Thursday, March 31, 2011

Three Musketeers Wrap-Up Post

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Translated by Anonymous
Barnes and Noble, 2004
700 pages
Originally Published 1844
Classic; Adventure
3.5/5 stars

Source: Bought

Summary: The classic adventure story of D'Artagnan, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis as they fight for king and queen against cardinalist forces and negotiate the battlefields of war and love.

Please also see my first post.

This second part continues much the same as the first part with the 4 continuing their ways.  The focus this time is more on Milady, a mysterious lady who can switch between an English and French character, plots beyond the supposed capabilities of a woman, and is serving the cardinal in opposition to Queen Anne.  She was a fascinating character because of her ability to get men to do almost anything she wanted using anything that was at her disposal.  However she was morally unprincipled and was clearly a villain against D'Artagnan's heroism so she dies in a rather shocking way.

The 4 continue their spendthrift ways, acquiring and disposing of large sums of money fairly quickly, spending it on food, drink (especially drink), women, and gaming.  However Athos is deepened through his back-story, which is intimately connected with Milady's. I guess he would be my favorite although I still don't really like any of them.

The siege of La Rochelle, a Huguenot post in Catholic France,  forms most of the background and there were some clever scenes around that such as when the 4 hold a private discussion in a bastion and then manage to fight off a great horde of invaders through subterfuge and a bit of luck.

Overall I was disappointed because I did not find this book as good as The Count of Monte Cristo. I didn't like the writing as much, I thought it dragged more, and I didn't like the characters as much either.

Additionally the trailer for a film adaptation later this year has been released.  Matthew MacFayden (aka a Mr. Darcy) plays Athos (my fave) but he also makes me think of Alan Rickman in appearance so that's kind of weird.  I'm sure I will see the film at some point although not necessarily in theaters.

Read as part of FITG Challenge.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Best Overlooked YA Book Battle 2011



I just found out that I get to be a judge for the Book Battle hosted by Alyssa at The Shady Glade.  What is the Book Battle? So glad you asked!  This year the theme is overlooked YA books, which means that you get to nominate two of your favorite books that just haven't gotten the love you think they deserve.  Then judges will read them and pick their favorites, culminating in a battle of brackets and one final champion.

So you need to get over there and nominate some overlooked YA books for me to read!  There is also still time if you'd like to volunteer to help out in some capacity (especially as a judge). You can find the links below.

Introduction to Book Battle
Nominate a Book
Volunteer

The Queen's Daughter

The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry
Henry Holt and Company, 2010
370 pages
YA; Historical Fiction
4/5 stars

Source: Library

This is hardcore historical fiction; the reader is deeply immersed in the twelfth century following Princess Joan, daughter of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, sister of Richard the Lionhearted and John Lackland.  It's filled with the politics of the period as Joan struggles to be her mother's daughter, to survive in a brutal world, and to maybe find love.

I loved being steeped in this world, about which I know very little, and seeing a woman's perspective.  Obviously Joan is pretty privileged as royalty but she's forced into two marriages at the pleasure of her king and is tormented by her familial loyalties.  Her father and her brothers spent a lot of time fighting as did her parents; both parents used their children for manipulative purposes and the effects of that reverberate throughout Joan's life.

However while I loved the historical aspects, I didn't really like any of the characters.  Sometimes I was able to sympathize with Joan but other times I thought she was making a bad decision.  She is married off to William, King of Sicily and despises him as a weakling unlike her father and brother Richard.  She is attracted to Raymond, a prolific womanizer whose morals I found loathsome. The teachings of her mother permeate her mind despite her inability to always institute those sayings (for example that kindness is weakness, leading to her assessment of William).  But I also found Joan fairly compassionate and doing the best she could in difficult circumstances.

I did love Ermengarde unreservedly, a talkative woman who is sort of Joan's best friend although they are not always able to spend much time together.  Richard is a boorish overbearing conqueror and few other characters are in Joan's life long enough to really make an impression.  According to the author's note, Joan died when she was thirty-four but she certainly traveled a lot (England, France, Sicily, and the Holy Land) for that short life.

I also felt the book as a whole was somewhat unsympathetic to Eleanor, who has been immortalized in my mind as Katharine Hepburn and who I thus adore.  Admittedly the portrayal in the book is far more complex than Eleanor=bad, Henry=good.  Both are presented with their share of faults but I would have preferred a more pro-Eleanor perspective.  I guess I should search out some books that focus on Eleanor for that.

Recommended for people who know this time period and/or people who really love historical fiction.

Cover: I love the cover! I think the rich colors and beautiful dress are very attractive.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sing You Home

Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
Atria, 2011
466 pages
Fiction; Issues
3.5/5

Source: GalleyGrab

Summary: Zoe and Max have struggled with infertility problems for years but now Zoe is twenty-eight weeks pregnant and they feel like they're in the home stretch.  Until she goes into labor and delivers a stillborn son.  Still she has hope and three frozen embryos but Max is done.  He does not want to go through a sixth round and they divorce.
Zoe is devastated and seeks solace in a new friendship with Vanessa which turns to romance.  They get married in Massachusetts and then decide to use the remaining embryos to have a child.
Max meanwhile turned to his conservative brother and sister-in-law Reid and Liddy for a place to live while he relapses into alcoholism until a saving experience with Jesus. Consequently when Zoe needs his permission for the embryos, he's uncertain.  His pastor excitedly uses this opportunity to fan a big court case with media attention attacking gays and their destruction of the traditional family.

Okay, I know that's a long summary but I feel like it all had to be said before I get in to my thoughts.  I usually love Jodi Picoult's novels so I was psyched to get an advance peek at her latest. I didn't know anything about it going in and when I skimmed the summary on goodreads, I read it wrong believing that Zoe ended up wanting a family with the teenage girl she was helping.  Luckily that is not the case!

I really liked Zoe and Max but if I had to choose one of them, I'd pick Max despite him being a much more flawed person.  He's an alcoholic with several falls of the wagon over the course of the novel, he lusts after a married woman, and he's rather indecisive.  But I liked his conversion experience and his deepening understanding of God's character although I wish there had been more scripture than the few instances that refer to homosexuality. I also loved Liddy with whom Max interacts; she made me think of the actress Anna Camp who actually played a similar character on "True Blood."

Meanwhile I did not like Vanessa.  I don't know why.  She was very good at her job as a guidance counselor and their courtship (while much too whirlwind for my taste-about five months from falling in love and marriage to the court case) was sweet. Maybe it was how she and Zoe were incapable of tolerance while demanding it from the pastor?

I know I'm just a college student with a very different set of experiences from forty-year old Zoe and her struggle to get pregnant but I did not understand why she wouldn't adopt or later use Vanessa's eggs and find a sperm donor.  Why was it SO important to have a child with her DNA when the ending chapter demonstrated that family is not just about blood?  I've obviously never been in that position but I know that there are loads of children who would love to be adopted by such a loving person and I wish she had seriously considered that alternative, either with Max or with Vanessa.

I was sad that Christians came off so poorly especially because NEWS FLASH not all Christians hate gay people nor are all Christians against gay marriage and gay rights.  Yet the only Christians shown in the book are very anti-gay.  Admittedly it is clear that this is a super conservative congregation when the pastor says that porn videos should be in kindergarten classrooms because that was the equivalent of the president's sex-ed program.  But there were no liberal or even moderate Christian voices.

One last comment: apparently the finished copy comes with a CD because Zoe is a music therapist and that plays a big role in the story.  My e-copy did not come with any music so I cannot comment on that.

SPOILERS from the LAST chapter: So Liddy and Reid got divorced? Or did Reid die? Cling more to the church while she moved away? Is no one Christian anymore? Because that makes me sad.

Overall: The presentation of Christians really lowered the rating for this book but I think most Picoult fans will be satisfied.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Found in Translation

Found in Translation by Roger E. Bruner with Kristi Rae Bruner
Barbour, 2011
365 pages
YA; Christian
3.5/5 stars

Source: Received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Kim is a spoiled girl from Georgia on her way to her first mission trip in Mexico.  Upon arrival, she discovers that their mission is far different than she had expected.  They're going to a rural area recently devastated by a natural disaster where no one speaks English...and where none of the mission volunteers speak Spanish.  How can they witness to those with whom they can't communicate?

There were some things I really liked about this book: Kim's transformation in to better person (illustrated by her stopping cursing, ministering to a misguided fellow mission trip, and her work with the villagers); her friend Aleesha, super funny; Anjelita, the little Mexican girl who befriends Kim despite the language barrier; the general pace of the story.  Although Kim begins the story petulant and irresponsible, she quickly resolves to become better and then actually follows through and matures.  After breaking her arm, she feels bad that she can't help rebuild houses but she uses her time to instead do other work and then to read aloud from a Spanish Bible

While I liked the basic story elements, I didn't really like the writing, which is what dragged down the rating for me.  The writing was not bad but it wasn't as good as the writing in other books I've read.  I think the message of the book is the important part though and would be very useful especially to young Christians but also to all Christians.

Recommended: Definitely only for Christians or those interested in becoming a Christian.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ransome's Honor

Ransome's Honor by Kaye Dacus
Harvest House, 2009
342 pages
Historical; Inspirational; Romance
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Kaye Dacus has been one of my favorite contemporary Christian romance writers so I thought it was high time to give her historicals a whirl by picking up the first in the Ransome trilogy.  I didn't like it as much as her contemporaries but it was an enjoyable story.

This is yet another book where young lovers separate and then reunite as adults.  In this case Julia had every expectation of receiving a proposal from her love William Ransome but no proposal comes, leaving her to conclude that he had only courted her so that he could ingratiate himself with her father, an Admiral, and thus further his own career.  Thus twelve years later, Julia is in no mood to spend any time with Ransome.  However her aunt is conspiring to force Julia to marry her cousin in order to save his estates from financial ruin.  In order to escape these pressures, Julia embarks on a business arrangement whereby she will marry Ransome, he will escort her to her family estate in Jamaica, and after a year the marriage will be annulled.  But Ransome does not want a marriage in name only, hoping instead for a true marriage in the eyes of God.

I really do hate reunited lovers stories (normally); in this case it is Ransome's pride although he prefers to call it honor that separates them.  He felt unworthy of her and didn't want to be a gold-digger after her 30,000 pounds.  Never mind the genuine love between them; he thought only of himself.  I wanted to see a lot more groveling on his part but the machinations of her aunt and cousin push Julia toward him.  In fact based on the official summary I thought their engagement would happen much earlier in the book than it does.

Both Julia and Ransome are honorable people with much respect from pretty much everyone.  They didn't have many interests.  His life is consumed by the Navy although he also seems the more faithful as his relationship with God is more in focus than hers.  She likes music and is a sound business manager.  I liked them-they seemed like good people-but they didn't fascinate or enthrall me in their story.

Her aunt and cousin are pretty stereotypical villains for Regency romance in my opinion.  The aunt looks down on Ransome for being in the navy instead of being a true gentleman (a baronet) like her son.  Never mind that Ransome is a sober-mannered, respected leader while her son is a dissolute broke womanizer.  The son also isn't very bright, relying on his mother's schemes to secure his fortune.

There are two really important secondary characters: Susan and Charlotte.  Susan is Julia's best friend, married to her own captain in the Navy and she is a total chatterbox.  I loved reading about her as I feel like she is the kind of person who just lights up a room and makes you feel at home.  Charlotte is Ransome's younger sister and foreshadowing in the book plus the summary of the second book shows that she will play a large part in the second book, Ransome's Crossing.  I didn't like her that much.  She's keeping secrets and that will provide much of the conflict in the later books.

Overall: Feels familiar and the main characters didn't pop for me. I will probably read the rest of the trilogy but I don't recommend it.

Cover: I feel like it's very typical for historical Christian fiction: woman in dress looking off into the distance.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Heroine's Bookshelf

The Heroine's Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore
Harper, 2010
197 pages
Non-fiction; Literature
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Erin Blakemore examines twelve beloved heroines and their authors for inspiration for life.  It had been my understanding that the focus would be more on the heroines themselves but instead Blakemore also examines the lives of the authors and how their experiences shaped the characters in their novels.  I enjoyed almost all of the essays except for the first which is about Elizabeth Bennet.  I'm not sure why that one didn't click for me (because it's my favorite novel and although I don't know everything about it, I did know everything presented in this essay?) but in general it does seem as if the novels I didn't know as well had better essays.  This book also made me want to reread To Kill a Mockingbird, which is a good thing because that's such a great book but also a bad thing because I have a big pile of library and review books to get through.

The essays are:
Self-Elizabeth Bennet/Jane Austen
Faith-Janie Crawford/Zora Neale Hurston
Happiness-Anne Shirley/Lucy Maud Montgomery
Dignity-Celie/Alice Walker
Family Ties-Francie Nolan/Betty Smith
Indulgence-Claudine/Colette
Fight-Scarlett O'Hara/Margaret Mitchell
Compassion-Scout Finch/Harper Lee
Simplicity-Laura Ingalls/Laura Ingalls Wilder
Steadfastness-Jane Eyre/Charlotte Brontë
Ambition-Jo March/Louisa May Alcott
Magic-Mary Lennox/Frances Hodgson Burnett


Overall: A cute little book (it is smaller than a regular hardback); perfect for the lifelong (probably female) bibliophile; I would recommend you check it out from the library.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Disney Princess Profile: Aurora


Hosted by Irena at This Miss Loves to Read.

Name: Aurora
Film: Sleeping Beauty, 1959
Princess: Born but not bred
Voice: Mary Costa
Hair: Long golden hair
Outfit: Sometimes pink, sometimes blue
Home: The cottage in the forest
Special Powers: Magical singing voice
Fairy Godmothers: Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather
Voices: Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen, and Barbara Luddy
Parents: King Stefan and the Queen
Voices: Taylor Holmes
Love Interest: Phillip
Prince: Yes
Voice: Bill Shirley
Horse: Samson
Villain: Maleficent
Voice: Eleanor Audley
Minion: Raven
Songs: "Hail to the Princess Aurora"
"The Gifts of Beauty and Song"
"True Love Conquers All"

"I Wonder"
"Once Upon a Dream"
"Skumps (Drinking Song)"


I adore Sleeping Beauty-my favorite Disney princess movie.  First it's one of the most beautiful films by Disney as you can see in the castle and the colors.  Additionally Aurora is pretty much the most beautiful Disney princess, with her long, thick blonde hair, slim waist, graceful movements, and red lips (at least to an American standard of beauty). Then there is the fantastic music courtesy of Tchaikovsky.  I love the bickering fairies and Maleficent is a pretty scary villain.  Prince Phillip actually has a bit of a personality unlike the princes in Snow White and Cinderella; they make a beautiful couple when they're dancing in the clouds.


One part of the movie that has always bothered me is that the queen doesn't get a name; she speaks but she's never named.  Thus I named Mary.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Academy 7

Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund
Speak, 2009
259 pages
YA; Science-Fiction; Romance
5/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: Aerin is a fugitive from slavery; Dane is a privileged son. While these two seem to have little in common, they quickly become competitors and friends bonded by intellect and the mysteries of their past at the exclusive Academy 7.

I enjoyed Osterlund's Aurelia so I wanted to check out her other book. I liked the blurb that talked about what seemed like a boarding school plus romance is always good and a splash of mystery.  However I did not realize it was sci-fi, which was a very pleasant surprise although for those who aren't big fans, it's not the biggest element.

I really liked both of the main characters.  Dane is dark, broody, and hot! While a skilled pilot and debater, he also has a tortured family history that causes him to rebel and at times to waste his natural gifts. Aerin also has a dark backstory after spending years as a slave before managing to escape.  She is so determined and worked harder than all of the other students in order to prove her worth.  Additionally I loved their interactions together as neither holds back, whether zinging barbs or fighting in class.

One tiny quibble is that there is supposed to be "a secret as big as the entire universe" as teased on the back cover.  I think that's hyperbolic but what they discover has very big consequences for Aerin and Dane's understanding of their respective families and themselves.

Overall: Highly Recommended! Hoping for a sequel!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Library Thursday

Hosted by LazyGirlReads




I have some great books checked out right now (sorry I can't upload the actual picture as I have misplaced my camera).  All books come via my college's library and their LINK+ program. 

I recently read The Making of Star Wars so obviously I had to read the book about the making of the sequel!  I am already about halfway through the book but I am savoring it as I go along. It's filled with concept art, bits of the original script, photos, and other insights.

Then I have some interesting looking YA.  The first two are contemporaries (one for the Contemps Challenge, the other highly praised around the blogosphere) and the third has a bit of paranormal as well as being a YA Debut title.  I'm most excited about Anna because of all of the hype but I've seen good reviews of all three so I think I will enjoy them a lot.

Lastly I have yet another book about the Royal Engagement because I'm a little obsessed! This book is obviously very recent as you can see from the cover photo (from the day their engagement was announced-such a pretty blue).

What have you checked out recently? Head over to LazyGirlReads to link up your post.

Outside In

Outside In by Maria V. Snyder
Harlequin Teen, 2011
326 pages
YA
4/5 stars
Sequel to Inside Out-check out my review!

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

Summary: Now that Trella has helped overthrow the Inside leadership, a Committee of 19 uppers and scrubs has assumed control.  Yet the divisions are as defined as ever and unrest is growing.  When a threat from the Outside emerges, Trella has to unite everyone in order to overcome it.

I have attempted to write stories but I am always stymied by my unwillingness to put my beloved main character in danger; Maria V. Snyder does not have this problem.  In fact, she is remarkably clever at putting the main characters into repeated instances of danger (especially torture) as well as getting them out.  Every time I thought I could relax, Trella made a new move that thrust her in to danger.

Now I did think the beginning was a little slow, maybe because it's been a year since I read the first book and I had to re-acclimate myself to the world but once I was in, I could not stop reading!  I just wanted to know more, wanted to figure out how she could block the Outsiders (who by the way sound quite scary).  I would say that the story really gets going once Trella returns to the pipes; the demands of creating a new governing system had limited her time but I think we know that she belongs there!

Besides Trella, we get to spend more time with other characters from the first book.  I don't really like Riley, her love interest, because I thought he was a bit over-protective and demanding but I can see other people liking him.  I did love Logan, computer genius, who also ends up in some really bad situations.  And more time is spent with Dr. Lamont/Kiana Garrard, possibly Trella's mother (we do find out if she is) SPOILER: I think I liked her because she is in fact Trella's mother and her attempts to mother this very independent, opinionated, determined young woman whom she had betrayed grabbed my heartstrings.

I thought this book was brought to a solid conclusion and a fitting end to Trella's story; saying that, I would certainly read a third book if Snyder wrote one.

Read for ebook challenge.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wither

Wither by Lauren DeStefano
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011
358 pages
YA; Dystopia
4/5 stars

Source: Received an ARC from publisher

Summary: In the future, the perfect child has been created without illness or deformity.  Unfortunately he will die at 25 and she at 20, resulting in a world where wealthy families buy up poorer girls for polygamous marriages to ensure the continuation of their line.  Rhine is one of those girls bought for Linden by his father Vaughn and taken into a world of immense privilege but without the thing she most desires: freedom.

I really liked the relationships between Rhine and her sister wives.  The interplay of three women drafted into multiple marriage and struggling to figure it out was well-done. Rhine, Cecily, and Jenna had separate personalities and I was drawn to each of them. Cecily, grew up very poor and as the youngest, is also the most eager for this new life. Jenna, as the oldest, bears a particular grudge against Linden and Vaughn and waits only for her death.  Rhine, in the middle, will die at the same time as Linden and serves as a reminder of his beloved first wife Rose.

Oddly Rhine felt the least real to me, despite the fact that she narrated the book.  Sometimes she was worried about her twin brother who has no idea where she is but other times she seemed to forget about him; sometimes she's flirting with servant Gabriel; sometimes she's playing Linden and other times, she's genuinely concerned about him; sometimes she wants freedom and other times she seemed content to remain.  I couldn't quite get a grasp on her and consequently I don't think I like her very much, which is kind of a problem for me.  Linden was also somewhat of a cipher but his father Vaughn was a great villain-he freaked me out, even with very little page-time.

I originally thought of this book as dystopian but I would actually classify it more as science-fiction for a couple of reasons.  One is that almost all of the people are very aware that this is not a utopian world; some are willing to make the best of it that they can but no one really thinks that circumstances are ideal.  Two, the presence of science. Vaughn conducts many experiments on people in order to find that cure and the trilogy is even called "The Chemical Garden" hinting at the importance of science. Three, in my opinion, dystopian novels should have the greatest threat coming from the government with perhaps several characters providing the most menace as stand-ins.  Here Vaughn is clearly the villain and he was a great villain with a very real menace that terrified me but as far as I could tell, he was not a stand-in for the government despite its turning a blind eye to whatever he does due to his talents and riches.  Maybe other people would disagree but that's how I see it.

MINOR SPOILER: I did not like the ending.  I could not believe that it happened with so little violence. I kept waiting for Vaughn to appear and add some real danger but I was left with a bit of a "that's all?" face. I guess it somewhat avoids the cliffhanger ending while still leaving you wondering what will happen next. The conclusion somewhat reminds me of the end of The Graduate where the guy and girl are left staring at each other, wondering "what now?" This ending is a bit more optimistic but as there are two more books coming, their peace will definitely be shattered.

Overall: I didn't really think the book would live up to its hype and cover and I don't think it's by any means awful, but I'm not sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for the sequel.  I'm also not disappointed in the time spent reading this and I would recommend it for the YA dystopian fans out there.

Cover: I know I've talked about this cover a lot so I will hold my tongue for now (But it's sooooooo pretty)

Read for YA Debut Authors Challenge.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Look to the East

Look to the East by Maureen Lang
Tyndale House, 2009
345 pages
Inspirational Historical Romance
3/5 stars
First in the Great War Series

Source: Library

Summary: Julitte lives in the small village Briecourt in France, which is soon invaded and taken over by Germans in 1914.  In the cellar of the local church, she discovers Charles, a Belgian in hiding from the Germans.  Will she have the faith in God to survive this terrible war?

When I've read other Christian historical romances, I've found it helpful to break the book down and look at each genre separately because that's how I think about them as I read.

Historical: The historical aspects were very strong, in my opinion the best part.  While the story opens in a peaceful small village in northern France, war soon begins and the Germans occupy leading to privation that only gets more extreme as the book goes from 1914 to the middle of 1916.  I don't know as much about WWI as I do about WWII but everything seemed on target.  I could feel the hunger that gripped the population and the fear from being occupied and from not knowing what was going on with loved ones at the front.

Religion: There is a lot of God talk in this book, definitely not recommended for any non-Christians.  It is believed in the village that Julitte has been gifted with miraculous powers and that her prayer is more powerful.  Additionally Julitte is a faithful Christian who prays a lot especially as the war drags on and she is separated from her love.  She sees so much death even among a civilian and her only recourse is to turn to God.   I liked that one of the Germans is also able to express his faith and hope for an end to the war. While most of the Germans are painted as villains (obviously), there were some nuances.

Romance: This was the part that was weakest for me and I didn't particularly care for either Julitte or Charles.  I appreciated that their romance took some time to grow although it was an instant attraction kind of love.  They talked with each other and she encouraged his faith, which was nice to see.  His determination to be a "hero" annoyed me as it seemed foolhardy and maybe not even what God wanted (not everyone's a hero).

The End: I'm not sure I entirely buy it. SPOILER: Did Ori sell out the hidden men or how were they discovered?  The change to safety occurred so rapidly as Charles returns to spying and Julitte goes off to rediscover her family.

Overall: This book never clicked for me. I don't know if it was something about Julitte's character or maybe Charles's but despite the many things I liked about it, I feel only neutral towards the book as a whole.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Prisoners in the Palace

Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl
Chronicle Books, 2010
352 pages
YA; Historical Fiction
4.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: Liza was orphaned before she was able to enter Society, leaving her flat broke.  However she is fortunate enough to gain a position as lady's maid to Princess Victoria, catapulting her in to a world of intrigue and suspicion at Kensington Palace.  Caught between worlds, Liza must forge her own path and future.

I alternated a lot over whether I liked the portrayals of Liza and Victoria in this novel.  On the one hand, Liza was not that grand of a lady no matter what she wants to think; on the other hand, she's an orphan struggling to make her way in the world.  On the one hand, Victoria grows up to be a great queen and hints of compassion appear here; on the other, she's so mercurial and almost always self-absorbed.

I'm somewhat familiar with Victoria's childhood, especially with the villain Sir John Conroy who would stop at nothing to increase his influence over her as he had over her mother.  Whether he can be in charge of her correspondence, her purse, her throne, whatever, he wants it.  He knows no shame and was a fantastic character!  His plotting drives the main plot, culminating in a suspenseful ending before Victoria's ascension. Albert, future husband to Victoria, also makes a brief appearance; he is a prig and distinctly unworthy of her as presented at this point.  I personally am not a big fan of Albert ever but she loved him.

But there are also entirely fictional if representative characters.  Annie, Liza's predecessor as lady's maid, loses her position due to a pregnancy and suffers a huge downward spiral as I'm sure many women did, confronted with the social mores of the period and the lechery of upper-class men.  Will is a newspaperman and friend of Liza's whose broadsheets help inform public opinion.  Inside Boy, one of my favorite characters, is an urchin who teaches the colorful street patter and also aids Liza when in dire straits.  They added considerable color and fun to the novel, balanced against the more serious degradations suffered by Victoria from her mother and Sir John.

Overall: I really enjoyed this book except for some annoyances with Liza.

Cover: This is a gorgeously designed book-even if historical fiction isn't your thing, I recommend examining it at a store.  The back is designed like a newspaper with a combination of stories about the actual novel and blurbs from authors and the inside is also beautiful.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Matched

Matched by Ally Condie
Dutton Books, 2010
366 pages
YA; Dystopian
4/5 stars

Source: Through a book tour at Good Golly Miss Holly

I wanted to read this book because of the gorgeous cover and the hype surrounding its dystopian/love story premise.  Then the book was released with quite a bit of backlash.  Luckily the noise around it has somewhat died down and I attempted to read it without preconceptions and to evaluate it upon its own merits.

I liked the dystopian society, which seemed to make sense to me.  The Society decided that people were too over-stimulated from the plethora of options out there, from food to media and thus winnowed it down.  Now everyone has food specifically created for them, people have increasingly specialized jobs, only 100 songs, poems, books, etc. exist so there's no media overload, and the majority of people are matched in such a way to maximize compatibility and healthy children.

Cassia is lucky because she was matched with someone she knows, her best friend Xander.  Life is looking good, especially as she excels at her sorting job.  Then she catches a glimpse of another face on the microcard from the Society; that picture is also of someone she knows, Ky.  Suddenly she is questioning the entire premise of the Society and wanting to make her own choices, no matter the consequences.  Ultimately I was not invested in either relationship Cassia had.  She called Xander her best friend and said that she loved him but I didn't feel that although I certainly read it.  Then there's the fact that she seems to fall in love with Ky based on the fact that his picture pops up.  Before then, she had taken little notice of him, other than seeing how he kept himself somewhat separate from their peer group.  It's so sudden and I didn't buy how it played out.

I did like the fact that Cassia lived in about the center of the country away from the war in the Outer Provinces and thus there wasn't much violence unlike in Delirium and The Hunger Games.  Not that violence isn't a part of dystopian but it was a change.  Cassia's family is also not shattered as she has parents who are actually in love with each other and a younger brother, who sometimes annoys her as siblings do but with whom she has a pretty good relationship.

Overall: Okay-not as good as the cover but I will probably check out the second book, which has a cover I'm on the fence about (I agree with Enna Isilee at Squeaky Books's feelings).

Cover: Gorgeous-so striking and so appropriate for the book (the green dress and the green bubble tie in with plot points)!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Disney Princess Profile: Cinderella


Hosted by Irena at This Miss Loves to Read.
Name: Cinderella
Film: Cinderella, 1950
Princess: No
Hair: Yellow, usually up
Outfit: Rags or a beautiful blue ballgown
Best Friends: Jaq and Gus
Species: Mice
Voices: James MacDonald
Fairy Godmother: Yes
Voice: Verna Felton
Special Powers: A very goodnatured spirit; ability to talk with mice
Love Interest: Prince Charming
Prince: Yes
Villain: Lady Tremaine
Voice: Eleanor Audley
Minion: Lucifer
Species: Cat
Songs: "Cinderella"
"A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes"
"Oh, Sing Sweet Nightingale"
"The Work Song"
"Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo"
"So This Is Love"

I've mentioned before that Cinderella by the Brothers Grimm is my favorite fairy tale and of course I adore the Disney princesses but this isn't really one of my favorites.  Its story comes from the Perrault version and while the songs are good, I don't find them as catchy as the Alan Menken/Tim Rice songs of the 90s.  My favorite part of the movie is at the end, after the first slipper has been smashed, when Cinderella says, "But you see...I have the other slipper."  Lady Tremaine's face is classic and the duke is so grateful.  Of course, the tiny slipper fits Cinderella's foot and she gets to live and go marry the prince.  And because it's Disney, we know that she'll be happy with her prince rather than miserable.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hoppin' and Followin'



How did you come up with your blog name?

Obviously I wanted it to have something to do with books and I really liked Bookworm plus I didn't like any of my previous online identities so I really wanted to think of one I did like.  Then I hit on the idea of relating it to my favorite president (and voracious reader) Theodore Roosevelt so I picked his birth year and combined them.

Book Blogger Hop
 Do you read only one book at a time, or do you have several going at once?
 
 I usually read two at a time but they have to be quite different.  For example I was reading a cozy mystery and a YA horror novel yesterday (have since finished the cozy) and that was fine.  But I could never read, say, two Agatha Christies at the same time.  It especially helps when one is a hard-copy and the other is on my Nook because the reading experience is different and that helps to keep it additionally straight in my head.

Bonus question: What kind of giveaway do you prefer? 
A. One book chosen by the blogger
B. A selection of books for you to choose from
C. You pick the book
D. Gift card
E. Something else (please say what in comments)
[As far as I know, C is the best option for US bloggers so that international people can participate but I'd appreciate any insight you can lend]

XVI

XVI by Julia Karr
Speak, 2011
325 pages
YA; Dystopian
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

I was first attracted to this book because it started with the letter "X" and I had never reviewed a book starting with that letter.  It was icing on the cake that it counted toward the YA Debut Author Challenge.

Summary: Nina is 15 and very unhappy about her pending 16th birthday when she will be marked with a "XVI" tattoo indicating her availability for sex to all.  Shortly before her birthday her mother is killed, although not before revealing a shocking secret and entrusting Nina with a dangerous assignment.  Now Nina must protect her sister and grandparents, assimilate into a new school, deal with boys, and stay a step ahead of her mother's dangerous government boyfriend, Ed.

Thoughts:  I found this a pretty quick easy read. I mostly liked Nina as someone who resists societal pressures and who was fairly protective of her family and friends.  After her mother's death, she feels adrift and tries to follow through on her mother's dying words that radically shifted her knowledge of life.  She has a younger sister who she worries about (as an older sister, that also tugs at my heart) and she tries to be a good student.  She is mostly cautious and is well aware of the dangers out there, which pleased me although I would have wanted her to be even more cautious.

Her love interest (of course there's a love interest) is Sal and he is part of the resistance to the government.  He was a perfectly nice guy but not swoonworthy to me.  He doesn't pressure her in any way but he does help her connect to the people she needs to know to complete her mother's dying wish.

I also liked the fact that the book was mostly standalone.  There is room for a sequel and I think Karr is working on one but there was no cliff-hanger ending and I feel pretty satisfied with the conclusion. 

I did have a few issues with it.  First is an extremely personal one.  The villain (well besides the government as this is a dystopian) is named Ed, which just happens to be my dad's name.  To be brief, my dad is awesome so seeing that the bad guy's name was Ed was hard for me.  Obviously that would only affect the tiniest portion of readers but it was a difficulty for me.

Second I thought that Nina let down people in two crucial instances.  She moves away due to her mom's death and her friendship with Sandy suffers; I thought that Nina could have tried harder to maintain contact but she seemed more interested in her new friends.  I also felt like she let down her sister in order to be with her boyfriend; Dee would have been a pawn used by Ed in any way and I didn't like that Nina took that chance.  I know she's a fictional character but those occurrences lowered my opinion of her.

Third I'm not entirely sure about the "sex-teen" concept.  I understand the proliferation of ads and media to control our thought; that's nothing new although it feels more extreme than some other dystopians I've read.  But I didn't quite understand why 16 was the age girls were made available for sex and exactly how that contributed to control.  The rationale for the government's decision was not made clear enough for me.  Small parts of the puzzle emerge but an overarching reason eluded my understanding.  Also what about queerness?  The novel really only discusses heterosexual relations. I was also surprised at how much dissent the government allowed as seen by the fact that Nina's father was a big opponent of Media for years until his death.  I feel like other societies would have had him killed much earlier in his life; perhaps it wasn't as established?

And lastly there were a great deal of "'d" contractions such as "I'd" and "Ginnie'd" throughout the book.  This grew very annoying to me although I recognize it as another personal preference; in general I would prefer the contraction written out or a rewording of the sentence to avoid so many on a page.  As I think about it, I wonder if those contractions are meant to be part of the language structures of the future.

Overall: A must-read for dystopian fans but not necessarily recommended to anyone else.

Cover: It's very different but I'm not entirely sold on the "XVI" in big black letters as it's a bit confusing at first to see.

Read for YA Debut Challenge

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rugged and Relentless

Rugged and Relentless by Kelly Eileen Hake
Barbour, 2011
317 pages
Inspirational Romantic Historical
4/5 stars
First in Husbands for Hire Series

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

Goodreads Page

Summary: Evie Thompson and her three best friends move to the wilds of Colorado looking to recover lost money, nurse their friend back to health, and claim husband for themselves.  Thus they come up with the idea to place an advertisement and hire for husbands.  They get more than they bargained for as two dozen men descend on the small town.  Jake is haunted by the death of his brother, promising vengeance, and by the cooking of a beautiful young lady back East.  Imagine his surprise when he discovers her in Colorado surrounded by other men who might marry her.  As he looks for his brother's killer, he also has a bit of time for courting the spirited Miss Thompson...who may or may not allow him to.

In short, I loved this book.  It was absolutely delightful and I flew through it, putting off homework in order to read just a few more pages.  While the basic premise seems to be a romance, it's actually more about friendship especially among the four ladies.  Evie, her sister Cora, friend Lacey and Lacey's cousin Naomi had a strong friendship.  They were able to formulate this plan and their strengths complement each other well.  While Evie is the main focus, the book shifts perspectives to all of them.  I will be very interested to see their stories in the later books.

They faced many obstacles.  One of those was Braden, Lacey's brother and Cora's fiancee although he attempted to end the engagement after his near-death and subsequent injuries.  Despite being confined to bed, he still attempts to act very high-handedly and to order them around.  Jake is another obstacle as he sees the dangers of four lovely ladies surrounded by approximately twenty-four not always honorable men, eager for female companionship.  He and Evie sure had sparks and multiple confrontations that revealed their characters and helped them fall more in love!

Then there is the man who killed Jacob's brother who is part of the camp although he is a wily one for sure.  The resolution of this storyline was very rushed and not entirely satisfying although I did like the final confrontation.

The historical elements were another pleasant part.  The ladies are not conventional, as you can see by their move across country, but they are still confined by societal norms.  They wear corsets, tend to stick to "womanly" pursuits, and frequently have men interfering as if they know best.  Luckily the women are spirited and they argue and push back in lively conversations.  I chuckled more than a few times at the way they interacted with language in conversations with Braden and Jake.

While I've seen it shelved as Christian fiction, I found those elements minimal.  Evie relies on the Lord and Jake grows a bit in that regard but it's not as overt as others I've read.  It did not impede my enjoyment in the least but other people may find that disappointing.

Overall: Delightful-highly recommended!

Read for Ebook Challenge.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Three Musketeers Halfway Post

I don't know exactly where this picture is from other than an animated adaptation of The Three Musketeers. Readalong hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey.

This is a book I've wanted to read since loving The Count of Monte Cristo. I wasn't sure I'd be able to get this post up because as of March 12, I had not started the book.  Also on March 12, I discovered that I had food poisoning thus slowing me down.  However due to the amazingness of spring break, I am almost caught up and I have finished chapter 26 (the goal was to finish through chapter 29).  I believe I will have completed the book in time for the wrap-up post at the end of the month.

What I've seen so far are: some witty comments and some that are apparently supposed to be witty but that aren't to me; odd French political machinations (the 1600s are not my time period); men with short tempers, quick to duel; intertwining of British and French history; quite a few anachronisms as pointed out by my Barnes and Noble edition.  While I'm not finding it as engaging as Monte Cristo, which I thought had a slow beginning but those last 500 pages sped by!, I am mostly enjoying the book.

I'd always wondered why I would read four male names when the title clearly mentions only three.  Luckily an explanation is provided. D'Artagnan is a young man who would like to be a musketeer but must first serve a sort-of apprentice before he can join the ranks of Porthos, Athos, and Aramis.  Until that day though, they can still be companions and fight for the king and honor.  At this point in the book, the three had separated on a mission for the queen and now D'Artagnan is finding out what happened to them.

He is also worried about his love Constance, who has been abducted by Cardinal Richelieu's forces with the assistance of her husband. I am wondering what else will happen to propel the second half of the book along.  The cardinal must do something further that the musketeers and D'Artagnan will have to thwart but I'm not sure what he'll do.

Overall I am wondering a lot about the French politics of the time.  While I'm vaguely familiar with Richelieu, Louis XIII and his queen Anne of Austria are barely known to me.  Their counterpart is King Charles I (I much prefer to read about the Tudors and the Hanovers rather than the Stuarts) and his closest adviser, the duke of Buckingham, who is apparently in love with the queen.  I think some histories of the time would be very interesting although the story as it stands is pretty engaging.

The Atomic Weight of Secrets

The Atomic Weight of Secrets by Eden Unger Bowditch
Bancroft Press, 2011
339 pages
Middle Grade; Historical; Mystery
3.5/5 stars
First in the Young Inventors Guild

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

Summary: Five children (Jasper, his sister Lucy, Wallace, Noah, and Faye) are taken to a schoolhouse farm in Ohio while their brilliant scientist parents are at work with no opportunity to contact them.  The wonders of a farm and friendship are not enough to distract the children from the mysterious men in black whose presence overhangs all.  And as time passes, more questions are raised than are answered and the children must forge their own path.

This book took me a very long time to read, considering how long a book usually takes me to read and the fact that it is MG/YA.  I lean more toward MG because the five main characters range from 6 to 13 years old.  But the book is a bit on the long side to be MG so I waver.  I would certainly recommend it to fans of The Series of Unfortunate Events and probably to readers of Percy Jackson although I'm less familiar with that series.

What redeemed the book for me was the end which included a fun wink at history and more action as the mysterious Komar Romak menaced the children.  Before that though there are many pages detailing the children's lives when they lived with their parents and then their lives on the farm together.  While each of the children has an individual story, the outlines are all very similar: one or both parents are brilliant scientists whose focus on work leads them to not spend much time with their children; the children are also bright scientists or more specifically inventors as the series title details.

I loved the children and I felt for them in their confusion and uncertainty.  Because of their smarts, they were ostracized at school or merely tutored at home by themselves, leaving a desire for friendship that is filled by the time among equals.  Although they are familiar with a lab, the simple nursery rhymes and fairy tales I know so well are beyond their ken.  Their time at the school-farm is thus a great growing experience for them.  It would be hard to pick a favorite child but I do have a soft spot for the youngest child, Lucy.  As baffling as the experience is for the older children, it's even harder on her.

In the end, I was left with loads of questions and a tiny snippet of the second book that should pique many.

Overall: For a long time, nothing seems to be happen but when the action kicks in, it is quite satisfying.

Read for Ebook challenge

Monday, March 14, 2011

Girl, Stolen

Girl, Stolen by April Henry
Henry Holt and Company, 2010
213 pages
YA; Contemporary; Suspense
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: As Cheyenne rests in the car, Griffin breaks in and steals it without noticing her. She begs to be let go, but he's too far implicated to release her.  Upon discovery of her identity (the daughter of the president of Nike), Griffin's father has big plans for her.  Oh, yeah and she's blind.

This is another book that I probably wouldn't have read if not for the Contemps challenge.  I like sweet coming of age love stories, not boys implicated in their father's criminal activities and girls terrified out of their mind.  I am glad that I read it though.

It is quite fast-moving as Cheyenne adjusts to her new situation and almost immediately begins formulating an escape plan.  She was very brave and used what she had at her command to her advantage.  Tied in with Cheyenne is Griffin who wanted to boost a sweet ride and yet feels sympathy for Cheyenne especially in the face of his father's greed and his father's employees' lust.  He moves on a path toward redemption and escape from his father through their conversations and how she challenges him.

Overall: A very fast read that should have you on the edge of your seat.

Cover: I think the hands are creepy and that the cover as a whole definitely reflects the suspenseful nature of this read.

Read for Contemps Challenge.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fixing Delilah

Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler
Little, Brown and Company, 2010
308 pages
YA; Contemporary; Family
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: Eight years ago Delilah's mother, aunt, and grandmother had a big fight causing the daughters to never speak to their mother again and for them never to return to the idyllic summer cottage where the grandmother lives.  Then comes her death and the reunion of the three Hannaford women as Delilah attempts to unravel the secrets of that summer and of her family.

Thoughts: This is my first Sarah Ockler although I definitely want to read Twenty Boy Summer.  The first pleasing instance in this book was the discovery that there is a character named Stephanie...who is alas dead.  However I liked seeing a story that was focused on family.  Delilah and her mother used to be close but her mother's work takes up so much time that their relationship is highly fractured.  Plus as Delilah acts out, their inability to communicate drives them further apart.  The summer spent preparing for an estate sale at the grandmother's house helps patch up part but does not completely heal their relationship, which I found very realistic.

Less realistic (and less pleasing to me) was the romance between Delilah and Patrick.  Patrick and Delilah had been best friends all those years ago and they pick up their relationship and fall for each in a way that was almost too perfect.  He's a great guy and I highly approve of the nice not-creepy guy with his own ambitions who wants to support his love interest in her pursuits (whenever she figures them out) being featured as the love interest.  But the fact that eight years later he still thinks of her and misses her seemed unrealistic, especially due to their age difference (two/three years).  Are we to seriously believe there were no other girls around who might have turned his head?  Regardless I did like Patrick a lot.

One very important issue in the book is mental illness, specifically depression as Stephanie and Grandmother had it and dealt with it in their own ways.  I feel like that's such an important topic and so easily stigmatized in today's culture. I thought Ockler handled it well and gave the reader insight into that depression while also creating characters who had other facets to their personality.

I was so excited about the family secret that tore apart the family because I figured out what it was way before the official reveal.  Of course I also thought Delilah way overreacted; however that reaction is in character for her even as I saw her actions damage her relationship with her mother and with her sort-of boyfriend Patrick.

One slightly off-topic question: Patrick has amber eyes.  I feel like I've read quite a few YA books where the boy has amber eyes-why is that so popular? I don't want to insult anyone with amber eyes but what's wrong with brown? or blue? or (cause I'm a sucker for it) a freckled redhead with green eyes?

Read as part of the Contemps Challenge

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho



Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello
Open Road
99 pages
Non-fiction; Hollywood
4/5 stars

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

Read: Today is Alfred Hitchcock Day and I recently rewatched Psycho so I thought this would be a good way to celebrate.

This book is a good summation of the path Psycho took to becoming film.  First a real-life crime inspired novelist Robert Bloch to write the novel that Hitchcock would end up optioning in order to create something new for audiences after the failure of Vertigo.  He assembled a cast and crew and made the film in a manner more reminiscent of a television program than the usual lavish color films.  And it was a huge success-audiences around the world loved it. But Hitchcock was never able to replicate that success in his other later films, instead struggling to find quality scripts and to keep the audience in suspense.

As expected from the title, Hitchcock is the central figure.  I was most intrigued by Saul Bass's claim to have directed the famous shower scene based on storyboards he created. I'm in the Hitchcock camp; he had his ideas and it was his picture, his set-no one but him would have final control.

I would have liked to read more about Anthony Perkins and Janet Leigh's careers after Psycho.  As far as I know, neither worked with Hitchcock again and neither had such success.  In fact, I've read that Perkins was typecast and struggled a lot with that post-Psycho.

Overall: A fine work and good reading for those who would like to know more about this iconic film.  If you haven't seen Pyscho, you should definitely check it out and then maybe give this book a read.

A Passage to India

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
Harcourt, Inc, 1952
Originally Published 1924
362 pages
Classic; FITG
3.5/5

Source: Bought and read for class

Summary: Adela Quested and Mrs. Moore are British citizens, excited to journey to India and see the scenery.  A new friend of Mrs. Moore's, Dr. Aziz invites them to see the Marabar Caves where a most unfortunate incident occurs leading to a court case and aggravating relations between the British colonizers and the colonized Indians.

I was really excited about this but I was left unsatisfied.  I was expecting a tale of the clash of cultures as Anglo/Indian relations were explored and gender roles were examined.  And to a degree, I got that.  But the prose was not to my liking at all.  Forster's descriptions of the scenery were so boring (almost Tolkien-esque-the only way I got through LOTR was by skimming the endless scenery descriptions and focusing on the actual plot) and it was very slow-moving.  The incident described on the book-flap is Aziz being falsely accused of sexually molesting Adela; do you know when that happens? Nearly halfway through the book! Before that, there is plenty of description and a lot of set-up to establish the personalities of the characters and the relationship between the British and the Indians.

I didn't particularly like any of the characters either.  The four main characters are Brits Adela, Mrs. Moore, and college principal Fielding in addition to Indian doctor Aziz.  My inability to feel completely connected to any of them soured my opinion of this book.  I'm not sure if that was part of Forster's intention.  However this is an useful book for study of the time period.  Rising nationalism makes an appearance and is a topic I find fascinating.

Overall: I was really disappointed; have I missed something huge with regards to Forster? I'd love to give him another try-any recommendations?

Read for personal FITG challenge.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Disney Princess Profile: Snow White


Hosted by Irena at This Miss Loves to Read.

Name: Snow White
Princess: Born plus marries a prince
Hair: Short black
Outfit: Blue with a big yellow skirt
Home: Dwarves cottage
Special Powers: Magical singing voice
Friends: Doc, Happy, Grumpy, Bashful, Sleepy, Sneezy, and Dopey
Parents: King
Love Interest: The Prince
Prince: Yes
Villain: The Wicked Queen
Songs: "I'm Wishing/One Song"
"With a Smile and a Song"
"Whistle While You Work"
"Heigh-Ho"
"Bluddle-Uddle-Um-Dum (The Washing Song)"
"The Silly Song"
"Some Day My Prince Will Come"

I am not a big fan of Snow-she doesn't have the personality of the 90's princesses and I've never liked her as much as Cindy and Aurora.  However she is either a keen survivor or extremely lucky to have gotten away from her stepmother, survive in the forest, live with the dwarfs, and then not die from the poisoned apple.  I'm inclined toward the latter. Mostly though I'm grateful for the success of this film because that enabled all the rest of the Disney princess films that I do love to get made.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Freefall

Freefall by Mindi Scott
Simon Pulse, 2010
315 pages
YA; Contemporary
4/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: Seth's best friend died over the summer and he blames himself for not looking out for Isaac.  As he lives without feeling, he meets Rosetta, a beautiful rich brunette with her own grief.  Their shared class of Interpersonal Communications will greatly impact their lives and relationships.

Thoughts: I'm really grateful for the Contemps Challenge, which is the reason for me reading this book.  Unlike the books I usually read it features a male protagonist and has a mostly black cover, rather than something pretty and pink.

I was inclined to like Seth immediately as the death of his best friend Isaac seemed to have shaken him to his core.  His previous activities of pot, booze, and bass don't have quite the same appeal anymore.  Instead he drifts along in the wake of his older brother.  And then he meets Rosetta.  She lives in the wealthy part of time, far removed from Seth's family's trailer but they seem to connect.  On the first day of school, they discover that they're in the same new class Interpersonal Connections (IC) and the first activity they do helps them get a new start to the relationship.  Soon they're falling for each other but not with many a complication.

First Seth's in a band but he has crippling stage fright and thus never wants to perform.  This is a fear the IC class pushes him on.  Rosetta has a fear of her own that leads to some amazing scenes.  Second he thinks he hooked up with Isaac's ex-girlfriend and an old friend of his, Kendall.  The guilt for betraying his friend and shame for not being able to remember that night plague him.  Kendall was a tricky character for me.  At some points her motivations confused me and I hated when her relationship with Seth interrupted his relationship with Rosetta.  And third the rest of the school seems very aware of the social divide between Rosetta and Seth leading one character in particular to interfere.

I was so pleased to see Seth's metamorphosis.  Before he skipped school and abused drugs.  But he turns over a new leaf, working hard at his homework, actually attending classes, continuing to work at his job, and trying to be a better person.  That's exactly the kind of character development I love!  I didn't like Rosetta quite as much, just because we spend less time with her and most of her personality is filtered through Seth's perceptions so I feel like it's more than a little biased.

Warning: Language, underage drug-use and sexual content may make this book inappropriate for some readers. But the story is worth pushing past that!

Overall: Recommended gritty contemporary YA read.

Read for Contemps Challenge.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Kate

Kate Middleton: Princess in Waiting by Claudia Joseph
Avon, 2009
268 pages
Non-fiction; Royalty
3.5/5 stars

Source: Library

Summary: A brief biography of Middleton's ancestors from the Victorian era to Kate's own life.

I really liked the concept of this book.  The first eleven chapters focus on Kate's ancestors, giving brief insight into the four main branches starting with the great-great-great-great grandparents and  even brief mentions of William's family especially to compare circumstances.  Those chapters were a little difficult as many names appear but they gave a brief peek at a particular time period and of people living under those conditions.

The rest of the book traces Kate's own life including the brief breakup and almost immediate reconciliation.  It really stressed the sacrifices Kate has made to be with William.  She looked for a low-key job so that she could be by his side at a moment's notice and support him at society events.  She's so patient and giving-I really do hope for the best for their marriage!

I hated the constant comparisons between the poverty of many of her ancestors and how Kate would be keeping much more rarefied company.  I also felt like Joseph thought that Kate and her family were social climbers.  The stress on Kate as a commoner when her family is worth millions and she went to private school seems bizarre to me over here in America. In my view, she's legitimately upper-class even if she doesn't have aristocratic blood, solely because of her financial situation-one of many differences between the US and the UK!

Read as part of the British Books Challenge.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why Jesus?

Why Jesus? by William H. Willimon
Abingdon Press, 2010
165 pages
Non-fiction; Christian
4/5 stars

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

Willimon asks two questions: "Why, Jesus?" and "Why Jesus?" in this new book, written in a very down-to-earth style.  Each chapter is devoted to a different aspect of Jesus' character: Vagabond; Peacemaker; Story Teller; Party Person; Preacher; Magician; Home Wrecker; Savior; Sovereign; Lover; Delegator; and Body.  Probably not the first words you necessarily think of when you think of Jesus.  But he illustrates each well with scripture and he also includes asides to Jesus that really challenged my complacent lifestyle.

I think I liked those challenges the most because they defy expectation.  We might think of God in some way but that's not necessarily how He is.  And He didn't come to fulfill those expectations but to challenge and uproot what we think we know so that He can bring us to Him.  Why did He do certain things and not other things that we might have assumed.  He is so much greater than we can fathom.

My main problem was the style.  All of the scripture he quotes has been rendered into colloquial speech that took away some of the reverence I think is due God.  It seemed like Willimon was trying much too hard and I became annoyed.

Overall: A fun read overall.

Read for Ebook challenge.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Vespertine

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell
Harcourt, 2011
293 pages
YA; Historical; Fantasy
3/5 stars

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

I was pretty excited about this because I do love a good historical fiction.  In summer 1889, Amelia stays with friends in Baltimore and it seems very jaunty due to the many explanation points in the characters' conversations.  Amelia is upper class and able to move through Society but her eye is caught by an unsuitable man, Nathaniel, a painter.  I did not like their romance as I didn't like Nathaniel and thus I did not enjoy this section. This is intercut with chapters from Autumn 1889 that were confusing at first and then later dark.

About two thirds of the way through (or so), the story as a whole turns rather dark.  Dark as in multiple deaths, unexplained magic, and heartbreak although the ending is not unrelentingly bleak in case you were wondering.

There are also paranormal aspects that were rather minor.  Amelia has the ability to see glimpses of the future in the setting sun, through the vespers (I am unsure of how exactly it works).  While at first these visions are hailed, when the darker ones come true, people turn on her.  I feel like the paranormal element was necessary to help this book stand out but I didn't really like it.  On the other hand, I thought the historical elements were pretty well done although this isn't my time period so I can't say for certain.

Overall: Romance I didn't like and change in tone made this a book I didn't really like.  Still fans of historical fiction who don't mind paranormal may appreciate this book.

Read for Ebook challenge.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tempestuous

Tempestuous by Lesley Livingston
Harper, 2010
361 pages
YA; Fantasy; Faerie
4.5/5 stars

Source: From the library

SPOILERS for first two books!

Summary: The conclusion to Livingston's Wondrous Strange Faerie trilogy! After Kelley says she does not love Sonny Flannery, events are set in motion.  He can't believe her about-face; she can't believe she managed to lie despite her faerie blood.  The illness of her father leads to chaos among the Realms and Kelley has to access both dies of her lineage in order to save the world.

Thoughts: As usual, it took me a bit to jump into the world of Kelley Winslow and her friends and relations.  She is so determined to protect Sonny that she is willing to sabotage their relationship, which is admittedly a theme I hate.  Why can't couples ever just talk normally to each other?!  But the trope does set the plot in motion as Sonny and Kelley independently investigate; the switching between points of view enables the reader to put pieces together (something that I predicted actually turned out to be true!) for the final showdown between our heroes and the villains.

I really liked that Kelley struggled more with her relationship to her father Auberon and mother Mabh.  While she did not understand them and had a contentious relationship in the previous books, she moves closer to building a stronger bond with them and accepting their legacy.  They really do seem to love her, even if their nature doesn't express that love as a human might understand it.

The appropriateness of the title kicks in as Shakespeare references have abounded throughout the books and Kelley's acting company takes on the challenge of performing "The Tempest" as the conclusion to this novel.

I was sad for a general lack of Tyff, Kelley's roommate and another faerie, but I understand that she didn't really play a part in this story. Other secondary characters remain such as Maddox, Fenn, Chloe, and of course the wonderful Puck/Bob.

Overall: A fitting conclusion to this fantastic trilogy-my favorite Faerie novels! The mix of magic, romance, and mystery please me immensely. I highly recommend reading them all in order now that they're all released as the previous books ended with massive cliff-hangers.

Cover: Another striking cover with her beautiful bright hair grabbing the eye.
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