Sunday, September 30, 2012

An Abundance of Katherines, John Green

The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath. Colin had always preferred baths; one of his general policies in life was never to do anything standing up that could just as easily be done lying down.

I enjoyed Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars a lot, but I didn't like An Abundance of Katherines nearly as much. The book is about this boy named Colin Singleton, who has dated 19 girls named Katherine, all of which have dumped him. So he goes on a road trip with his Judge-Judy obsessed friend Hassan, and meets a girl who is miraculously not named Katherine. He's also working on a highly complicated formula that will predict the future of any relationship. I thought An Abundance of Katherines had an interesting premise, to say the least, but it never really panned out. I just wasn't engaged by it. The characters were OK, and there were some funny parts, but it wasn't like I was eager to see what happened next. I did like the design of the hardcover edition though.

All of John Green's books seem to feature trips of some kind, which is definitely a good starting point, but this one just never got off the ground. I would definitely recommend Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, but not this one. And I am looking forward to reading Looking For Alaska.

Read An Abundance of Katherines:
  • if you like John Green
  • if you like funny novels about finding yourself
  • if you like books with super-complicated math formulas
215 pages.
Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Love Affair With Penguin Classics

Penguin Classics. For me, the name conjures up images of rows of black spines on a bookshelf. For most, probably, "Penguin Classics? Oh yeah, that's a book publisher, isn't it?"

I'm not sure when my insatiable desire for Penguin Classics started exactly, it came on very gradually. At first it was for the Penguin Classics Regular Editions: the usually cheap but fairly elegant paperbacks with black spines and the title in orange lettering:  
Then, I discovered the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition:. They're more pretty, though sometimes the covers can be kind of silly:. Suddenly, the Penguin Classics Deluxe editions were much nicer to me. It's not like I usually read the introduction/analysis in the regular paperbacks anyway, and the feel of the Deluxe (in some cases) is much nicer. But then, the hardcover editions came to my attention. I had noticed them before on Amazon, but Amazon doesn't do them justice. The covers aren't so flashy, but the hardcover is obviously much more durable, and it has an elegant ribbon bookmark: . And the cover does have a certain simple beauty about it, and a nice texture. They look really good lined up too. So now, I want the hardcover too. All of them would be lovely. Such is the nature of being human. You want it all, all of it! Wasteful, but just look at them! Each beautiful in their own way. 

Now, you might be wondering about price range. The regular paperbacks range from $6.00-$16.00 (at least that's what I've seen.) The deluxe editions are usually $16.00. The hardcovers are around $20.00, though there are exceptions (such as Pride and Prejudice.) Most of the more expensive ones can be gotten at Amazon for a reduced price.

So now you've heard about my love for Penguin Classics. Right now, for example, I have a line-up of four Dickens regular editions: The Old Curiosity Shop, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, and David Copperfield. And, oh my god, they're so beautiful! Every time I look at them I get this happy feeling. There. I think I'm done now. I'll just share some miscellaneous photos, not taken by me:

Such beauty (these are the hardcover editions.)
Jane Austen's complete novels.

Such beauty. Oh, how I envy this guy (I think he's a senior editor there.) How can he stand there, smiling so unconcernedly, with that big stack right in front of him.

Anyway, I might publish a list of the Penguin titles I own later (though if you've been paying attention to What's On My Bookshelf you'd already know some), but for now that's it. Hope you enjoyed!

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, Chris Colfer

The dungeon was a miserable place. Light was scarce and flickered from the torches bolted to the stone walls. Foul-smelling water dripped inside the moat circling the palace above. Large rats chased each other across the floor searching for food. This was no place for a queen.

Alex and Conor are two twins who couldn't be more different. Alex is a smart and bookish girl and Conor slacks off and frequently takes naps at school. The Bailey family has been having financial difficulties ever since the twins' father was killed in an accident. Alex and Conor's grandmother gives them a book of fairy tales called The Land of Stories, which begins to mysteriously glow. Alex and Conor end up falling through the book into the very land which it describes!

I enjoyed the plot of this middle-grade fantasy novel. But the writing, alas, left much to be desired. It was stilted and unreal; in the hands of another author this could have been a great book. But Colfer's descriptions of the wonders of the various kingdoms fell flat, and I couldn't really picture the scenes in my head. And the characters weren't well fleshed out and developed other than stereotypes (Alex the good student and teacher's pet, Conor the slacker.)

However, as I said, the actual story-line itself was good. I enjoyed the land that Colfer created, even if I couldn't quite picture it in my head. That said, I think some beautiful color plates would have really helped and added a whole lot to the book. But Little Brown didn't do that (incidentally, Little Brown refused to give me a review copy, so I borrowed it from Emily.)

Ah, yes, back to the writing. On page 215 there is a description of Red Riding Hood, now a queen: "Red Riding Hood was a very pretty young woman around the same age as Jack. She had bright blue eyes and blonde hair that was done up glamorously behind her crown. She wore a long, red gown with a matching hooded cape and a pink corset. She wore a necklace with a massive diamond, her shoulders were completely bare, and she wore a pair of long gloves with a dozen sparkly rings on her fingers." First lesson of writing class. Never start two sentences with the exact same phrase. Plus, Colfer uses "she wore" a second time in the second sentences. And "pretty"? Really? It sounds awkward and is not very creative. The Evil Queen's back-story was quite interesting though.

Anyway, an okay fantasy.

Read The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like fairy tales
438 pages.
Okay book, but it left me wanting more!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo

The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke's house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.

Shadow and Bone is an interesting fantasy novel set in a world called Ravka similar to Russia in terms of language, climate, and landscape. Alina Starkov is the main character, a foot soldier in the wars with her friend Mal. They're sent on a mission into the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness that cuts across the land, which is filled with monsters. But Alina reveals a strange power that she did know about: she conjures a mysterious beam of light in the Fold which drives away all the monsters. She is whisked away to become a Grisha, one of the magical elite led by the enigmatic Darkling. He believes that only she can destroy the Fold. But there are many secrets that Alina will discover-dangerous secrets.

I've got mixed feelings about this fantasy novel. I loved the world it's set in; the Grisha are interesting and I liked that it was like Russia. Shadow and Bone took a surprising turn though, one that I didn't expect at all. It was certainly an intriguing twist, but I must say, I was totally shocked. Really. I didn't expect it at all.

And there's the love triangle (of course.) I did not like it that much. First Alina loves Mal, then she falls (stupidly) in love with the Darkling, and then Mal again, and so on. But I enjoyed Bardugo's writing style a lot, and managed to get past that. I'm even tempted to give it 5 stars, but I think it gets 4.5 stars.

I did enjoy the rest of the book, which was pretty suspenseful, and I look forward to reading the sequel, which I'm sure will have an equal number of surprising turns. You can read Veronica Roth's endorsement of it here (her blurb is on the cover), and Becky's review here.

Read Shadow and Bone:
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you are interested in books set in Russia-ish settings
356 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wish List/To-Be-Read List

I just wanted to let you guys know about my upcoming reading plans and books that I'm planning to read in the future (not counting classics here.) More on my classics preferences in an upcoming post.

(I might make this a regular feature of my blog. Once a month or something like that.What do you guys think?) And, The Fantasy Art of Josephine Wall. I love her work. You guys should check it out.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ruby Redfort Look Into My Eyes, Lauren Child

From Chapter 1: Ruby Redfort was perched on a high stool in front of the bathroom window, her binoculars trained on a cake delivery truck that had been parked on Cedarwood Drive for precisely twenty-one minutes. So far, no one had emerged from the truck with so much as a blueberry muffin. 

Ruby Redfort Look Into My Eyes is a quirky and amusing middle-grade mystery. Our main character is a thirteen year old girl named Ruby Redfort, who is well practiced in the art of being a detective, despite her young age. A new household manager a.k.a. butler named Hitch shows up, and Ruby discovers Spectrum, a secret agency. There seems to be a plot to steal the large shipment of gold coming to the bank. But not everything is what it seems...

Ruby Redfort was written in a sort of hard-boiled detective manner, which was very amusing, as Ruby is just 13 years old. The mystery was suspenseful, and I wasn't sure who was behind it until the very end. There's a lot going on in this book, which I got from Candlewick Press.

I liked Ruby's character; she was smart, cheeky, and (mostly) on top of things. And all the descriptions of super-cool gadgets were amazing (oh, how I would love to have some of those!) I would definitely recommend this mystery.

Read Ruby Redfort Look Into My Eyes:
  • if you like mystery
  • if you like hard-boiled detective mystery
  • if you liked the Clarice Bean books (not that I've ever read them)
383 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Enchanted, Alethea Kontis

My name is Sunday Woodcutter, and I am doomed to a happy life. I am the seventh daughter of Jack and Seven Woodcutter, Jack a seventh son and Seven a seventh daughter herself. 

Enchanted is a pretty good fantasy. It combines snippets of various fairytales. It is the story (as you might have guessed) of Sunday Woodcutter. She has older sisters, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. etc. You know the old rhyme? "Monday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is full of woe, Thursday's child has far to go, Friday's child is loving and giving, Saturday's child works hard for a living. But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day is blithe and bonny and good and gay." Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday still live at home with their parents and brothers. Monday has married a prince far away, Tuesday killed herself from dancing, and Thursday married the Pirate King.

Anyway, Sunday likes to write (the first few paragraphs in the book are from her diary). But unfortunately, things she write tend to have a habit of coming true, so she writes about the past and her family. One day, Sunday meets a talking frog named Grumble. She knows that talking frogs are generally princes, but she doesn't know that this one is her family's enemy. One day she leaves him, not realizing that her kiss has turned him back into a human. Enchanted was light and amusing, with, as I said, many different fairy-tales mixed in. I enjoyed all of the sisters but...

Becky is right. I was really confused by the voices that the prince is hearing. Who is it? And sometimes the writing could be confusing. Maybe I was just reading too fast (I tend to do that.) So that bit prevented me from giving this a 5 star. Also, it was kind of strange that Sunday never figured out that the prince she's falling in love with is her own Grumble. You'd think she'd realize that she has this special connection with him because of that. But. Still, it was a fun one, and I do enjoy fairy tale retellings. Overall, it was a nice light read, and I'm glad that I requested it from Harcourt.

Read Enchanted:
  • if you like fairy tales
  • if you like fantasy
  • if you like mystery
  • if you like light romance
305 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde

From "The Happy Prince": High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt.

I enjoyed these fairy tales by Oscar Wilde, who was well-known for his "acerbic and urbane nonfiction." His fairy tales definitely retain some of that irony, and they seldom end happily. It's hard to describe; sort of like how one character spends the whole story believing in true love and another character sacrifices for him, and then the object of that love doesn't really care about him in the end. I liked them though because it was kind of refreshing to read one of those fairy tales that don't end with a "happily ever after." But the characters in the stories are all fairy tale characters: princes, princesses, kings, giants, dwarfs, nightingales, mermaids etc. The back of the 1990 Signet Classics  edition that I read from the library calls them "lovely, gemlike tales", and I would definitely agree. The writing is absorbing, and there are some hints of familiar fairy tales. The original illustrations are quite good too.

Read Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde:
  • if you like Oscar Wilde's writing
  • if you like fairy tales with a slight edge
204 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rereading The Help by Kathryn Stockett

August 1962: Mae Mobley was born on a early Sunday morning in Augustt, 1960. A church baby we like to call it. Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning.

When I first read The Help, I loved it. Here is what I said in my original review: "This novel was a bestseller, and still is on the bestseller lists. It is set in Mississippi in 1962. "Skeeter", a white woman hoping to become a journalist, returns from for years at college to her hometown, only to find that her childhood companion and maid, Constantine, has mysteriously disappeared, and no one wants to tell her where Constantine is. She meets Abileen, a black maid, and Minnie, a sassy cook, and decides to write a book about the help and what they think of working for white people and their experiences. The Help has good storytelling and compelling, well-thought out, and unforgettable characters. It's also very difficult to put down. I just couldn't stop reading. Skeeter, Abileen, and Minnie each narrate different chapters, each with their own story to tell. All three of them are very human, memorable, and unique. They all have their own story tell. Abileen and Minnie are brave enough to tell their story. I loved this book, and would definitely recommend it."

On the second time around, it took a while for me to get into it, but once I was, I was swept up into the story just like last time. All the characters are so memorable. I think my favorite is Skeeter. She's smart and determined to do something other than marry. Aibileen (that's actually how it's spelled) is really moving too. She's trying to teach Mae Mobley what's right, while full well knowing that she could be fired for what she's saying. A page that really chilled me me to the bone was page 188 in Aibileen's section:

After while, my mind done drifted to where I wish it wouldn't. I reckon I know pretty well what would happen if the white ladies found out we was writing about them, telling the truth a what they really like. Womens, they ain't like men. A woman ain't gone beat you with a stick. Miss Hilly wouldn't pull no pistol on me. Miss Leefolt wouldn't come burn my house down. No, white womens like to keep they hands clean. They got a shiny little set a tools they use, sharp as witches' fingernails, tidy and laid out neat, like the picks on a dentist tray. They gone take they time with em. First thing a while lady gone do is fire you. You upset, but you figure you'll find another job, when things settle down, when the white lady get around to forgetting. You got a month a rent saved. People bring you squash casseroles. But then a week after you lost your job, you get this little yellow envelope stuck in your screen door. Paper inside say NOTICE OF EVICTION. Ever landlord in Jackson be white and ever one got a white wife that's friends with somebody. You start to panic some then. You still ain't got no job prospects. Everywhere you try, the door slams in your face. And now you ain't got a place to live. Then it starts to come a little faster. If you got a note on your car, they gone repossess it. If you got a parking ticket you ain't paid, you going to jail. If you got a daughter, maybe you go live with her. She tend to a white family a her own. But a few days later she come home, say, "Mama? I just got fired." She look hurt, scared. She don't understand why. You got to tell her it's cause a you. Least her husband still working. Least they can feed the baby.Then they fire her husband. Just another little sharp tool, shiny and fine.They both point at you, crying, wondering why you done it. You can't even remember why. Weeks pass and nothing, no jobs, no money, no house. You hope this is the end of it, that she done enough, she ready to forget. It'll be a knock on the door late at night. It won't be the white lady at the door. She don't do that kind a thing herself. But while the nightmare's happening, the burning or the cutting or the beating, you realize something you know all your life: the white lady don't ever forget. And she ain't gone stop until you dead. (pgs. 187-188.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
I could feel my blood boiling and chilling at the same time when I read that. And Hilly Holbrook-oh, how I loathe her. She's the woman in the book who is pushing the Home Health Sanitation initiative, requiring every white home to have a separate bathroom in the back for the help.

Hilly Holbrook introduces the Home Help Sanitation Initiative. A disease preventative measure. Low-cost bathroom installation in your garage or shed, for homes without such an important fixture.
Ladies, did you know that:
  • 99% of all colored diseases are carried in the urine
  • Whites can become permanently disabled by nearly all of these diseases because we lack immunities coloreds carry in their darker pigmentation
  • Some germs carried by whites can also be harmful to coloreds too
Protect yourself. Protect your children. Protect your help.
From the Holbrooks, we say, You're welcome! (257)
She certainly gets what she deserves from Minny.

Read The Help:
  • if you like fiction set in the Deep South
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like fiction set in the Civil Rights period
  • if you saw and liked the movie
444 pages. 
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Friday, September 21, 2012

What's On My Bookshelf: 19

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone, Shannon Hale

Miri woke to the insistent bleat of a goat. She squeaked open one eye. Pale yellow sky slipped through the cracks in the shutters. 

This is the sequel to Princess Academy, a book I really loved (though I haven't read it in a long time. Perhaps I'll reread it soon.) In Palace of Stone, Miri comes down from Mount Eskel to visit her friend and princess-to-be Britta. But as she soon discovers, things are far more complicated than she realized. The poor of the country, "the shoeless" have had enough oppression and poverty. They want to rise up against the royals. Miri is excited by this idea when she realizes how many people in the lands are starving. But, as she discovers, that could mean killing her friend Britta, and the prince and king and queen. Miri struggles with who to believe in.

There were a lot of interesting concepts tackled in this book, which I received from Bloomsbury USA. The questions of literacy, education, ethics, and class are all raised. Good analogies and sayings are used in the book to illustrate points. In some ways, what the revolutionaries are proposing during the book sounds like it has the potential to turn into the French Revolution, with senseless killing. On the other hand, if you don't get rid of the king and queen and let them live, they may come back and take over again. It's quite a dilemma.

I was somewhat frustrated with Miri at times. She is kind of naive and believes that Ethics will tell her what she needs to do. But that's because she has grown up on the isolated mountain of Eskel, and only recently has discovered the outside world. It's understandable.

Of course, there is a love triangle. There always is one, isn't there? Peder has been her life-long friend and she has always loved him. But she meets Timon, a scholar and revolutionary, who is also in love with her. In other words, Miri has a lot of challenges to face.

I loved this one, and it was just as good as Princess Academy. In fact, it tackled more issues. And it motivated me to reread Princess Academy. I would recommend this to all fans of Shannon Hale's other books (The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, etc.) You can read Becky's review of it here.

Read Palace of Stone:

  • if you like Shannon Hale
  • if you liked Princess Academy
  • if you like fantasy with light romance and politics
321 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rereading Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller

Until the age of twelve, I led what most people would consider an unexceptional life. My activities on an average day could be boiled down to a flavorless mush: I went to school, I came home, I took a bath, and I went to bed. Though I'm certain I didn't realize it at the time, I must have been terribly bored.

Kiki Strike is definitely one of my favorite middle-grade novels. Set in New York City, Ananka Fishbein lives a normal life, until she ventures into a sinkhole near her apartment. She discovers the Shadow City, an underground city beneath New York that has been undiscovered for years. She also meets Kiki Strike, a tiny girl with white hair who wears only black and rides a Vespa. Kiki Strike is a mysterious character who certainly knows a lot about everyone and the Shadow City. Kiki and Ananka form the "Irregulars", a group of girls who explore the Shadow City. Betty Bent is a master of disguise, Luz Lopez is a mechanical genius, Deedee Morlock a chemical genius, and Oona Wong a master hacker and forger. Suspicious things are happening, and it's up to the Irregulars to get to the bottom of them.

I love this book. It's easy, but a fun read, about girl power. At the end of each chapter, Ananka gives tips about different things, like how to spot a lie, be a detective, give first aid, and do a little lying yourself. I enjoyed reading those, and since I love New York, this book is a good one for me. Also, the neighborhood that most of the action takes place in is really familiar to me, which I just noticed on rereading the book.

Read Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City:
  • if you like books set in New York
  • if you like books about underground/hidden cities
  • if you like books with girl power
  • if you like mystery
387 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Kingmaker's Daughter, Philippa Gregory

My lady mother goes first, a great heiress in her own right, and the wife of the greatest subject in the kingdom. Isabel follows, because she is the oldest. Then me: I come last, I always come last. 

The Kingmaker's Daughter is the story of Anne Neville, the daughter of Richard Neville, known as "the kingmaker", because he wielded a lot of influence over the kings. Anne and Isabel are pawns in his plans to get one of them on the throne as queen. At the court of Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville, Anne grows more fearful and desperate when her father starts fighting against his allies. She is married at age fourteen to what she once knew as the enemy, and is soon widowed and fatherless, her mother imprisoned at an abbey and her once beloved sister Isabel married to the enemy. Anne marries Richard, the Duke of Gloucester and escapes from her sister's tyranny. But she is not safe yet, and she is set on a collision course with the power of the royal family.

I really enjoyed this one, which I received from Touchstone Books. I enjoy historical fiction of all kinds, and I believe that Philippa Gregory has written a lot of books about the kings and queens of England and court intrigue. This one was set in the 1470s, and there's a lot going on. And a lot of names to remember, some of the being the same. For example, there are three Edwards. It was kind of confusing, but very compelling. I really felt for Anne, who is trapped by her father's bad decisions. She knows she is kind of in the wrong, but it wasn't her fault, it was her father's. And because of him, she is widowed and friendless. No one wants anything to do with her. Except for Richard. Anne is considered just a pawn, but throughout the book, she grows stronger and more determined. This was the first Philippa Gregory I'd read, and I liked it a lot. I look forward to reading more of her fiction, though I can imagine how it would become really confusing with all the different names.

Read The Kingmaker's Daughter:

  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like Philippa Gregory
  • if you like books with strong female protagonists
409 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Seraphina, Rachel Hartman

From the prologue: I remember being born. In fact, I remember a time before that. There was no light, but there was music: joints creaking, blood rushing, the heart's staccato lullaby, a rich symphony of indigestion. Sound enfolded me, and I was safe. 

Seraphina was a really good dragon fantasy. In a kingdom called Goredd, there is a forty-year old treaty between dragons and humans that has not eased mistrust all that much. Dragons transform into human shape, and teach at universities. But the treaty's expiration draws near. Seraphina Dombegh is a gifted musician, the court's assistant composer. She has reasons to fear both sides: for she is a half-dragon. Her mother was a dragon, her father is a human. A member of the royal family is murdered suspiciously, and Seraphina joins in the investigation with Prince Lucian Kiggs, the captain of the Queen's Guard. They begin to uncover a plot to destroy the fragile peace, while Seraphina struggles with her growing love for Kiggs and her terrible secret that could mean death if it is exposed.

There are a lot of names and terms that you have to remember in Seraphina. The first few chapters were kind of slow, as there was a lot of information thrown at you. But once I got the hang of the world and the terms, I liked this one a lot. Seraphina's garden inside her mind is quite interesting. If she doesn't "tend" to it each evening, she'll have visions.

I enjoyed the characters (isn't Seraphina such a beautiful name?), and the mystery. This one was a lot better than most dragon fantasies I've read. I liked the cover too; it's not too garishly bright like some YA covers can be. Understated, but elegant.

The plot gets more and more complicated as new developments and old histories come to light. I loved all the elements of Seraphina: the mystery, the dragons, the music, the romance.

Read Seraphina:
  • if you like dragon fantasy
  • if you like books with mystery and some romance
451 pages.
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!