Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Shall Wear Midnight

by Terry Pratchett
New York : Harper, 2010.

The fourth and last of the Tiffany Aching series begins with Tiffany set apart from the rest of the town. She is a witch. Roland will barely acknowledge that they were once friends, and the townspeople look on her with distrust. They need her, and they don't like that they need their witch. She soon realizes, however, that something much more dark and sinister than the townspeople is behind their distrust.

I really enjoyed returning to Tiffany Aching's Discworld. This book was the most connected of the mini-series to the larger series, with references to the wizarding university, Ankh-Morpork, and other characters familiar to series readers. Yet it works as a standalone as well. It had been four years since I read Wintersmith, but had no trouble following the story line and appreciated the short references that reminded me of Tiffany's past adventures without devolving into paragraphs of exposition. While a few elements left me scratching my head, the story moves along at a steady pace and I read it in a day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Surprised by Joy

by C.S. Lewis
New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, c1955.
(my paperback copy was most certainly printed more recently than the copyright date, but I can't find the information regarding it)

In his introduction, Lewis makes it clear that he is not writing your normal autobiography, but is writing specifically about the events leading up to his conversion to Christianity. In some ways, I found it to be the autobiography of a mind and heart, from his early days in boarding school, his interests in mythology, and his growing dissatisfaction with the philosophies he once adhered to.

I have difficulty conceiving of anyone enjoying the book unless they agreed with either his particular scholar's mind or his belief in the God of Christianity. I happen to be in the latter camp, and confess that at times his mind eluded me. Whole passages referring either to the books that most moved him or schools of modern thought of his times completely eluded my grasp, and I can only conclude that my mind must work very differently from his or that I must have a longer time on this earth before I can fully grasp his reflections on childhood, boyhood, and young adulthood. Yet then a sentence, a thought, would break through and give me pause or move me to tears. This is a book that I would reread not so much because of any initial enjoyment but because my appreciation would increase, perhaps once I read another biography or some of the classics which molded his thought.

Friday, December 24, 2010

An Assembly Such as This

by Pamelia Aidan
New York : Touchstone Book, c2006.

If you know Pride and Prejudice, you already know the "what" of this story and the sequels to follow. As this is the story from Darcy's point of view, however, you may not be acquainted with the "how." Instead of following the Bennets through their mother's machinations, dinner conversations, trips to dances and London, we follow Darcy and Bingley.

While this story may be retreading familiar ground, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Aidan clearly loves Austen, and her familiarity with Pride and Prejudice comes through strongly in her use of particular scenes and her reinterpretation of them. Sometimes the dialogue is straight from the original, and other times the conversation is subtly changed, as if each party had remembered the incident with a slightly different emphasis or wording. Her characters ring true to me, and I enjoyed her explanation of Darcy's thoughts behind some of his statements. As this is the first story in the trilogy, the book only goes as far as Darcy and Bingley's retreat to London. A delightful story, and I look forward to reading the rest of the trilogy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Mischief of the Mistletoe

by Lauren Willig
New York, N.Y. : Dutton, 2010.

The daughter of a vicar, Arabella had been the companion of a rich aunt, but when said aunt married a young man that had once appeared interested in Arabella herself, she was sent home in disgrace. Despite her friend Jane Austen's urging to the contrary, Arabella decides to become a teacher at a girl's finishing school, hoping that her position will allow her younger sisters to attend. Then she meets Turnip Fitzhugh - or rather, he bowls her over. Add to this a rather mysterious Christmas pudding that unexpectedly brings her and Turnip together once again, and let the shenanigans begin.

A co-worker recommended this to me saying I might enjoy the witty repartee between characters. I did, though it was far to witty and a little silly to be realistic. It's light fun, perfect for the week before Christmas craziness of a moment to read here and there between errands and after work and when I generally didn't want a taxing read. Though not without faults, such as the sometimes ridiculous dialogue exchanges between characters, I enjoyed it enough to look up the rest of the series.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Ring of Solomon

by Jonathan Stroud
New York : Disney/Hyperion Books, 2010.

Before he was summoned by a magician hoping to get revenge in an alternate England, Bartimaeus served one of the many magicians working for King Solomon. Yes, that King Solomon known far and wide for his wisdom and his many wives. But this King Solomon is also known for the ring he possesses, a ring that gives him much power to make demands and to rule over powerful magicians too afraid to cross him. Over in Sheba, young Asmira serves her Queen and country. When Solomon demands that the queen marry him or pay tribute, Queen Balkis sends Asmira on an assassination mission.

Though billed as the prequel to the Bartimaeus Trilogy, this story could absolutely stand on its own. A few characters reappear including, of course, Bartimaeus himself, but this recognition is not necessary at all to the enjoyment of the story. If you have read The Bartimaeus Trilogy, some of the storytelling devices may sound familiar. We are given two characters whose points of view we move between: Bartimaeus and a human. Bartimaeus is his wise-cracking, sarcastic self, and his first-person narration is complete with footnotes. Asmira's side of the story is told in third-person, so we are a little more distanced from her while still understanding her motivations and desires. Unlike The Bartimaeus Trilogy, I wasn't hooked right away. At first the story didn't grip me, and the humor felt forced. I was slightly annoyed with the preachy tone. The story was making good points and didn't need to be quite so blatant in its portrayal of them. But once I hit the halfway point, I felt like something gave. The plot started moving faster, the jokes made me chuckle, and I wanted to devote reading time to seeing what happened. Was it as good as original three? Nah, but it would be hard to compete. Once again, Bartimaeus won me over.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bink & Gollie

by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
Somerville, Mass. : Candlewick Press, 2010.

This is the story of two friends, Bink and Gollie. Each of them are quite individual, and they don't always agree, but in the end what matters most is their friendship and what they have in common.

Though not a picture book, the story is told as much through illustrations as the wordsm which are primarily used to convey the characters' speech. The illustrations are simple but convey emotion brilliantly. I like how individual Bink and Gollie are in both looks and temperament, and I like the way the sort of disagreements that friends have is conveyed in a realistic way without coming across as patronizing to the children for whom these spats are very real and very important.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Reluctant Reread

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
by J.K. Rowling
narrated by Jim Dale
New York, NY : Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003 (book)
New York : Listening Library, p2003 (audiobook)

Lord Voldemort has returned. Cedric Diggory died. Harry is left at the Dursleys again this summer, and no one in telling him anything of importance. He's whisked away to the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix - a group of adult wizards trying to defeat Voldemort - and finds out that no one else is particularly sure what's going on, either. Voldemort's been keeping quiet, apparently after something that he didn't have last time he was in power; meanwhile, the Ministry refuses to believe Harry and Dumbledore's report of Voldemort's return and The Daily Prophet has started a smear campaign to discredit them.

This has always been my least favorite of the series, and one that I have not reread as often as the first four. Usually, I get annoyed with Harry and his attitude and his downright whiny behavior, especially in the first half of the book. But this time was different. Maybe it was the fact that I was listening to the audio. Jim Dale's narration really brings out each of the characters and their emotions, and I zone out a little sometimes with stories I'm familiar with. I don't think that's the whole story, though, as I was more prone to stop what I was doing to listen to or read the story. No, I think it was because this was the first time rereading it after I finished the series. Some of the explanations to come made a huge difference in how I interpreted Harry's actions, and I found myself listening for clues to that later revelation. As a result, my understanding of events was richer, and I'm really looking forward to my first reread of Half-Blood Prince.

Friday, December 3, 2010


by Cornelia Funke
New York : Little, Brown, 2010.

Ever since his father's disappearance, Jacob Reckless has looked out for his mother and younger brother, Will. One day while searching his father's office, young Jacob finds a mirror that brings him into a world where fairy tales are real - but much like those of another pair of brothers, the world can be dark and deadly. Twelve years later, Will follows his brother into the Mirrorworld, where he is attacked by the Goyl and begins turning into one of them, his skin becoming jade. Prophecies of the Jade Goyl say that he will make their king invincible, but Jacob will do everything in his power to save his brother from becoming one of them.

Ever since I read The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke has been one of my go-to authors. Her worlds are sometimes dark but always compelling. The Mirrorworld has everything fearful from fairy tales, but the machinations, jealousy, and love of its characters make it seem as real as our own world where "happily ever after" rarely comes without a price. The ending leaves an opening for more books to come, and I hope that's the case.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Christmas at The Mysterious Bookstore

edited by Otto Penzler
New York, NY : Vanguard Press, 2010.

Otto Penzler, real-life proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, has a unique way of celebrating Christmas. Every year, he asks a well-known crime author to write a short story that he makes into a booklet to give to his customers with their purchases during the season. This book collects seventeen of these stories, from 1993 to 2009, into book form for the first time. Including authors of a wide scope, from Donald Westlake to Mary Higgins Clark, what these stories have in common are three things: a mystery, The Mysterious Bookshop (at least mentioned if not a part of the story itself), and the holiday season as a setting.

What follows are stories as unique as the individual writers themselves, an excellent sampling of the mystery genre's variety. Though of course each reader will enjoy some stories more than others and these authors, for the most part, are novel writers whose stories often don't read like traditional short stories, there are really no complete misses in the bunch. Before reading this collection, I had heard of some of the authors but read none, so I really have no way of knowing how typical these selections are. Still, I liked some enough - my favorites were "Give Till It Hurts" by Donald Westlake, "The Grift of the Magi" by S.J. Rozan and "The Killer Christian" by Andrew Klavan - to look up the authors' full-length novels.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Great Divorce

by C.S. Lewis
[San Francisco] : HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

In this novella, C.S. Lewis investigates the eternal choice between Heaven and Hell, joy and despair. He structures the story as a dream: the soul of a man takes a journey, stopping at a place where there is a lot of empty space, where houses can be literally dreamed out of the ground and as people get into arguments they move farther and farther away from each other. Souls can choose to stay in this increasing wasteland or travel away from it. As the journey continues, the soul is met by George MacDonald, who becomes his teacher and explains more of what is going on.

I generally love C.S. Lewis. He has an interesting mind, and an interesting way of explaining things. I have loved the Chronicles of Narnia since I was a kid; I loved his more grown-up story Till We Have Faces when I read it for the first time two years ago. Just about any time I have a chance to buy one of his books, I do, so when I came across this in the bargain books several years ago, I snatched it. The Great Divorce, though short and easy to read, was a heady trip. I liked, but did not love it; I'm not sure I understood half of it. I had a similar reaction to this story in its entirety that I did to the end of Perelandra - the points he were making became so philosophical and over my head that I lost track of the argument and what I even thought about it. Still, it passed an afternoon pleasantly.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rereading Harry Potter

So, in case you missed it, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 came out in theaters yesterday. Like the true nerd I am, I went to the midnight showing. It's really quite fun to do that. Even though I'm tired as anything right before it starts, during the movie I'm wide awake and love getting the crowd response of a movie packed tight with huge fans.

I always mean to reread the books, but usually lose steam over book 2 or 3. This time, I figured, why not start with Book 4? I've only read it two or three times, in comparison to the five or more times I've read Book 1 at this point. Plus, it's sort of the "turning point" book where these stop being fun little children's stories and morph into a series with higher stakes and true evil to fight. I started Goblet of Fire on audiobook back on November 8 with the idea that maybe just maybe by the time Deathly Hallows came out, I'd be up to that book.

As these books are pretty much iconic for my generation and those a little younger, I don't really have much new to add. Suffice it to say that I was always in the group that wholeheartedly enjoyed this books. I'm always surprised in revisiting each one with the details that I hadn't remembered, and the wonderful way in which seemingly passing references to characters or events would show up again in future stories. If you enjoy audiobooks, be sure to check out Jim Dale's performance - which I was listening to on my commute to work even while reading the book at home - which is truly superb.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Running the Books

by Avi Steinberg
New York : Nan A. Talese, c2010.

The last thing Avi expected to become was a prison librarian. This former Orthodox Jew without an MLS applied for the job because, well why not? It was full time and came with benefits, which was more than he could say for writing obits. But the job came with much more than the description in the ad could entail.

As a librarian in a public library, I usually skip over books that are about working at a library. It feels too much like bringing work home. This memoir intrigued me, however, reminding me of a class I look en route to my MLS on serving underserved populations. Our class even visited a prison library as a field trip. And, I figured, his job was different enough from mine not to feel like bringing work home.

Well, soon after starting this book I realized how much of an understatement that was. At first I was put off by his casual use of swear words and his attitude towards the religious life he left behind. After he got the job, however, I became fascinated with some of the details of his interactions with inmates, his struggles with "the right thing to do" in various situations, and what his job entailed. It's about as different as a job in the same field can possibly be; we both work with books and try to have materials on the shelves that interest our patrons, but that's about as far as the similarities go. The high stress of his job and the constant battle between serving the inmates and keeping the guards happy gets to him after awhile. The descriptions of prison life and the lifestyle and choice of the men and women who were in that prison are not pretty, and drained me just reading the book. By the time I got to the end, the book started to feel disjointed and hard to follow. I wasn't sure if I ran out of steam or the author did. Still, this is a profession that doesn't get a lot of notice, and I enjoyed this look into an aspect of librarianship that is often fraught with difficulty.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

All Clear

by Connie Willis
New York: Spectra, 2010.

The second half of the story begun in Blackout continues with Polly, Michael, and Eileen still stuck in London in 1940. As the Blitz continues, Polly and Michael start wondering if they've been changing events, something that they were taught historians couldn't do without endangering the space-time continuum. But what else might be keeping them from getting back to their own time?

Every time I sat down with this book I had to make sure that I had a good hour so I could get immersed in it, turning pages to find out more. Though the existence of time travel pegs this book as science fiction, most of the book takes place during the Blitz in 1940-41, highlighting both the events and place of London during the Blitz. As I told my sister, it's not the sort of book you can multitask with because it's not told linearly; events from 1944 and 2060 are interspersed with the main story. Polly constantly reminds Eileen - and the reader - this is time travel, so I suppose it's no surprise the order of events get complicated. Despite some repetition, I really enjoyed spending time with these characters, and would read it again in a heartbeat.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

by Grace Lin
narrated by Janet Song
New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2010.

Minli and her parents live in a poor village by Fruitless Mountain. Though her parents, Ma and Ba, work hard, they only make enough to have just enough rice for themselves. Minli's father tells her stories, but her mother doesn't think that the stories do anything but fill Minli's head with fanciful thinking. Then, Minli runs away to see if she can find the Old Man in the Moon - just like her father's stories say she can to change her fortune.

This story felt like one of those dolls that have a smaller one inside, on and on, until the very smallest is revealed at the center. In this tale, story after story after story is revealed in such a way that the reader slowly sees the connections. Despite Ma's feeling, this is truly a celebration of stories and their power. Minli's quest has a mythical feel to it, just like the stories Ba tells his family.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Silver Branch

by Rosemary Sutcliff
New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1993 (orig. copyright 1957).

When Justin, a Surgeon in the Eagles of Rome, is sent to Britain, he doesn't know what to expect. He soon finds a kinsman, Flavius, with whom he becomes fast friends. They uncover a possible plot against the Caesar Carausius, and attempting to warn him changes their lives forever.

This is the second of Rosemary Sutcliff's books that I've read, the second chronologically and third published in the Dolphin Ring series. Justin and Flavius are both related to a character from the previous book, and a key symbol from the first book returns as well. Sutcliff uses descriptive prose to carefully include historical details that add to the realistic feel of the book without ever packing in her research in a heavy-handed manner. The plot is impossible to describe; you get the feeling reading that she won't show you all her cards to the end, and then you'll know what it's all about. I do wish that I could have better understood the characters and their motivations, and I became annoyed with how often various occurrences or items in the story were referred to as "the thing." As in The Eagle of the Ninth, I felt that the dialog was a bit stilted. But when the book was in my hands, I still wanted to see where the story was going and kept reading to find out what would happen to Justin and Flavius.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Solomon's Oak

by Jo-Ann Mapson
New York: Bloomsbury, 2010.

*This book was received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. As per the rules, I receive a free book in return for a review, and whether it's positive or negative has no affect on my receiving books in the future.*

There was no other tree like it in California, yet estimates suggested the tree was 200 years old. Here, Glory took in dogs from the shelter and trained them for new homes. Here she and her husband, Dan, had taken in foster sons. Here Dan had built a chapel. Now, Dan is gone, and Glory is left alone until the day the pirates had a wedding in her chapel. On that day, the social worker, Caroline, brings her a lonely teenage girl, Juniper. The wedding seems to be going smoothly, until a sword fight brings an ex-cop onto the scene, and Glory asks him to take photographs. All three - Glory, Juniper, and Joseph - have been battling their demons, and slowly begin to form relationships with each other.

I haven't read this sort of fiction in awhile, but it has all the elements I loved in stories as a teenager - especially a foster child and grieving characters. There are no easy answers for any of them, but they each have to deal with tragedy in their own way and decide if and how to move on. As their relationships grow and more of their back stories are revealed, I grew to care very much about what happened to the Glory, Juniper and Joseph. Though it may seem at first glance to be a run-of-the-mill contemporary fiction, questions about loss and closure and what God thinks of human tragedy (if he exists) give you food for thought.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Freak the Mighty

by Rodman Philbrick
New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2005 (original copyright 1993).

Max describes himself as just a butthead before Kevin moved down the street. He lives with his grandparents in a room in a basement, or the "Down Under," keeps growing like crazy, and goes to LD classes. Then Kevin moves in. Max remembers him as "Freak" from daycare, a brilliant boy who's crippled by a body which grows on the inside, and not out. When these two boys begin a friendship, they become "Freak the Mighty."

When the audiobook I was listening to stopped working in my car CD player, I needed to find a fast replacement for my daily commute. This book had been on my radar since it was on the school summer reading lists, so I nabbed it at work. Elden Henson narrates; his name might sound familiar either from the Mighty Ducks movies or from the movie based on this book, "The Mighty." Max's voice will always sound like his in my head now. It took a little getting used to, but the narration was pitch-perfect for Max and his point of view. I enjoyed the characters, Max and Kevin (I can't help but think of him as "Freak" because that's how Max refers to him), as the two very different boys grow to be friends and go on "quests." Though the book is nearly 20 years old, it ages well with few references to outdated technology. I have a hard time explaining what the story is about without giving anything away, but it touches on friendship and family, truth and remembrance. It's not a story to give to kids impatient for stories to start off with a bang, but if they don't mind one that unfolds a bit slower, it's hugely rewarding.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Lost Hero

by Rick Riordan
New York: Disney/Hyperion, 2010.

First in the new Camp Half-Blood series, "Heroes of Olympus."

Jason wakes up on a bus with a girl, Piper, and a boy, Leo. They say they're his friends, and have very clear memories of him being with them, but Jason can't remember anything about them, or about himself. While he's trying to make sense of it all, storm spirits disrupt a school trip to the Grand Canyon, and a team led by Annabeth take Jason, Piper, and Leo to Camp Half-Blood. Their quest may just be the key to Jason's lost memories.

Readers of Percy Jackson and the Olympians may be a little disappointed to discover early on that Percy is missing. Give it a chance, though, and you'll find three more compelling demigods to cheer for. Though told in third person, the narrative switches among the points of view of Jason, Piper, and Leo. I rather wish that the chapters had not been named for the character whose point of view we were following at a given moment - unlike first-person narration, it wasn't hard to remember who was interpreting events at any given moment. Plus, the chapter titles were one of my favorite parts of the Percy Jackson series. But though there are a few one liners, this story is a little more serious in tone than the earlier Camp Half-Blood books, which makes sense since the characters we're following are a little older, too. This fast-paced read is one I would recommend without hesitation, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


by Jane Austen
part of an omnibus edition with Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Persuasion.

Though the Elliot family has a decent social standing, they are much reduced when Sir Walter, through profligate spending after his wife's death, must let his house and move to smaller accommodations in Bath. Anne Elliot, the middle daughter whose wishes are usually not sought and less regarding by her elder sister and father, stays behind for a time with her good friend and surrogate mother, Lady Russell. Several years ago, Lady Russell had counseled Anne to break an engagement with a young navy officer. Now, it appears that their acquaintance may be renewed when his sister and her husband begin renting the Elliot home, Kellynch Hall.

For some time, at least since I first picked up Pride and Prejudice at age 14, I have been planning on reading all of Jane Austen's novels. Of her completed novels, I only had Persuasion left. I was a little concerned that the very last of Austen's novels would be a bit of a disappointment, especially considering my attachment - by this time a sentimental one borne of many rereadings - to Pride and Prejudice. Anne's story is very hard to compare to Elizabeth's. She is older and less decided, perhaps, in her opinions. If I had to pick two words to describe Anne, it would be "constant," followed closely by "longsuffering" to put up with her sisters and father as she does. While Elizabeth would have made pointed and witty comments regarding the foibles of some of Anne's friends and family, the narrator must make these remarks and leave Anne to being polite even while she internally groans at their behavior. My prior reading had already familiarized me with the primary events of the plot, but as always the wry and witty narrative voice carries the most attraction for me, perhaps even above that of the cast of characters. While I cannot yet say that Persuasion supersedes Pride and Prejudice as my favorite of Jane Austen's novels, I surmise that a few rereadings will bring the two books closer together in my estimation.

Monday, November 1, 2010

History of the English Language

lectures by Professor Seth Lerer
Chantilly, VA : Teaching Co., c1998.

From Indo-European to modern scientific language, this is an overview of the English language, with particular focus on England, the United States, and examples from literature that show not only the language itself, but attitudes about proper usage and grammar.

I cannot pretend to be an expert, but I enjoy popular works on language, and this audio lecture series was no exception. Professor Lerer presents 36 college-level lectures. His delivery is smooth without sounding stilted or droning. Some audience response is also audible, making you feel like you're really sitting in on a lecture. I found the lectures extremely accessible, and found little overlap between the information presented and the Intro to Linguistics class that I took in college several years ago. I especially enjoyed the way in which Prof. Lerer uses literature to back up his points, quoting from such works as The Canterbury Tales, Shakespeare, the King James Bible, and Moby Dick. In fact, I was a little surprised to find that, yet again, reading leads to more reading and my TBR list has grown as a result.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Barefoot in Baghdad

by Manal M. Omar
Naperville, Ill. : Sourcebooks, c2010.

*This book was received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. As per the rules, I receive a free book in return for a review, and whether it's positive or negative has no affect on my receiving books in the future.*

Manal Omar is a Palestinian-American, a Muslim and a woman. When she was given the opportunity to work in Baghdad for an agency dedicated to providing women with training to allow them to be more financially independent and put their war-torn lives together, she felt uniquely qualified to do the job. Omar's story focuses primarily on her thoughts, feelings, interactions, and a few "outside" cases working for Women for Women International, a non-governmental agency (NGO) starting a branch in Iraq in 2003. As she spends time in Iraq, she finds herself attempting to negotiate between distinct worlds, and making compromises she never expected.

The memoir could have used more stringent editing, as there was some repetition of thought (even within the same paragraph), some awkward sentences, and sometimes minimal connection between the chapter headings and content. Despite this, Omar presents a broad spectrum of women in Iraq, from the elite and well-off to the poorer women she was drawn to help. She is up front with her political leanings, and stubborn to a fault about certain things. I sometimes wished that she would include facts or statistics to back up some of her broader, opinionated claims. Since I was expecting a story about her work for the international aid organization, I was surprised at the tight focus on Omar herself. I did not learn much about her regular work; instead, she focuses on interactions she has with staff, friends, and U.S. military in Iraq, as well as detailing a few of the cases considered outside the purview of her position. Towards the end of the memoir, however, I realized that this is more a reflection of her time in Iraq and the memories that haunt her rather than an enumeration of success stories.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Shape of Water

by Andrea Camillieri
New York : Viking, 2002 (published in Italy in 1994).

Two garbage collectors find a dead politician in a car parked on the notorious Pasture, the local place where people go to find a prostitute. Signor Lubarello died of a heart attack, but the situation surrounding his death suggests to Inspector Montalbano that all is not as it appears. He convinces the judge to let him continue his investigation, even though the death is apparently natural and all Montalbano has to go on is a hunch.

I never would have heard of this Italian police procedural if it hadn't been for Richardderus's recommendation based on my enjoyment of the Three Pines series. I don't read a lot of mysteries; I like them cozy, and I'm picky about it. Well, the Inspector Montalbano series is rougher around the edges than a cozy without going quite so far as the characters in The Maltese Falcon (I despised them, with no exceptions). Montalbano's informants are seedy people but trustworthy in their own fashion. Montalbano himself is not a saint, though he lives by his own code of ethics. Politics are dirty, allegiances are complicated, and it can be a little difficult to follow when you're as completely unfamiliar with Italian police and politics as I am. Even so, I was surprised that the seediness of some people and places didn't bother me more. Interactions between characters are believable and often humorous. The plot is fast-paced, keeping me reading late into the night to get just that much closer to the end, and intrigued me enough to want to continue the series.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Speak; or, Better Late than Never

by Laurie Halse Anderson
New York : Speak, 2009, c1999.

Over the summer, something happened to Melinda. Her friends won't talk to her because she called the cops during a party. Her grades are slipping; art is alright, but she's failing almost every other subject. Her parents are barely there, and when they're present, they're arguing. She doesn't talk more than she has to. Will Melinda be crushed, or be able to speak?

It's always a challenge to read a book that has so much buzz, expectation, both positive and negative comments surrounding it. Plus, Speak has been around long enough that I've meant to read it for years and I already knew what happened to Melinda. When I started reading, I was a little afraid that the book couldn't live up to my expectations or that knowing the crux of the plot would ruin its impact, but Melinda's voice pulled me in. I cared about her, I wanted to help her, but could only sit back and read and hope her character's change and growth meant that she could be healed.

**Spoiler Discussion** One of the reasons I checked it out from the library when I did was all the publicity surrounding the recent challenge by someone who called the rape scene "soft porn." So I read it with that in mind, too, and frankly I find that characterization ridiculous. The scene was one of the least-descriptive I've ever read, much more about the emotion of the character than any details, either grisly or titillating. (Not that I've read many - I'm comparing it with Just Listen and a rape scene in a book by Bodie Thoene, a Christian author who had much more detail included, though it was an adult book.) This is the type of book that, if I had gone through some of the same issues as Melinda, I would have wanted to read as a teen to see that I was not alone. Over ten years after its printing, Speak is still powerful, relevant, and a book I highly recommend.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


by Ingrid Law
New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Burlington, MA : Puffin ; Walden Media, 2010, c2008.

The Beaumont family is special. They each have a savvy - kind of like a knack for something, though in a big way, like Fish's ability to conjure up storms when water's nearby - that generally comes to them on their thirteenth birthday party. Mibs is about to turn thirteen, and she can't wait to find out what her savvy is. Then her father gets in a car accident, her mother and brother Rocket go to the hospital in Salina, and her birthday appears to be ruined. Running away from her unwanted birthday party at the church, Mibs ducks into a bus that has Salina written on it, figuring she'll make her way to the hospital to her father to help him with her new savvy. But a few extra passengers and a travel detour derail her plans.

In some ways, this story reminded me of tall tales. Everyone has a certain knack for something or a quirkiness to them, but in the Beaumont family, it's just one step beyond - yet not quite far enough to make the story a fantasy. Mibs is an engaging narrator, with every inventive adjective, alliteration and internal rhyme adding to the storytelling sound of the book. She was a fun heroine to cheer for as she came to know herself and, through her savvy, her family and new-found friends, Bobbi and Will. I'm just a teensy bit disappointed that the next book in the series, Scumble, is about her cousin.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


by Elizabeth Gaskell
Winnetka, CA : Norilana Books, 2008.

A young visitor recounts her adventures with some of the older ladies - primarily spinsters and widows - of Cranford as they live their lives in a charming small town.

My idea of Elizabeth Gaskell's writings was completely different from reality. I had read a couple of short stories as an English major, confused them, and had this image of Gaskell as the John Steinbeck of the Victorian Era. I overcame some reluctance to even add Cranford to my TBR list. And am I glad I did! This book is a delightful, episodic tale of a small town and its inhabitants. The narrator often stays with Miss Matty while visiting the town, so many of the events involve this lady in some way or another. As I think about the book, I'm realizing that very little actually happens by way of plot, but the characters are by turns sweet, funny, and quirky. The story gives a picture of small town life in general as well as the class distinctions of its time period in an amusing, rather than depressing, way. Cranford has definitely convinced me to try more by this author.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Unusual Suspects

by Michael Buckley
Prince Frederick, Md. : Recorded Books, p2006.

Series: The Sisters Grimm, Book 2

Sisters Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have been living with their grandmother for three weeks. In that time, they fought off a giant, learned the secret of Ferryport Landing, and have been researching how to free their parents by consulting the vast number of fairy tales collected by their families. Yes, they are descendants of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, and now they have to begin the most annoying mission of all: going to school.

As in the first book, the prologue takes an exciting moment of the climax, suddenly stopping to start the story from the beginning until that portion of the story makes sense and it is repeated nearly word for word - only now we understand its significance. The series is a fun blend of fantasy and mystery, with some odd characters thrown in for good measure. The girls' social worker really gets me, though, she's downright abusive at times and her entire discussion with the grandmother about school seemed forced and not actually legal, I think. A bit extreme. But once the story got going, and I started meeting some of the new fantasy characters - it's always fun trying to recognize old characters with a new spin on them - I really enjoyed the story and the humor. In the end, I liked it even better than the first book, and I'm looking forward to starting The Problem Child soon.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Eagle of the Ninth

by Rosemary Sutcliff
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993 (originally published in 1954).

Thirty years previous the Ninth Hispana, a legion in the Roman army in Britain in the 2nd century AD, went to the north country and disappeared. Now, Marcus Aquila, a Cohort Centurion, requests Britain as his first assignment because his father was among that legion and he would like the opportunity to solve the mystery of their disappearance. Perhaps he can even recover the Eagle, the symbol of the legion and the lack of which has meant the Ninth never reformed. But an injury leaves Marcus with little choice but to leave the legion, unsure that his purpose in coming can ever be fulfilled.

I've said before that I tend to be more analytical with stories that I'm not fully immersed in. Well, with this book I was analyzing throughout, but as I think about it more, I wonder if it's like the chicken and the egg problem - what came first, my analyzing keeping me from getting thoroughly immersed or my lack of immersion causing me to keep my interest by analysis? You see, I went into this book ripe for analyzing on so many fronts: What makes Rosemary Sutcliff's historical fiction so compelling to her fans? Will her influence on future authors like Megan Whalen Turner be apparent? How will the ring show up? Why is this classified as children's literature? After reading, I don't know the answers to all these questions, but they were what I was wondering as I read. This historical fiction is the first in a series, and set in a time I was unfamiliar with - the Roman occupation of Britain around 130 AD. Sutcliff's writing is full of rich descriptions and slowly unfolds her plot. The dialog between characters seemed a little stilted to me, and I wasn't sure if it was because she was trying to suit the time period with a touch of old-fashioned speech or because of the time she was writing in (1950s - and there was a reference to "making love" in the old-fashioned sense that made me laugh). Because of descriptive writing and lack of a fast-paced beginning, the age of the characters, and the exploration of what motivates Marcus to look for the Eagle, I am still shaking my head over its characterization as a children's book. I have a hard time coming up with a young audience for this book (not that this would be the first time that I'm wrong). Though there is no language or sex or even much violence to put parents off, I would more likely recommend it to teens or adults that enjoy historical fiction with a rich sense of place.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

by Allison Hoover Bartlett
New York : Riverhead Books, 2009.

The world of rare books can be a strange place to those not given to collecting or interested in books-as-objects rather than holders of information. In fact, it's quite an impressive business and has the thievery rate to show for it. When a friend showed her an old book that was apparently stolen from a library some time ago, Allison Hoover Bartlett was intrigued enough to look into the rare book business, collecting, and stealing. In particular, she heard about one thief, John Gilkey, who stole quite a bit to keep for his own personal use rather than to resell, and the man who worked as security chair for the ABAA, Ken Sanders.

Much of the information comes from Gilkey himself, as well as Ken Sanders and other book dealers. Bartlett also enters the narrative, as she describes her reaction to some of Gilkey's comments, her experience going to a rare books fair, and ethical dilemmas she wrestles with as a reporter. Though I found much of the beginning ruminations on collecting repetitive, and wished the narrative covered more details of the psychology behind the desire to obtain rare books or other collections, this is a nonfiction book that reads quickly and one I would recommend to anyone who would like a glimpse of the rare book trade.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Mrs. Mike

by Benedict and Nancy Freedman
New York: Berkley Books, 2002 (original copyright 1947).

In the early 1900s, sixteen-year-old Katherine Mary moves to Canada to live with her uncle, hoping that the air will help her pleurisy. She meets Sergeant Mike Flannigan, a Mountie. He makes her mad with her teasing, but as she confides in her new friend, Mildred, "he has eyes so blue you could swim in them." When they marry, duty calls him to the North, where there are few white women and being a Mountie isn't so much being a policeman as it is peacemaker and doctor.

This was a sweet, sad, but hopeful tale. I enjoyed Kathy and Mike and their growing relationship as the years pass and they go through various experiences in their married lives. Having just read The Egypt Game and The Summer of My German Soldier, I couldn't help but notice how this book from the 1940s dealt with race. "Mrs. Mike" lives in a territory where there are primarily trappers and Indian women, and her opinions include historically accurate generalizations, such as when she wonders about introducing strikes to the Indian women, but concludes that they're "savages and wouldn't understand." Yet the portrayal of some of the individual characters, especially when compared to some of their white counterparts, give a much more nuanced picture. Though Kathy's spoken opinions never say as much, one can see a difference in the way she responds to characters in given situations as she continues to live and work with Indians and half-Indians. This is a story I would definitely read again, and I'm going to look for the sequels as well.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Summer of My German Soldier

by Bette Greene
New York: Dial Press, 1974.

Patty Bergen is a twelve-year-old Jewish girl growing up in Jenkinsville, Arkansas during World War 2, the summer that German POWs are imprisoned right outside of town. She's a lonely girl who tries to be good so her parents will love her, but nothing she does seems to turn out right. Then, several POWs come to her father's store, and she begins a friendship with one of them, a young man named Anton Reiker who speaks English and isn't really a Nazi at all.

I'm not really sure what I expected when I picked this book up, but I found the story surprising in many ways. The book was originally published in 1973, and I couldn't help but compare the way race was dealt with in this story versus The Egypt Game, which was published in the 1960s. Patty's family is described as not having a lot of money, but Patty and her sister Sharon are looked after by a black woman, Rose, who lives in "Nigger Bottoms." I'm fairly sure that the use of the word "nigger" in this example and others was historically accurate, but I still found it jarring when I came across it. On the other hand, the people Patty loves most are Rose and Anton, a fact that's clearly not socially acceptable in the 1940s when the story is set. I was also surprised by the presence of child abuse, an issue I did not expect to see addressed in a children's book of its era. The age difference between Patty and Anton was a little shocking, and I dearly wanted an "Author's Note" at the end to explain whether or not some of the events could have (or did) happen, but no such luck. When I first started reading, I wasn't exactly taken by the story, but it grew on my as Patty herself, narrating the story started to grow on me too.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bury Your Dead

by Louise Penny
New York : Minotaur Books, 2010.

This is the sixth book in the Three Pines / Inspector Gamache series and necessarily has spoilers for previous books. Here are my reviews for the previous books in the series: Still Life, A Fatal Grace, The Cruelest Month, A Rule Against Murder, and The Brutal Telling.

Inspector Gamache is taking a leave of absence from the Surete, after an incident that scars him, both physically and emotionally. He is the old city of Quebec, spending time with his old mentor and browsing the shelves of the Literary and Historical Society, a library that keeps a collection of English historical materials. When a man fixated on Samuel de Champlain is killed in the basement of the "Lit and His," Gamache helps the local police with their investigation. Meanwhile, he has daily received letters from Gabri, friendly, but insistent that Olivier did not kill the hermit.

My sister has this habit of keeping books so she can read them over - not usually the whole thing, but portions here and there, reading the beginning, or a favorite chapter, or the ending over again. Now that I've finished Bury Your Dead, I understand a little better why she would do that. The story lines - the historical and current mystery Gamache works on, Beauvoir's story, and the revelation of just what happened to cause Gamache to take a leave of absence - are expertly intertwined and perfectly paced. I experienced a range of emotions following these characters, coming the closest I have in years to crying over a book. I want to start all over again to tease out the details and start to understand the chronology of some events that are given out piecemeal, in an order dictated by what I need to know about the characters and their choices rather than a time frame. An incredibly satisfying read that will stay with me a long time, Bury Your Dead is, in my opinion, the best of this series so far.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Egypt Game

by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
New York: Yearling Book, 2004 (c. 1967).

When April moves in with her grandmother, she meets Melanie and Marshall Ross. April and Melanie become fast friends, discovering a shared delight in reading and imaginative games, and both become fascinated with Ancient Egypt. In a neighbor's abandoned yard, they begin playing the Egypt Game, using their knowledge of Ancient Egypt and imagination to create altars and rituals in an elaborate game. But their play is threatened when a local child is murdered, and there's a possibility that the guilty person is someone they know.

I chose this as my read for Banned Books Week, curious to see what sorts of rituals and descriptions might make someone react so strongly as to challenge this book just in the past year. I'd expected a fantasy where the gods came to life, and ancient rituals were described in detail. I'm still somewhat baffled, because what I found was a book steeped in imaginative play that reminded me of the games I used to play with my friends, cousins, and neighbors. In fact, reading the book became more of an experience of walking down memory lane, remembering how we played games based on movies or TV shows that we would stop to discuss who was getting eaten by dinosaurs, or if which dinosaur we were calling on for super powers. The descriptions of the kids' imagination, discussions, and power plays for making game decisions, were quite realistic. I was also surprised that a book written in the 60s has aged extremely well. Though I laughed at some of the kids' expressions ("Sheesh!" reminded me of another friend from my childhood...), for the most part their story could have been one that happened in almost any small town neighborhood. Also, the main characters are white, African American, Asian American, and more, quite a varied cast for its time. I seriously wonder what book the challenger was reading, because it doesn't appear to be at all like the one I read.

And while it may be a little on the young side, as four of the characters are 12, it just barely squeaks in to count towards the YA Through the Decades challenge for my 1960s read.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Touch Blue

by Cynthia Lord
New York : Scholastic Press, 2010.

Tess lives on an island off the coast of Maine, and she can't imagine any other life than hers, going to the one room schoolhouse where her mother teacher and fishing lobster with her father. But year-round islanders have been moving to the mainland, leaving fewer and fewer kids on the island. To keep their school from closing, a few families decide to take in foster kids, keeping the numbers up enough to satisfy the state. Aaron comes to live with Tess, her sister Libby, and their parents. Tess and Libby imagine what it might be like to have Aaron live with him, but neither of them expect what actually happens that summer.

I read Newbery Honor-winning Rules by the same author a few years ago, so I was really excited to see a new book out by Cynthia Lord. This is the sort of story that I enjoyed reading as a child when, much like Tess, I was reading The Great Gilly Hopkins and Anne of Green Gables. Tess narrates the story, sharing her fears about moving to the mainland, her nervousness about friends, and her attempts at finding good luck. When she misunderstood some of Aaron's actions, I cringed with sympathy for both, understanding (as an adult, especially) where they were coming from. A sweet story I would recommend to readers who enjoy character-driven realistic fiction.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Red Pyramid

by Rick Riordan
New York: Disney/Hyperion, 2010.

Carter and Sadie Kane are brother and sister, but they've been apart for the last several years. After their mother died, Sadie went to live with her grandparents in England, while Carter traveled along with his Egyptologist father. Now it's Christmas Eve, one of the two days Sadie gets to spend with her father and Carter, and he takes them to the British Museum. But when a magical spell goes completely wrong, Sadie and Carter have to find a way to save their father, defeat Set, and keep chaos from breaking loose.

In a similar vein to the Percy Jackson books,The Red Pyramid re-imagines Egyptian mythology as true and present tense. In this case, the gods have been banished for ages and are starting to be released. Instead of focusing on one character's perspective, we see both Carter and Sadie's as they switch back and forth every couple of chapters in a "recording" that we are privy to. This starts of rather cryptically with a reference to the reader, telling you to go to a particular locker and find an object that they have stashed away. Otherwise, the pace was a little slow building (again, I'm comparing this to Percy Jackson, which often started off with an explosion), slowly revealing details, often laying out mythological explanations a bit bluntly instead of expecting the reader to catch on. To be honest, I probably would not have caught on without these explanations in the same way I did with the Greek mythology that is much more present in literary and cultural references. Carter and Sadie were believable characters, and their sibling relationship was realistic and fun to see develop. I'll be looking for the next book in the series.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lord Sunday

by Garth Nix, narrated by Allan Corduner
New York : Random House/Listening Library, 2010.

The final book in the Keys to the Kingdom series starts where Superior Saturday left off - Arthur, having just wrested the sixth key from Saturday, is falling, while Leaf is still in East Area Hospital after a nuclear strike. Not fully a denizen nor mortal any longer, Arthur must battle only one more trustee to complete the Will of the Architect.

As exciting as the rest of the series, Lord Sunday wraps up everything in a fitting way that still took me completely by surprise. The ending in particular is staying in my head as I think through the implications. I think I'm going to have to go back and read the last few chapters to make sure I understood, and didn't miss anything (odd, isn't it, to be saying all along I prefer the series in audio and then finding I need to read the ending again?). I'm starting to think of the entire story arc a little differently in retrospect.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Clockwork Angel

by Cassandra Clare
New York : Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010.

London, 1878. Two Shadowhunters, Will and Jem, find a girl dead on the street, apparently attacked by a demon. Tessa, an American girl travels to London to meet her brother after their aunt dies, is taken prisoner and forced to Change. She thought she was just an ordinary girl, but she learns that she has the ability, once she has held the possession of a person, living or dead, to Change into that person in appearance and thought. Though this ability scares her, the women holding her threaten her with her brother Nate's safety if she does not do what she's told - marry the Magister.

This is the first in a new series by the author of The Mortal Instruments, and a prequel of sorts to the same. The Clockwork Angel could be read first, but the explanation of the existence and purpose of Shadowhunters - or Nephilim - may be a little confusing as an introduction rather than a reminder, and the names of characters will not resonate quite so much with readers who are unfamiliar with their (apparent) descendants. This fast-paced story blends urban fantasy, vampires and werewolves, and just a touch of steampunk. The characters are compelling, and I had a much harder time figuring out some plot points than I did with The Mortal Instruments. I loved the references to literature and poetry of the Victorian era as well, and am now eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shades of Milk and Honey

by Mary Robinette Kowal
New York : Tor, 2010.

Jane and Melody are sisters in need of husbands in a time when propriety was everything and estates were entailed away. Lovely Melody seems to have an interest in either Mr. Dunkirk or Captain Livingston, the nephew of Lady FitzCameron. Jane hopes to attract the notice of Mr. Dunkirk herself; she may be plain, but she is quite an accomplished lady, not least in the ability to work glamour.

Yes, you read right. In this Austenesque fantasy, working magic - known as "glamour" - is an art much like painting or music that could be added to a woman's (or man's) repertoire. For example, when Mr. Vincent and Jane discuss the use and appreciation of glamour, the basic tenets could also apply to art or literature. Mr. Vincent claims, "Illusions should be entrancing without someone looking behind the scenes to see how they are made. Would you enjoy a play if you saw the mechanicals exposed? For me it is much the same. I want the illusion to remain whole. If someone thinks about how it is done, I have failed in my art" (92). Jane, on the other hand, disagrees: "I have always thought that an educated audience would more fully appreciate the effort which went into creating a piece of art" (92).

These principles are especially interesting to consider when one realizes that the author often cleverly nods to Jane Austen while creating an original story that succeeds even when you are not familiar with Austen's work. Would I have enjoyed it had I never read Pride and Prejudice or Northanger Abbey? Yes. Would I have fully appreciated it with no knowledge of Austen? Probably not. While I could see Austen's influence, I never felt that I was reading a copycat. But Mr. Vincent has a point - when I'm writing a paper in my head (one never stops being an English major), it generally means that the story hasn't captured me entirely. I often find experimental stories frustrating because they force me to focus on the mechanics. When I'm really enjoying a story, I'm not worrying about mechanics or analysis, "I want the illusion to remain whole."

Do you think the arts succeed most when you're not thinking about the mechanics, or do you get more out of a book or painting or what have you by analyzing and appreciating? Or is it somewhere in between?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Superior Saturday

by Garth Nix, narrated by Allan Corduner
New York: Random House / Listening Library, 2008.

In the sixth book of the Keys to the Kingdom series, Arthur is finally matched up against the Trustee who has been the most trouble for him - Superior Saturday, whose goal all along has been to reach the Incomparable Gardens which are (in her opinion, unfairly) Lord Sunday's domain. Arthur is on Earth returning Lady Friday's sleepers, when he receives a call from his brother that the hospital is going to be nuked. He manages to at least delay the attack, but knows he has to return to the House to have any hope of making things right on his own world.

The symbolism hinted in the previous stories comes to the fore in this one. Superior Saturday's attempt at reaching the Incomparable Gardens reminds me of Lucifer in some ways, the gardens themselves very like Eden. Also, while Saturday has been the most trouble for Arthur all along (Dusk coming to the Pit in [Grim Tuesday], for example), we see that Arthur also has issues with pride, struggling with the rage that wells up when he feels he is not given his due by a lesser being. I had not previously listened to or read this Keys to the Kingdom book, so being slightly distracted on a few car trips meant that I kind of missed some parts. Even so, it was a good story and (perhaps in part because of my distraction) I would definitely revisit it.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


by Gail Carriger
New York: Orbit, 2010.

The third highly-anticipated book (for me, at least!) in the Alexia Tarabotti series begins with Lady Maccon once again living with her appalling family because her husband, Earl of Woolsey and werewolf Alpha, has kicked her out. Alexia is pregnant, you see, a state that scientists agree would be impossible as her husband is not exactly living, and she herself as a preternatural never expected what she has dubbed the infant-inconvenience. The vampires seem to know more about it than she does, however, because they want her dead.

While I enjoyed reading more adventures of Alexia, Lord Maccon, Professor Lyall, Ivy Tunstell (nee Hisselpenny), and the rest, I did not enjoy Blameless quite as much as the previous titles in the series. Perhaps this has more to do with my expectations than the story itself. I expected certain plot threads to take more time than they did to resolve, and was taken aback by how much time is spent figuring out why Alexia is pregnant and what that means for the supernatural community. Personally, since the fact that she is pregnant is a given, I was less interested in the how. I enjoyed the over-the-top humor as always, and was intrigued by the hints that Ivy is not quite as harebrained as we may have been led to believe. I will be looking forward to the publication of Heartless, the next book in the series, due out in July of next year.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Library at Night

by Alberto Manguel
New Haven : Yale University Press, 2008.

You know those books that you finish, and you liked it so well that you can hardly say why? This was one of those books for me, but here's my best attempt:

I so enjoyed this book, an homage to libraries of all sorts - personal, public, national, and even imaginary. Each chapter is almost an essay in its own right, though Manguel often builds on thoughts from one to the next. This book was as much over my head when it came to literature as Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time was over my head in science (and I was an English major!). Manguel's erudition often intimidated me, yet he is never stuffy. His musings become an interesting mix of philosophy, history, and literary criticism that made me wish my mental library was a little closer to his so that I could follow more of his thoughts. I most loved the book when he was meandering, talking about personal libraries or love of books, and I wish the book was my own so I could underline passages or revisit it whenever I like.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lady Friday

by Garth Nix, narrated by Allan Corduner
New York: Listening Library, 2007.

As the fifth in the Keys to the Kingdom series, there are necessarily **spoilers** for the earlier titles.

Arthur Penhaligon is fresh from his triumph in the Great Maze, taking control of the fourth Key and fighting the Piper and his band of New Niths. He received a missive from Lady Friday saying that she has abdicated, leaving the Will and the fifth Key for Superior Saturday, the Piper, and Arthur to duke it out. Arthur must continue on his journey to take control of the keys, all the while trying to use as little sorcery as possible so that he can stay human, and trying to figure out if he can trust his old friend, Suzy Turquoise Blue, since the Piper could potentially control her actions.

Looking back on my reading log, I realized that I had only read the book before and had never listened to the audio. So this was a reread but a first-time listen for me, though I had forgotten most of the story since. Allan Corduner narrates these stories pitch perfectly, and I was initially surprised that I had remembered not liking the book as much as the others. The story moves along at a steady clip, Arthur's struggle to do the right thing while avoiding becoming a Denizen is compelling, and then I got to the end and realized why I had liked it less than the others. For the most part, this is an excellent book but the ending fell rather flat for me. Still, I have Superior Saturday at the ready, and I'm looking forward to finishing the series with the two books that I have never read.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Montana 1948

by Larry Watson
Minneapolis, MN : Milkweed Editions, 1993.

Now a middle-aged man, David Hayden recounts the summer of 1948, when he was twelve years old, and the events that affect him and his family deeply, even into his adulthood.

This short (175 pages) but powerful book has everything: complex characters, a sense of place, moral ambiguity, coming of age. The prose flows so you don't want to stop and lose its thread. I can't summarize it and I'm having trouble describing it. I'm not sure I liked it, but it's compelling. I'm not sure I liked the characters, but they were so real. I have no knowledge of the time and place depicted, but while I was reading I felt like I was there. Though I may not consider it a "favorite," it's definitely one of the most memorable books I've read so far this year.

Monday, August 30, 2010


by Suzanne Collins
New York: Scholastic Press, 2010.

If you haven't read the first two books in the trilogy, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, this is a **spoiler warning** for those titles.

**Some spoilers for Mockingjay ahead** - I tried to limit spoilers in my discussion of Mockingjay, but I am talking about themes and some events that come later on, so read at your own risk.

Katniss is adjusting to life in District 13. With its strict schedules, rules about food, and careful procedures for life underground, she's finding it rather restricting. The rebels of District 13, in waging a propaganda war against the Capitol to provoke uprising, want to make Katniss into their symbol as the Mockingjay. She isn't sure if she wants to be a piece in their games anymore than a participant in the Hunger Games - but in this situation, how much choice does she have?

In many ways, the tone of this book surprised me. The first surprise was that Katniss has been living in District 13 for a month and we learn about some of the changes to her life, and her reaction to the destruction of District 12, retrospectively. The other surprise is how much of the war is occurring elsewhere. Katniss is a symbol rather than a major player for much of the story, so the main focal point is not the plot but her character. What do you compromise in war, and who loses? What do you do when you don't fully agree with either side, and what are you personally responsible for as a result of others' choices and use of power? All in all, this wasn't what I was expecting, but I continued to be interested in the characters and their choices to the end.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Catching Fire

by Suzanne Collins
New York: Scholastic, 2009.

If you haven't read the first in the trilogy, The Hunger Games, this is a **spoiler warning** for that title.

Though the Hunger Games are over, Katniss is still in danger. The government is watching her, believing her attempt to eat the poisonous berries with Peeta to be an act of defiance and a possible spark setting off revolution in the Districts. The President himself threatens her family if Katniss can't play her role as a lovesick young woman well. But she didn't ask for revolution, and she just wants to run away and be safe with her family and friends.

Once again, the tension builds as events in Katniss' life swirl out of her control. Though the story starts out slower than The Hunger Games, there is still a pervading sense of unease because of the threats to Katniss, her family, and her District. The government isn't giving out any news of uprising, but Katniss is able to put together enough information that you realize there's much more going on beyond what she knows. The intensity in the story builds as we learn about the Quarter Quell, the special Hunger Games that occurs every 25 years, leaving me breathless by the end and extremely glad that I have Mockingjay here ready to go.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oath of Gold

by Elizabeth Moon
New York: Baen Books, 1989.

As the third book in a trilogy, my review for this book necessarily has **spoilers** for the first two books. See my reviews of Sheepfarmer's Daughter (book 1) and Divided Allegiance (book 2).

After her capture by iynisin and subsequent debilitating fear, Paks has been wandering for some time when she finds herself back at Brewersbridge. Not sure where to go, she seeks refuge with the Kuakgan. Can he heal her where Marshals of Gird failed? Can she be used for good in the land if courage fails her?

In many ways, the story begun in Sheepfarmer's Daughter comes full circle in Oath of Gold. One of my worries reading the first two books was that the episodic style made it hard to see the overarching storyline, but this story ties up plot lines while bringing to light in the importance of earlier events in the larger scheme of things. Despite the battle scenes in the first book, this book had more disturbingly violent moments for me, sending me skimming through some passages. I had a moment, about 50 pages or so in the middle, where I got a little bored because someone's true identity was clear to me before it was to Paks, and even then it was a major plot point that made me wonder what could happen for the next 200 pages to keep my interest. But that was a bump in a generally enjoyable ride. Paks' character truly develops over the course of this novel, and it was fun to see her progression not only in this one book but in the trilogy as a whole.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Lumby Lines

by Gail Fraser
New York: New American Library (a division of Penguin Books), 2007, 2005.

Mark and Pam Walker are vacationing in the Northwest, discussing where they want to go next in life. Mark's ready to retire from the corporate world; Pam's not so sure. Then, the couple comes across a monastery that was shut down and damaged in a fire. They decide to move from Virginia to the small town of Lumby to renovate the monastery and turn it into an inn.

This is a gentle read focusing on character - and there are some quirky ones at that! I found it pleasant and entertaining, especially enjoying the details of renovation. Descriptions of Hank, the flamingo that's given an appropriate wardrobe for what's going on at various points in the story, and news clippings from the local paper, the eponymous Lumby Lines infuse the narrative with humor.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sir Thursday

by Garth Nix
narrated by Allan Corduner
New York: Listening Library, 2006.

Arthur Penhaligon is determined to hold on to the third key while he and his friend Leaf return to Earth. But the front door cannot let him through because a spirit eater - a Nithling very like Arthur himself - has taken his place in the world. Leaf goes back to try to defeat the Nithling, while Arthur is drafted into the Glorious Army of the Architect, which means he must travel to Sir Thursday's domain, the Great Maze.

Continuing my reread of the Keys to the Kingdom, I realized that this particular title had the most I remembered in it. I remembered the maze and the tile movements, "washing between the ears," and the spirit eater. I didn't remember how Arthur's challenges were solved, however, so much of the reading felt like a new experience to me. I continue to notice more symbolism and details than before. I love that Suzy and Leaf are such well-drawn characters and Arthur, though a reluctant hero, has enough of a backbone when pressed with the Will with an agenda of its own that I enjoy cheering him on.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Everything Austen: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen
New York : Modern Library, 2002.

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland is not your typical heroine, as our narrator forewarns us. Her father is respectable, her mother is not of a sickly constitution. When Catherine is allowed to go to Bath with family friends, she is excited by the prospect of all the adventures that may befall her. But as readers, and Catherine herself, discover - she is not in a Gothic novel.

When I first attempted to read Northanger Abbey in my teens I was, I confess, much like Catherine myself. Much of the banter of characters and narrator was over my head. I didn't remember that there was sarcasm, much less humor, in conveying Catherine's story, and I daresay I must have taken much of it at face value and abandoned the book out of boredom (and the necessity of library due dates). But now a little older, more familiar with literature if not the exact Gothic novels which Jane Austen is skewering, and much more adept at picking up on when the narrator was laughing at our heroine, I found the story a much smoother read. At times, I laughed out loud over Catherine's propensity for viewing events in convoluted ways suggested by her novel reading. This is atypical of Austen's style. Though witty, the sarcasm is much more pointed than I remember her other novels, such as Pride and Prejudice. I was often laughing at the heroine instead of with her, though it was endearing to see how readily she believed the best of other people.

I am now pondering how I shall place it in the hierarchy of the five Austen novels I have read. Pride and Prejudice is first, followed by Emma. Mansfield Park is last in my book, though unlike some I didn't hate it, I just didn't love it either. I need to refresh my memory of Sense and Sensibility to determine whether I would rank Northanger Abbey above or below it, but from what I can remember now they're neck and neck for third place.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins
New York : Scholastic Press, 2008.

In a future North America, twelve Districts now exist, each providing two "tributes" - a boy and a girl - for the annual Hunger Games. The Capitol reminds each District of its power and the futility of uprising by requiring the twenty-four tributes to kill each other on national television. District 12, which provides coal and is the poorest of the districts, has only one living winner and is not expected to do well. Then, Katniss Everdeen volunteers herself in place of her younger sister.

Intense. That's the word left in my mind after finishing this story, narrated by Katniss herself. The author uses Katniss's narrative to convey details of the world in a very natural way - reflecting on memories or history lessons - making it flow with the story without overwhelming the reader. Given the premise, I was a little afraid of a bloodbath, but since this is young adult literature I was, thankfully, spared most of the gory details. Katniss is the type of heroine you're behind all the way. She is not perfect, but she struggles with what she must do and knowing what is right. I'm waiting with bated breath for the next book to come back to the library.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tongues of Serpents

by Naomi Novik
New York : Ballantine Books, 2010.

If you haven't read the first five books in the Temeraire series, this is a **spoiler warning** for those titles.

Temeraire and Laurence have been convicted of treason and transported to New South Wales, Australia. Arriving, they find that the political situation at the penal colony is in disarray - the troops staged a coup and overthrew the governor, who wants to be in power. Both sides want Laurence's backing, and he's not sure how best to navigate through the political turmoil without giving up his own high standards. Temeraire also has dragon eggs brought along to attempt the creation of a colony, and he only hopes that one won't open for the wrong sort of person.

I have been looking forward to Temeraire and Laurence's continued adventures ever since I finished Victory of Eagles a couple of summers ago. To be entirely fair, my expectations for this story were extremely high, so when I say that the story did not live up to them, this is not as harsh a judgment as it might otherwise have been. I like the relationship between Temeraire and Laurence as it has developed, and I love Iskierka and her banter with Granby or Temeraire. These are characters I love to spend time with, even when I was less than enthralled with the plot. I wished there were more interactions between the dragons, because that was my favorite part. Even the weakest in this series is a worthwhile read, and I'm already looking forward to the next.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Real Romeo and Juliet

by Anne Fortier
New York: Ballantine Books, 2010.

*This book was received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. As per the rules, I receive a free book in return for a review, and whether it's positive or negative has no affect on my receiving books in the future.*

When Julie Jacobs' aunt dies, she received a letter that reveals her name is truly Giulietta Tolomei, a descendant of the real-life families that inspired Romeo and Juliet: the Tolomeis and the Salembenis. Her mother, Diane, had left behind a box with more information for her to find. Leaving her twin sister behind, Julie - or Giulietta - travels to Siena, Italy to follow the clues her mother left behind. She also meets members of the Salembeni, Eva Maria and her godson, Alessandro. As she becomes more and more wrapped up in the story of the previous Giulietta Tolomei and her love, Romeo Marescotti, Julie doesn't know whom to trust or who is telling her the truth.

I was most interested in the historical, literary angle of the book, and the sections set in 1340 worked best for me. The rest was in Julie's voice, and I didn't really connect with her as a narrator, especially in her description of her twin sister, Janice, and their relationship. Fortier's decision to narrate the story in first person also took away some of the tension, since it is very unlikely that the narrator will die. Though a fairly well-paced plot, I never really felt invested in the characters nor did I fully buy the modern-day romance. The narration is sprinkled with similes, some of which were fresh but many of which were unnecessary and only served to make the story feel even more over the top than it already was. A quick and fun summer story.

The book will be for sale on August 17, 2010.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

by Jeanne Birdsall
narrated by Susan Denaker
New York : Listening Library, 2008.

The Penderwicks sisters' mother died when Batty was a baby, but before she died she asked her husband's sister to give him a letter. When Aunt Claire comes over, bringing the letter that asks Mr. Penderwick to start dating again, the sisters cook up the "Save Daddy Plan" to keep their father from getting remarried.

This story is as funny as the first book about sisters Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. Though the plot is more predictable the older the reader, I had fun anticipating what was going to happen. I really enjoyed listening to Susan Denaker's narration of the audiobook because she interprets each character well and adds to the humor with her delivery.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Essays of E.B. White

by E.B. White
New York : Perennial Classics, 1999.

This collection of thirty-one essays by E.B. White is as delightful as it is varied. The essays are arranged by subject - the farm, the city, and memories, to name a few - but even within these subjects, the collection showcases the breadth of White's thoughts and interests. In one, he discusses "The Death of a Pig," a short but powerful piece that gave me a glimpse of the man who would save the pig in Charlotte's Web. In another, he wrestles with the troubles of hydrogen bomb testing and disarmament, never giving a definite Answer, but provoking thought in himself and his reader.

I took several weeks to read these essays, not out of any lack of enjoyment but because of the need to savor each and pause between them. I've come to the conclusion that collections like this need to be owned rather than borrowed so that I can take my time and muse over each one instead of trying to hurry through and evaluate the book as a whole. I loved White's sense of humor, which permeates every essay and includes a few good one liners about politics, "progress," and even himself. In the foreword, he writes, "The essayist is a self-liberated man, sustained by the childish belief that everything he thinks about, everything that happens to him, is of general interest." Though I can't say much about general interest, I can say that this collection was to my interest, and I would love to own this collection to dip into whenever I like.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Brutal Telling

by Louise Penny
New York : Minotaur Books, 2009.

There's murder in Three Pines again, but this time the man killed was an outsider, and all evidence points to the realization that the murderer is most likely one of the characters we've come to know and love throughout the series.

This is an exceptionally difficult read to discuss without spoilers, because it leaves me wanting to talk about the book with someone who knows it, to mull over the end, heck, to read the next book in the series (which unfortunately is not due out until the end of September). Suffice it to say that while it took me awhile to get into the story, it has a sort of building dread rather than a building pace. Looking forward to the next one!

Monday, July 26, 2010

YA Through the Decades: Pre-1930s

by Jean Webster
New York : Grosset & Dunlap, 1912.

Jerusha is an orphan at the John Grier home, a teen who has worked for her room and board since graduating early from high school. When one of the orphanage trustees anonymously provides her with money for college, she has the opportunity of a lifetime. Her story is conveyed in the letters she sends her benefactor - whom she calls Daddy-Long-Legs after a glimpse of his tall shadow - as she grows to know the wide world beyond the orphanage.

This book was written in 1912, and I couldn't help but make comparisons to the story of another orphan, published only four years before. Like Anne Shirley, Jerusha is full of life and humor, quirky phrases, and sometimes swinging from emotional highs to the depths of despair. She never knew a family, and she wants to be an authoress. But there are substantial differences as well. The format is almost entirely letters, and the author often calls attention to the fact that this is a story - Jerusha, who quickly renames herself Judy, often makes comments like "if we were in a storybook" or "if we were story characters." Judy also talks more about what she's learning academically, discussing such subjects as languages, biology, and philosophy. She has rather more progressive politics than Anne, who, I daresay, would find some of Jerusha's educated opinions shocking (and Rachel Lynde would have found them downright blasphemous).

I kept thinking about audience as I read this book. While it's so innocent, I could see it being a middle-school-age young adult novel now, I think it was really intended for what I think of as a "young adult" age group when we're not talking about books and marketing. That is, the 18-25-year-old crowd, about the age of Judy herself over the course of the novel. Webster clearly intends her audience to be at least somewhat familiar with the books that Judy mentions, and I think she intends her readers to be somewhat more knowledgeable than Judy herself, who is rather naive in many ways. I wonder if this book has a somewhat limited audience today? I've been pondering that question, and I'm not sure I have the answer.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Goblin Wood

by Hilari Bell
New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

Makenna is a hedgewitch in a world in which only the priests' magic is allowed. After her mother's persecution, she escapes to the forest and befriends the goblins who are also suffering. She determines to take revenge, while protecting the goblins from people who would invade their wood.

Hilari Bell is one of my favorite fantasy authors, especially her Knight and Rogue series and the Farsala trilogy. The Goblin Wood is one of her earlier books, but she is going to be continuing the story into a trilogy, so I decided it was time to read it. I could see some early beginnings of the way she shifts perspective in her later books, though Tobin and Makenna's points of view aren't as finely done as, say, Michael and Fisk in The Last Knight. Makenna was a difficult character to like, as her reaction to her mother's death seemed ruthless to me. Still, it was an enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward to reading The Goblin Gate when it comes out in the fall.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Drowned Wednesday

by Garth Nix
narrated by Allan Corduner
New York : Random House/Listening Library, p2006.

Just returned from his contest with Grim Tuesday, Arthur would really like to be left alone. His leg is in a cast, he's in the hospital again... and he's received an invitation to luncheon with Lady Wednesday. When a tidal waves sweeps his hospital bed out into the Border Sea, his friend Leaf is carried out too, only to be taken away by a ship. How can Arthur save his friend, defeat Wednesday, and get the third key?

I'm enjoying re-listening to this series, narrated by Allan Corduner. He does an excellent job of giving each character a unique and appropriate voice, and retaining recurring character's voices through the various audiobooks. Drowned Wednesday was no exception, though plotwise I think it the weakest of my rereads so far. Some of the events seemed just too convenient, too easy. There wasn't the same tension as there was in the first book when Arthur had to fight Mister Monday for the key. I do enjoy the complexity of the House and small details, like the attitudes of each part of the Will which seem to fit, somehow, the type of legalese that it would contain. Definitely worth a read, or even a reread.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Divided Allegiance

by Elizabeth Moon
New York: Baen (Simon & Schuster), 1988.

If you haven't read the first in the series, The Sheepfarmer's Daughter, this is a **spoiler warning** for that title.

After defeating Siniava, the Duke's company has allied with a former pirate. None too pleased with what her compatriots are doing and feeling a pull to other things, Paks leaves the company. Her personal quest will take her beyond what she ever could have imagined when she dreamed of becoming a soldier.

Paksennarion is a great character to spend time with, and I enjoyed the continuing development of her character and story. The world is more fully developed in this book as well - we encounter both elves and dwarfs, and get a sense of the larger forces at work for good and evil. The plot is very episodic, which made it hard for me to understand the overarching storyline, and left me wondering if Book 3 would pull it all together or if I would feel like the first two books were merely setting up the final one. Part of this trouble may lie with my reading rather than the writing - I took an uncharacteristally long time to finish the book in about ten days. In any case, I hope to see those hints of Paks' destiny, the various gods, and the agents of good and evil, come together in Oath of Gold, which I will definitely be reading soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

And I Just Returned the Book Unread...

You know those days when you've returned an unread library book because you just had too many books to read?
Yeah, today's one of those days. And here's why:

For a behind-the-scenes look, check out Improv Everywhere.
Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the video.

Oh, and don't forget that book, Causing a Scene, that I'm going to have to request again...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Penderwicks

by Jeanne Birsdsall
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2005.

Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty Penderwick are four sisters who go to a summer cottage on vacation with their father and the dog, Hound. At fourteen, Rosalind tries to keep order since their mother passed away, especially by taking care of Batty. But their summer may be turned topsy-turvy between Mrs. Tifton - who is very particular about her gardens - and her son, Jeffrey. At the very least, this will be an unforgettable summer.

Though set in the present day, The Penderwicks has an old-fashioned, timeless quality to it. The full title reads "The Penderwicks: the story of four sisters, two rabbits, and a very interesting boy." The words that kept coming to mind were cute, sweet, and funny. IPods and designer clothes aren't mentioned, and the themes are such that kids from all generations can relate to, like a child's relationship with a parent. This is a book I would be willing to purchase and keep around to share with my own (future) children.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Rule Against Murder

by Louise Penny
New York : Minotaur Books, 2009.

Inspector Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are away, celebrating their anniversary in a small hotel in the middle of nowhere. The Finney family are the other guests, "celebrating" a reunion, but each of them seem deeply unhappy underneath their surface behavior. When murder intrudes, Inspector Gamache and his team have a wealth of suspects to sort through: the question is not why but how?

I absolutely love this series, and I find it so hard to explain exactly why. I read more analytically if there's something I don't like, something I can focus on outside of the story. But the Three Pines series completely draws me in to that world, to these characters whom I've come to care so much about that I can smile or tear up depending on what's going on in their lives and hearts. I got up this morning with about 80 pages left, put on a pot of coffee, sat down on the couch to read and didn't get up to get my cup of coffee until I'd finished the book (and if you know me at all, you know almost nothing gets between me and coffee first thing in the morning). This fourth book in the series is the first to be set away from Three Pines, but I was not at all disappointed by the results. Once again, the characters' inner struggles are the focal point, because twisted human emotions are what lead to murder and Armand Gamache carefully exposes his own and others' secrets to find the truth. If you've been putting off reading the series, all I can say is, what are you waiting for?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Beka Cooper: Terrier

by Tamora Pierce
New York : Random House, 2006.

Over one hundred years before Alanna was living, Rebakah Cooper's dream was to be one of the Provost Guards, known as "Dogs." Given the chance to be a Puppy to two of the best, Beka can't wait to learn more but she's so shy that she can barely look her Dogs in the face. Then, her friend Tansy's son Rolond goes missing. So many go missing in the Lower City that there are not enough Dogs to look into it. Beka must use her ingenuity and magical ability to hear the dead to learn what happened to Rolond and the other children taken and killed by someone calling himself the Shadow Snake. Now, she just has to gather enough solid facts for her Dogs to take up the hunt as well.

I like Beka a lot. She's tough and she's determined. Her world is not always black and white - the Dogs take bribes but not to evil purposes, and there is only so much they can do in a city teeming with crime. Even though Beka's narrating the story, the other characters have meat on their bones. For example, Tunstall and Goodwin, Beka's Dogs, each have their own personality and we get a sense of their relationship as partners as well. There are a lot of characters to keep up with, so much so that there is a list in the back of the book, though I'd recommend you look at it only after finishing, as there are spoilers included. The story is well-paced, and even at 500+ pages, the last hundred or so read very quickly as the solutions to the mystery come together. I'll see what I think after reading the next book, but so far I think I might like Beka even more than I liked Alanna.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Grim Tuesday

by Garth Nix
narrated by Allan Corduner
Random House Listening Library, 2004.

This is a ***spoiler warning*** for the first book in the series, Mister Monday.

Arthur has just returned home from defeating Mister Monday and taking control of the Key to the Lower House. He chose to return home as a mortal, appointing the Will as trustee, and saved everyone from the sleepy plague. Now, it's Tuesday morning, which means that the next denizen - Grim Tuesday - has some power in the Secondary Realms, which includes Arthur's home. The Will informs him of trouble in the House, and Grim Tuesday's servants are troubling Arthur's family in an attempt to take the first Key from him. Will Arthur be able to survive the Far Reaches and gain control of the second Key?

Listening to the audiobook confirmed for me that I prefer listening to this series. Allan Corduner's narration and interpretation of characters makes the story that much more interesting, the pace that much more exciting. I'd forgotten a lot of the details of the story, and enjoyed it just as much the second time around. Arthur just wants to be a regular boy, but he has a sense of right and wrong and what he must do for himself, his family, his friends, and his home. Suzy Turquoise Blue is funny and loyal and has an interesting back story in her own right. I'm looking forward to rereading - er, listening - to Drowned Wednesday, the next book in the series.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Ladies of Grace Adieu

by Susanna Clarke
illustrated by Charles Vess
New York: Bloomsbury, 2006

The short story collection by the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is set in the same world as that novel. The "Introduction" by the "Director of Sidhe Studies, University of Aberdeen" gives the tales a pseudo-historical feel: either the tale itself is an alternate history, or illustrative of the legends of that world. The use of footnotes adds to the feeling of history or a literary collection used in "Sidhe Studies." This adds a layer of complexity and cleverness to the collection.

The stories themselves I found of varying interest. Some confused me, many seemed dark. These fairies are governed by ethics much different from humans' and their interactions in the human world generally cause trouble, whether intended or not. Personally, my favorite was "On Lickerish Hill," the story of a girl, Miranda, whose mother promises the man Miranda weds that she can spin five skeins of wool a day. I enjoyed recognizing the tale, though it was told in a style very different from what I would have expected. If you've been thinking of trying Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but were intimidated by the size, try this first to get a shorter introduction to Susanna Clarke's Faerie world.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Cruelest Month

by Louise Penny
New York: St. Martin's Minotaur, 2008 (2007).

The third book in the Three Pines series promises to be different from the others from the very first page. As Easter approaches, the villagers are preparing for an Easter egg hunt, and a Good Friday seance that Gabri is going to spring on his unsuspecting guest, a psychic. The first seance breaks up rather lightly. Clara, Myrna, Monsieur Beliveau and the other participants decide to hold another at the old Hadley place because of the resident evil that seems to be in its very foundation. But when one of the participants in the second seance dies, Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate.

I do not normally read books involving seances (too easily scared, I suppose), but I honestly think Louise Penny could get me to read almost anything in order to find out more about the wonderful people who live in Three Pines. Reading this series has kept me so riveted that I hardly know what to say when I've finished, except that I'm utterly satisfied. I love these characters, who seem very human to me because of the author's attention to human emotions - the best and the worst, what makes us noble and what drives us to kill. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


by Diana Wynne Jones
New York: Greenwillow Boooks, 1977 (1975).

The luminary Sirius has been accused of using a Zoi to kill another star. He knows he didn't do it, but he'd flown into a rage and couldn't really remember the details. He is convicted and given the sentence of being sent to find the Zoi. But he is sent as a dog, and he only has that dog's lifetime in which to find the Zoi and clear his name.

I love Diana Wynne Jones's stories because they always promise something fresh in the midst of a genre (and I read a lot of fantasy) that can be very cliche. Dogsbody is one of her older books, but it is no exception to this. The story is seen through Sirius's point of view as he navigates earth as a dog, which sometimes makes for moments of humor in the midst of serious situations. He definitely has a dog's nature, and has to work to find the memories of who he is and what he needs to do. The people he meets, helpful and otherwise, are well fleshed out. The story is one that I could see children growing up getting even more understanding and appreciation for the details as they grow older, so I could see this being a good family read-aloud for a wide age range.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Fairy-Tale Detectives

by Michael Buckley
Prince Frederick, Md.: Recorded Books, 2005.

Sisters Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have been moving from foster home to foster home ever since their parents' disappearance, and each home has been successively worse. Then, an old woman appears, claiming to be their grandmother, and taking them to live at Ferryport Landing. But Sabrina's parents always said their grandmother was dead, so she's not about to believe it, or any crazy things the lady says about being descendants of the Grimm brothers who may just have been recording history.

The first of the Sisters Grimm series has a little bit of everything: mystery, adventure, and fractured fairy tales. Sabrina and Daphne's relationship was good but realistic, with a little bit of good old-fashioned arguing and manipulation, and I enjoyed their interactions. I also had fun recognizing fairy tale characters and discovering the author's reinterpretations. L.J. Ganser's narration of the audiobook was well done, with each character instantly recognizable. My only complaint as an adult reader is that I saw some of the twists coming a mile away, but I daresay I wouldn't have noticed a bit as a child.