Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hitch 22, Christopher Hitchens

From the prologue (with premonitions): Before me is a handsome edition of Face to Face, the smart magazine that goes out to the supporters of London's National Portrait Gallery.

Not a very interesting beginning perhaps, but you have to read on. This is the memoir of Christopher Hitchens, the author of god Is Not Great. I did enjoy the memoir; it (obviously) talked about experiences Hitchens had at Oxford, and people he met, as well as detailing who his family was. It was interesting, because his mother was Jewish, but his father was Christian, and yet he still grew up to revile religion. He doesn't go too much in depth about that here; you'd have to read the other one. Some of the chapters were more interesting with others, but overall, I'm glad I read it. His writing style is amusing, after all. I also thought that the title was pretty clever; it refers of course to Catch 22. A hitch is similar to a catch, and his friends often called him "Hitch." As I said, it talks about a lot of people he knows, and some famous ones (like Salman Rushdie!)

Read Hitch 22:
  • if you like memoirs
  • if you like Christopher Hitchens
422 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald

In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work. And in fact my hope was realized, up to a point; for I have seldom felt so carefree as I did then, walking for hours in the day through the thinly populated countryside, which stretches inland from the coast. 

This was a very interesting book; half fiction, half memoir, I think.The narrator (who is and is not Sebald himself) walks through Suffolk county in England. He both records what he sees and does and also much history of the places he visits. Kind of similar to the flaneur, except he's in a not very populated part of the English countryside. But he still manages to make it very interesting. Also, Sebald uses photographs in the book, which was very effective. Some chapters were more interesting than others, but overall, I enjoyed it. The Rings of Saturn has a very dreamlike feel to it, as suggested by the title. I would recommend it if you're looking for a fairly challenging read; despite it not being that long, it takes a while to get through (took me 2 or 3 days.)

Read The Rings of Saturn:
  • if you like half memoir/half fiction books
  • if you like books about walking
  • if you like books set in England.
296 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

From the prologue: Clare: It's hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he's okay. It's hard to be the one who stays. I keep myself busy. Time goes faster that way.

This is a really great book, recommended to me by Mr. Campbell (thank you so much!!!) about two people: Henry DeTamble, a man who involuntarily travels through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist and his wife whose life is "normal." "Henry and Clare's passionate affair endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap that tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love." Very dramatic, but I really did love this book. The premise was really great and interesting; time travel is so fascinating. And the way that Henry would go back and meet Clare as a young girl to set up their relationship one...I just had to keep reading. The way the book was narrated was interesting too, with Clare and Henry taking turns in a particular scene and time setting.

One thing about time travel though: it requires some concentration. It's really hard to wrap your head around, and I was a bit confused at the beginning. However, that has nothing to do with the quality of the book: that's just the way time travel is.

Read The Time Traveler's Wife:
  • if you like books about time travel
  • if are looking for a book that feels like realistic fiction, but of course has the sci-fi element of time travel
  • if you liked When You Reach Me and are looking for something a bit more complicated (actually, a lot more)
536 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Guest Review: The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall

*This review is by my friend Juyoun.*

For a long time after that summer, the four Penderwick sisters still talked of Arundel. Fate drove us there, Jane would say. No, it was the greedy landlord who sold our vacation house on Cape Cod, someone else would say, probably Skye. 

Do you want a fun summer read? Well here is a book that might be perfect for you. It's an exciting story full of wit and a great book for all ages. The book The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, And a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall is a story about four charming sisters, each with a unique personality. When you read this book there is a special feeling of laughter and joy. Its is a story so sweet and exciting you will surely find it fun to read. It takes place in a "cottage" in a village called Arundel and is truly a lovely book. Jeanne Birdsall wrote the story in a summer full of adventures and curiosity. Each sister has a personality that you surely find one sister that fits your taste. Birdsall describes the book with lots of details and it truly is a must-read! It is one of my all time favorites! And don't forget The Penderwicks: On Gardam Street the sequel! I rate this 5 stars and I absolutely loved it and I hope you guys do too!

272 pages, 5 stars.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Susan Vreeland

I opened the beveled-glass door under the sign announcing Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in ornate bronze. A new sign with a new name. Fine. I felt new too.

"It’s 1893, and at the Chicago World’s Fair, Louis Comfort Tiffany makes his debut with a luminous exhibition of innovative stained-glass windows that he hopes will earn him a place on the international artistic stage. But behind the scenes in his New York studio is the freethinking Clara Driscoll, head of his women’s division, who conceives of and designs nearly all of the iconic leaded-glass lamps for which Tiffany will long be remembered. Never publicly acknowledged, Clara struggles with her desire for artistic recognition and the seemingly insurmountable challenges that she faces as a professional woman. She also yearns for love and companionship, and is devoted in different ways to five men, including Tiffany, who enforces a strict policy: He does not employ married women. Ultimately, Clara must decide what makes her happiest—the professional world of her hands or the personal world of her heart." This was a really interesting book about a little-known woman who contributed a lot to the world of stained glass. I really loved the luminous descriptions of the stained glass that Clara creates, as well as just beauty in general. Clara and Mr. Tiffany does have a pretty typical plot (a woman in late 19th century must decide between marrying and having a job), but it was made unique by the artwork that Clara creates. And of course, I was really mad that she didn't get any credit.  Clara was a real person, and it was great that she finally got credit (though too late for her to witness) for the things that she created. The relationships between her and the other girls working at Tiffany's is interesting, as are the men that she meets. I really liked the cover too. 

Susan Vreeland has written many other novels also about real artists and paintings, including Luncheon of the Boating Party, The Forest Lover, and Girl in Hyacinth Blue. I'll definitely be reading some of those in the future.

Read Clara and Mr. Tiffany:
  • if you like Susan Vreeland
  • if you are interested in stained glass 
  • if you like books about beauty and difficult decisions
  • if you like books set in New York in the 19th century
397 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict, John Baxter

In 1951, Robert Bloch, not yet the author of Pyscho, published a short story in the pulp magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries called "The Man Who Collected Poe." In a pastiche of Poe's own doom-laden style, it tells of an enthusiast for the author of "The Raven" and "The Pit and the Pendulum" who meets a fellow fanatic, Launcelot Canning, and is invited to a lonely Maryland estate.

John Baxter, the author of The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, grew up in rural Australia, and began collecting books as a teenager. It was the beginning of a major collection and obsession. His first real find was a Graham Green book in London, where he also met Martin Stone, a famous bookseller and collector. This is book is very easy to read and has funny moments too. Baxter talks about his own collection and how he began to scour all sorts of unlikely places for new books. However, A Pound of Paper talks more about Baxter's collection  than why he likes the books that he does. He doesn't talk that much about the process of reading, or whether he actually reads the rare first editions that he collects. Just about going to different markets and spending money.

I got some (more) good recommendations, such as Graham Greene from this book, and I liked the title. That really is what a book is: just a pound of paper. And yet some of these pounds of paper are worth more than other.

Read A Pound of Paper:
  • if you like books about books
  • if you are interested in book collection
  • if you like John Baxter
363 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Essays of Elia, Charles Lamb

Reader, in thy passage from the Bank- where thou hast been receiving thy half-yearly dividends (supposing thou art a lean annuitant like myself)- to the Flower Pot, to secure a place for Dalston, or Shacklewell,- didst thou never observe a melancholy looking, handsome, brick and stone edifice, to the left- where Threadneedle-street abuts upon Bishopsgate?

Charles Lamb (1775-1834) worked as a clerk at the East India Company, but he also wrote these essays, under the name "Elia." He writes about a wide variety of subjects, from roast pig to April Fool's Day. As you can see, he writes in an old style, which can a little off-putting, and a lot of his references went over my head, but he can be funny sometimes, and I enjoyed reading about the different topics. I heard about Charles Lamb from Anne Fadiman's At Large and At Small, and I have to say that I like Anne Fadiman better; she's easier to get through. But it was interesting to read the language that Charles Lamb used. Lamb also wrote Tales From Shakespeare in collaboration with his sister Mary.

Read Essays of Elia:
  • if you like essays
  • if you like Charles Lamb
  • if you don't mind a bit of dense writing
341 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Monday, June 18, 2012

god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens

If the intended reader of this book should want to go beyond disagreement with its author and try to identify the sins and deformities that animated him to write it (and I have certainly noticed that those who publicly affirm charity and compassion and forgiveness are often inclined to take this course), then he or she will not just be quarreling with the unknowable and ineffable creator who-presumably- opted to make this way. They will be defiling the memory of a good, sincere, simple woman, of stable and decent faith, named Mrs. Jean Watts.

Christopher Hitchens, a noted atheist, details all the ways in which religion kills in this book. I've watched him humiliating that idiot Sean Hannity on Fox News (you can find the video here), so I really wanted to read his books. I think he is a bit harsh on religion (it's not all bad), but he certainly piles up a huge list of horrible things that have happened because of religion. He tells of all the bad things that Moses encouraged (stoning your children to death for disobedience), the hypocrisies of Christianity, and how Islam is basically plagiarism of old Jewish and Christian myths. He also details why he believes that the Eastern religions are just as bad. Though Hitchen's view is very one-sided, it was a refreshing book to read, because religion definitely has really bad aspects to it. There are a few funny moments, and Hitchens makes a lot of references to film and literature.

Hitchens recently died of lung cancer. He had Stage 4, and as he put it, "There is no stage 5." He really brought it on himself by smoking so much. But to his credit, he did not renounce his position on his deathbed. Hitchens is complicated. He supported the war in Iraq; that's why Fox News invited him on, because they wanted an "intellectual" who supported the war. Anyway, god is Not Great was an interesting book.

Read god is Not Great:
  • if you're an atheist
  • if you want to read some of the atheist arguments
  • if you like Christopher Hitchens
283 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gold, Chris Cleave

Just on the other side of an unpainted metal door, five thousand men, women, and children were chanting her name. Zoe Castle didn't like it as much as she'd thought she would. She was twenty-four years old and she sat where her coach told her to sit, beside him, on a thin white bench with the blue protective film still on it. 

Gold is the story of two Olympic sprint bicyclists, Kate and Zoe. They are both extremely good, and both desperately want to win gold. They met in 1999 when they were 19 years old, and now, in 2012, the London Olympics will be their last chance to win a gold medal. Kate is naturally better than Zoe, but she is married and has an eight year old daughter named Sophie. Sophie is battling a second bout of leukemia, which had been in remission for three years. And Zoe has her own problems too. Then, a dramatic changes happens in the rules of the Olympics (I won't give it away.)

I was engaged by the descriptions of the world of ultra-professional cycling, but the thing that really moved me was Sophie's battle with leukemia. She's obsessed with Star Wars; it's sort of an analogy or metaphor for her own battle against the evil white blood cells attacking her. She's a Jedi, a Rebel, fighting against the much stronger force. Really powerful. I think that image will stick with me for a while.

In some ways, Gold kind of (just kind of) reminded me of Chariots of Fire in book form. It's not about runners, but it's about two bicyclists competing. Kate and Zoe are good friends off the track, but sometimes in the heat and frenzy of the competition, they can forget, and they are both fiercely competitive. The book is really about their relationship with one another, and how they handle it when they are competing. Gold also delved into Kate and Zoe's pasts and their childhood, skipping from time period to time period. Another thing was that I thought the title was really effective. Just one, simple word, but that's really what the book is all about: the competition for the longed-for gold medal.

Gold isn't actually coming out until July 3, so I was very happy and grateful to receive a review copy in advance from Simon & Schuster, the publisher. When the book comes out, I would definitely recommend it to everyone. It's a great read.

Read Gold:
  • if you are interested in the Olympics
  • if you are interested in professional cycling
  • if you like Chris Cleave
  • if you like books dealing with competition and friendship simultaneously 
321 pages, 4.5 stars.

Rereading The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht

In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers. He puts on his hat, his big-buttoned raincoat, and I wear my lacquered shoes and velvet dress. It is autumn, and I am four years old. The certainty of this process: my grandfather's hand, the bright hiss of the trolley, the dampness of the morning, the crowded walk up the hill to the citadel park. Always in my grandfather's breast pocket: The Jungle Book, with its gold-leaf cover and old yellow pages. I am not allowed to hold it, but it will stay open on his knee all afternoon while he recites the passages to me.

I didn't think it was possible to love this book anymore on my second read, and yet I did. I was even more pulled into the story this time. The Tiger's Wife tells of a young doctor named Natalia, living in an unnamed Balkan country. Her grandfather, who she was very close to, dies mysteriously, and Natalia recollects her various memories of him, and the stories he would tell her. One of them is the story of the deathless man, a story that her grandfather told her when she was sixteen. And she discovers the story of the tiger's wife when she goes to her grandfather's old village to investigate. And then of course, there's her own story, in the present day, as she tries to unravel how her grandfather died. The way these three narratives were entwined was really wonderful. I would say The Tiger's Wife is magical realism, but as the Washington Post says, "That The Tiger's Wife never slips entirely into magical realism is part of its magic...It's graceful commingling of contemporary realism and village legend seems even more absorbing." Exactly. All three of the stories in the book are set during some sort of conflict in the Balkan countries (either the war with the Ottoman Empire in 1912-1913, or the more recent conflict.) But there is also something magical about both of the stories. At first glance, of course, the deathless man's story seems more fantastical (a man who can't die), but the story of the tiger's wife also has that feel to it. Some don't like the book because they think it doesn't have much of a plot or story-line. But first of all, I don't think in a book like this that that's so important; second of all, it does have a plot, it just alternates between the different stories.

And Obreht's writing is so descriptive, and also so imaginative. The quality of it just draws you in, intrigues you, grabs you, and mesmerizes you. The subtleness of it is really great too. You can read Mr. Gacek's review of it here. Apparently, Ms. Obreht is working on a new book now. I really look forwarding to reading it, though I don't know if she can surpass her first book.

Read The Tiger's Wife:
  • if you like magical realism
  • if you are interested in the Balkan conflicts
  • if you are interested in stories partly drawn from old myths/legends
  • if you are looking for an all-around wonderful and intriguing book
338 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, June 15, 2012

New York Travels

So, as you may know if you read my other blog, I'm going to be leaving for New York tonight. I will try to post as much as possible, but I'm pretty sure that one of the places we're staying doesn't have Internet, so sadly, I might not be able to post a lot. But in that case, I will try to post two or three reviews a day until I catch up once I get to a place with Internet. This also means that I will be away from email too (I will try to respond as quickly as possible.) But I'm really looking forward to this trip; I haven't been to New York since November!

Rereading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.

What with all the recent hype about the movie, I decided I'd better reread The Hunger Games again. Though certainly not my favorite science fiction, it is interesting-and of course, suspenseful. Something about the blood and gore appeals to teenagers, I guess. I'm sure all of you are familiar with the plot, so I won't go into that in depth. Basically, the Hunger Games are a fight to the death devised by the evil Capitol to keep the districts in line. Our main character, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers for her younger sister, and must fight in the games. Of course there's a love triangle. Isn't there always one in a YA book? Katniss herself, and Peeta, the boy who goes with her to the hunger games, and Gale, her hunting partner. The love triangle certainly adds something to the book, rather than just a big bloodbath (which it is anyway.) I love the character of Rue. The problem with The Hunger Games is that you know of course that Katniss is going to survive because she's the heroine, and frankly, I don't care about Peeta that much. But you're pretty sure he's going to survive too, to keep the love triangle alive. The Hunger Games has a pretty typical YA science fiction plot: violence, love triangle, and all that. But still an absorbing book. The first time I read it I couldn't put it down. I love the concept of the mockingjay in the book; really beautiful, actually. I might reread Catching Fire and Mockingjay too.

Read The Hunger Games:
  • if you like science fiction
  • if you like books with strong heroines
374 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

5 Great Picture Books Reread

I haven't reviewed any picture books before this, so I'm just trying it out. Since each of them are so short, I'm going to combine them in 1 post. These are some of my favorite picture books; the ones that I like to take out and reread once in a while.

1. Fortune, Diane Stanley
Long ago, in the poorest corner of Persia, there lived a farmer and his son, whose name was Omar. When Omar came of age, all his father could give him were his blessing and a small purseful of money. With that he would have to make his way in the world, but poor Omar had no idea what to do or where to go.

Yes, Omar has no idea what to do, so he goes to his clever friend and betrothed Sunny. She advises him to go to the marketplace, and there he spends all his money on a tiger Fortune. Fortune dances in a little hat, and soon Omar has quite a lot of money. He lets it all go to his head and now thinks that he deserves to marry a princess. So he leaves Sunny and goes in search of a "better" bride. Fortune leads him to a city, home to a weeping princess. She is weeping because her future husband disappeared, some say enchanted by a vengeful witch. Of course, Omar wants to marry her. But he learns something surprising about the power of love, and who he's really meant for. I liked the feel of this book; anything set in Persia (just that name) feels so exotic. The illustrations were quite nice too. The people weren't that realistic, but it did look like it could be something out of an old fable. I would say that this book is for ages 5-7. Maybe 8. Or something like that. 32 pages.

2. Rumpelstiltskin, retold and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky

Once there was a poor miller who had a beautiful daughter. On his way to town one day, the miller encountered the king. Wanting to impress him, the miller said, "I have a daughter who knows the art of spinning straw into gold." Now, the king had a passion for gold, and such an art intrigued him. So he ordered the miller to send his daughter to the castle straightaway.

This is a nice retelling of the Grimm's Brothers fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin. It's basically the same story as the old fable, no major twists or anything. But its illustrations are very pretty; I would say slightly more realistic than Fortune. It's a nice version of the story for younger kids; a good book for reading aloud, I think. 32 pages.

3. The Matzo Ball Boy, Lisa Shulman

Once upon a time there was an old grandmother, a bubbe, who lived all alone. She lived in a tiny cottage at the edge of a small village in a far-off country whose name sounded like a sneeze. Her children were grown with children of their own, but could they be bothered to visit their mother? Not that she was complaining, but she couldn't help feeling lonely. Soon Passover would be here, and there was no one  to come to her seder, the holiday dinner. No one to help retell the Passover story. No one to eat her sweet apple-and-walnut haroset and sip her delicious matzo ball soup.

So the bubbe decides to make a little matzo ball man, so at least she has a friendly face in her face. But her plans go awry when the matzo ball man runs out the door and away. Soon, not only the bubbe is chasing him, but also the schneider (the tailor), the yenta (village gossip) and her ten children, the rabbi, and a hungry fox. He manages to swim across a lake and escape them all (all the while singing his obnoxious song), but then the story takes a twist. Obviously, this is a Jewish version of the story of the gingerbread man. It was quite entertaining and funny, and the twist at the end made it unique from the original story. Quite entertaining. I think I received it as a Passover gift, actually. 29 pages.

4. The Tale of the Firebird, Gennady Spirin

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, lived the great ruler Tsar Vasilyi. He had three sons, and the youngest was named Ivan-Tsarevitch. The Tsar's greatest pride was his garden, filled with exotic trees, and in the center of this garden was the prize of his kingdom: a tree with golden apples. 

This story is an adaptation of three Russian fairy tales: "Ivan-Tsarevitch and the Gray Wolf", "Baba Yaga", and "Koshchei the Immortal." When the tsar's precious apples start getting stolen and it is discovered that a Firebird is stealing them, he sends his three sons off to catch the Firebird. Whoever succeeds will get half the kingdom. The tale focuses on the youngest son (of course the youngest is going to succeed),  who meets a very helpful wolf and goes through all sorts of trials and tribulations, such as meeting the witch Baba Yaga. The story is interesting, but the illustrations are just fantastic. So beautiful. I actually got this only a few years ago; the illustrations were irresistible. Really fantastic. Even the cover is gorgeous. 31 pages.

5. The Well at the End of the World, Robert D. San Souci

The King of Colchester was a kind and just man, but not a very good ruler. Oh, he did fine dubbing knights or deciding what to have for dinner. But it was his daughter, Princess Rosamond who really ran the kingdom. She advised her father on matters of state, kept the royal accounts, and fixed the drawbridge when it wouldn't rise or lower.

So everything is going along just fine in Colchester, when the king marries the beautiful Lady Zantippa, who has a pretty daughter Zenobia. However, as you might have guessed, they just want his money, and they start making for Rosamond, so she moves away to live with an aunt. Quickly, all the money is spent and the king falls ill, and goes into a deep slumber. Rosamond comes back but cannot rouse him. She learns that she might be able to cure him by giving him water from the well at the end of the world. So she sets off. This is one of the stories where being kind and helpful and practical pays off. This one is also based on a fable, and also has pretty illustrations, just the right style for this kind of story. The Well at the End of the World is an engaging story. And Rosamond is a really great and likable character. 38 pages.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rereading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Far away from here, following the Jade River, there was once a black mountain that cut into the sky like a jagged piece of rough metal. The villagers called it Fruitless Mountain because nothing grew on it and birds and animals did not rest there.

Though a really easy book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is well worth reading and has many "positive messages." Minli is a young girl in China who lives near Fruitless Mountain, where there is barely any food. But Minli's father tells her about the Old Man of the Moon, who is all-knowing. She decides to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him to help her bring good fortune to her family. As she goes, she meets many strange friends: a dragon, a talking fish, a buffalo herd boy, and a king, but also many adversaries. Finally, Minli learns something at the end of her journey. The book has a great moral, and is also beautiful. It has a nice cover and some color illustrations which were very effective to the story. I also loved how different myths/tales that Minli hears from various people along the way were included; some were real Chinese stories.

Read Where the Mountain Meets the Moon:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like folktales
  • if you are interested in Chinese folklore
279 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rereading The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

Missouri, 1913: Strange things can happen at a crossroads. It might look like nothing but a place where two dusty roads meet, but a crossroads can be something more. A crossroads can be something special, a compass with arms reaching to places you might never find the way to again; places that might exist, or might have existed once, or might exist someday, depending on whether or not you decide to look for them. But whatever else it might be, a crossroads is a place where you choose. 

I picked this book up at Orca a couple years ago, not expecting that much. I was very pleasantly surprised, and I really loved reading this book. So, naturally, I decided to reread it. The book is about a girl named Natalie Minks who lives in the town of Arcane, Missouri, which is near a crossroads. Natalie is fascinated with machines, and mechanical things of all sorts. Then a strange medicine show called Dr. Jake Limberleg's Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show comes into town with all sorts of bizarre tonics and strange machines. When Natalie gets a closer look at the weird machines, she knows something is wrong ...and that her town is in danger. This is Kate Milford's first novel, and I must say, it was really good. As the last paragraph of the flap says, "First-time novelist Kate Milford has created a richly textured historical fantasy brimming with magical realism and steampunk elements. It is a story about family, community, and courage, and the necessity of looking evil directly in the ace in order to conquer it."

I've always loved historical fantasy, so really this was the perfect book for me. And just recently, I've become interested in steampunk, and this book definitely has elements of that in. The Boneshaker has a wonderful cast of strange characters, and elements of town folklore in it- like old Tom. I love this book, and if you haven't read it, you should read it now. It was really compelling, suspenseful, and definitely worth an afternoon or two. You can read Becky's review of it here. I was actually quite glad to know that other people really liked it. The Boneshaker reminded me a little bit of The Night Circus, in that there is a strange circus or carnival and magic.Also, Kate Milford is coming out with a new book this September, called The Broken Lands. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Read The Boneshaker:
  • if you like historical fantasy or historical fiction
  • if you like mysteries
  • if you like stories with a really great setting
  • if you like stories with a strange medicine show or carnival
372 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rereading The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

There was once a boy named Milo who didn't know what to do with himself- not just sometimes, but always. When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going. Wherever he was he wished he were somewhere else, and when he got there he wondered why he'd bothered. Nothing really interested him-least of all the things that should have.

Chances are you've heard of The Phantom Tollbooth. I first read it a few years ago, and it's a really great children's book, full of clever wordplay and humor. Milo, the main character of the story is a boy who doesn't know what to do with himself. When he receives a mysterious tollbooth as a gift, he goes through it and emerges into another land. And what a strange one it is, too. Milo meets some odd characters like King Azaz the Unabridged (the king of Dictionopolis), the Mathemagician, Faintly Macabre (the not-so-wicked Which), and the ticking watchdog Tock. He goes on a quest to find the two princesses, Rhyme and Reason, who will restore peace to the land, settling the war between words and numbers. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you reach it by jumping), goes to the Mountains of Ignorance, and many other fantastic places. The Phantom Tollbooth is a really ridiculous book, but that's why it's so great. It's hard to describe; a light fantasy with puns galore. It really makes fun of the English language too, and all the ridiculous expressions that we use. An easy book, but very enjoyable.

Read The Phantom Tollbooth:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like clever wordplay and puns
  • if you haven't read it already, it's a must read
256 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rereading Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters by Lesley M.M. Blume

It was winter in New York City and the days were short. At three o'clock in the afternoon, the sun already hung low over the horizon, casting sharp pink light on the clouds above the skyscrapers. 

Though a fairly easy book with a long title, I love Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters. Set in New York, it's about eleven-year-old Cornelia, who is the daughter of two famous pianists. But she is really lonely, because Lucy, her mother is always away, and she's never met her father. But then the writer Virginia Somerset moves into the apartment next door with her Indian servant Patel and a French bulldog called Mister Kinyatta. Virginia befriends Cornelia and tells her marvelous stories of traveling with her sisters.

The great thing about this book is that it's for younger readers, but it really doesn't dumb down at all (just a tiny bit), so I still enjoy reading it once in a while. Cornelia herself uses a lot of long and complicated words in order to get her French housekeeper to leave her alone. Another thing is the exotic settings: for me, New York isn't that exotic, since I go there all the time, but for other people, it might be. And Virginia tells of her travels to London, Paris, Morocco, and India. Also, the book isn't all fun and games; it has serious undertones and a bittersweet ending. But it was very amusing too, hearing about all the audacious escapades of the Somerset Sisters. And Cornelia herself is a great character. And of course, the descriptions of wonderful New York City. Lesley Blume has written other books (The Rising Star of Rusty Nail, Tennyson), but this was definitely my favorite one.

Read Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters:
  • if you are looking for an easy but fun book (with serious elements)
  • if you like reading descriptions of traveling
  • if you like other Lesley Blume
261 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rereading The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

Snow fell hard: big, sticky flakes that got under my coat collar where the top button was missing. The weather had delayed my subway, and I was worried I would be late for class. 

I first heard about The Grimm Legacy a few years ago when it was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. It sounded interesting, so I got a copy. The Grimm Legacy is about a girl named Elizabeth Rew who lives in New York. She gets a job at the New-York Circulating Material Repository, hoping to make friends and get some money. The repository isn't just a library however; it also lends out objects like hockey sticks and Marie Antoinette's wig. As Elizabeth discovers, it also has the Grimm Collection, a room with powerful artifacts from the Grimm's fairy tales, like seven-league boots, a table that produces feasts, and Snow White's stepmother's evil mirror. But then the objects start disappearing, and Elizabeth and her new friends, Anjali, and Marc (also Aaron), have to try and find out who stole it. The Grimm Legacy is a very easy book to read, and quick to get through. The Grimm Legacy has plenty of romance too, as well fantasy and magic. It's one of those great books that mixes contemporary fairy tales with old Grimm artifacts. The Grimm Legacy is a great book to spend an afternoon with. You will be entertained. It's not a real thought provoking book or anything but it's fun, light reading.

Read The Grimm Legacy:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like contemporary fairy tales
  • if you like the Brother's Grimm
  • if you like the Sister's Grimm series, Fablehaven series, and/or A Tale Dark and Grimm
  • if you are looking for a light fantasy
325 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Reread Week

So this week, I'm going to put my other reviews on hold and just post about books that I reread this week. I might do more than one week's worth, but after that, they'll be interspersed. I'll start later today, and continue until next Saturday (hopefully.) Some books I'll reread are...well, maybe I'll keep it a surprise.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co, Jeremy Mercer

It was a gray winter Sunday when I came to the bookstore. As had been my habit during that troubled time, I was out walking. There was never a specific destination, merely an accumulation of random turns and city blocks to numb the hours and distract from the problems at hand. It was surprisingly easy to forget oneself among the bustling markets and grand boulevards, the manicured parks and marble monuments.

Jeremy Mercer, a crime reporter, left America to try and start a new life in Paris. However, he was soon deep in financial problems, among other things. Then he found Shakespeare & Co, a bookstore named after the original one owned by Sylvia Beach before World War II. The New Shakespeare & Co is owned by George Whitman. George let a lot of people live in the bookstore for free, and Jeremy Mercer was one of those people. This book recounts the various people he encountered there, and the way the bookstore took him in. It also describes George Whitman in depth.

Mercer was very perceptive to every detail, probably because of his crime writer training. He noticed a lot of things about the bookstore and made sure to include them in his book. I really liked that. Now I have to visit Shakespare & Co. the next time I go to Paris! He also describes some of the Paris tricks for cheap eating, which was funny. It also talked about some of the problems that Shakespeare and Co. had while Mercer was there, and how he helped them to cope with various issues, such as a wealthy man trying to buy up all the apartments in the building.

Read Time Was Soft There:
  • if you like books about Paris
  • if you like Shakespeare & Co. or just bookstores in general
260 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!


Well, it is indeed summer break now, so while I'm definitely excited about traveling, this means that I will probably be posting less because I'll actually be more busy and I won't have daily access to a library. But I will try to continue doing posts daily, though I doubt that'll happen, especially when I'm away.

Also, this summer I plan to do some special weeks of reading, like an all classic week or a reread week. I might even review some movies too! I think next week will be the reread week, so stay tuned!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Memoirs, Pablo Neruda (translated by Hardie St. Martin)

I'll start out by saying this about the days and years of my childhood: the rain was the one unforgettable presence for me then. 

Sounds a lot like someplace I know...

Anyway, Pablo Neruda was a Chilean, so it's not really surprising that he and Isabel Allende have similar writing styles in their prose, especially when writing about Chile. This memoir had its moments (like when Neruda was living in Southern Asia), but I also found myself skimming over some of it. Neruda describes his childhood and his country, and as I said, parts of it were pretty good, but then again parts of it were not so good. Definitely the part about Asia was the best, especially about his pet mongoose that he had in Sri Lanka. However, his prose just didn't seem alive compared to Allende for some reason. I know, I know, you're saying: Pablo Neruda was a famous and wonderful poet!!! And I say this: I'll stick to his poetry. His prose isn't that great. Okay, but not great. (And it didn't motivate me to write a long review either.) I did find a quote in it that is on one of my journals though: "Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread." I don't know if I quite agree with that though...

Read Memoirs:
  • if you like memoirs
  • if you like Pablo Neruda's poetry and want to read his prose
  • if you like Chilean literature
350 pages.
Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Twenty Years After, Alexandre Dumas

 In a room of the Palais-Cardinal which we already know, near a table with silver gilt corners, loaded with papers and books, a man was sitting, his head resting in his hands.

This is the sequel to The Three Musketeers, which I was really looking forward to reading. And I was not disappointed. Dumas writes in much the same style, though the characters are older. Time has separated d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, but they meet up once again and try to reform their old friendship. Much intrigue, as usual, is going on in France and England, and the evil Milady's son has returned to seek vengeance for his mother. Also, Cromwell is threatening King Charles I. The musketeers are one the side of the king, which was kind of interesting, because I'm not sure who was in the right, whether Cromwell was a hero or a villain. That point is extremely debatable. 

My favorite part of the book was definitely the part with Milady's son. It was the most exciting and interesting part, mostly because I remembered it from The Three Musketeers, and it was more about d'Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, than about the king and queen of France, who, frankly, I didn't care that much about. Still, Twenty Years After was a great sequel, and I'm glad that I read it.

Read Twenty Years After:
  • if you liked The Three Musketeers and want to read the sequel
  • if you like tales of adventure
788 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Dragon Slippers, Jessica Day George

It was my aunt who decided to give me to the dragon. Not that she was evil, or didn't care for me. It's just that we were very poor, and she was, as we said in those parts, dumber than two turnips in a rain barrel.

This was another great book by Jessica Day George. Creel's aunt tries to sacrifice her to a local dragon in order to get a rich nobleman to save and marry her, but Creel ends up getting away from the dragon herself and taking a strange pair of blue slippers. She leaves her small town and walks for days to go to the king's city to try and do embroidery. Along the way, she meets another dragon, Shardas. But the country is on the verge of war, and as Creel discovers, her slippers have the power to save the kingdom- or destroy it.

This one reads like a fairy tale too, though it isn't based on anything, I don't think. There are some unrealistic parts in it, like Creel befriending Prince Luka. That didn't make any sense (commoners don't mix with princes generally.) But the book had a good (though somewhat silly) plot, and was somewhat suspenseful.

Read Dragon Slippers:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like books about dragons
  • if you like light books
321 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Black Book of Secrets, F.E. Higgins

When I opened my eyes I knew that nothing in my miserable life prior to that moment could possibly be as bad as what was about to happen. 

And indeed, Ludlow Fitch, the narrator is correct. He just manages to escape from a horrible fate and flees to a remote village. He finds a job with a mysterious pawnbroker who trades people's dark secrets for cash. It's all he has ever dreamed of, with a safe place to live and food to eat. Ludlow's job is to transcribe the secrets into the leather-bound tome called The Black Book of Secrets. Joe Zabbidou, the pawnbroker, is kind to Ludlow, but refuses to disclose anything about his own past and what he's going to do with the secrets, and Ludlow doesn't know whether to trust him or not. Meanwhile, the evil controller of the entire town feels usurped by Joe, and plots his demise. The Black Book of Secrets had a sort of wry humor and black magic. It was a great fantasy, with a good plot. Joe was a great character, as was Ludlow and the villains. The names were good too. Very creative...

Read The Black Book of Secrets:
  • if you like quirky, slightly-dark, but mostly fun fantasy
  • if you like eccentric, shady characters in a book
273 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!