables series as well as the start of my tribute to Anne and LM Montgomery week. Could I have picked a better time than Thanksgiving? Probably but this is when I wanted to do it so whatever.

This book starts with Anne, aged 16 (!) and beginning a two-year stint at the local school as a teacher. I cannot imagine being a teacher at this age (that's how old my sister is and I certainly wouldn't trust her with a schoolroom of impressionable children).  She also faces new challenges with a crabby male bachelor neighbor and taking in a set of twins, sweet Dora and exuberant Davy. Meanwhile Anne still has time to get up to some of her usual crazy adventures and misfires in addition to pondering the bizarre behavior of the handsome Gilbert Blythe and her feelings toward him.

I just want to say that I was very disappointed with the lack of Gilbert in this book. At this point in time, he is teaching in a different place so it makes sense that they wouldn't be able to interact much. However the later books better make that deficiency up to me as I adore Anne and Gilbert and can't wait for them to get together! Gilbert seems aware that they are a great couple but Anne isn't yet decided.

While I loved just about everything about the first book, sometimes Anne's imaginings and descriptions grated on me a bit. I love reading about pretty much every character, the crabby, the gossipy, the sweet, the dull, no matter what they're doing. But sometimes Anne has to describe just exactly how something looks and I don't fully appreciate it. I like action more than description and I was sometimes a bit bored in this book.

Happily there are still some great episodes such as Anne's determination to never beat a student, being sorely tried and Anne's little foray into matchmaking. There are many funny stories and many sweet moments. However I would describe the mood as very upbeat and cheerful rather than sad, which is good because it leaves me smiling and eager for the next book.

Overall: A fine outing with Anne even if it didn't quite serve up what I wanted!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Juliet Spell

The Juliet Spell by Douglas Rees
HarlequinTeen, 2011
265 pages
YA; Time-Travel
4/5 stars

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

I was not sure what to expect from this book other than some significant Shakespeare references but what I received was a fun book with a plot that cannot be taken too seriously.

All Miranda wants is to be Juliet in her school's production of Romeo and Juliet, to serve as a tribute to her actress mother who never got to be Juliet and to fill her love of theater. To ensure this outcome, Miri casts a spell and is startled to discover Edmund Shakeshaft aka William Shakespeare's brother in her house.

The reason I say this plot cannot be taken too seriously is partly due to the time travel and Edmund's very easy acclimation to modern day standards as well as how easily everyone accepts his presence and how conveniently other events play out. I bought into the story and was willing to allow Rees to guide me along; others may not be able to accept that.

Of course there's a lot of Shakespeare, from Romeo and Juliet and from the plays written after-I bet it would be fun for a Shakespeare nerd to read through this and pick out all the references! The idea is that Shakespeare stole from everyone, especially from the words of his brother and we are getting a preview of how Shakespeare was inspired. However there is also a lot of science (or pseudo-science, I can't tell) revolving around how the Shakespeares are arriving and how that is affecting the past as well. I really appreciated that the time travel had serious consequences even in a book as light-hearted as this one.

There is a lot of drama though; first in the casting of the play and then its actual production as well as in the relationships of the cast. Miranda falls in love at almost first sight with Edmund even though a practically perfect guy from her own time is RIGHT in front of her. He was probably my favorite character although I liked most of them.

The one character I really didn't like was Miranda's dad, who left the family to "find himself." They struggle along with his paycheck contributing to the family's finances but welcome him back with open arms when he finally wakes up and returns. That was probably my biggest issue and I doubted the likelihood of that particular scenario ever happening in real life way more than I doubted the time travel or other issues.

Overall: A fast read that requires some serious suspension of belief but rewards you with a lot of fun!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Soldier's Game

Soldier's Game by James Killgore
Kelpies, 2011
160 pages
YA; Historical
5/5 stars

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

I probably would have skipped over this book when browsing the catalog on Netgalley as it appears to be about war and soccer (neither of particular interest to me as it seemed unlikely to also include romance) until I saw that it included a plot about World War I. This made me think of the wonderful movie Joyeux Noël, which looks at a truce between sides at Christmas 1914; I also believe a there was a soccer game shown but it's been a while since I've seen this film. That little tidbit was enough to convince me to request the book and its short length convinced me to pick it up recently.

Happily I was blown away and moved to tears (I was actually reading this on Veterans Day) by this simple story about the Hearts of Midlothian football club and the battalion they formed with others to fight in the Great War. This is told to aspiring soccer player Ross by his grandmother whose father, Jack, had been one of the players and soldiers. It is his "football kit" that is discovered and inspires Ross to learn the full story.

Through the narration of the grandmother, the reader learns about Jack's immense luck in being called up to play, his joy in the game, and his desire to prove himself. This is all derailed by a great war, where men are jeered at if they are healthy and fit but not soldiers. Together the football club and others form a battalion and march off to war.  Some lose their lives, some lose limbs, but those who return have lost their opportunity to play soccer and instead become quiet and somewhat forgotten heroes. There is also included another story about a contemporary player whose quiet battle with cancer inspires Jack as he heads onto the battlefield.

Through hearing this story, Ross is encouraged to act and earns his great-grandfather recognition for his sacrifice as well as improving in his own soccer skills, such that he can take advantage of the opportunities provided to him by his great-grandfather and other soldiers. I'm actually getting a little teary-eyed writing this review because it just hit me on all emotional fronts.

Overall: A great blending of contemporary and little-known historical that educates and engages your emotions. Highly recommended!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eddie's War

Eddie's War by Carol Fisher Saller
Namelos, 2011
194 pages
YA; Historical
5/5 stars

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

I must admit that I entered this book skeptically seeing that it was laid out in what looked like verse and my skepticism increased as I realized how short each chapter was and how short the book overall was. How could it possibly develop any characters or themes with such little time? Well, if you saw my star review up there, you'd see that Saller succeeded admirably and left me blinking back some tears because the characters did get under my skin and make me care.

This book is a historical novel set in small-town Illinois before and during WWII. Eddie is just a young boy living on a farm with his family but over the years he sees some things. Such as the Polish gypsy Jozef who is viewed with suspicion by the neighbors; such as his abusive grandfather; such as his older brother and friends going off to war; such as the mysteries of girls; such as standing up for what is right.

This book touches on everything; some books would cover the same events in 500 pages and not pack such an emotional punch. The humor, the sadness, the randomness of life all conveyed in this small package with lovely writing. And it left me with tears in my eyes from the feelings it evoked. Somewhat sadness over some of the events, somewhat sadness that the book was over, but mostly happy tears over a sweet story.

Overall: Highly recommended historical fiction novel for all.

Tip: A great, quick read that will touch your heart AND add another book to you read list for the year!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

What I'm Into Right Now 20NOV11

Just wanted to share a couple of fun things I'm liking right now:

Historically Accurate Disney Dresses-This is a series drawn by Claire Hummel; you can check them all out and purchase them here. Currently features 10 Disney characters with the potential for more to come! I will be receiving the series for Christmas.

Cinder and Ella-I posted my review earlier this year as part of a blog tour but now the book is actually out and you can pick up a copy to see if I got it right.

 Katy Perry concert-I don't know if you heard but Katy Perry bought out the Staples Center in LA and gave out the tickets for FREE (link) and my family got tickets! So we're making the drive (in Thanksgiving traffic-eek!) to Los Angeles to see her again. We already saw her but we're so thrilled to have won.

Wherever You Go

Wherever You Go by Heather Davis
Harcourt Children's Books, 2011
309 pages
YA; Contemporary; Ghosts
3/5 stars

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

This book is narrated in a most unusual way: it alternates between first-person for main character Holly, third-person for friend Jason, and second-person for Holly's ghost boyfriend Rob. I was a little thrown to pick the book up and be addressed by the character but I quickly grew used to it and the device really helped me distinguish whose perspective we were following.

Holly lives with her single mother and her younger sister, taking on most of the responsibility of caring for the latter, and additionally shouldering the burden of caring for her Alzheimer's-stricken grandfather. Plus she's a social pariah, as most of her school blames her for the death of her popular, rich boyfriend Rob.

Jason is Rob's best friend who has had an interest in Holly and begins to reach out to her over the course of the novel and falling in love. Meanwhile Rob is a ghost and confused as to why. When he discovers that Holly's grandfather can see him, he tries to reach out to Holly through him. But since no one else can see Rob, they assume that the grandfather's mind is just deteriorating.

There were some absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking sections of this book. I so admired Holly for her strength in dealing with her boyfriend's death as well as the burdens of taking care of family and home. I've had a pretty privileged life and I was so humbled by Holly's selflessness and commitment to her family even at the expense of having a "normal" teenage life.

However I was put off by the ending where Holly's selfishness comes out as does the mother's. I guess it added some conflict in a book that is not heavy on conflict (I feel like it is more character-driven) but I ended up really disliking both characters because of that. Jason is a nice guy but I didn't feel like there was that much to him. He's pretty swoon-worthy as he devotes himself to winning over Holly by helping her care for her family and he puts her interests first; otherwise I didn't detect much of a personality. I would say that the grandfather was probably my favorite character; in dealing with the difficult situation of seeing a ghost and having everyone believe he was crazy, he won over my heart.

Overall: A beautifully written character-driven novel that just didn't quite work for me.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

In My Mailbox 19NOV11

In My Mailbox, Hosted by The Story Siren
From the Library:
I went a little bit overboard, checking out a lot of great looking books! First up is Alexandra Robbins' The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, a Goodreads Choice Nominee for Best Non-Fiction. While I probably won't review it on my blog (as I try to focus mostly on YA), I have high hopes as I loved her previous books Pledged and The Overachievers

Next up is a collection of Kate Beaton's hilarious cartoons, titled Hark! A Vagrant. I've read some of her cartoons but am excited to read all that is contained in this book.

Fangirl squee! Finally the third book in the Beka Cooper trilogy is out (it was actually released about a month ago but I wasn't aware). One of the hardest parts of being a Pierce fan is the LONG waits in between books. Luckily if you've never read a Pierce book, you have a great backlist waiting on you-start with the Alanna books.
As I was browsing for another book, I happened to see this one on the shelves and couldn't believe my luck. Shades of Milk and Honey, an Austen-esque fantasy novel, sounds right up my alley. Can't wait to dive into this one!
I've been following Tess Hilmo's blog for a while and have seen the high praise With a Name Like Love has received so of course I wanted to give it a read. My hold finally arrived this week.
I needed another book to round out the second of my trips to the library (yes there were two this week) so I was browsing the shelves and, while looking for a Julie James book, came across the Henry James section (vastly different!) I debated between this and The Turn of the Screw, as both are short but this got the nod as I adore the excellent adaptation, titled The Heiress and starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift (highly recommended film).

From Amazon Vine:
I requested two amazing looking 2012 YA debuts this week (they should arrive on Monday but I want to post about them this week as I don't know if I'll do IMM next week).
First up is Article 5; I have no idea what to expect from this but I figured it was worth a shot.
Then we have The Gathering Storm, paranormal historical fiction set in Russia is a very unique premise so it will be interesting to see how Bridges pulls it off.

Last, but certainly not least is another 2012 debut that I was lucky enough to win through Firstreads. Another book about which I have no expectations but hopefully will end up enjoying.

So that's my haul. How did everyone else do this week?

The Dragon and the Pearl

The Dragon and the Pearl by Jeannie Lin
Harlequin, 2011
280 pages
Romance; Historical
3.5/5 stars

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

I had read Jeannie Lin's first book Butterfly Swords so I was excited to get a chance to read her second. Although it contains characters from that book, I didn't really remember them so it was like starting afresh.

The main characters this time are Ling Suyin, former consort of the now dead Emperor, whose beauty and wiles are (in)famous across the country. Her love interest is the brutal Li Tao, whose honor and loyalty drive him and have made him a feared leader of soldiers and a potent threat to a weak emperor.

At the beginning, I was somewhat confused as I felt there was a backstory I was missing. I can't remember if more was conveyed in the first book about these two but since it is not explicitly a sequel, I also feel like it shouldn't matter. The potential passion between the two characters is always simmering and explodes when they finally succumb to each other but there also seemed to be something unspoken between them that completely passed me by but that I desperately wanted to know so that I could more fully sympathize with them. There were flashbacks, which helped to explain the characters' reticence and fears about the other, and they were awesome. But still something eluded about them eluded me and kept me from being fully engaged.

I did enjoy the setting, which sees the Chinese Empire crumbling around them, adding instant drama. I remember enjoying the politics and history of Butterfly Swords as well so I'm not surprised that I liked those aspects again in this book. There are very high stakes surrounding the characters' lives, which forced them to make bolder decisions regarding their relationship and I was very tense in some parts.

Overall: An interesting read but I felt that something was missing to bring the main characters to life.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Bunheads by Sophie Flack
Poppy, 2011
294 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I was so struck by this cover (and a little freaked out-just glance at it!) that I kept an eye out for it and got it as soon as I could from the library.  Then I saw that the publisher was Poppy and settled in, relaxed and ready for a great story. I was also excited by the ballet aspect because Jessi from the Baby-Sitter's Club always had great stories around ballet.

Main character Hannah has been studying to be a ballerina for years but at the moment she languishes in the corps, dancing in unison and aching for the spotlight. She pushes herself through additional exercises, suffers pain in her body, and has no time for a social life. Until one day she meets college dilettante Jacob and begins pondering other ways to live.

I loved reading about backstage at the ballet especially because debut author Flack danced with the New York City Ballet for nine years. Although I'm not familiar with dance (I'm a musician), it rang true to me and helped draw me into the world. Hannah was a nice girl whose conflicting ambitions between dance and life drove the story.   No matter how hard she pushed herself, it never seemed to be enough for the head of the company and she suffered in the back. She also begins to realize what she has missed out on by being so involved in ballet: prom, college, a social life. And she begins to wonder if she might prefer that kind of life. As someone who was more fascinated by the ballet world, I wasn't excited by Hannah's choice but I understand why she made it.

However I was less interested in the romances. First because I didn't admire Jacob's vagabond ways-pick a few things you like and stick with them instead of constantly giving up on stuff!  That was my impression of him. Then there was a flirtation with a cute, rich ballet fan, which made me a little uncomfortable; he seemed to be trying to buy least for a few weeks until he got tired of her.

Overall: An enjoyable debut although I would have enjoyed even more ballet in the story.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shut Out

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger
Poppy, 2011
273 pages
YA; Contemporary
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

This is Keplinger's second book and highly anticipated by me after reading The Duff. It is inspired by the Greek comedy Lysistrata where the women withhold sexual favors from their husbands in order to get them to end a war. In this version, it's high school girls who are fed up with their boyfriends' rivalry between the football and soccer team (which I totally agree-what's the point of hating a player from your own school? Hate on the opposing team instead!) 

I was originally going to give this a 4 but I gave The Duff a 4 and I didn't like this one as much so it had to be lower. I think this shows how difficult assigning ratings can be. I still like them so I will continue to use them but it's hard to quantify my feelings toward a book so it's definitely important to read my review to see where I'm coming from.

I started out really liking Lissa, who likes to organize and control things and who has a nervous tick of counting when she's nervous. Not to over share but I kind of have the same thing. I remember my hated eleventh grade English class where I would constantly count how many students were in the class, mostly as a way to cope with how bored I was. I also liked seeing her get away from the jerk boyfriend who was pressuring her for sex and developing a better relationship. I also loved seeing the friendships develop amongst the girls and seeing some burgeoning feminism as well as the frank discussion of sex. So often it's kept under wraps and girls are made to feel abnormal instead of being able to discuss how they feel in the open with their friends.

However I didn't really like Cash, the new boyfriend who often came off as sketchy and I don't think he treated Lissa that well either with confusing mixed messages and some domineering stuff. Yes, he's better than the other boyfriend but he's not great. He's more of a Mr. Right-Now.

Warning: A lot of language-I definitely didn't curse that much when I was in high school nor did any of my friends. I thought it was a little over the top but I guess some people do really speak like that.

Overall: Engaging writing but I was a bit put off by the language and I didn't love the main character as I much as I wanted to despite some of our similarities.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Picture the Dead

Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown
Sourcebooks Fire, 2010
262 pages
YA; Historical; Ghosts
4/5 stars

Source: Library

I've lately been interested in YA books with illustrations included in the pages and combined with my general admiration for Adele Griffin, I figured this was a no-brainer.

It did end up being a little bit of a mixed bag for me, although overall I liked it.  I loved the pictures but there was writing included that I found hard to read especially because it was white font on black background. But the actual pictures themselves were amazing and apparently based on real examples, which makes it all that much cooler to this history nerd. I also loved that it was set during the Civil War (toward the tail-end) as that's probably my third favorite time period.

Then there was the story itself: well-written, good pacing, and plenty of suspense around the presence of the ghosts. However I didn't really feel main character Jennie Lovell. I could sympathize with her plight (unwanted ward of family, frightened of where she'll end up now that her fiance is dead). Most of the other characters didn't endear themselves to me, except for Jennie's fallen fiance Will, whose name I love (there are so many great YA boys named Will).

I also loved the inclusion of some lesser-known Civil War facts revolving around the prison Andersonville, known as Camp Sumter. I did not know that second name so I was confused at first but the author's note helped clarify and expand my knowledge-love it! I also loved the inclusion of spiritualism, a phenomenon gaining strength due to the loss of so many during the war and one that went on for a long time afterward. I've read late 1800s books with spiritualism at the center. It's interesting to imagine the possibilities of contacting your loved ones once they've passed. I also enjoyed that I read this around Halloween but it wasn't too spooky.

Overall: A well-written and illustrated book but not as strong character-wise.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Death Watch

Death Watch by Ari Berk
Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2011
523 pages
YA; Fantasy
4/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC courtesy of Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab program.

I've really struggled with writing this review as I'm not entirely sure the best way to convey my thoughts. I'm also not sure how much you'll want to know going in. I knew very little when I picked up this book, which left me to marinate an atmospheric read. While somewhat dark, dealing as it does with death, there were moments of lightness that really sustained me through the slog.

I guess we'll start with the bad, which is not a long list. For me, this book just felt a little too long. There are many descriptive passages and nothing much seems to happen in about the first two hundred (my estimate) pages except for introducing characters and the various plot threads. But then they do start to come together and more of the world makes sense. I was in for the long haul; I just wish it hadn't been so long. Onward to the good!

The setting of this book is kind of hard to describe as it seems contemporary in many ways but there are also elements of myth, fantasy, and historical. It could almost be said to be set in a version of our world and yet not quite. The main difference is the relation to death. Although people die in that town, the dead aren't necessarily like our dead. Some who have died decide that they still have other things to do. Some don't leave peacefully and need help. Others just need the proper respect and tribute before they leave for all time. That's where Silas Umber's father comes in.

Through his long absences from home, Silas believed that his father was simply an undertaker. After his father's presumed death though, he discovers a great many secrets contained in his parents' hometown and even in his ancestral home where his uncle brings Silas and his mother to live. But Silas rebels against living under his uncle's thumb and begins to explore his father's legacy including the mysterious Death Watch, a watch that allows the owner to see the dead (this explains the title, which I had originally assumed related merely to keeping a watch over the dead).

While in general I didn't feel much for Silas, I did like the supporting characters, especially Silas' great-great-great grandfather, whether they were interested in helping, encouraging, or thwarting Silas in his mission to discover his father's whereabouts

Overall: I thought it was a little slow and given the length of the book, I felt every page of that slowness but there were some interesting descriptive passages and the book did pick up toward the end. I just wish some of the earlier passages could have been excised so that the action could have started sooner. Once you're immersed in the book, the magic really comes alive and the world-building is truly fantastic.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Pledge

The Pledge by Kimberly Derting
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011
321 pages
YA; Dystopia
3/5 stars

Source: Received an e-ARC through Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab program.

After seeing the buzz in the blogosphere and having enjoyed Derting's The Body Finder, I was thrilled to see this in the GalleyGrab newsletter and promptly downloaded it for my NookColor.

What I found was a fast-paced novel that found me frantically flipping through pages, dying to know what was coming next, trying to piece together the crumbs dropped by Derting about this unique fantastical dystopia. And yet the characters didn't burrow under my skin and capture my attention and affection as Katniss and crew did in the Hunger Games trilogy for example.

Charlie lives in a class-divided society, where everyone is divided by language. The upper-crust have their own distinct language, which only they can know and use. And yet Charlie, despite being in the low merchant class, can understand every language she hears. She must keep this secret for it might prove deadly if anyone learns of it. One night her best friend Brooklynn drags her to a club where she meets the mysterious Max and Xander, in separate encounters, and she overhears a language she has never heard before.

This leads to secrets uncovered, violence erupting, and rebellion ongoing in plot twists that kept me on the edge of my seat (although I did guess correctly at a few!) The action was pretty intense as Charlie must become more of a leader and learns shocking family secrets. And the ending is mostly great with an intriguing tease at what will come in book 2.

But the characters! I felt no connection with Charlie; she was just there. Her love interest is Max and I really disliked him, although on the surface there's nothing too bad about him. I would have to say that I enjoyed Brooklyn and Xander more; her for her lighthearted frivolity and Xander for his serious leadership and dedication.

The villain is the Queen, who rules over this country and who is grasping onto her life and power with every ounce of strength in addition to possessing tremendous magical powers that make facing her difficult. I actually found her more interesting than Charlie; what strength of will she had! And her sly plotting and knowledge! The little tidbits we received of her what were really grabbed my attention.

Overall: Read this for suspense and story, not for character development as the former is where its strengths lie.

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