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.