Thursday, May 31, 2012

Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller's Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages, Michael Popek

It's happened to all of us: we're reading a book, something interrupts us, and we grab the closest thing at hand to mark our spot. It could be a train ticket, a letter, an advertisement, a photograph, or a four-leaf clover. Eventually the book finds its way into the world-a library, a flea market, other people's bookshelves, or to a used bookstore. But what becomes of those forgotten bookmarks? What stories could they tell? By day, Michael Popek works in his family's used bookstore. By night, he's the voyeuristic force behind, where he shares the weird objects he has found among the stacks at his store. Forgotten Bookmarks is a scrapbook of Popek's most interesting finds. Sure, there are actual bookmarks, but there are also pictures and ticket stubs, old recipes and notes, valentines, unsent letters, four-leaf clovers, and various sordid, heartbreaking, and bizarre keepsakes. Together this collection of lost treasures offers a glimpse into other readers' lives that they never intended for us to see.

That pretty much sums up the book. It was quite an interesting idea for a book, too. I certainly sometimes pick up random cards and use them as bookmarks, so I could relate. Different unfinished stories unfold throughout the book, which is divided into five sections: Photographs; Letters, Cards, and Correspondence; Notes, Poems, Lists, and Other Written Ephemera; Receipts, Invoices, Advertising, and Other Official Documents; and The Old Curiosity Shop: From Four-Leaf Clovers to Razor Blades. Some sections were more interesting than others, but it was fun book to read. The pages were high-quality, and the photographs of the different objects were good. It was also interesting to see what book each object was found in. 

Read Forgotten Bookmarks:
  • if you're interested in strange stuff found in books
  • if you like old stuff
  • if you're looking for an interesting book of photographs and letters
181 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Rose and The Beast: Fairy Tales Retold, Francesca Lia Block

From "Snow": When she was born her mother was so young, still a girl herself, didn't know what to do with her. She screamed and screamed- the child. Her mother sat crying in the garden. The gardener came by to dig up the soil. It was winter. The child was frost-colored. The gardener stood before the cold winter sun, blocking the light with his broad shoulders. The mother looked like a broken rose bush. 

As you can (obviously) tell from the title, this is a book of retold fairy tales by Francesca Lia Block. I love fairy tales, especially with new twists or different endings, so this was the perfect book for me-or so I thought. Block is known for writing dark stories, and these fairy tales are as well. Perhaps a bit too dark. They are very different from the original. Block's writing style is very distinct too. In fact, many of the blurbs on the back of the book commented about Block's language. I'm not sure if I liked it though. Kind of flat. And really, reflecting back, the stories were really grim. And not just in the Grimm sense of the word. Grim. One M. I mean, I know that fairy tales aren't all skipping in meadows filled flowers, and I enjoy reading slightly dark fairy tales, but not this dark. Read Angela   Carter (The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories) if you want some darker fairy tales. Not this.

Read The Rose and The Beast:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like fairy tales
  • if you like very dark retellings of fairy tales
229 pages.

Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Brooklyn: A Novel, Colm Toibin

 Eilis Lacey, sitting at the window of the upstairs living room in the house on Friary Street, noticed her sister walking briskly from work. She watched  Rose crossing the street from sunlight into shade, carrying the new leather handbag that she had bought in Clerys in Dublin in the sale. Rose was wearing a cream-coloured cardigan over her shoulders. Her golf clubs were in the hall; in a few minutes, Eilis knew, someone would call for her and her sister would not return until the summer evening had faded.

Eilis Lacey grew up in a small town in Ireland. A priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor her in America, and she decides to go, leaving her mother and sister behind. Eilis works in a department store, and finds unexpected love in the form of Tony, who loves the Dodgers. He slowly wins her over, but a family tragedy back in Ireland threatens her future.  

I mainly decided to read this book because of the title; I really love New York. This book, however, did not impress me. The characters felt flat and unreal; I barely cared about them. The narration was sort of passive and basically nothing happened. Even when something did, I didn't get too excited about it, because the way it was told was boring. I only finished it because it was fairly short and I thought I might as well to see if it ever picked up. But it didn't

Read Brooklyn:
  • if you like books set in Ireland and New York
  • if you like historical fiction
  • otherwise, just skip it
262 pages.

If the library doesn't have it, don't worry about reading it!

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Weird Sisters, Eleanor Brown

From the prologue: We came home because we were failures. We wouldn't admit that, of course, not at first, not to ourselves, and certainly not to anyone else. We said we came home because our mother was ill, because we needed a break, a momentary pause before setting off for The Next Big Thing. But the truth was, we had failed, and rather than let anyone else know, we crafted careful excuses and alibis, and wrapped them around ourselves like a cloak to keep out the cold truth. The first stage: denial. 

When their mother gets cancer, the three Andreas sisters return home: Rose, the shy homebody eldest sister, can't seem to leave her hometown for the man she loves, the glamorous Bean or Bianca comes home from New York City, and the youngest Cordy suddenly resurfaces. The Andreas family is kind of eccentric: they love books and TV is something that other families watch. Their father is a Shakespeare scholar and communicates using Shakespeare almost all the time. Even the three sisters are named after Shakespearean characters. They are all grappling with their problems and trying to come to terms with their relationship towards each other. And meanwhile, their mother is very ill and Cordy is pregnant.

The narration of The Weird Sisters was very interesting. It was really narrated by all three sisters at the same time. No "I's" or "me's" are every used; instead "our's" and "we's". It was a bit confusing, but effective. It really emphasizes the way the sisters are connected, though they may seem different and not always get along. As it says on the cover, "See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much." This isn't really my favorite type of fiction: family relationships and problems, but it was an enjoyable read.

Read The Weird Sisters:
  • if you are interested in Shakespeare
  • if you like books set in small towns (in Ohio)
  • if you like books about cancer
  • if you like books about sisters
  • if you like books about family relationships
318 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, Lewis Buzbee

When I walk into a bookstore, any bookstore, first thing in the morning, I'm flooded with a sense of hushed excitement. I shouldn't feel this way. I've spent most of my adult life working in bookstores, either as a bookseller or a publisher's sales rep, and even though I no longer work in the business, as an incurable reader I find myself in a bookstore at least five times a week. 

In this interesting book, Lewis Buzbee, who worked in bookstores for many years, tells about not only his experiences and fascination with books, but also the history of books and bookstores. This book could have been made into something very boring, but I was continually entertained and didn't find it at all dull. The book intersperses personal ancedotes along with historical notes, a perfect balance. Buzbee also offers his opinions on new reading technologies, such as e-books and If you like to read, this is a great book to offer some insight on bookstores and what happens to books before you buy them. I really liked hearing about the two independent bookstores that he worked in in California, and the people he meet there. I also got more book recommendations from this one.

Read The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop:
  • if you like books about books
  • if you are interested in bookstores
  • if you like history
216 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Steampunk: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant

Time is many things, her father told her. Time is a circle, and time is a great turning gear that cannot be stopped, and time is a river that carries away what you love. 

Steampunk is a really interesting genre, a mix of science fiction and fantasy. And it can be set in all sorts of places, as well illustrated in this great anthology. There are some pretty famous writers, including Cassandra Clare, Garth Nix, Kelly Link herself, Libba Bray, and Holly Black. There were also two comic stories, which I didn't like as much. I think my favorite story was Steam Girl, by Dylan Horrocks, but The Last Ride of the Glory Girls by Libba Bray was also. And The Summer Girl. So basically I liked all of them. Some were scary, some were funny, and some had both. I would really recommend these short stories. The cover was cool too.

Read Steampunk:
  • if you like steampunk
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like science fiction
  • if you like short stories
412 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, Jessica Day George

Long ago and far away in the land of ice and snow, there came a time when it seemed that winter would never end. The months when summer should have given the land respite were cold and damp, and the winter montsh were snow filled and colder still. The people said the cold had lasted a hundred years, and feared that it would last a hundred more. It was not a natural winter, and no one knew what witch or troll had caused the winds to howl so fiercly.

Jessica Day George is a really good writer; her stories feel like fairy tales. This is another retelling of the Norwegian folktale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and I liked it just as much as East, another retelling by Edith Pattou. If not more. The main character of the story is just called "the lass" or "the pika" (pika means girl.) She agrees to go to live with a white bear in his ice castle for one year to help her poor family. But she realizes that the bear is under an evil enchantment, and when she endangers him, she sets off on a quest to learn the truth. The writing was great in this book; it was absorbing all the way through. Even though I sort of knew what was going to happen already from other retellings, I still wanted to keep reading. There are great characters, and as Jessica Day George studied Scandavia, the setting felt very real.

Read Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like retellings of old folktales
  • if you liked East
  • if you like Shannon Hale or Patricia C. Wrede
317 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wildwood Dancing, Juliet Marillier

I've heard it said that girls can't keep secrets. That's wrong: we'd proved it. We'd kept ours for years and years, ever since we came to live at Piscul Dracului and stumbled on the way into the Other Kingdom.

I just loved, loved, loved this great fantasy book set in Transylvania. Jena is the second eldest of five sisters. They live with their father near the Wildwood, where the Other World is. On the Full Moon, they secretly go to visit the fairy land and dance the night away. But when their father falls ill and must go away for his health, her controlling cousin Cezar begins to take over the castle. Plus, there is trouble in the Other World. It's complicated, but in a good way.

This book had mystery elements in it and was so suspenseful. I read it in almost one sitting. I loved the characters, both in this world and the other. And in the in, everything fit together perfectly. I loved the ending too, though it was slightly cheesy. Just slightly, mind you, and the rest of the book more than makes up for it. And it had interesting cover art.

Read Wildwood Dancing:
  • if you like books set in Transylvania
  • if you like mysteries
  • if you are looking for an enchanting and suspenseful book
400 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays, Anne Fadiman

The net was green. The handle was wood, and the grip was uncomfortably thick, like that of a tennis racket borrowed from an older player. 

Those first two sentences were from the first essay in this book, "Collecting Nature." I was interested in this book and delighted to discover that the Timberland Library had it. Anne Fadiman writes about familiar things: her crush on Charles Lamb, her habit of catching butterflies, her ice cream obsession, and some more serious ones as well. Her writing style is really engaging and witty, whether she's writing about a serious thing or just something that she enjoys. I really loved this book and all the topics that Fadiman chose to write about. I think my favorite essay was the one called "Night Owl", which talked about her sleeping habits. It was really interesting. I also, of course, liked the one about ice cream. I would really recommend this book.

Read At Large and At Small:
  • if you like short essays
  • if you are looking for a very witty and interesting book
196 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Return to Paris, Colette Rossant

The windows in my study are wide open; I am looking down at the garden. The cherry tree is in full bloom and from above it looks like a very light white cloud. I remember when we planted it thirty years ago. Juliette, my daughter, wanted a small cherry tree for her birthday. We planted what we believed was a miniature cherry tree. To our surprise it grew nearly sixty feet high and produced great, dark Bing cherries. Juliette loves the tree and thinks that when and if we sell the house, she will cut down the tree and use its wood to make furniture.

Wow, that beginning is just typical of people. If you can't have something anymore, you have to destroy it. Anyway...

A young Colette Rossant returned to Paris after living in Egypt. Her mother left her behind to live with her stern grandmother. But in Paris, Colette's sense begin to awaken. She is taken under the wing of Georgette, the cook, and introduced to the city's markets and French cooking, which she quickly grows to love. This memoir accounts her life from when she arrived in Paris to when she eventually married an American, scandalizing her family.

Rossant's prose was very terse and abrupt. It took some getting used to, but then it was good. I was really struck by how cruelly she was treated by her grandmother. I mean, I'm sure her grandmother loved Colette in her own way, but she sure didn't know how to show it! There are also a lot of great recipes included throughout the book (Rossant became a chef), and I liked the descriptions of various foods and dishes. And of Paris.

Read Return to Paris:
  • if you like memoirs
  • if you like cooking
  • if you like food books
227 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Eye of the Warlock, P.W. Catanese

Rudi had a feeling that something was wrong as soon as he returned from the village. The little girls were nowhere in sight. "Elsebeth? Lucie?" he called. But neither of them answered. A warm, prickly feeling swept across the back of his neck.

This story is a sort of continuation of the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. Rudi lives in the same cottage that Hansel and Gretel lived in with Lucie and Elsebeth, two little girls, and a cruel aunt and kind-hearted but weak uncle. When a stranger asks for Rudi's help to find Hansel's treasure, Rudi sees a way out of his miserable life for himself and the girls. But he and the stranger discover that evil has come to the forest. And then Lucie and Elsebeth are stolen by a warlock. The ransom price is that the warlock wants Hansel. It sounded like an interesting plot, and I enjoyed parts of the story, but the characters felt odd and unrealistic. Rudi has big problems, and so does Hansel. Also, the action goes a bit too fast for my taste. It did have its moments, though. Just not my style of fantasy.

Read The Eye of the Warlock:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like adventure
  • if you like expanded versions of old fairytales
241 pages.
Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Magician, Raymond E. Feist

The storm had broken. Pug danced along the edge of the rocks, his feet finding scant purchase as he made his way among the tide pools. His dark eyes darted about as he peered into each pool under the cliff face, seeking the spiny creatures driven into the shallows by the recently passed storm. His boyish muscles bunched under his light shirt as he shifted the sack of sandcrawlers, rockclaws, and crabs plucked from this water garden.

This is really a classic fantasy book, with all the fantasy elements: dwarves, elves, magicians, kings and queens, and otherwordly invaders. There are many characters, but the main one is Pug, a keep boy who becomes a great magician. His world not only has plenty of magic, but the Tsurani, aliens from another planet, come to try and take over Pug's world. So Magician has a bit of science fiction in it too. Both Magician and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are definitely fantasy, but they are very different. Magician is action-packed throughout, more the kind of fantasy where wizards throw balls of magic at one another. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell progresses much more slowly.

I really liked the first section of Magician; the magic was interesting, and so were the characters. It got a little strange towards the end; I think Feist was trying to be a bit too clever, and it didn't quite work. But if you like fantasy with lots of action, Magician is the book for you. It was very absorbing. Also, normally Magician is published in two separate volumes: Magician: Apprentice and  Magician: Master, so I was happy to find both in one volume.

Read Magician:
  • if you like fantasy, particularly with lots of action
  • if you like fantasy that combines many elements
545 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

So Mom got the postcard today. It says Congratulations in big curly letters, and at the very top is the address of Studio TV-15 on West 58th Street. After three years of trying, she has actually made it. She's going to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid, which is hosted by Dick Clark.

This is another great book that I really should have read by now. It also won the Newbery Award. But I just never got around to it, until now. And I was not disappointed. In fact, I really liked this book. It's part realistic fiction, part science fiction. I know, right? They're not supposed to mix. Yet they do in this book. Sixth grader Miranda begins receiving strange notes about the future, as if someone has traveled to the future and seen what has happened to her later. Meanwhile, her friend Sal is growing ever more distant from her, shutting her out of his life. The first note says: I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own. I ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter. The notes keep coming, and Miranda begins to believe that only she can prevent a very tragic death.

The whole book was super suspenseful; I read it in basically one sitting (admittedly it was only 197 pages.) I really wanted to find out who the notes were from. With such a lofty mystery, one might think that the ending would fall short, but it didn't. I loved the ending just as much as the rest of the book. It felt so right. No spoilers, though, so you have to read the book if you haven't already read it.

Read When You Reach Me:
  • if you like realistic fiction with a splash of science fiction (contradictory isn't it?)
  • if you like mysteries
  • if you are looking for a really great (but easy and quick) read that will leave you thinking
197 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kira-Kira, Cynthia Kadohata

My sister, Lynn, taught me my first word: kira-kira. I pronounced it ka-a-ahhh, but she knew what I meant. Kira-kira means "glittering" in Japanese. Lynn told me that when I was a baby, she used to take me onto our empty road at night, where we would lie on our backs and look at the stars while she said over and over, "Katie, say 'kira-kira, kira-kira.'" I loved that word! When I grew older, I used kira-kira to describe everything I liked: the beautiful blue sky, puppies, kittens, butterflies, colored Kleenex.

I realize that I should have read this book a long time ago, but I just never got around to it. Kira-Kira won the Newbery Award. Kira-Kira tells of Katie Takeshima, who looks up to her older sister, Lynn, who makes everything seem "kira-kira." When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa, to Georgia, Lynn explains to her why people stare at them.  But then Lynn becomes very ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart. It's up to Katie to help them remember that there is also kira-kira in the future.

I really loved the way that Kadohata weaved that one Japanese term, kira-kira, into the story. It was a central part, being so important to the main character and giving her hope. Despite their not-so-great living conditions in Georgia, the Takeshima family always manages to survive. The ending was bittersweet, sad but good.

Read Kira-Kira:

  • if you like books about Japanese immigrants
  • if you are looking for a middle-grade fiction book
  • if you like books that talk illness
  • if you want to read a Newbery Award winner
244 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

American Chica: Two Worlds, One Childhood, Marie Arana

The corridors of my skull are haunted. I carry the smell of sugar there. The odors of a factory- wet cane, dripping iron, molasses pits- are up behind my forehead, deep inside my throat. I'm reminded of those scents when children offer me candy from a damp palm, when the man I love sighs with wine upon his tongue, when I inhale the heartbreaking sweetness of rotting fruit and human waste that rises from garbage dwellers' camps along the road to Lima. 

Though Marie Arana is Peruvian, not Chilean, her writing style really reminded me a lot of Isabel Allende's. American Chica is a memoir, but it's not a straightforward memoir; she meanders between her own experiences and investigating her family. A big focus of American Chica is Arana's identity. Her father is a Peruvian, and here mother an American, and she's not sure whether she's South American or a "gringa." Through different phases of her life, she alternates between the two. In Peru, she's expected to be a proper lady, but in her mother's American family in Wyoming she learns to shoot a gun, break a horse, and kill a chicken for dinner, two very different worlds. American Chica is mainly about coming to terms with the fact the she is a "hybrid" American with two different cultural identities. But I think my favorite parts of the book were the parts about her family, both her immediate family and her more distant relatives. Also, the descriptions of life in Peru were really great.

Read American Chica:
  • if you like memoirs
  • if you are interested in Peru
  • if you like Isabel Allende
  • if you like books about coming to terms with who you really are
305 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

The story I am about to share with you takes place in 1931, under the roofs of Paris. Here you will meet a boy named Hugo Cabret, who once, long ago, discovered a mysterious drawing that changed his life forever. But before you turn the page, I want you to picture yourself sitting ion the darkness, like the beginning of a movie. On screen, the sun will soon rise, and you will find yourself zooming toward a train station in the middle of the city. You will rush through the doors into a crowded lobby. You will eventually spot a boy amid the crowd, and he will start to move through the train station. Follow him, because this is Hugo Cabret. His head is full of secrets, and he's waiting for his story to begin. 
-Professor H. Alcofrisbas 

Hugo Cabret is an orphan, a clock keeper, and a thief. He lives in the walls of a Paris train station, and he has many secrets. But when his world interlocks with an eccentric girl and a bitter old toy-shop owner, his secret is about to be revealed. A cryptic drawing, a notebook, a stolen key, an automan, and a hidden message from Hugo's father make up much of the mystery.

This was the book before Wonderstruck, and I must say that I did like certain elements of Wonderstruck better. For example, the three main characters in The Invention of Hugo Cabret were really nasty to one another. The girl was mean to Hugo, Hugo was mean to her, and the toy-shop owner was horrible towards Hugo. Eventually, you came to understand why (sort of), but I had about zero sympathy with any of them throughout the story. Still, I loved the drawings and the references to old surrealist silent films. The Invention of Hugo Cabret also has a fairly satisfying ending, so I'm still going to give it 4 stars.

Read The Invention of Hugo Cabret:
  • if you like mysteries
  • if you are interested in silent film
  • if you like graphic novels
  • if you like black and white drawings
523 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!                                          

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fly By Night, Frances Hardinge

From the end of the prologue: Quillam Mye's great treatise on "The Fractured Realm" was never given an ending. Eight years later the historian Quillam Mye was dead, and his books had been burned. Twelve years after the night she was named, his daughter could be found hiding inside a dovecote, with a goose tucked under one arm. 

I've been really wanting to read this children's book for a long time. The plot sounded fascinating. Twelve year old Mosca Mye lives with her cruel uncle who locks her up in his mill. Her only friend is Saracen, a vicious goose. But she does have one ability: she knows how to read. And in a world where most books are banned and words are dangerous, this is a risky and life-changing gift. For when Eponymous Clent, a con man who loves words as much as Mosca herself, she runs away with him and becomes entangled into a life of deceit and danger. There is a lot of mystery in this book.

Sounds like a great book. And it is. There are a lot of terms to keep of track of when dealing with this world (which is similar to England in some ways), but once you learn them, you'll enjoy this book a lot. At times, it was funny, at other times, it was suspenseful. The mystery elements were really good too; a lot of seemingly unconnected things that Mosca notices and hears about turn out to be part of a nefarious plot. There is a sequel to Fly By Night as well. Also, Frances Hardinge has the perfect name for this sort of thing. Hardinge sounds so medieval doesn't it? Much better than plain old Harding. 

Read Fly By Night:
  • if you like stories about words and books
  • if you like stories featuring a cantankerous goose
  • if you like mysteries
  • if you are looking for a juvenile book that is fairly challenging for that age level
483 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas (translated by Richard Pevear)

On the first Monday of the month of April 1625, the village of Meung, where the author of the Romance of the Rose was born, seemed to be in as total an upheaval as if the Huguenots had come to make a second La Rochelle. Many of the townsmen, seeing women fleeing along the main street, hearing children crying on the doorsills, hastened to put on their breastplates and, backing up their somewhat uncertain countenances with a musket or a partisan, headed for the Jolly Miller Inn, before which jostled a compact group, noisy, full of curiosity, and growing every minute.

The Three Musketeers is a famous classic of adventure and intrigue that has been made into countless movies. (And no, it is not a graphic novel, though it may look  like it from this particular cover.) The three musketeers of the title are named Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. They, along with their friend D'Artagnan (the hero of the book) loyally serve the king and oppose the Cardinal. The Three Musketeers started off a bit slowly, as some lengthy classics are apt to do, but soon it went at a much faster pace, and I was eager to keep reading. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but they all play a role in the novel. I have a really beautiful old copy of The Three Musketeers, but then I discovered that it was abridged! So I'm glad I decided to read the library's copy.

Anyway, the world described in The Three Musketeers is fascinating, and I would highly to recommend it if you're looking for a challenging but rewarding read.

Read The Three Musketeers:
  • if you have seen one of the various movie versions and want to read the actual book
  • if you like French classics
  • if you are looking for a lengthy book to read (though The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas is even longer)
673 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Running in the Family, Michael Ondaatje

What began it all was the bright bone of a dream I could hardly hold onto. I was sleeping at a friend's house. I saw my father, chaotic, surrounded by dogs, and all of them were screaming and barking into the tropical landscape. 

In the late 1970s, Ondaatje returned to Sri Lanka, his native island. As Ondaatje tells of his journey, he also recalls the history of his Dutch-Ceylonese family, with various vignettes and deeper stories as well. Once again, Ondaatje has woven two things into one: a travel narrative and a family memoir. And once again, his writing is at his best when he writes about Sri Lanka.

A great thing about Running in the Family is the descriptions of Sri Lanka: not only Ondaatje's own, but of various explorers and famous people who lived or stopped there, such as Pablo Neruda. I was very gripped by the story of his family, and I'd say that this was one of my favorite books by him so far. Though The Cat's Table and Anil's Ghost were set or talked about Sri Lanka a little bit, this one was really about Sri Lanka.

Read Running in the Family:
  • if you like memoirs
  • if you like Michael Ondaatje
  • if you are interested in Sri Lanka
203 pages.

Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Luka and the Fire of Life, Salman Rushdie

 There was once, in the city of Kahani, in the land of Alifbay, a boy named Luka who had two pets, a bear named Dog and a dog named Bear, which meant that whenever he called out, "Dog!" the bear waddled up amiably on his hind legs, and when he shouted "Bear!" the dog bounded toward him, wagging his tail.

This was another great novel by Salman Rushdie. Luka and the Fire of Life, set in the same world as Haroun and the Sea of Stories, tells of Luka, Haroun's younger brother, who must try to rescue his father who has fallen into a deep enchanted sleep by stealing the legendary Fire of Life. He goes to the Magic World with Bear, the dog and Dog, the bear, and is joined by a whole host of other characters in his quest. The writing in this book reminded me more of a children's fable or something of that nature; it had a very different tone from The Satanic Verses and The Enchantress of Florence.

I just loved the various landscapes that make up the Magic World, and the bizarre characters and creatures that inhabit it. I was kept on my toes throughout the book, always wondering what would happen next. The one thing that didn't quite work for me was that the Magic World was like some sort of video game with "lives" where you can save your levels. That's not the way real life works, but maybe that's the whole point: the Magic World is not like real life. So I'm still giving it a five star rating. And it had interesting cover art.

Read Luka and the Fire of Life:
  • if you like Salman Rushdie
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like books with bizarre characters and places
  • if you like books that feel like old tales
218 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, May 11, 2012

New Found Land, Allan Wolf

After my eleventh winter
I was kidnapped by our enemies
and made to be their slave. 

This was a really interesting idea for a novel: it documents the famous journey of Lewis and Clarke through both verse and prose. Starting with Sacagawea, the various people on the voyage take turns narrating the story for a page or two. They include Lewis, Clark, a talkative kid, a slave, a drunkard, and a French Indian fiddler with one eye. There is also a Newfoundland dog named Oolum with a haunting narrative who was bought by Lewis for twenty dollars. I thought it was interesting that Wolf chose to include a dog's narration as well. Oolum is very observant, and seems to have visions, as do some of the other characters.

One striking thing that really made me angry was the treatment of the Native Americans they meet along the way by Lewis and Clarke. On one line, Lewis will be talking about how similar to white people they are, maybe even better, but he still calls them noble "savages." And also, the way that animals were treated along the voyage. Of course, Lewis and Clark thought that there were endless buffalo, beaver, and other animals to kill, and they do so, but we know now that they are not endless and neither are the trees.

New Found Land was a fairly suspenseful book and I learned something about the history of the Lewis and Clarke voyage. I think this is a great way to learn about history: through historical fiction.

Read New Found Land:
  • if you like novels in verse
  • if you like historical novels
  • if you are interested in Lewis and Clark's journey
478 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex

It was Moving Day. Should that be capitalized? I never would have capitalized it before, but now Moving Day is a national holiday and everything, so I think that it should be. Capitalized. Anyway. It was Moving Day, and everybody was crazy.

The True Meaning of Smekday is a really funny book about a girl named Gratuity and a cat named Pig who join forces with an alien named J.Lo (ha ha) to try and save the world from another group of alien. It gets complicated. But it never stops being hilarious and bizarre. All the names in the book are amusing (like Gratuity and J.Lo), and the book was quite suspenseful. I wanted to find out what would happen to Gratuity and the whole Earth. There were also some wacky and wild machines that aliens used. It was really interesting to see how Gratuity and J.Lo tried to learn about each other's vastly different cultures.

Read The True Meaning of Smekday:

  • if you like science fiction
  • if you like books about alien invasions
  • if you like funny books
427 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Enna Burning, Shannon Hale

Enna let the fire burn out. She was not used to this duty. For the three years she had lived and worked in the city, the hearth had been the hall mistress's responsibility. 

When Enna's brother Leifer finds the power to make fire without a spark, she knows that it's an ability that can be used for good...if it can be controlled. But when her country (Bayern) goes to war, Enna feels that it is her duty to use her power to save them.

I loved Goose Girl, also by Shannon Hale, which is set in Bayern as well, and Princess Academy, another of her books. I was not disappointed by Enna Burning. It was fast-paced and suspenseful, full of action. I could really imagine this fire power that Enna struggles to control. The characters were all rich and realistic; I really cared about them and what was going to happen.

Read Enna Burning:
  • if you like Shannon Hale
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like books about a special power
317 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers

I bear a deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hp, a trail left by the herbwitch's poison that my mother used to try to expel me from her womb. That I survive, according to the herbwitch, is no miracle but a sign I have been sired by the god of death himself. 

Seventeen year old Ismae escapes from an arranged marriage, and joins the convent of St. Mortain, the old god of death. She learns that Mortain has blessed her with dangerous gifts. She chooses to stay at the convent and is trained as an assassin to serve as a handmaiden to Death. After three years of training, Ismae's most important assignment takes her to the high court of Brittany, where she poses as a mistress to Gavriel Duval. She finds herself much underprepared for the deadly intrigue that takes place in the court. And, inevitably, she falls in love with Duval.

Set in in the 1480s, Grave Mercy grapples with some interesting concepts, such as whether you should follow your heart or obey what you have always been taught to obey with blind faith. Ismae must make these choices. She reminded me a lot of Katsa from Graceling. Katsa is also endowed with a gift to kill (or so she thinks) and must make difficult decisions. Grave Mercy started out a bit abruptly, but it quickly settled into a good mix of action and intrigue. It is historical fiction, but definitely has some supernatural elements in it, such as the misericorde, which kills at a single scratch. Grave Mercy was quite a suspenseful book.

Read Grave Mercy:
  • if you like historical fiction (especially with a splash of magic)
  • if you like stories about the old gods
  • if you like books set in medieval times
549 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke

Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic. They were gentleman-magicians, which is to say they had never harmed any one by magic- nor ever done any one the slightest good. In fact, to own the truth, not one of these magicians had ever cast the smallest spell, nor by magic caused one leaf to tremble upon a tree, made one mote of dust to alter its course or changed a single hair upon any one's head. But, with this one minor reservation, they enjoyed a reputation as some of the wisest and most magical gentlemen in Yorkshire.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is an epic tale of nineteenth-century England and two magicians, first teacher and student, then rivals, who change its history. In 1806, most people believe magic no longer exists in England- until Mr Norrell (note the British Mr) of Hurtfew Abbey reveals his powers and becomes a celebrity. Another magician emerges: young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. Strange becomes Norrell's student, and the two join forces in the war against France. But as Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, he risks sacrificing everything that he values, including his partnership with Norrell.

I just loved this book, which was written in a typical British style with humor and wit. Though the book is over 800 pages long, I don't think I was ever bored by it. There's a whole host of great characters, funny and strange. It's really just hard to describe this book, but if you decide to read it, you will be rewarded. There are long "historical" footnotes at the bottom of pages, there are fairies, shady characters, and bumbling politicians. In short, everything you could ask for in a story of any kind, especially a fantasy story. Bear in mind, though, that if you're looking for a story about magicians throwing magic at one another, this is not the book for you. It's more subtle than that. There were a lot of side-plots in the book that all eventually came together.

Read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like books written in a British style
  • if you like books set in England
  • if you're looking for a great, witty, humorous, all-around wonderful book
846 pages.


Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Life as We Knew It, Susan Beth Pfeffer

Lisa is pregnant. Dad called around 11 o'clock to let us know. Only Mom had already taken Jonny to his baseball practice and of course Matt isn't home from college yet, so I was alone to get the big news. 

Sixteen year old Miranda lives a normal life, with normal worries and fears. But then a meteor smashes into the moon with more force than scientists expected. Life will never be the same again. Gas prices skyrocket, the electricity goes on an off, coastal are flooded, volcanoes erupt, there are earthquakes, and people start getting sick. And Miranda is one of the lucky ones. She records all this in her diary.

This book was really sad at times, and it reminded me that though we have relatively stable and safe lives, anything could happen at any moment. Life as We Knew It was super suspenseful, as you journey through these months (May-March) with Miranda and her family as everyone struggles to survive. There is also a sequel, This World We Live In.

Read Life as We Knew It:
  • if you like survival stories
  • if you like stories about natural disasters
  • if you like science fiction set right here on Earth
337 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

I have just returned from a visit to my landlord- the solitary neighbor that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. 

I loved Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and I can say without a doubt that I loved Wuthering Heights just as much. The Bronte sisters are so talented! I hope to read something by Anne Bronte, the less well known sister, too. Wuthering Heights is about a destructive and consuming love between Heathcliff, an orphan who comes to the mansion of Wuthering Heights, and Cathy, the daughter of the wealthy family that takes him in. They are drawn together as soon as they meet. The novel is narrated partly by Mr. Lockwood, a tenant who meets Heathcliff many years later. His housekeeper, Mrs. Dean, tells him about the events that happened years earlier, making for a gripping, suspenseful, and sad story.

Wuthering Heights is very complex, especially the character of Heathcliff. He's not "good" or "bad"; he's conflicted, a multi-layered character. At times, I sympathized with Heathcliff; at other times, I really hated him. Wuthering Heights is difficult to put into any category. It is realistic, but it also has supernatural beings, with ghosts and graves and a love that transcends time. But it also is a mystery, asking complicated questions. The writing is very old-fashioned, but it's not too overwritten, though I did have a little trouble with some of the Yorkshire dialect. But that occurs very rarely; there's just one minor character who speaks that way.

Read Wuthering Heights:
  • if you like Jane Eyre and are looking for a (slightly) more complicated story
  • if you like dark, tragic, romance
  • if you like supernatural elements in a fairly realistic book
  • if you like mysteries
  • if you are looking for an interesting classic
406 pages.


Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. 

A description of the book from Amazon: Ray Bradbury's moving recollection of a vanished golden era remains one of his most enchanting novels. Dandelion Wine stands out in the Bradbury literary canon as the author's most deeply personal work, a semi-autobiographical recollection of a magical small-town summer in 1928.
Twelve-year-old Douglas Spaulding knows Green Town, Illinois, is as vast and deep as the whole wide world that lies beyond the city limits. It is a pair of brand-new tennis shoes, the first harvest of dandelions for Grandfather's renowned intoxicant, the distant clang of the trolley's bell on a hazy afternoon. It is yesteryear and tomorrow blended into an unforgettable always. But as young Douglas is about to discover, summer can be more than the repetition of established rituals whose mystical power holds time at bay. It can be a best friend moving away, a human time machine who can transport you back to the Civil War, or a sideshow automaton able to glimpse the bittersweet future.
Come and savor Ray Bradbury's priceless distillation of all that is eternal about boyhood and summer.

Yet Dandelion Wine has a scary side to it as well. In my mind, it's not just a story about one boy's summer, there's always a sense of something just being kept at bay, or maybe it's just Douglas's own uncertainties about his life. I loved the cover of the edition I read and the wonderful title (doesn't dandelion wine just sound great when you say it?) The book had great descriptions of summer in a in idyllic countryside setting. I love books set during the summer; it's such a great time and so much can happen. As Dandelion Wine progresses, Douglas learns more and more about himself and the world around him. Dandelion Wine also chronicles the lives of other people in the town during that summer. 

Read Dandelion Wine:
  • if you like Ray Bradbury
  • if you like books set in the summer
  • if you like books set in the countryside
239 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes

Dr. Strauss says I shoud rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happins to me from now on. I dont no why but he says its importint to they will see if they can use me. I hope they use me becaus Miss Kinnian says mabye they can make me smart. 

Charlie Gordon is a mentally disabled man who undergoes an experimental operation to try and make him smarter. In diary entries, he records how his IQ increases and he gets smarter and smarter, until he eventually surpasses even the doctors who did the operation in intelligence. It seems to be a huge medical breakthrough-until Algernon, the super-smart mouse who has had the same operation, begins a sudden deterioration. Will the same thing happen to Charlie?

This a gripping, thrilling ride of a science fiction novel. The best part of it was the way that Charlie's entries progress. At the beginning, he can barely write and has not much understanding of anything. Then, he becomes like a regular person, if slightly below average. Then, he begins to write like the average person, before finally becoming a genius, knowing about ten languages. And then- well, I won't say what happens in the end. But it was a very suspenseful book. One thing, however, that didn't make sense was that the scientists went straight from testing the experiment on a mouse to a human. In real life, I don't think they would do that.

Read Flowers for Algernon:
  • if you like science fiction
  • if you like stories about enhanced intelligence
  • if are interested in science experiments
  • if you like suspenseful books
216 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot

They didn't say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back. 

This is the story of James Herriot, a country veterinarian. Actually, Herriot wrote many books about his experiences, but I think this is the first one. It had a lot of humor in it, from the hilarious (though I'm sure they weren't at the time) procedures that he goes through with different animals, to Siegfried Farnon, the quirky and odd vet who Herriot is assistant too. There were always great descriptions of the English countryside as well as the amusing people who live there. The repartee between Siegfried and his younger brother Tristan as well as between Siegfried and their secretary Miss Harbottle is really side-splitting. Herriot narrates throughout with a typical British humor, though he is fairly cheerful. He describes his various cases and what life is like in the countryside.

Read All Creatures Great and Small:
  • if you like animals (particularly farm animals)
  • if you like humorous but heartwarming books
  • if you are interested in veterinarians
499 pages.

Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Looking Glass Wars, Frank Beddor

The queendom had been enjoying a tentative peace ever since the time, twelve years earlier, when unbridled bloodshed spattered the doorstep of every Wonderlander. The civil war hadn't been the longest in all of recorded history, but no doubt it was one of the bloodiest. 

Alyss Heart, princess of Wonderland and heir to the throne, must flee through the Pool of Tears to escape her murderous aunt Redd who has seized the kingdom. She finds herself in Victorian London. When she is befriended by an author, she tells him her story and hopes that he'll tell the truth so that someone will find her and bring her home. But he gets the story all wrong, even spelling her name incorrectly. but Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan has been searching for Alyss, and when she is twenty, he brings her back to take back her kingdom.

I liked this book a lot. It's obviously a play off of Alice in Wonderland and it had a great plot. I liked the way that Beddor made Alyss into a princess from Wonderland who gets lost in England and then returns to her home. There was great magic in this book, as well as wonderful characters. Especially Aunt Redd, the evil queen of hearts. She has this mad air about her that Beddor captured very well. Though the plot device was very familiar (banished princess must take back her queendom), I still really loved it. The Looking Glass Wars kept me reading, and I finished it in a few short hours. There is a sequel too, called Seeing Redd.

Read The Looking Glass Wars:
  • if you like Alice in Wonderland
  • if you like fantasy stories
358 pages.


Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!