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.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

New Shakespeare Play?

You know the famous Shakespeare plays, right?
There's Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, and Double Falsehood?

The Book Case blog covers some of the discussion that went into including it in the latest edition of the Arden Shakespeare.

So, what do you think of "the lost play"? Will you read it?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Pete & Pickles

by Berkeley Breathed
New York: Philomel Books (Penguin Young Readers Group), 2008.

This is the story of the unlikely friendship struck up by Pete, a pig, and Pickles, a circus elephant who shelters in his house one night. I picked this up on a whim after the pages I work with told me it was her favorite book. I absolutely loved it! The artwork is lovely and detailed. I enjoyed the humor conveyed in images, such as the pig-centric furniture in Pete's house, and the expressions on the animals' faces. The alliterative writing gives the story a good flow for a read aloud, and the pictures and story work together to present a really adorable, humorous tale. If I ever start collecting picture books to read to my kids someday, Pete & Pickleswill be near the top of the list.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Jane Austen Reading Challenge

Love all things Jane Austen? Then join with me for the Everything Austen reading challenge hosted by Stephanie at Stephanie's Written Word.

The rules are simple: between July 1, 2010 and January 1, 2011 pick out six Austen-themed things (books, movies, etc.) to finish.

Personally, I hope to read the two Austen novels I have not yet completed - Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. I haven't yet decided what else I might read or watch. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Quickening

by Michelle Hoover
The Other Press (Random House), 2010.

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

Enidina Current and Mary Morrow are farmer's wives and neighbors. They are almost thrown together by circumstances, if not friends in the strictest sense of the word. The arc of the story focuses more on their internal struggles than on external events, as the women connect through family, poverty, and the hard work of the farms.

Enidina and Mary trade narration every chapter, sometimes telling the same stories from a different viewpoint, beginning during World War 1 and running through the decades. Sometimes their reminiscences provide a picture of their pasts and the narrative present (about 1950), but primarily the story takes place between the World Wars. I was not sure how much to trust either woman's point of view. At times, Enidina seemed confused about exactly what happened, and I had a hard time fully trusting Mary's description of events as well. Because time moves quickly, I sometimes had a hard time remembering characters' ages. Enidina and Mary are the most fleshed out, which makes sense since they are narrating. I found myself sympathizing more with Mary, but liking Enidina more. Recommended for readers who enjoy a midwestern setting and character-driven stories.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mister Monday

by Garth Nix
New York: Scholastic, 2003.

Arthur Penhaligon is just a normal kid, until the day he has an asthma attack during a school run, and two mysterious men pop out to give him a key and a book. Then Arthur starts seeing a huge house that's never been there before, and dog-like men that want his key start chasing him. But he doesn't even know what the key is for, or what he's supposed to do.

I wanted to reread the Keys to the Kingdom series so that I can remember the story before I read Superior Saturday and Lord Sunday now that the series is complete. Having listened to the audiobook read by Allan Corduner the first time, it was interesting comparing what stood out to me then versus my experience reading now. I remembered Arthur as a reluctant hero, and while that's still true, his character is much stronger than I remembered in doing what he has to do and making decisions about his life. The setting seems to be our world just a little in the future, after a pandemic of some sort, in which Arthur's birth parents died. Now twelve, he's asthmatic and should have died before the Will with a mind of its own chose him as the Rightful Heir. The House and the world created by the Architect out of Nothing make for an inventive fantasy world, and I found I'd forgotten a lot of the clever details like "washing between the ears," and that there was more symbolism than I noticed the first time through. I look forward to revisiting the rest of the series, but I remembered the audiobooks so fondly that I may go back to that format for the rest.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Imperfectionists

by Tom Rachman
New York: The Dial Press, 2010.

Though billed as a novel, this is a series of vignettes or short stories that each focus on a different character. These characters have one thing in common: their connection - often employment - with an English-language newspaper in Italy. The stories are told in chronological order, so even as we move between each character's point of view and story, the full picture that we begin to put together is of the newspaper itself. In between each story, we learn more of the back story of how the paper came to be in the first place, and by the end of the book the two stories - the character sketches and the story of the newspaper - have merged.

I'm rather conflicted about this book. I liked the format, which often reminded me of Olive Kitteridge, in which the short stories taken together gave me a mosaic of this one character as seen from many points of view. In The Imperfectionists, each character's story eventually gives you a full picture of the newsroom and the newspaper. Each story is rather artfully done, too, with clever use of language and interesting - though very imperfect - characters. And here my conflict lies. I did not these characters, and I have a very tough time reading about characters that I dislike. By the time I realized that no one was going to be likable, I was too far in to abandon the book. I found the characters and the overall tone fairly depressing, so the more I think about the book, the less I like it. The writing is superb, though, and at moments I cared about the characters despite my dislike, which tips the balance positively overall.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Ghostly Mystery

The Prince of Mist
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
translated by Lucia Graves
New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.
(first published in Spanish in 1993)

In the summer of 1943, Max Carver and his family move to the seaside. Their new home has been empty for some time, and was built by the Fleishmanns, a couple whose son, Jacob, drowned. The house seems creepy and full of secrets, including a garden of statues surrounded in mist that Max discovers nearby. Max also meets Roland, a boy who promises to take him and his older sister, Alicia, diving to see the Orpheus, a ship whose demise has a mystery of its own.

This debut novel of the author best known for The Shadow of the Wind has been newly translated into English. Though not as polished as his later works, The Prince of Mist definitely has moments of atmosphere that reminded me of Ruiz Zafon's adult books. The backstory is introduced kind of clunkily and the prose doesn't flow as well, but the deliciously creepy mystery kept me reading quickly. This is a story I can recommend to fans of The Ruby in the Smoke and other mysteries with a taste of the supernatural.

I thought it was kind of cool that in the age of adult authors writing for teen audiences, here's one who's debut was, in fact, a teen novel. The book website has a book trailer which is kind of atmospheric on its own.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Ever-Growing TBR List

Book Lust
by Nancy Pearl
Seattle, Wash.: Sasquatch Books, 2003.

The subtitle says it all - "Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason." The lists are organized alphabetically from "A is for Alice" to "Zero," which just about every genre and topic you can think of in between. Because it's organized topically, there is some overlap in books mentioned that fall into more than one category, with books like The Brothers K, for example, listed in both "Baseball" and "Mothers and Sons." Nancy Pearl, reader and librarian extraordinaire, also offers her comments on a book's plot or what she loved about a particular title. I love that she's not afraid to give her opinion, saying upfront which books she loved and which sequels she did not think were as good. I know from listening to her podcast and reading her blog that her opinions about books do not always coincide with mine, but I love that she doesn't try to sugarcoat her responses to try to appeal to more readers, because reading is personal.

This is not a book I would necessarily recommend reading from cover to cover unless you read widely and you could stand adding several books to your already large list of books to be read. I added about 30, and that was only by being really picky and rushing through some of the lists to get this book back to the library before it did more damage to my ever-growing TBR list. If it's not a book to be read straight through, however, it's an excellent book to own. I want this book. I want to be able to dip into it at random in the rare moments that I'm stuck for something to read. I want to be able to talk back in the margins - "No, The Makioka Sisters is dead boring, NOT like Jane Austen." I want to add books I've read that fall into each list that perhaps were published since Book Lust came out in 2003. The topical lists are also great for display ideas, and I admit to using one in the library soon after I started this book. Should you fail to find enough books to interest you here, there are more: More Book Lust, published in 2005, and Book Crush, similarly recommended books for children and teens. Personally, though, I'm going to wait until I can buy these, too, and dip into them in an appropriately slow manner. My TBR list is bloated enough as it is.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

At Large and At Small

by Anne Fadiman
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

In the Preface, Anne Fadiman quotes her father's regret that the familiar essay is dying, and declares her intention of this book to be her contribution to continuing the genre. She defines the familiar essay as one that includes both the personal (the "at small" of her title) and the general ("at large"). Each of the dozen essays in this collection also include the large and small in terms of topic, ranging from ice cream to Samuel Coleridge, as well as exhibiting Fadiman's broad knowledge base in literature and vocabulary.

One of my favorite essays was "Procrustes and the Culture Wars." Not only was it a topic that I was interested in - the culture wars as seen through four questions regarding one's interpretation of capital-L Literature - but also my personal response in reading was pondering what my own response might be, what my own essay on the topic might be like. Even when I disagreed with her points, the essay was thought-provoking, smart, and witty.

One of the greatest strengths of this collection is Fadiman's ability to make disparate subject matter interesting, forcing me as a reader to only read one or two essays at a time, because I wanted to fully absorb what she was saying and think about the subject, rather than moving on quickly to something else as I could have done. Until now, I had only read Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, her collection of essays on books and reading which is one of my all-time favorites, but this collection has convinced me to try more of her titles.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Talking to Dragons

by Patricia Wrede
New York : Scholastic Books, 1995, c1985.

Daystar has lived with his mother at the edge of the Enchanted Forest, seeing princes and heroes stop by briefly in their questing. When the wizard Antorell shows up, however, things are a bit different. For one thing, his mother melts Antorell. For another, she goes in to the Forest and comes back with a sword about which she tells him little, just that he has to go in to the forest and figure out why he needs to be there. So Daystar sets out.

I had a tough time thinking of Daystar as a believable sixteen-year-old. In addition to being unfailingly polite, just like his mother taught him, he's incredibly naive. I suppose I would be too if I'd lived with my mother at the edge of the forest and didn't really make friends with anybody, but it was a tough hurdle that I never really got over as I read his narration. Shiara, the fire-witch that Daystar meets in his travels, was a fun character that I liked despite, or maybe because of, her temper and willfulness.

This is the fourth chronologically in the "Enchanted Forest Chronicles," but I had no trouble following the story even though it has been a few years since I read the others in the series. A friend informed me after I finished it that it was actually published before the others, which makes perfect sense to me in terms of how the story is told and what Daystar discovers - things that readers of the books in chronological order already knew. Unfortunately, it means that no matter what order you read them in, one book is going to be a spoiler for another. All in all, the series was a fun one that plays with conventional fantasy tropes, and I would recommend it to upper elementary or middle school fantasy readers. My personal favorite is still the first one I read (and the first chronologically), Dealing with Dragons.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Sheepfarmer's Daughter

by Elizabeth Moon
Riverdale, NY: Baen Books, 1988.

Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter runs away from home and an unwanted marriage proposal to join the army. She joins with Duke Phelan's company, a mercenary company, promising to fight for two years after training. Beginning with training and continuing as Paks rises through the ranks, we see Paks mature and deal with all manner of challenges from within and outside the company.

Though a fantasy, as evidenced by mention of orcs and elves, the focus on military life ground the story in a reality of its own, though names of towns or people may be unfamiliar. The story is mostly about Paks' coming-of-age, and readers don't really know all the whys and wherefores of the many battle until well into the book when Paks herself is rising in rank. There are hints of even more going on behind the scenes, but nothing spelled out in this first book of a trilogy.