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.