Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

by Rae Carson
New York : Greenwillow Books, 2011.

Elisa is the chosen one. She has a Godstone on her navel, a blue stone that is only given to one person in a century to do something great for God. The only trouble is, she doesn't feel all that special and she doesn't know what she's supposedly called to do. With her marriage and war approaching, sixteen-year-old Elisa will have to find her purpose fast.

Just looking at the cover was enough to make me want to read this book. Elisa is a great heroine - she starts out unhappy, fat, and unsure of herself and grows into a much more self-reliant person. The plot keeps moving in twists and turns as we discover more about Elisa as the chosen one and the Inviernes, the foes which threaten Elisa's homeland and her new kingdom. The God of the world is mysterious, and didn't seem to have any overt, one-on-one correspondence to any one religion in our world. This is the kind of book you want to keep reading late into the night, and though it's the first in a projected trilogy, it's a deeply satisfying ending.

Friday, March 16, 2012


by Gail Carriger
New York : Orbit, 2012.

For my reviews of earlier books in the series, check out Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, and Heartless. (Whew!)

Lord and Lady Maccon have been living in Lord Akeldama's third closet for some time now, as the London vampire has become the adoptive parent of their child, Prudence. At only two years old, Prudence shows every indication that she will be as difficult as, well, either of her parents. All is going as normally as could be expected for this vampire-werewolf-preternatural alliance, until Alexia receives a summons to Egypt. It seems that the vampire queen there is very interested in Prudence, a metanatural.

Normally here I would explain what I liked or didn't like about the book, but as this is the fifth book in a series I've been enjoying all along, it's really hard to do that now. If you've liked the series, you'll want to read it for the fun and imagination and wittiness and silliness. If you haven't liked it, there's really nothing I can say about this one to convince you otherwise. Suffice it to say that I found it an excellent distraction from all the other, more serious books that I've had to read lately. These are the sorts of books I could see becoming my comfort reads when I need something to make me laugh.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dead End in Norvelt

by Jack Gantos
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.

Young Jack Gantos is growing up in the town of Norvelt, Pennsylvania, a town that was founded by Eleanor Roosevelt as a place where poor people could live with dignity and where folks could trade their services instead of depend on cash. Now, in the decade after World War 2, the Norvelt "originals" are older and dying, and poor Jack is grounded because he let off his father's gun and caused a scare. Miss Volker, his older neighbor with arthritic hands, is Jack's "get out of jail free" card when she calls and needs his help writing obituaries.

This year's Newbery Award winner is the first book I've read by Jack Gantos, but now I want to go back and read his other books. His narrative follows a typical summer in that it's more episodic a traditional plot line, though Norvelt has its share of quirky, original characters and more than a few of the events are unbelievable. Jack's parents are great, and their interactions ring true, how they disagree fundamentally about some things, but also love each other as much as they drive each other nuts. I was regularly chuckling or even laughing out loud at some of the events (some of the obits in particular stand out memorably). This story was a lot of fun to read, and I'll certainly be recommending it to kids at the library.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Wednesday Wars

by Gary Schmidt
narrated by Joel Johnstone
New York : Scholastic Audiobooks, p2007.

Holling Hoodhood is the only Presbyterian in his class, which means that on Wednesday afternoons when half his classmates go to Hebrew school and the other half go to CCD, he's stuck in the classroom with his teacher, Mrs. Baker. At first, she gives him chores to do, but then she starts having him read Shakespeare.

I'm rather ashamed to say I've been putting this book off, despite the acclaim it's received and the recommendations I've received from others on LT. The truth is, I found Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy depressing, and was afraid I'd be in for the same sort of book. What I didn't realize at all was how incredibly funny The Wednesday Wars is. I listened to quite a bit of it on my commute to work, and narrator Joel Johnstone not only has a pitch-perfect reading sounding like a middle school boy, he also brings out the humor in every situation (I will never think of cream puffs in exactly the same way again...).

Though the book is set in 1967-68, and the Vietnam War and politics are mentioned, what is the center of the book is not these historical events, but Holling's growth as an individual. Holling struck me as a typical teenager in his developing empathy, on the one hand seeing how an interaction affected both an adult and his schoolmate and, not too long later, telling his teacher he didn't think she had any problems to speak of. Because of this, even in a first-person narration we get to know several other characters well as Holling comes to understand them better. The only character that seemed rather one-dimensional to me was his father who is, frankly, a jerk. I'm so glad I finally got around to reading this, and will definitely be moving the companion book Okay for Now on my TBR list.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Downton Abbey, or, How I Learned What All the Fuss was about

The World of Downton Abbey
by Jessica Fellowes
St. Martin's Press, 2011.

*Warning: spoilers follow for the first two seasons of Downton Abbey*

So I don't know about you, but in my library the availability of the DVD of the first season of Downton Abbey meant a flurry of holds and a lot of conversation about the Masterpiece Theatre presentation. I put it on hold to see what all the fuss was about, and the first time I got the DVD I didn't even watch it before I had to return it to the library. Second try was the charm, though, and I not only watched the first season in - ahem - one day, I promptly looked up when the second season was going to be on PBS, and watched that all over the same holiday weekend. I found myself fascinated, loving the picture of a world one hundred years ago, at once familiar (cars, telephones) and strange (servants, social class, World War 1). I picked up some of the class differences and societal tensions, but as an American in the 21st century, I know there's a lot going on that I didn't understand, or just wasn't sure about (how normal would it be, for example, if a young woman had run off and married the chauffeur in that era, for her mother to stay in contact with her and want her to visit?).

That, ultimately, is why I decided to read this book. In all fairness, in a book like this covering everything from family life to style to World War 1 to a servants' life, none of my questions are going to be answered in depth. But, if you enjoyed the show, a little bit of everything is explored through its lens, through what we saw the characters experience, plus giving us more period detail from diaries and books about people who really lived then. I didn't learn the specifics, like my example question above, but there is still a bit more detail here than can be conveyed in an hour long program.

And then there's the photography. Wow! You can really appreciate the attention to detail when looking at photographs of the sets, of the actors, and of Highclere Castle. There are lots of quotes from the actors and the show sprinkled throughout the text and photographs. The final chapter is more a "making of" than the historical background, and it really made me appreciate all the work that went into making Downton Abbey as good as it is.

Finally, the recommended reads at the end (unfortunately for me, since I want to read everything and I have to figure out which books were mentioned more than once) is organized by chapter, so if you are most interested in any one particular aspect of the Downton Abbey world, it's quite easy to follow up on just what you're looking for. Highly recommended to any fan of the show.