Saturday, May 17, 2014


by Veronica Roth
New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2013.

For the earlier books in the series, a ****spoiler**** warning...

And a link to my reviews of Divergent and Insurgent.

Tris and her friends are still at the Erudite compound after the factionless uprising and the showing of the video that many in Abnegation died to protect. Tobias' mother, Evelyn, has essentially established a dictatorship and forcibly dissolved the factions. Tris wants to get out of the city now that she's seen the video. Meanwhile, a group calling themselves Allegiant - allied to the founders' original intent for the city, including the factions - forms in opposition to Evelyn. Tris doesn't entirely agree with them, but could working with them get her the answers she needs?

Between the hype and how much I enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy, Allegiant had a lot to live up to. There was a lot I enjoyed: Tris and Tobias talk to each other (I was getting annoyed with the non-communication throughout Insurgent), the pages turn fast, and we get to see into Tobias's head as well as Tris's as the first-person narration moves back and forth between them. Unfortunately, I found the reasoning behind the creation of the city and the factions overly simplistic and less than believable. It didn't quite live up to all I had hoped it would be. That being said, I found the ending fitting and would definitely read the series again as a whole; this one just isn't my favorite.

Since I'm posting this many months after the book has come out (and, in fact, several months after I read it) - for any who have read the book and had thoughts on the ending, I thought I'd point you to Veronica Roth's post about why she make a certain choice about the ending. Whether you loved or hated what happened, what she had to say provided a lot of food for thought.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Elizabeth and Hazel

Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock
by David Margolick
New Haven : Yale University Press, c2011.

In September 1957, Central School in Little Rock, Arkansas, was court ordered to integrate. Nine black students were to attend. One of them, Elizabeth Eckford, walked alone and was turned away by National Guardsmen. During her walk, photographers captured her while white students behind. In particular focus was Hazel Massery, face contorted standing just behind Elizabeth in the picture. This is the story of that photograph and how these two women were forever impacted by that day.

David Margolick gives a much broader picture that the one photograph of that day, beginning with brief explanations of how Hazel and Elizabeth reached that point, and continuing with the story of what happened to the Little Rock Nine after they began at Central. While much of the Civil Rights era was before I was born and reads like history to me, both of these women experienced it and are still living, making the issues of race relations and prejudice all the more present and less historical in feel. It's a powerful story and one that leaves a lot to discuss:
  • Should a person be defined by one moment?
  • How would you have reacted as a student, either black or white?
  • Can major breaches like these ever truly heal?
This one will stick with me for a long time.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Bitter Kingdom

by Rae Carson
New York : Greenwillow Books, 2013.

This review for the final book in the trilogy with Girl of Fire and Thorns and The Crown of Embers contains ****spoilers**** for both titles.

Queen Elisa is on the run from Conde Eduardo, who has begun a civil war in her kingdom. Hector, the captain of her guard, has been captured and Elisa, her maid Mara, Belen and Storm will attempt to rescue him.

The first books were truly enjoyable reading, and the final book in the trilogy lived up to my expectations. Elisa is the bearer of a Godstone, and prophecy dictates that she has some great service to perform; she doesn't know what that means, but she strives to make the best decisions and plans that she can for her friends and her country. She has grown much from a princess who was kept in the dark to a more self-assured queen, even if she has moments of questioning her choices and motives. I really liked this fantasy series because Elisa's character is so incredibly human. She's not the damsel in distress and she's not a kickass heroine either, but she weighs her choices, frets sometimes, and always does the best she knows how to do. Because of that, I'm sure I would enjoy revisiting this trilogy in the future.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Black Powder War

by Naomi Novik
New York : Ballantine Books, c2006.

***Spoilers*** for earlier books in the series: His Majesty's Dragon and Throne of Jade.

Will Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, are suddenly recalled from China by orders from the aerial corp: they are to return by way of Turkey to pick up dragon eggs that Britain sorely needs in their fight against Napoleon. But of course, nothing is ever straightforward in war and political machinations between nations. Meanwhile, Lien is still enraged by her prince's death and is plotting revenge on Temeraire.

I'm continuing my reread of the earlier Temeraire books in an attempt to get caught up on the series, and am thoroughly enjoying revisiting these stories. I read and listened to this one in turns; the audiobooks are read by Simon Vance and excellently so. Perhaps because the majority of the book is a journey (just like the second) or because it was drawn out over several weeks while I listened, I don't like it quite as well as the first two books. The story continues to develop the characters and shows Laurence's evolving views on the treatment of dragons as he and Temeraire continue their travels and conversations.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz
New York : Riverhead Books, c2007.

Oscar is a social misfit; he is interested in all things science fiction, and wants to become the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien. Growing up in Paterson, New Jersey with his tough-as-nails mother and sister, he is luckless in love. The narrator, who calls himself the Watcher, gives us the story not just of Oscar, but also of where he came from and the curse that seems to have followed his family from Trujillo's rule in the Dominican Republic.

This is a difficult book to categorize. It's smart and funny and heartbreaking. It's rawer in language and content than what I tend to read. There are several references to science fictional works and untranslated Spanish terms, neither of which I could really understand without help (thanks to Google translate, I've learned an awful lot of Spanish insults and swears). About the only thing I had in common with Oscar was a love for Tolkien. And yet, I was drawn into the story of this boy very much unlike me, and his family who could not escape a power-hungry dictator. I cared about Oscar and his sister Lola and wanted to see them make good. It's the sort of book I'm hard-pressed to describe an audience for, but one I would recommend for someone who enjoys unique, inventive fiction.

Friday, March 14, 2014

How the Light Gets In

by Louise Penny
New York : Minotaur Books, 2013.

This is - let me see - the ninth book in the fabulous Three Pines/Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. My reviews of previous titles in the series (from newest to oldest) can be found as follows:
At the end of the last book, Jean Guy Beauvoir walked away from Inspector Gamache to follow after his addictions and Chief Superintendent Sylvain Francour. As the Christmas season gets closer, Gamache's department has been completely decimated and only Isabel Lacoste is left standing with him. Meanwhile, Myrna Landers calls from Three Pines when a friend of hers goes missing.

This series has been incredible in the way I've come to know and care about these characters almost as much as friends. The end of The Beautiful Mystery left me incredibly unsettled (should books be getting these reactions out of me?), and I couldn't wait to pick this up and find out what would happen next. Many of the storylines that have been threaded through previous books come to a head in this one, in a way I found incredibly satisfying. I gobbled this up in three days, became invested even when I'd already figured out part of the solution, and found myself swinging from emotional extremes of fear and joy. I wasn't sure Louise Penny could top Bury Your Dead for my all-time favorite in the series, but I do believe she has done so with this one.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Crossing to Safety

by Wallace Stegner
New York : Random House, 1987.

Larry and Sally Morgan. Sid and Charity Lang. One couple from the west, poor and hardworking. The other from the east and rich. Larry and Sid happen to work together at a university in Wisconsin; their wives strike up a friendship, the Morgans are invited over for a party and the rest, as they say, is history.

This is essentially the story of an unlikely friendship between four people, sometimes held together by a shoestring, memories, and the force of Charity's personality, but always dear to all. These are rich characters, likable and maddening, and so completely real. The narrative descriptions are pitch-perfect word pictures that made me wish I could write that (seemingly) effortlessly, and what isn't said is as important as what is.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dad is Fat

by Jim Gaffigan
New York, NY : Crown, 2013.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan reflects on his experience as a father of five, living in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City.

That one line of description both says it all and, well, doesn't really describe it sufficiently, unless you happen to have experience with large families or living in New York City. I'm the oldest of five, so I found many of the stories amusing even though my knowledge of the scenarios he describes comes from being one of the kids. I could relate to some of what he wrote about, and those were the funniest parts for me. Parents could probably relate best, but even if you're not, consider giving it a try. I have it on good authority from a couple of my co-workers that the audiobook is excellent, since you get the comedian's own delivery.

To get both a flavor of his brand of comedy (and to have a frame of reference for one of the routines he refers to often in his book), check out his thoughts on "Hot Pockets":

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Oath of Fealty

by Elizabeth Moon
New York : Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 2011 (hardcover published 2010).

Kieri Phelan, the former Duke and soon to be crowned King of Lyonya, has a new challenge in ruling a human and elven kingdom and convincing his Council that they need to have a protective army for defense. His former captains, Arcolin and Dorrin Verrakai, have challenges of their own as Arcolin takes over the Duke's mercenary company and Dorrin returns to her estranged family's holding as the new Duke Verrakai.

Though Oath of Fealty begins with events soon after the end of Oath of Gold in Paksennarion's trilogy, this book could also be read as a standalone and the beginning of the new series. As such, it is less focused on Paks (though she's still a character) than on Phelan, Arcolin, and Dorrin as well as political events between Tsaia, Lyonya, and Pargun. The various events involving the Verrakai betrayal and companies of bandits clearly have an underlying link that apparently have some connection to the former pirate, Alured, a much bigger conspiracy than anyone first guessed. I really enjoyed returning to Paks' world, and enjoyed getting to know some of the characters better who had been more minor, especially Dorrin. She's the one good out of a pretty rotten family, and often questions herself and her motives while she tries her best, very believably a mix of doubt and action. I hope I won't wait so long before reading the next book in the series.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mistress of the Art of Death

by Ariana Franklin
New York : Berkley Books, 2008.

In 1170, a child is found brutally murdered in Cambridge, and the townspeople are quick to blame the Jews. King Henry II doesn't particularly care about the Jewish people, but he does care about his lost income now that they are holed up in a castle for their own protection, and arranges to have someone sent to investigate. Enter Adelia, a woman doctor from Salerno, and her traveling companions Simon and Mansur, who arrive to look into the matter.

The best historical fiction, to my mind, teaches you something about a time period, a people, or a culture while telling a really good story. This book does that in spades, giving such information about the Church at that time, medicine, and more. Yet there's no time for an information dump, because the story reads fast, at first because there is a lot of dialog and short paragraphs and, as the story progresses, an ever-faster pace as we draw closer to the conclusion. I have to say, the identity of the murderer was not all that surprising to me (one of a few people I had on my own suspects list), but exactly how it happened and how everything was resolved was indeed unexpected. In this sort of book, you're always on the lookout for glaring anachronisms. Adelia herself is the biggest anachronism of all - not so much because she's a woman doctor, which is handled believably, but because of her modern ideas and practices. The others are dealt with well in the author's note. The descriptions of the dead and what had been done to them was a bit much for the squeamish side of me. Granted, I was reading so fast much of this washed over me and I only noticed looking back.

If you really enjoy historical mysteries, this is the first in the series and well worth reading. Ariana Franklin is the pen name of Diana Norman, a British journalist and author, who sadly passed away in 2011.

Monday, February 24, 2014


by Neal Shusterman
New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013.

UnSouled is the third book in this series - ***spoiler warning*** for the first two books, Unwind and Unwholly.

Connor and Lev are on the run from the mess that was once the Graveyard. Before he left, Trace had given Connor a bit of information about Proactive Citizenry – the group that seems to be behind quite a lot having to do with unwinding as well as the creators of Camus Comprix, the first person to be made with parts of the unwound – and a mysterious man named Janson Rheinschild. Following that up seems to be all he can think to do, now that Risa is gone who-knows-where. Meanwhile, Cam himself is determined to win Risa's love and trust by demolishing the very organization that made him.

The more I read this series, the more I can believe the premise, that people could get so fed up with “feral” teenagers that they start to think that using them for transplants and saving lives would really be for society's good. In the midst of the future dystopia are real, recent news articles and clippings on related topics, such as black market organ donors and a politician who apparently wrote that he thought there should be a death penalty for rebellious children – not that anyone would use the option, mind you, but that it might scare kids into behaving. This just adds to the believability of what might otherwise sound completely nightmarish and over the top. The various complicated ways in which Proactive Citizenry is working and unwinding has become entrenched in society are further unfolded. I especially enjoyed getting more of Sonia's backstory, that of the woman who first took in Connor and Risa and started them on their way through the safe houses that brought them to the Graveyard. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the series comes together in book four, due to come out next year.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


by Neal Shusterman
New York : Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, 2013 (hardcover pub. 2012).

Unwholly is the second book in a series: this is a ****spoiler warning**** for the first book, Unwind.

Connor, presumed dead by the authorities, is running the Graveyard, a home to the kids still under 17 who are in danger of being “unwound.” Risa works with him as a medic, in a wheelchair because she refused to accept the spine of an unwind – a teen who has been unwound into a “divided” state, with basically all parts used medically for transfusion and transplant. Lev, the former “clapper” who did not clap and detonate the explosives in his blood, has gone through medical treatment to make himself stable and is now feeling stifled, talking to kids in danger of being unwound but unable to speak out against unwinding either.

The book is hard to describe if you haven't read the first book, and would be hard to follow as a standalone as well. The future civilization Shusterman describes has an element of possibility in it: what if really screwed up teenagers were “unwound” to provide organ and other transplants? What if abortion didn't exist, but you could leave an unwanted baby at a doorstep as long as you weren't caught (a practice known as “storking”), with the expectation that the owners of the house would take the child? This series explores the implications of this dystopia, with no easy answers. Unwholly takes up soon after Unwind left off, continuing the multi-perspective switches between Connor, Risa and Lev, and adding some new characters in Starkey, Miracolina, and the “parts pirate” Nelson, who's after runaway unwinds (also known as AWOLs, the kids whose parents have signed the unwind order but who get away before they are picked up to go to “harvest camp”) for the black market. Another new character, Cam, adds another element to the mix as a sort of Frankenstein creation from the parts of unwound kids. Is he merely a conglomeration of all these parts, or is he more? Does he have his own soul? A creepy, fast-paced, and thought-provoking series I'd recommend to a variety readers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


by Neal Shusterman
New York : Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, c2007.

Sometime in the future, pro-life and pro-choice groups had a war and the outcome was that there would be no more abortions, but parents could choose to "unwind" a child between the ages of 13 and 18. Connor finds out that his parents have signed the order to have him unwound and runs away; Risa is a ward of the state and budget issues mean they just can't afford her any more; Lev is a "tithe" who knew all his life that he was special and meant to be unwound. When these three teens' lives converge, they will never be the same.

Enjoyed is not quite the right word for this book, but I was deeply engrossed from the get-go. The pacing is fast and the scenario so well-imagined and described that while you're reading the book, you believe events could play out like this. The perspectives switch between multiple characters - usually Connor, Risa, and Lev, but some secondary characters too - which helps keep the tension building and allows you to get to know each of them. Exactly what is going on, what unwinding means, and what it this law has done to society, is slowly revealed and builds to the end leaving you breathless.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Throne of Jade

by Naomi Novik
New York : Ballantine Books, 2006.

Rereading a series has a whole host of difficulties when I'm also trying to review them for the first time. I reviewed His Majesty's Dragon in September and hate to repeat myself here. At the same time, I don't want to give spoilers for each title as I go along, but it's hard to go back to my initial impressions when the stories were new to me. As a result, the following is more like a list of impressions than a proper review.

In the second book in the Temeraire series, Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, must go to China when the Chinese emperor discovers that his gift to Napoleon has gone amiss and a Celestial dragon is serving in the British aerial corps.

The main strength of the series, to my mind, is Laurence and Temeraire's conversations - sometimes bantering, sometimes serious. In this one, the treatment of dragons in Britain is questioned, particularly in reference to the slave trade. Though they don't reach China until well into the book, the journey is a lot of fun because of the well-rounded characters who are so much fun to spend time with.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


by Doug Dorst
conceived by J.J. Abrams
New York, N.Y. : Mulholland Books, 2013.

When a student working at a college library stumbles on a book that a grad student accidentally left behind - The Ship of Theseus by V.S. Straka - she starts writing back to his marginalia. Their correspondence in the margins of the book begins an investigation into who the elusive "V.S. Straka" may be, a mystery that grows all the more menacing as they realize the long arms of the people who worked against the mysterious "S."

The whole conceit of this book is, I have to admit, the most fascinating thing about it. The book is a thing of beauty, an old-fashioned grey hardcover with "The Ship of Theseus" on the spine (the box it comes in, which is pictured above, has the actual title), aged papers and a sewn spine. The design is perfectly in line with the idea that this is an old book, a title from an old high school library, and the second story - of the two students, Jen and Eric - unfolds in the margins in multicolored pen to give readers insight into the order of events. There's a decoder wheel and codes and inserts in between pages of the book. Really, you could spend so much time just trying to pick it apart that I would recommend buying it instead of borrowing it from the library, as I did. Then too, the story is a fun one and the reader does have to do some work as there are some things that Jen and Eric never explicitly spell out in their marginalia. Definitely worth checking out, and I'd read it again just to see if I understood the beginning better now that I know the end.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


by Orham Pamuk
translated by Maureen Freely
New York : Everyman's Library, 2011 (originally published in Turkish in 2002 and in English translation in 2004).

Ka, a Turkish poet recently returned from exile in Germany, travels to Kars to investigate the recent suicides of "head scarf girls," the young women who wear head scarves in protest of the laws that do not allow them to wear them to university. Also, not incidentally, this is where a women he knew in school, Ipek, lives after her divorce. After his arrival, Kars is cut off from the rest of the country by a snowstorm that closes the roads.

This rich tale is hard to explain. It unfolds in such a way that it is hard to describe accurately, since what seems important for the first 50 pages or so turn out not to be the main focus of this exploration of the tension between the secularists and the Islamists, politics and performance, personal happiness and duty. The narrative distances us from events and characters through its layered qualities. Though most of the story is told from Ka's perspective the actual narrator - a friend of Ka's who is unnamed for much of the story - knows the end of events before he begins, and will often speak directly to the reader about these future events. While in Kars (which means "snow"), Ka finds himself able to write poetry even while he is faced with questions about his own identity and faith, or lack of it. He becomes a (possibly?) unwilling participant in events that leave the narrator and reader intentionally fuzzy about exactly what happens. Not for the fainthearted reader, but for one willing to persevere and pick apart the novel, it's a meaty and involving read.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Mastiff (Beka Cooper #3)

by Tamora Pierce
New York : Random House, 2011.

Even though I read Terrier in 2010 and Bloodhound in 2011, in took me until late 2013 to finally read the third book in the trilogy. I'm not sure why, except that for some reason in my head I'd finished the series. Now, I finally truly have!

In the final book of the Beka Cooper trilogy, Beka and her partner Tunstall are called away secretly by Lord Gershom to investigate the kidnapping of the Crown Prince of the realm. Her scent hound Achoo is needed, and they are helped by a mage named Farmer who seems out of his element but is one of the few who can be trusted in what seems more and more like a political play by who knows how many mages angered by the king's potential oversight in their craft.

I read the other two books over two years ago, but fortunately didn't suffer much for it. I could generally remember who characters were and what their relationships were to each other; except for the very beginning, the story itself was fairly self-contained, so it didn't matter that I didn't remember 100% of the events in the previous two books and what I really needed to know was introduced in a way that I could follow easily. Beka has developed quite a bit from the shy Puppy she was in Terrier, and it was fun to see her really grow into her own here as a full partner in a Hunt. I don't think the journal format works as well as a simple first-person narrator would have, as mentions of when Beka's finding time to write in her journal or comments that these were written much later than events just became clunky and distracting from the narrative. Even so, this series is a good strong fantasy that I would have no trouble recommending to a variety of readers.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Moon and More

by Sarah Dessen
New York : Viking, 2013.

NOTE: I've fallen quite a bit behind over the last few months, and have decided to intersperse older reviews with new ones until I get caught up. This book was actually read last summer.

In just a few short months, Emaline knows a lot will change. She's always lived in Colby, works for her family at a resort renting out beachfront properties to vacationers and has gone out with Luke since 9th grade. But she's going away to college - granted, not to Columbia, but to a college a few hours away - and change is coming whether she's ready or not.

Nothing says "summer" like a new Sarah Dessen novel, but I wonder if I should give them a rest for awhile. Part of the trouble is I know what to expect - heroine at a crossroads, getting to know herself - and no matter the difference in packaging (in this case, Emaline has a happily blended family, and her father is a more distant figure), it's lost some of its freshness and appeal to me. Or maybe I'm just getting old, and find it harder to relate to the main characters. Still, it wasn't a bad story; I read quickly and enjoyed it. Emaline is a well-drawn, believable character, and I enjoyed her interactions with her step-sisters and mother. Her struggles between what the new boy, Theo, and her father (the distant, biological one rather than her real dad) want for her and deciding what she wants will ring true for teens.