Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Goblin War

by Hilari Bell
New York : HarperTeen, 2011.

Previously reviewed The Goblin Wood and The Goblin Gate. Makenna, Tobin and the goblins want to leave the Otherworld before it drains their magic and their lives. Tobin is so sick that Makenna is desperate to cast another gate. Meanwhile, Jeriah begins to realize that despite Master Lazur's contemptible methods, he was right about one thing: the barbarian threat makes relocation necessary, despite the fact that none of the lords want to leave their lands. Can he convince the Hierarch that anything Lazur wanted could be good for the Realm?

The Goblin War wraps up The Goblin Wood trilogy fairly satisfactorily. All three characters are given equal time as they work apart but together to save the Realm from the Duri (the barbarians) and their odd magic. This series is a bit younger and not as complex as some of Bell's others, which may be why it's not one of my absolute favorites (in case you're wondering, those would be The Farsala Trilogy and the Knight and Rogue novels). The ending was a bit rushed after the climax, and I still had some questions about what would happen when I turned the last page. Still, this is a fast-paced, imaginative fantasy, and I enjoyed the time spent reading it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Defending Jacob

by William Landay
New York : Delacorte Books, c2012.

Andy Barber, the first assistant DA in Newton, recounts the horrible murder of his son's classmate, Ben Rifkin, and his attempt to find Ben's killer, until he is taken off the case because evidence seems to point to his son, Jacob.

Can you imagine a more terrible thing than your child being accused of murder? Barber's story is harrowing in more ways than one. We jump right into the story with Andy being interviewed by a former co-worker in a grand jury indictment - just exactly what this indictment is and for whom, we don't know, but the pace drives towards the merging of these two story lines as the reader starts to imagine what really happened one fall day before school started. This is the rare book that I'm absolutely wowed by but don't think I could ever reread because it was so emotionally draining. I highly recommend this, even more so if you can find someone to read and discuss it with.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


by Kristin Cashore
New York, NY : Dial Books, 2012.

**Spoiler warning for Graceling.**

When we first met Bitterblue, she was a scared ten-year-old girl fleeing her father, King Leck, who had the terrifying ability to change people's perception of reality. Katsa and Po rescued her then; eight years later, they are still her friends as she attempts to heal Monsea from Leck's reign and determine the truth of what happened while he was king. She starts leaving the castle dressed as a servant, and finds that someone does not want to let the truth get out.

Bitterblue brings together the stories of Graceling and Fire, showing us the aftereffects of the rule of a twisted, sick man. She is young, though, and doesn't know a lot about what happened during her father's reign, nor can she lean on her memories as being accurate because of Leck's Grace. I read this fast - over two evenings - so I'm still reeling a little bit trying to frame my thoughts in a way that make sense. I had some niggling issues with how it seemed that Bitterblue's escapades in the city are at the convenience of moving the plot forward, but again, since I was reading so fast I'm not sure that there weren't some clues as to why she leaves when that I skipped right over in my thirst to know what happens next.

Overall, I found it a satisfying read and would probably reread the series in a few years given the chance.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Hit Lit

Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century's Biggest Bestsellers
by James W. Hall
New York : Random House Trade Paperbacks, c2012.

When I think of capital-L Literature, I usually think of what you read in high school and college: tomes or thematically difficult books that I analyzed to death as an English major. So it surprised me to discover in the foreword of Hit Lit, an exploration of bestsellers, that author James W. Hall had his start in academia with a specialization in postmodern literature. When he had this idea to teach bestsellers - and not just your run-of-the-mill gets on the list for a few weeks and then drops away, but multimillion copies selling still popular books - he discovered that these books had several things in common.

He focuses on the following twelve titles:
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Godfather by Mario Puzo
  • The Dead Zone by Stephen King
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
  • The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy
  • The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
  • Jaws by Peter Benchley
  • Peyton Place by Grace Metalious
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
  • The Firm by John Grisham
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I recommend that you read the books on the list that you intend to before tackling Hit Lit, unless you don't mind massive spoilers. If you haven't read some titles, or don't intend to, the Appendix has an overview of the plot of each. Hall explains why he chose each book, and then goes on to argue what they have in common and what the American public finds so appealing about them, including elements such as the pace and sympathetic charaters. Hall's points are thought-provoking, though his comments about each book did get a little repetitive; since I tended to read it in large chunks, I hadn't had time to forget the last time he mentioned some examples that get repeated when making a different point later. He is tongue-in-cheek at times, but generally is not snobby in his approach and truly seems to have respect for popular reading. An entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking read.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Seabiscuit: An American Legend

by Laura Hillenbrand
New York : Ballantine Books, 2002 (originally published 2001).

In the mid-1930s, an unlikely team of men and horse took the racing world by storm. Charles Howard made his fortune selling cars, but purchased racing horses and loved the limelight. Tom Smith was a horse trainer with a unique horse sense and methods. Jockey Red Pollard was a witty, hard-fighting competitor who read classics and affectionately referred to Emerson as "Old Waldo." And then there was Seabiscuit: a stocky, short-legged horse who loved to sleep but also loved to run.

I bought this book years ago at the library book sale and it has languished on my shelves unread. In fact, I had it so long I finally put it in the box of books ready to donate back to the book sale. Then I read Unbroken, and was so completely blown away I had to dig this book out and put it back on my shelves. So, needless to say, I'm a bit behind the times in reading and loving this book. Hillenbrand deftly paints a picture of a moment in history, of a detail that makes it come alive, and of the people involved in these events. This is true in both of her books, though the subjects are very different. Seabiscuit's story is both inspiring and bittersweet, and if you happened to have put it on your pile of books that has been there so long you've nearly given up - give it a chance. Like me, you may be glad you did.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Gillespie and I

by Jane Harris
New York : Harper Perennial, 2012 (published in the UK in 2011).

Miss Harriet Baxter, in 1933, is writing her memoirs recounting events in 1888 when she traveled to Glasgow and befriending struggling artist Ned Gillespie and his family.

This is a difficult book to talk about without giving spoilers, but I shall try. I've given only a bare bones account of the plot because the brilliance of the book is the way the story unfolds as Harriet narrates her story and how the reader's interpretations evolve in the course of the story. As I was reading, I was struck by the thought that in young adult literature a first-person narration means that you can get to know a character because you're in their heads and reading their thoughts while in adult or literary fiction, you actually know the character less. It's a good book to read slowly, partly because of the writing, but mostly because it's deceptively complex. I'm still pondering the book, not sure exactly how much I liked it, but at the same time I want to find someone who's finished it so I can talk about it.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


by Veronica Roth
New York : Katherine Tegen Books, 2012.

**Spoiler warning for the first in the series, Divergent**

On the run from the old Dauntless compound, Tris, Tobias, and the others go to Amity for help. Will the faction that wants peace and accord above all else ally with them against Erudite? While there, Tris discovers that Tobias' father, Marcus, knows something important about why Jeanine attacked Abnegation, and she's determined to find out what's going on.

Ever since a friend had me read Divergent, I've been waiting for the sequel. I was one of the first people to put a hold on the library record (before anyone had the book in). The day it came in, I snagged it immediately and started reading it on my first break. The story picks up exactly where Divergent left off, and I was a little afraid I would lose out because I hadn't reread the first book and couldn't remember who everyone was and what had happened. But Roth does a good job of reintroducing characters and their situations in a natural way, and I was soon speeding along, lost in the story. I liked the development of Tris and Tobias; they each have secrets, and they have to deal with how that affects their relationship. The narrative clips along at a fast pace, taking turns here and there which sometimes surprised me and sometimes didn't, but I was enjoying myself so much I didn't mind when the revelations were not entirely unexpected. The end definitely left me wanting more - I predict I'll do exactly what I did with this one when Book 3 comes out.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Gentlemen of the Road

by Michael Chabon
New York: Ballantine Books, c2008, 2007.

Two swash-buckling Jews, Amram and Zelikman, travel in search of adventure - or perhaps adventure/trouble is in search of them - in the region of the Caspian Sea in the 10th century. I hesitate to say more, because the fun is in seeing how their story unfolds. I can just imagine Chabon unwrapping his story, a sort of homage to the old-fashioned adventure story but one that is delightfully unique. I seem to remember putting it on my ever-growing TBR list when it was brought up at a Readers' Advisory library workshop as a title that is particularly hard to categorize: Is it adventure? Historical fiction? Literary? Yes.

Though it is a fairly short novel (less than 200 pages), and I turned pages quickly, I never did have that moment where I was so engaged and involved that I practically forgot I was reading. Perhaps it was because it took me until halfway through to realize that this was set in a real place and time (Khazaria, 10th century). Perhaps it was because I had to have my dictionary out - not just because I wanted to learn the new words, but because I sometimes couldn't picture what was described without it. Perhaps I am just not the right reader in the right mood for this book. Gentlemen of the Road was a fun story that made me aware of a part of history I'd never known before, and while I may not be inclined to read this particular title again, I'm certainly intrigued enough to try the other Chabon titles on my TBR list sooner rather than later.