Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Iron Daughter

by Julie Kagawa
New York : Harlequin Teen, 2010.

Second book alert! Check out my review for the first book in the series, The Iron King.

Taking up soon after The Iron King leaves off, Meghan Chase is now in Tir Na Nog, the domain of Mab, Queen of the Unseelie. After all, that's the deal she made with Prince Ash: help rescue her brother, Ethan, and she would return with him - and you can't get out of bargains made with faeries. But Ash, one of Mab's sons, has been strangely distant, and Meghan isn't sure what to do, especially since the threat of the iron fey is still present.

It's hard to say exactly why this didn't work for me quite as well as the first one did, so I am going to chalk it up to my reading mood. This is truly more of the same as the first book - Meghan going off into an adventure trying to defeat the iron fey, while worrying over boys. I found myself quicker to criticize her, mainly when she was being a boy-obsessed (faery-obsessed?) teenage girl or when she never seems to be able to contribute to a fight before someone gets injured. Can't we give the girl a sword or a bow and arrows? Still, it was a fairly engaging story and while I may not hunt down the third book to read immediately (mostly so that I can take a break and not feel like I'm reading the same thing, which will lead to more enjoyment), I do want to see where the series ultimately ends.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein
New York : Hyperion Books, 2012.

A young woman, captured by the Gestapo in Ormaie, writes her confession.

You mean you want to know more than that? I can't tell you. No, really. If the cover and that premise is enough to intrigue you, then do yourself a favor and read the book without reading my thoughts any further. This is a complex narrative that's best if you know very little, though I will try to explain what I think of it.

The non-spoiler review:
There is a lot of historical fiction about World War 2, and every now and then one stands out to me as exceptional. Code Name Verity is one of these. By focusing on women in wartime roles that were historically accurate but not often mentioned, the author truly captured my interest. She doesn't waste time explaining, but throws you right into the historical time period. The captured woman, nicknamed "Queenie" and her friend, Maddie, are truly compelling characters I enjoyed getting to know.

Alright, so you really want my thoughts on this? Be warned that I'm going to assume you've read the book if you're reading this paragraph. OK, here goes...

I loved this book. I loved getting to know Julie ("Queenie") and Maddie. I noticed details while I was reading Julie's story - that she claimed not to know an awful lot of people's real names, that information about the hotel that became a Nazi prison was underlined. The way in which Maddie's narrative completely subverted and explained Julie's was absolutely brilliant. I enjoyed the historical detail about women pilots and special operatives in the war, but Julie and Maddie are characters first, not just the means to provide me, the reader, with information. I was afraid that the story would be heartbreaking, and it was, but not so absolutely depressing that I couldn't read it again. This is one of those books that could go either way as appealing to adults and older teens, and I will be recommending it highly to both.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Renegade Magic

by Stephanie Burgis
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012.

Second book alert! Check out my review of Kat, Incorrigible (also known as A Most Improper Magick). In the second book of her adventures, Kat Stephenson gets whisked to Bath after the mother of Frederick Carlyle dashes Angeline's hopes at marriage.

It's been awhile since I read the first book in the series, but it turns out not to matter much. Burgis deftly reminded me who characters were and what was going on, as well as introducing new fun. Kat may be rather precocious for her age, but the setting of early 1800s England makes some of her vocabulary more believable and this was just plain fun to read.

This book is known as A Tangle of Magick in Britain, where it was first published.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot
New York : Crown Publishers, c2010.

Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in the 1950s. Before she died, a doctor took cancerous cells and used them to create the first cell culture of human cells, which has gone on to advance medical science tremendously. But most people only knew these as HeLa, and not the woman behind the cells - her family didn't even know her cells were still alive.

Skloot tells the story of Henrietta and her family as well as delving into science and ethics in the medical profession. Her take is very personal, as she describes the way in which she gained the trust of the Lacks family and the conversations she had with them in addition to recreating the events of the 1950s and on.

I was really excited when the library book discussion that I facilitate picked this as one of our reads this year. I've been meaning to get to it since the book came out, and it finally gave me the impetus to do so. There's so much to this book - the personal stories, medical history, ethics - that it made an excellent choice for our book discussion, which went past our normal time to end and a few of us felt we could have gone on for another hour. This truly thought-provoking book has a little bit of everything, and I highly recommend it. You may not agree with everything, but you'll surely learning something.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"You Can Tell Your Kid Will Grow Up to be a Librarian When..."

by Richard Lee
Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Company, c1992.

This collection of cartoons about the library profession was published in 1992. Similarly to Unshelved, the punchlines much more funny if you're actually in the profession; this one references some out-of-date technology (DIALOG, anyone?) that may or may not ring a bell to librarians that are my age.

Not all of the cartoons have to do with kids who will become librarians, though the first part of the collection is about that. There's also a section on parents who are librarians, patrons, library school, and more. The ones that really gave me a laugh were the ones I related to, like the one that says "You know your parents are librarians when they make you take pictures in front of boring buildings," with a picture of an annoyed kid, hand to his face, with his excited parents taking a picture outside of the library. Seeing as I did that, um, just this year, I laughed aloud at that one. The line drawings are simple but humorous. Overall, I prefer the Unshelved strips by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum, though I spent a pleasant few hours paging through this collection.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

by William Joyce,
illustrated by William Joyce and Joe Bluhm.
New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012.

I'm not sure whether the book or the movie came first. Reading the note about the author indicates that Joyce has been working on this story - a tribute to library promotion pioneer Bill Morris - since 1999, but also leads me to believe that the award-winning short film was available before the picture book.

Be that as it may, this is a delightful book about the power of books and storytelling. The text and illustrations work together perfectly, making you want to linger and soak up the details of every page. The multimedia illustrations often use muted colors, with a lot of creams and browns, evoking the look of an old book itself. This is a wonderfully crafted book I would love to put on my personal library bookshelves.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Rose: My Life in Service

by Rosina Harrison
New York : Viking Press, 1975.

Rosina (Rose) Harrison was born in 1899, in a time and class where she was expected to go into service. She determined early on to be a ladies' maid in order to travel, eventually working for Nancy, Lady Astor, for over 30 years.

This is my second memoir of life in service, which serves the dual purpose of teaching me a bit about how some of my English ancestors may have lived, and showing me more of the "downstairs" aspect of Downton Abbey. This title in particular was also mentioned in the "Further Reading" section of The World of Downton Abbey.

This was an interesting contrast to the first book I'd read about a life in service, Below Stairs, which I read about a month prior this title. Rose, unlike Margaret Powell, calls herself a "career woman," and unlike many of her time, decides that she wants her profession over marriage. Though Lady Astor is headstrong and difficult, Rose is a match for her and loves her, too. Rose takes great pride in her work, and seems happy and content; she doesn't overlook disparity, but doesn't seem to think that she's owed anything either. Her anecdotes are often eye-opening or funny. I learned a lot and enjoyed myself along the way.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Iron King

by Julie Kagawa
Harlequin Teen, 2010.

Meghan Chase finds her world has more than meets the eye when he brother is taken by faeries and a changeling with a mean streak takes his place. With only her friend Robbie to help her, she leaves her family behind to find her brother in the Nevernever.

As a reader of the fantasy genre, some of the early revelations in the story were not unexpected (***possible slight spoiler*** if you've read A Midsummer Night's Dream, Robbie's full name is meaningful the first time you see it, for example ***end spoiler***). But the simple truth is, I enjoyed this book. I enjoyed seeing Meghan grapple with new challenges, and I enjoyed the surprising and unsurprising plot twists, both the invention and the expected tropes. It was And I hope the rest of the series has more of the same.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Song of Achilles

by Madeleine Miller
New York : Ecco, c2012.

Patroclus is the son of a king, but early on he knew he disappointed his father. He could never match up to Achilles, the son of a goddess and the one destined to be the greatest Greek fighter ever. When Patroclus accidentally kills a boy, he is exiled to Achilles' father's kingdom. As these boys become friends and companions, Patroclus narrates their story leading up to events that will be familiar to anyone who knows their Greek mythology.

Full confession: I still haven't read The Iliad and The Odyssey. I still could see where events were going, to some extent, but I couldn't tell you where the author diverges from or imagines additions to the original story. While I didn't always like what happened, I never could imagine things differently, one of the highest compliments I can give to a story. The writing was wonderfully evocative, and I think this is the sort of book that I might have rated in my mind lower directly after finishing it, but it will linger in my mind awhile longer and come out as a stronger read several months later when I've had time to fully digest it. At the very least, it made me eager to pick up some of the original Greek myths.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Black Heart

by Holly Black
New York : Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2012.

***Spoiler warning*** for earlier books in the series; see also my reviews for White Cat and Red Glove.

Now Cassel knows he is a transformation worker, and finds his loyalties divided between Lila & his family on the one hand and the federal agents who promise him a life on the right side of the law on the other. Meanwhile, a schoolmate asks for his help when someone blackmails her. As a con artist from a family of workers, Cassel knows she's not telling him the whole truth, and he's not sure who to trust.

I've enjoyed this series because Cassel is such an interesting character, someone who is genuinely conflicted between the life he's always known, loyalty to family, and a desire to do the right thing. The pace is fast, keeping me up late turning pages and, even though Cassel is the narrator, surprising me with what he holds back. The end was such that I wasn't sure whether to expect more or not, but either way it's a satisfying read.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Ready Player One

by Ernest Cline
New York : Crown Publishers, 2011.

The year is 2044. The most popular video game: OASIS. It's not just a video game, it's a full-immersion MMOG on a huge scale. Real life has become so wretched that a lot of people find relief playing the game and searching for the "egg." One of these people is Wade Watts, the narrator, whose life dream is winning the game - and, as a result, all of the creator's money.

This was a really entertaining story with a lot of 1980s and other trivia thrown into the mix. The creator of the game, James Halliday, was a pop culture nut and "wanted people to like the same thing he liked," so of course, the solutions to his puzzles often have an answer in 80s movies, songs, and more. As Wade and his friends get closer to his goal, the stakes rise and the plot gains momentum 'til the end. Sure to satisfy your inner geek.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Below Stairs

by Margaret Powell
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2012.

Originally written in the 1960s, Margaret Powell's first memoir as a kitchen maid and then cook in the 1920s and 30s is newly reprinted with a subtitle touting it as the inspiration for "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey."

At first, I had a hard time believing this could be the inspiration, as it's very different from "Downton Abbey." An introduction with an explanation for the claim and a quick overview of the class system - though it's changed when Powell is writing, it's assumed you understand - would have been helpful to me as a young American, but there is none. Besides enjoying "Downton Abbey," I've done some research in family history and know I had relatives in service in the late 1800s to early 1900s, so I was interested in Powell's perspective. She pulls no punches in talking about her several positions with employers who were bad, worse or indifferent (I think there was one or two nice ones in there). She's not bitter, though, and she's often funny so once I got over the fact that it was different from what I expected, I did enjoy reading her thoughts and observations. Powell is clearly intelligent and curious and a reader. She has a sort of meandering, oral style and I could almost picture an older woman talking to someone, reminiscing about life when she was younger. The cover of the reissue - a woman dressed as a maid with a feather duster in hand and three young children in the background - has nothing to do with the contents (I surmise it may be from "Upstairs, Downstairs"?) and felt tacked on. If you're a fan of the "below stairs" aspect of "Downton Abbey," this eyewitness account will definitely be of interest.