Monday, April 30, 2012

Chocolat, Joanne Harris

We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hot plate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter. 

Beautiful, unmarried Vianne Rocher sweeps into the small French town of Lansquenet with her six year old daughter Anouk right after the carnival and opens a little chocolate shop. She begins to wreak havoc with the town's Lenten vows. She has an uncanny ability to know customers' troubles and know just what their favorite type of chocolate is and what will help them. She delights the villagers, but enrages Pere Reynaud, the priest. He is convinced that she is a witch, and he vows to stop her from staying.

At first glance, this is just a light book about chocolate, but really it talks about sin vs. guilt. I loved the descriptions of not only the wonderful chocolate, but also the town and the various inhabitants of it. Actually, Vianne is a bit of a witch, I'd say, but the term "witch" always denotes a certain evilness. Vianne is not evil at all. She just wants to help people, and her way of helping people is different than Pere Reynaud's. This book is a perfect example of how chocolate always helps. Well, almost always.

Read Chocolat:
  • if you like chocolate
  • if you like books with French settings
  • if you like books with a little bit of magic
306 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie

In the day's last light the glowing lake below the palace-city looked like a sea of molten gold. A traveler coming this way at sunset- this traveler, coming this way, now, along the lakeshore road- might believe himself to be approaching the throne of a monarch so fabulously wealthy that he could allow a portion of his treasure to be poured ino a giant hollow in the earth to dazzle and awe his guests. 

From the flap: "A tall, yellow-haired young European traveler calling himself "Mogor dell'Amore," the Mughal of Love, arrives at the court of the Emperor Akbar, lord of the great Mughal empire, with a tale to tell that begins to obsess the imperial capital, a tale about a mysterious woman, a great beauty believed to possess powers of enchantment and sorcery, and her impossible journey to the far-off city of Florence. The Enchantress of Florence is the story of a woman attempting to command her own destiny in a man's world. It is the story of two cities, unknown to each other, at the height of their powers- the hedonistic Mughal capital, in which the brilliant Akbar the Great wrestles daily with questions of belief, desire, and the treachery of his sons, and the equally sensual city of Florence during the High Renaissance, where Niccolo Machiavelli takes a starring role as he learns, the hard way, about the true brutality of power. Vivid, gripping, irreverent, bawdy, profoundly moving, and completely absorbing, The Enchantress of Florence is a dazzling book full of wonders by one of the world's most important living writers."

Another great book by Rushdie, which I enjoyed slightly more than The Satanic Verses, most likely because the subject matter was more interesting to me. And the writing was better. Rushdie still has plenty of long sentences of course, but there are less of them and they are more effective. His writing still has a dreamlike quality to it, seeming to float and drift from place to place. The Enchantress of Florence reads a little like an old Eastern fairytale, with an exotic setting and characters. The book also has some humorous moments as well.

Read The Enchantress of Florence:
  • if you like Salman Rushdie
  • if you like magic
  • if you like stories about enchantresses/sorceresses etc.
349 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Ultimate Teen Book Guide, edited by Daniel Hahn and Leonie Flynn

Books. There they are lined up on shelves or stacked on a table. There they are wrapped in their jackets, lines of neat print on nicely bound pages. They look like such orderly, static things. Then you, the reader, come along. 

After a brief introduction, this book kicks off with tons of great books. It has even more books than 500 Great Books for Teens, and I think I liked reading this book more. One thing that was great was that the reviews and descriptions of the books were written by various people: authors, editors, librarians, booksellers, and teenagers themselves. I got some great new books that I want to read! Another great thing was that there was a "Next?" box for each book, saying some other interesting related books. This was a really wonderful feature because I saw a lot of books that I'd read and loved, but then there were some interesting suggestions in the "Next?" box. One thing that I would say was better about 500 Great Books for Teens was that it gave the number of pages and publication date for each book. Also, UTBG was arranged in alphabetical order rather than genre, so if you're looking for a specific genre of book, 500 Great Books for Teens would be better, as it is arranged in genres. But if you're just browsing for a great book of any kind, UTBG is probably better. Also, UTBG has a lot of "extras," like reader's polls and essays on different genres.

Read UTBG:
  • if you're looking for a great book to read
404 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Big Splash, Jack D. Ferraiolo

He approached me as I made my way into the caf for lunch. He was small and wiry, with a face that would've been more at home on a rodent. His jaw moved slowly and with great purpose as it worked over a piece of fruit gum, the kind that gave off a sickeningly sweet smell but lost its flavor after three chews. His name was Joey Renoni, a.k.a. "the Hyena," and I knew who he worked for. 

The main character of this funny middle school mystery is Matt Stevens, a private eye at Franklin Middle School. He just accepted a job from Vincent "Vinny Biggs" Biggio, the kid behind every deal, from black market candy to forged hall passes. If you get on the wrong side of Vinny, then you get sent to the Outs club, the least popular club, by being shot with a squirt gun. Nicole Finnegan a.k.a. Nikki Fingers, a feared squirt gun assassin, is sent to the Outs, Matt is determined to find who did it. The problem is, Nikki had countless enemies. Matt is going to have to tread very carefully.

Though this book was kind of silly in a way, it was funny too. It used a lot of the language associated with hard-boiled detective stories, but it's set in a middle school. And of course, no one actually gets killed, just humiliated. There was a sort of love triangle-ish thing going on in the story, and a few surprising twists at the very end of the mystery.

Read The Big Splash:
  • if you like mysteries
  • if you like books set in middle schools
277 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness (inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd)

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. Conor was awake when it came. He'd had a nightmare. Well, not a nightmare. The nightmare. The one he'd been having a lot lately. The one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming. The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter how hard he tried to hold on. The one that always ended with-

I really loved the dark illustrations in A Monster Calls. They are on basically all the pages, and really go well with the story, which is also kind of dark. As the jacket says, "The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting. He's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly ever night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming... This monster, though, is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth." Wow. Well, the monster, which is a live yew tree, tells Conor three stories of its earlier days, and in return, Conor must tell it the "truth". Otherwise, the monster will eat it. The stories that the monster tells are almost like fairy tales, but not quite. There is no "good guy" and "bad guy." Murderers get rewarded, and evil queens get saved. But that's the point. My favorite part of the book was definitely the illustrations, by Jim Kay. This book tackles some serious issues, like cancer and divorce. I also thought that the idea of the yew tree coming to life as a "monster" was really interesting. And the monster isn't all that bad. It's just trying to teach Conor something. The ending was a bit odd, though.

Read A Monster Calls:
  • if you like books with great black and white drawings
  • if you like dark fantasy
  • if you like books with "monsters"
  • if you like books with trees coming to life
  • if you like books that talk about cancer
205 pages.