Sunday, June 30, 2013

Requiem, Lauren Oliver

Requiem (Delirium, #3)
I've started dreaming of Portland again. Since Alex appeared, resurrected but also changed, twisted, like a monster from one of the ghost stories we used to tell as kids, the past has been finding its way in. It bubbles up through the cracks when I'm not paying attention, and pulls at me with greedy fingers. 

Requiem is the third and final book in the Delirium trilogy. Lena is now an active member of the resistance, and she is transformed. She's at the center of the fight. "After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven—pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators now infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels, and as Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancĂ©e of the young mayor. Requiem is told from both Lena’s and Hana’s points of view. The two girls live side by side in a world that divides them until, at last, their stories converge." There's also the fact that Alex is back, and not talking to her, and as well as the dangerous rebellion, she has all these emotions, and she's really confused about everything. 

I feel like this series has just gone downhill. I loved Delirium, liked Pandemonium, and Requiem was just...meh. The writing was still good, but I didn't like any of the characters and it was just too over-the-top YA. It's not enough that we have a dramatic story about a rebellion against a society which views love as a disease: we have to have a love triangle! I don't generally like love triangles (with a few exceptions), and this one basically consists of Lena encouraging Julian to make Alex jealous. Great. It was also blatantly obvious who Lena's choice would be. That's really not what I wanted to read about. Plus, the covers of all three books are just hideous. The model is just glacial looking, and her skin is too unnervingly perfect. No one looks like that, however good their complexion is. The lack of any blemish actually makes her look ugly. Also, I felt that Lena was really, really selfish in certain parts of the book, like when she was considering leaving Coral behind. There was also a lot of cursing in Requiem, which I didn't remember from the first two books at all. That was fine, but a little strange. 

Nevertheless, one must admit that Requiem is really gripping. I wanted to read more, and I wanted to find out what was going to happen to the characters, even if they suddenly weren't the same people they were in the first two books. The plot was still interesting, and I liked the alternating narratives; Hana's particularly was really interesting and offered a lot of insight. 

It was mainly the first few chapters that annoyed me; after that, the book got somewhat better, and I did really enjoy it for the most part, mainly because it was so gripping. But the little, uber-dramatic quotes from the back of the book really annoy me. Because as I said, it makes the book so teenage-girl YA like, and that's really not a good thing. Like, on the back of Pandemonium: "The old life is dead. But the old Lena is dead too. I buried her. I left her beyond a fence, behind a wall of smoke and flame." Those excerpts are basically the worst parts of the book. But I guess some teenage girls like that sort of stuff. Not I. 

The ending was...ambiguous, and I both liked and didn't like it. It didn't feel like a good ending for the whole entire trilogy, and now I want to know what happens next, but I did like that it didn't tie everything up neatly; Lauren Oliver could return to this world if she wanted to. I still feel like that at the end of an entire trilogy, there should be a bit more than what was offered. Almost nothing was wrapped up, and that was too much vaguenss. 

I ended up feeling ambivalent about Requiem, and it's certainly the worst book of the series. As I said, it was mainly the first three or four chapters that were incredibly annoying. And the cover. 

Read Requiem:
  • if you enjoyed Delirium and Pandemonium
  • if you like dystopia
  • if you like YA romance 
391 pages.

Rating: **

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Manual of Detection, Jebediah Berry

The Manual of DetectionLest details be mistaken for clues, note that Mr. Charles Unwin, lifetime resident of this city, rode his bicycle to work every day, even when it was raining. 

Oh, why did I buy Angelmaker and check this one out of the library? I couldn't get into Angelmaker, but this one's writing was amazing. So it goes.  "In an unnamed city always slick with rain, Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency. All he knows about solving mysteries comes from the reports he's filed for the illustrious detective Travis Sivart. When Sivart goes missing and his supervisor turns up murdered, Unwin is suddenly promoted to detective, a rank for which he lacks both the skills and the stomach. His only guidance comes from his new assistant, who would be perfect if she weren't so sleepy, and from the pithy yet profound Manual of Detection (think The Art of War as told to Damon Runyon). Unwin mounts his search for Sivart, but is soon framed for murder, pursued by goons and gunmen, and confounded by the infamous femme fatale Cleo Greenwood. Meanwhile, strange and troubling questions proliferate: why does the mummy at the Municipal Museum have modern-day dental work? Where have all the city's alarm clocks gone? Why is Unwin's copy of the manual missing Chapter 18? When he discovers that Sivart's greatest cases - including the Three Deaths of Colonel Baker and the Man Who Stole November 12th - were solved incorrectly, Unwin must enter the dreams of a murdered man and face a criminal mastermind bent on total control of a slumbering city."

The Manual of Detection was really brilliant, although I can't quite put my finger down on what about its writing that was so great. I suppose it's the manual of detection itself. Also, the book is set in a semi-futuristic, authoritarian city, with the giant and mysterious Agency watching over everything, but there are also elements of the book that aren't like that at all. For example, Unwin rides a bicycle everyday, and then there's the mysterious woman in plaid. Everything about this one is mysterious, and surreal and fantastical, and it was just what I needed. There's a huge difference between this and Scumble, which I reviewed yesterday. No comparison. They're obviously very, very different, but The Manual of Detection is definitely the much better book. It's delightful, and so is the titular, singular handbook. The cover was really fascinating too.

Really, I wasn't expecting to like this one (which is why I didn't buy it). I should have. Right from the first few pages, I was completely hooked, and I knew I was going to at least like this book. And the way the first corpse showed up was...brilliant. That's not really a spoiler, since in a mystery, most of the time someone gets murdered.

There are all these fascinating scenes that are in the book: the strange museum worker, the poker game at the  Forty Winks. They're all really interesting to read about, as Unwin tries to figure out exactly what is going on. He really doesn't have much of an idea. The whole book feels like a very vivid dream.

I loved the villains too. As the story opens, they all seem to have disappeared, but very quickly they show up again. There are the sinister twins, once conjoined, now separated, who as a result of the separation each have a crippled foot. There's the even more sinister Hoffman, arch nemesis of the vanished detective. And then there's Cleo Greenwood, who shares my name, although in her case the Cleo stands for Cleopatra. She is perhaps the most mysterious of them all. She also has the somewhat stereotypical role of the innocent looking woman who asks for help, but turns out to be one of the villains. Like in The Maltese Falcon.

One part in particular kind of reminded me of the excellent YA book The Boneshaker, the part with the strange travelling carnival. That section kind of reminded me of an adult version of the deliciously creepy and strange Boneshaker. This is definitely a mystery that I would recommend. Although I think that the author has a lot of room for improvement; the writing was great but some parts of them mystery were so weird, and the beginning was definitely better than the end.

278 pages.

Rating: ****

Friday, June 28, 2013

Scumble, Ingrid Law

Scumble (Savvy, #2)Mom and Dad had known about the wedding at my uncle Autry's ranch for months. But with the date set a mere ten days after my thirteenth birthday, my family's RSVP had remained solidly unconfirmed until the last possible wait-and-see moment.

"Nine years after Mibs's Savvy journey, her cousin Ledge has just turned thirteen . . . But Ledger Kale's savvy is a total dud-all he does is make little things fall apart. So his parents decide it's safe to head to Wyoming, where it's soon revealed that Ledge's savvy is much more powerful than anyone thought. Worse, his savvy disaster has an outside witness: Sarah Jane Cabot, reporter wannabe and daughter of the local banker. Just like that, Ledge's beloved normal life is over. Now he has to keep Sarah from turning family secrets into headlines, stop her father from foreclosing on Uncle Autry's ranch, and scumble his savvy into control so that, someday, he can go home."

Just like Hero on a Bicycle, this was an MG novel that was pretty good, but kind of just seemed really simplistic to me. It was also set up really differently from Savvy, a book which I loved. In Savvy, Mibs is trying to figure out exactly what her savvy is over the course of a road trip to the hospital where her dad is. In Scumble, Ledge already knows what his savvy is; he just has to figure out how to scumble (control) it so that he can go home and lead a relatively normal life. So I guess the titles are representative of what the main characters' struggles are, so that worked eventually. Indeed, fifty pages in, the book was already getting much better. 

One character that I really did not like was Ledge's mother; her savvy is that she can make people do her will with a few words and smile. Even though she's generally a good person, it reminded me eerily of King Leck from the Graceling Realm. In fact, savvys and Graces do have some similarities, despite the fact that one series is set in the basically real world, the other in a fantasy realm. They're both special powers that mark each person who inherits them as different. So that was especially creepy, since Ledge's mom's savvy is essentially the same thing as Leck's Grace, even though she generally uses it for good. I wonder if Ingrid Law is aware of the similarities. Probably. 

Another thing that annoyed me about Ledge's parents was their poor decision making. Despite the fact that Ledge is clearly having difficulties with scumbling his savvy, they still apparently decide that going on a road trip in a mechanical creation is a good idea. I realize that the place where the wedding is being held is essentially a savvy sanctuary, but getting there was a big problem. 

There was yet a third thing about the whole family that disconcerted me; the fact that they're all so angry at Ledge. I mean, obviously, he's having difficulty controlling his savvy and he destroys a lot of things, but most of his family members didn't seem to be very understanding. Most of them have had to go through the difficult process of scumbling their own savvys, and yet they didn't seem to be able to empathize. That was a little strange. 

Despite all of that, I definitely ended up enjoying Scumble, though certainly not as much as Savvy. The two "themes" of the book are very different, as evinced by the titles. But the tone of the two books is very much the same, folksy and fun despite being annoying on occasion. There was also a Western theme in Scumble, since the wedding is in Wyoming on a ranch. That was different, and kind of nice, though also annoyingly folksy as I said. Ingrid Law certainly has a distinctive style, which some love and others don't. I liked that the author had Ledge stay in Wyoming for the summer to try and make amends and figure things out. A lot of things, like how to get rid of Sarah Jane and get the precious jar back.

Although each page of Scumble goes by quickly, it is a bit longer than Savvy, and thus a bit longer to read. A third book will be coming out eventually, narrated by Gypsy, and I'm looking forward to it, although I'm not wildly excited. I'm not sure if I'll read it though.

Read Scumble:
  • if you liked Savvy
  • if you like realistic fiction or fantasy
  • if you like MG fiction
400 pages.

Rating: ***

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Short Stories in Spanish (New Penguin Parallel Text), edited by John R. King

Short Stories in Spanish: New Penguin Parallel Text  From "Eva's Indifference": Eva wasn't a good-looking woman. I didn't ever find her attractive but, at that first moment, as she crossed the threshold into my office and came over towards me, she filled me with horror. 

This volume is pretty self-explanatory. It's a great book for Spanish students, offering the Spanish on the left and the English on the right. At a later date, I'll probably go through with an intent to learning Spanish, but this time, I just read the stories in English and enjoyed them. The stories are from a variety of different types of modern Spanish literature, and I really enjoyed them. The only two writers I had heard of were Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The first story, "Eva's Indifference", wasn't great, but I did definitely enjoy the predictable but interesting "Literary Tea Party". It was a rather typical way of showing how waiting and impatience and strife brings out the worst in people, people's true natures. In it, a group of people are waiting for a famous writer to show up so that they can talk to him. "On the Honeymoon", described as "deceptively simple" was just that, and more. It's a story of mistaken identities.

I actually didn't like the two stories by authors I had heard of; Isabel Allende's story wasn't very interesting, and Marquez's was confusing. However, most of the stories in this collection were very good, thought-provoking, and a great learning tool. There are 10 stories overall.

This is a collection that I would highly recommend if you are attempting to learn Spanish; if not, you could still read it, but perhaps consider getting a different volume of Spanish stories. There are a lot of other languages in this series: French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and probably more. It's definitely a great series.

Read Short Stories in Spanish:
  • if you like short stories
  • if you like Spanish literature
  • if you are trying to learn Spanish
219 pages.

Rating: ****

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Canada, Richard Ford

CanadaFirst, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. 

"When fifteen-year-old Dell Parsons' parents rob a bank, his sense of normal life is forever altered. In an instant, this private cataclysm drives his life into before and after, a threshold that can never be uncrossed. His parents' arrest and imprisonment mean a threatening and uncertain future for Dell and his twin sister, Berner. Willful and burning with resentment, Berner flees their home in Montana, abandoning her brother and her life. But Dell is not completely alone. A family friend intervenes, spiriting him across the Canadian border, in hopes of delivering him to a better life. There, afloat on the prairie of Saskatchewan, Dell is taken in by Arthur Remlinger, an enigmatic and charismatic American whose cool reserve masks a dark and violent nature. Undone by the calamity of his parents' robbery and arrest, Dell struggles under the vast prairie sky to remake himself and define the adults he thought he knew. But his search for grace and peace only moves him nearer to a harrowing and murderous collision with Remlinger, an elemental force of darkness."

The New York Times really, really loved this book when it came out, and it sounded interesting then, so I added it to my to-read list. But then I sort of lost interest, for a variety of reasons. I've finally managed to get a copy of Canada though. And it was interesting, although I didn't always love the writing. It was very spare as described, and "spare" is not always my favorite style. It was also described as elegant, but I didn't find it so. However, the writing wasn't really great, and it definitely wasn't my favorite aspect of the book, although it was certainly interesting. 

There was a lot of foreshadowing in the book. Before the bank robbery even happens, the reader knows a lot about what is going to happen; Dell narrates the book stoically, just accepting the suffering that he goes through and living with it. 

I ended up not finishing this one. It was interesting, but not ultimately enough for me to get more than 100 pages into it. 

418 pages. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Rereading The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

The Little White HorseThe carriage gave another lurch, and Maria Merryweather, Miss Heliotrope, and Wiggins once more feel into each other's arms, sighed, gasped, righted themselves, and fixed their attention upon those objects which were for each of them at this trying moment the source of courage and strength. 

"When orphaned young Maria Merryweather arrives at Moonacre Manor, she feels as if she’s entered Paradise. Her new guardian, her uncle Sir Benjamin, is kind and funny; the Manor itself feels like home right away; and every person and animal she meets is like an old friend. But there is something incredibly sad beneath all of this beauty and comfort—a tragedy that happened years ago, shadowing Moonacre Manor and the town around it—and Maria is determined to learn about it, change it, and give her own life story a happy ending. But what can one solitary girl do?"

The Little White Horse is in no way a remarkable story, and it's certainly not original. It's also somewhat sexist, cliched, and typically Gothic. However, it is also entertaining, and the writing can be humorous at times. I bought it a long, long time ago, and I remember not really liking the later sections the first time I read it. The second time I read, which was still a long time ago, I enjoyed it a bit more. 

This time, I noticed how sexist it was in parts, but once kind of has to expect that from a book set in the Victorian era and written in 1946. Everyone kept telling Maria to keep her "feminine curiosity"in check. I don't have much to say about this one, and not much time, but I did enjoy it. It's certainly not brilliant, although I enjoyed reading the mystery, and the wonderful descriptions of Moonacre Manor, which feels like paradise at first. I would love to have Maria's room in the turret. The Christian agenda really annoyed me though, so I didn't end up liking this one as much as when I was younger. The atheist characters are all evil, which annoyed me so much. 

It is a fun little tale though. I would recommend it for younger children, as long as they don't take to heart the "morals" of the story, which are atrocious.

Read The Little White Horse:
  • if you like horse-related stories
  • if you like mysteries
238 pages.

Rating: ***

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Crow God's Girl, Patrice Sarath

The Crow God's Girl (Gordath, #3)Dear Mom and Dad, Well, I'm here. It's not so bad, and I don't want you to worry, even though I guess you will. 

That letter to her parents, will of course, never be sent. Kate knows that very well. "Kate Mossland is an ordinary teenager in a strange and dangerous land. She has crossed the gordath, the portal between our world and Aeritan, and may never go home again. She has accepted her new life as foster daughter to Lord Terrick and is engaged to be married to his son Colar, a young noble whose life she saved and whom she loves.  But all is not easy in the House of Terrick. The servants distrust her, the men-at-arms disdain her, and learning how to be a great lady is harder than it looks. Every misstep brings her closer to ruin, and Kate must walk a fine line between independent teen and modest noblewoman. When the youngest son of Lord Terrick is kidnapped by armed thugs, Kate and a mysterious young girl named Ossen make a daring rescue. But her unladylike courage only strengthens her enemies’ hatred. Then in a single blow Kate learns that her life is truly not her own. As Aeritan teeters on the brink of war, and promises once made are so easily broken, Lord Terrick demands that Kate submit to a new role. But Kate is not so easily managed. Together with Ossen and the girl’s rough and roguish brothers, she leaves the protection of the only House she has known in Aeritan to choose her own path and find her true home."

I don't normally read self-published books, but the author offered me a review copy. Besides, the first two books in the series were published by Ace. I have not read them, but I was still able to enjoy The Crow God's Girl. The story is compelling, and the book is well-written. I could surmise a lot of what happened in the first two books, although there are some details that I'm still fuzzy on. The whole idea of the gordath itself doesn't make that much sense. Also, how Kate could understand the language of the Terricks was a bit strange, as well as how her brain reset and she couldn't read or write English anymore. 

I really enjoyed the character of Kate; she's strong and independent, despite being in a foreign (and incredibly sexist) new world. She still sticks up for herself and tries to figure things out, but she's also not afraid to ask Colar for a bit of help now and then. Kate's really annoyed with him, because he hasn't helped her much at all, whereas when he was stuck on Earth, she basically saved him and brought him back to his own world. 

Aeritan in some ways may seem like a lovely place to live, but Kate quickly realizes that a lot of modern things she takes for granted are not present. For example, women's rights are not a given. There are no hospitals or advanced medications, and there is no birth control or electricity. It's a very difficult place to live for someone used to modern conveniences. 

One thing that interested me was that Kate just seemed to believe in the gods that the people of Aeritan believe in. I suppose in the previous books, she's had enough evidence to accept that they exist, but it seemed to me kind of far-fetched. The religion kind of annoyed me, although it was interesting.

The Crow God's Girl was a really absorbing fantasy novel; it had beautiful descriptions of the land and the food. The writing, though not outstanding, was really compelling. I didn't want to put the book down once I had gotten into it. The world-building was really interesting too; I loved reading about Aeritan and the politics of the realm.

Colar kind of annoyed me with how fickle he was; throughout the book his heart is in the right place but he makes a lot of mistakes of various natures. 

I think the story itself was really, really good, and it's a shame that the author couldn't find a publisher, because although some books are self-published because they're not good enough to be accepted, this is certainly not one of them. The characters, the writing, the plot, and the development of this fantasy novel are all superbly done. It's one that I will probably reread. I may go back and read the first two books as well. A link to buy it on Amazon here

Read The Crow God's Girl:
  • if you like fantasy
262  pages. 

Rating: ****

Friday, June 14, 2013

The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins

The God DelusionFirst sentence: The boy lay prone upon the grass, his chin resting on his hands. 

"A preeminent scientist -- and the world's most prominent atheist -- asserts the irrationality of belief in God and the grievous harm religion has inflicted on society, from the Crusades to /9/11. With rigor and wit, Dawkins examines God in all his forms, from the sex-obsessed tyrant of the Old Testament to the more benign (but still illogical) Celestial Watchmaker favored by some Enlightenment thinkers. He eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He shows how religion fuels war, foments bigotry, and abuses children, buttressing his points with historical and contemporary evidence. The God Delusion makes a compelling case that belief in God is not just wrong but potentially deadly. It also offers exhilarating insight into the advantages of atheism to the individual and society, not the least of which is a clearer, truer appreciation of the universe's wonders than any faith could ever muster."

Argh...I have a few problems with this book. It's certainly fascinating, and it makes a lot of good points, but I kind of think that Dawkins crosses the line a little bit in the beginning. If you thought The Greatest Show on Earth trod upon other people's beliefs, then wait until you read The God Delusion. In the very first chapter, Dawkins talks about this and says that people always avoid arguing about religion, and it's generally fine to argue about other things, but people never argue about religion. Which is true to some extent, but for many people, it is okay to argue about religion. As long as you do it respectfully. I mean, if you're talking about politics, you can say that Mitt Romney is a moron, but that really isn't a valid political argument, unless you have facts to back it up. It's the same thing (or practically the same thing) with religion. You can call religion evil and any other nasty names you like, but that's not going to make religious people listen to your argument. You have to back it up. Which is what Dawkins is attempting to do in this book. But I still really think that religion is a sensitive issue, and it ought to be treaded carefully around. Not around, I guess, but through. It would be silly to not talk about it at all, but it's very important for some people, and you're liable to offend them if you call the goodness of their religion into question. However, it was only the preface that seemed to me liable to get somewhat offensive. 

That said, I agree with a lot of what Dawkins has to say. He's also definitely a better writer than Christopher Hitchens was; although Hitchens was witty, his writing wasn't that great. Dawkin's writing is very good. He's humorous at times, but he also demonstrates his keen skill for research and includes quotes from both political parties and many sides. Although I'm sure that just like everyone else, he sometimes manipulates people's words. I thought the section on the founding fathers was particularly interesting; I had no idea that many of them were possibly agnostics and maybe even atheists. The following section discussing atheist injustice was very telling too; a man tried to demonstrate peaceably against a group which was telling patients to throw away their insulin and chemotherapy and let God decide. He went to the police station to make sure that he would be protected, whereupon when told that he would be protesting against the group, he was threatened by six or seven different policeman. It's ridiculous. If a presidential candidate confessed atheism or even agnosticism, it would be political suicide. Dawkins argues correctly that this is not what the founding fathers would have wanted. 

I had at first thought that The God Delusion would be mainly about how awful specific religions are, but it's better than that. Dawkins talks about religion in general, and why you can argue for its non-existence, and why a God would be a terrible thing. I definitely learned a lot from The God Delusion, and it definitely expanded my thinking. I think it's a book that everyone should read, because it is really, really fascinating, no matter whether you're religious or not. If you are, it probably won't change your mind (although you never know), but it will be interesting, that I can guarantee. If somewhat jarring. 

I went into The God Delusion expecting something very different, and I ended up really enjoying it, both for its humor, great writing, and interesting content. Dawkin's writing is not dry at all. The book goes surprisingly quickly. 

Each of the chapters in The God Delusion is fascinating in its own right, and this is a book that's well worth reading, whether or not one agrees with some aspects of it. I certainly learned a lot, and in the end, I think that Dawkins succeeds in writing a book that's better than just saying religion is evil. He discusses things in a meaningful way, and I loved this one. It was much better than god Is Not Great

374 pages.

Rating: *****

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Above All Things, Tanis Rideout

Above All Things"Tell me the story of Everest," she said, a fervent smile sweeping across her face, creasing the corners of her eyes. "Tell me about this mountain that's stealing you away from me."

"The Paris Wife meets Into Thin Air in this breathtaking debut novel of obsession and divided loyalties, which brilliantly weaves together the harrowing story of George Mallory's ill-fated 1924 attempt to be the first man to conquer Mount Everest, with that of a single day in the life of his wife as she waits at home in England for news of his return.  A captivating blend of historical fact and imaginative fiction, Above All Things moves seamlessly back and forth between the epic story of Mallory's legendary final expedition and a heartbreaking account of a day in the life of Ruth Mallory. Through George's perspective, and that of the newest member of the climbing team, Sandy Irvine, we get an astonishing picture of the terrible risks taken by the men on the treacherous terrain of the Himalaya. But it is through Ruth's eyes that a complex portrait of a marriage emerges, one forged on the eve of the First World War, shadowed by its losses, and haunted by the ever-present possibility that George might not come home." 

The main reason I picked this up was because it was one of the winter "Penguin Selects". In other words, their marketing ploy worked, and when I couldn't get a review copy, I bought a copy of Above All Things. And it was very good. 

One thing I really liked was  the fact that George's narration and Ruth's narration are told very differently. George narrates in a somewhat impersonal third-tone past tense, whereas Ruth's story is told in first person, present tense. This makes the reader identify a lot more with Ruth; one feels that they're actually there with her, experiencing what she's experiencing. Ruth is of course the character that we sympathize with more; I can see where George's passion for climbing Mt. Everest comes from, but he's really selfish. I could really see through the narration how much he cared about climbing Everest, how that really was the most important part of his life, no matter how much he loved Ruth. You can also see what he's doing to Ruth; how she can't function at all while he's away, how she just sits there worrying, wasting away. 

I loved the historical details in the book; as some say, details sell the story, and this story is sold because of the details. It also had great characters, although at times they were a little flat. The writing was wonderful, though. It wasn't quite as good as Mary Coin (another Penguin Select), but I did really enjoy it. Some parts did drag a little in the middle, a fate that often befalls many books. 

One thing that was really confusing in Above All Things was that often the characters would have flashbacks, and they weren't really clear. I would be confused about what was happening in the present and what was being recollected. George would flash back to his trip to New York, Ruth to when they first met, and vice versa. Flashbacks are an easy but effective way to communicate back-stories to the reader, but they could have been written a lot more clearly. However, without the flashbacks, the novel would have felt much flatter and less developed. 

The cover of Above All Things was also really hideous, and the UK edition wasn't much better. I'm not even quite sure what it's supposed to be, although looking back I can kind of see that the woman is both a woman (presumably Ruth) and the mountain. It's not the most aesthetically pleasing, but it is rather clever. 

Above All Things was an excellent work of historical fiction,  much better than The Paris Wife.  I would  highly recommend it. It was compelling, and definitely worth reading, although I don't love it. 

Read Above All Things:
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you are interested in Mt. Everest 
377 pages. 

Rating: ****

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The 21 Balloons, William Pene du Bois

The Twenty-One Balloons
The Twenty-one BalloonsThe Western American Explorers' Club, in the city of San Francisco, was honored as it had never been honored before in the first week of October 1883 by being promised to be first to hear the details of an unexplained, extraordinary adventure; the biggest news story of the year, the story the whole world was waiting impatiently to hear - the tale of Professor William Waterman Sherman's singular voyage.

"Professor William Waterman Sherman just wants to be alone. So he decides to take a year off and spend it crossing the Pacific Ocean in a hot-air balloon the likes of which no one has ever seen. But when he is found after just three weeks floating in the Atlantic among the wreckage of twenty hot-air balloons, naturally, the world is eager to know what happened. How did he end up with so many balloons . . . and in the wrong ocean?" 

The 21 Balloons is a whimsical and highly amusing children's tale, one which I've enjoyed before, but hadn't read in quite a while. Professor William Waterman Sherman's singular adventures are a joy to read about, and though the book is over-the-top silly, that's the beauty of it, and sometimes one is in the mood for just such a book as this one. It's short, fun, and the reader just gets pulled into the story. 

The society on the island of Krakatoa is so, so fun to read about. It is, of course, not realistic, but it's entertaining.  I don't think I'd want to be a permanent "guest" on the island, but I sure would like to visit for a few months and sample the excellent cuisine. And take a few diamonds back too.

This book was published in the 1940's, and so there was a tiny bit of sexism in it, which kind of annoyed me. Also, the characters were kind of under-developed. And in the later sections of the book, the semi-technical jargon got a bit annoying, and I confess to skimming over some of it. But it's still an excellent children's story, one that I would highly recommend. It's not gripping or enthralling, but it is amusing and perfect to read when you're in a certain kind of mood, which I was in. I would definitely recommend this short but sweet book. William Pene du Bois also wrote some other children's books, which I might read. And despite his name, the book was originally published in English, so it doesn't really matter which edition you get.

Read The 21 Balloons:
  • if you like children's literature
  • if you like fantasy
180 pages.

Rating; ***

Sunday, June 9, 2013


I realize that it is already June, but I wanted to do an overview post of what you can expect this month on my blog. As you may have noticed, last week I didn't post on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday for various reasons, one of which was a bike trip.

I will be traveling a lot over the summer, but my biggest trip is in about a week to Costa Rica for twelve days or so. I'm not sure about the Internet connection there, and frankly, I don't really care all that much. I plan to enjoy myself, and if I have opportunities for posting, I will, but maybe not every day. I love blogging (a lot), but it's nice and it's okay to take a break for a while.

I'm also going on a shorter trip this week. I just wanted to let everyone know.

I know I plan to read a lot of bigger books this summer and a lot of books. Happy reading!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Rereading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThough not, in hindsight, so startling as the misdeeds she would perpetrate when she returned to boarding school as a sophomore, what happened to Frankie Landau-Banks the summer after her freshman year was a shock.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is, of course, about Frankie Landau Banks and what happened to her during her sophomore year. At the age of fourteen, Frankie was in debate club, her father's "Bunny Rabbit", and a mildly geeky girl attending an elite boarding school. But the very next year, she is a "knockout figure", has a sharp tongue, a chip on her shoulder, and is dating the senior Matthew Livingston. "No longer the kind of girl to take 'no' for an answer. Especially when 'no' means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society. Not when her ex boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places. Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them. When she knows Matthew’s lying to her. And when there are so many, many pranks to be done." At age 16, Frankie is possibly a criminal mastermind, and this book is the story of how she got that way. 

I don't remember loving this one the last time I read it, but it was a long time ago, and I'd heard a lot of great things about it since. This book may not be as good as John Green's best novels, but I do think that it's better than An Abundance of Katherines and maybe even Will Grayson, Will Grayson. The Disreputable History is somewhat cutesy, but it is also really, really hilarious. 

The writing in it is so distinctive; it's what you might call omniscient third person. Is that the correct way of describing it? No particular character narrates the story, but the writer of the chronicle (whoever it may be) knows what's going to happen, and what a lot of the characters are thinking. This was a perfect style to use, because, of course, the book is the story of how Frankie got to be a criminal mastermind, what set her off, and where it started. The reader keeps getting hints of what's about to happen, and knows things that Frankie doesn't, which is very frustrating. 

This novel is somewhat difficult to get into; in fact, the first twenty pages or so go distinctly slowly. But once you do get into the amazing writing and story, the book flies by. It's one that the reader doesn't want to put down. I also liked the reverse negatives. It was very cute, although I will say that that's not generally a word that you want used about your work. 

 The pranks, though, were so funny. I also loved reading Frankie's inner thoughts and strategizing. There are several points in the book when Frankie is in a tough social situation, and she has to think of the right thing to say really, really quickly. And she does, but the reader gets to enter her brain before she does. That's what I mean about the narrator.

I also loved how the subtle and inadvertent and sometimes advertent sexism at the school was portrayed. It really seemed to work, and it was very disturbingly realistic, the way that Matthew and his friends would treat Frankie. Not badly, per se, just kind of condescendingly

Some elements of this YA novel make it a 5 star, others a 4, but overall, I really enjoyed this one. I'm even considering getting my own copy. It's a very good read. 

342 pages. 

Rating: ****

Friday, June 7, 2013

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, Katherine Marsh

Jepp, Who Defied the StarsBeing a court dwarf is no easy task. I know because I failed at it.

Jepp, Who Defied The Stars was one of The New York Times's notable YA books of 2012 (as I've mentioned earlier), and it looked really, really good to me. Plus, I loved The Fault in Our Stars and Code Name Verity, two of the other books on the list. And also Bitterblue, though to a lesser extent. Anyway, Jepp is a dwarf in the 1500's. He has grown up in Astraveld, in his mother's hotel, where he has always been loved and accepted for who he is by the locals. But one day, he leaves Astraveld for the court of the Spanish Infantata to become a court dwarf. The person who recruited him told him that he would have luxuries beyond his wildest imaginings, which is true, but Jepp and the other dwarfs are treated humiliatingly. They must do all sorts of ridiculous things, like dancing, and jumping out of pies. They're made to seem not human, and that's nothing compared to the malicious Pim, who gets all of them into trouble. Jepp could bear it, but he meets Lia, and it breaks his heart to see her suffering. Jepp and Lia attempt to escape from the palace, but they are captured, and Jepp is imprisoned alone in a tiny cage, travelling across Europe. At the beginning of each section, Jepp gives an update on his imprisonment, and then goes back to recollect what happened at the court, which was very effective, because the reader gets to see both times simultaneously, until they meet up. " But he can't even begin to imagine the brilliant and eccentric new master—a man devoted to uncovering the secrets of the stars—who awaits him. Or the girl who will help him mend his heart and unearth the long-buried secrets of his past. Masterfully written, grippingly paced, and inspired by real histori­cal characters, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars is the tale of an extraordinary hero and his inspiring quest to become the master of his own destiny."

I was a bit apprehensive, because some people found the book's writing beautiful, but the story boring. But thankfully, I really loved Jepp, Who Defied the Stars. The writing certainly was very, very beautiful, and atmospheric. It was probably not realistic for the time period, but it did try to imitate an older style, and I think it worked very well. It certainly drew me in, slowly but surely. I gradually began to love this book; it's certainly not a YA book that is really suspenseful, but it is absorbing.

As you all know, I love historical fiction, and this was an excellent historical fiction book. I'm not really interested in this period, but the writing was so good, and the plot so great. I also loved the characters; Jepp wasn't the most likable character ever, but he was certainly interesting. And really, who needs likable characters? Parts of the book were really, really moving, and if I couldn't empathize, at least I could sympathize with Jepp's plight. His homesickness really resonated with me, and the way that he - just because he was a dwarf -  was treated, was really sad. In his second home, he has to sleep with a moose and sit under his master's table, as if he's a dog. I did find the character of Tycho fascinating though. 

I will agree with many reviewers that this is a YA novel that will not hold everyone's attention. It's no Throne of Glass or Shadow and Bone. It moves at a slower pace, and will most likely not appeal to so many people. And that's a good thing about it. It's a much more absorbing, and ultimately, better novel for it. Generally, popular YA novels tend to be not very good, and although I do like many of them (Divergent, for example), sometimes they're less rich. Rich is definitely a great word to describe this one. Magical is also another great word; Jepp, Who Defied the Stars really is a magical novel. One reviewer on Amazon described it as "charming in its lack of concern with the commercial."

I would definitely really recommend Jepp, Who Defied the Stars. It has excellent descriptions, but it's also a really absorbing novel. And, as another reviewer commented, it does move at a pretty fast pace considering how much description there is. It's an excellent historical novel that really does come to life, and talks really movingly about being more than what's written in your stars, more than what's intended for you. 

369 pages. 

Rating: *****

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, Anton DiSclafani

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls: A NovelI was fifteen years old when my parents sent me away to the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls. The camp was located in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, concealed in the Blue Ridge Mountains. You could drive by the entrance and never see it, not unless you were looking, and carefully; my father missed it four times before I finally signaled that we had arrived. 

"It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country." 

This book has been called lush, sexy, and evocative, and I would agree with all three. I wasn't expecting to like it that much, but the writing was really wonderful and absorbing. I also loved the cover, although it is a bit odd that there are no horses on it, considering that the book is named after a riding camp. It's a great work of historical fiction. Obviously, the book is set while the Great Depression is raging on, but the riding camp is kind of an idyllic place untouched by all of that. It's still very old school, even though the camp has changed since its inception in 1876 - or was it 1902? 

What was frustrating to me was that I really wanted to find out why Thea was at the camp, what she had done that was so terrible to merit being exiled from her home. Her father drops her off at the camp, and he certainly seems somewhat reluctant to leave her there. What she had done nagged at me the whole way through. I started catching hints of it as the book progressed. I won't give anything away, but the reason is pretty predictable, and actually pretty stereotypical. 

I loved how the relationship between Thea and her brother Sam was characterized. The reader can see as they read how much Thea loves her brother and looks up to him. While at the camp, she's constantly thinking about what he would be doing, and she remembers little experiences with him and also with her cousin, who's rather important to her estrangement. It was really sweet, how fond she was of her brother. 

The scene of the camp dance was, I think, brilliantly done. The reader really gets to know Thea better, and the writing is also marvelous. It's kind of a depressing scene, but I think it was well portrayed; Thea doesn't want to be "gathered", and she half does and half doesn't want to follow the rules. She's also impressed, once again, by Mr. Holmes's kindness and understanding. He was a great character. 

I had a horse phase, and I still love horses, so I was glad that this book had horses in it. But the horses really aren't the central part of the story at all; they're not that important. Although Thea's relationship with her horses is interesting, and horses are certainly very important to her life. She rode when she was still at home, and of course she rides at the camp. 

The characters were very well portrayed. I really enjoyed the character of Mr. Holmes, the camp director. He was very kind and understanding. Thea was also interesting, although I didn't exactly like her. She was kind of cruel towards horses and towards people. But characters don't have to be likable.

Overall, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls was a really good work of historical fiction. It was very thoughtful, and the writing was beautiful. Really beautiful, and atmospheric. I started reading the book, and I just kept reading. It wasn't suspenseful, but it was absorbing, and definitely evocative. Thanks to Riverhead Hardcover for sending me an ARC. The book comes out tomorrow.

Read The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls:
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like horses
388 pages.

Rating: ****

Sunday, June 2, 2013

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, Mohsin Hamid

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising AsiaLook, unless you're writing one, a self-help book is an oxymoron. You read a self-help book so someone who isn't yourself can help you, that someone being the author. 

"His first two novels established Mohsin Hamid as a radically inventive storyteller with his finger on the world’s pulse. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia meets that reputation—and exceeds it. the astonishing and riveting tale of a man’s journey from impoverished rural boy to corporate tycoon, it steals its shape from the business self-help books devoured by ambitious youths all over “rising Asia.” It follows its nameless hero to the sprawling metropolis where he begins to amass an empire built on that most fluid, and increasingly scarce, of goods: water. Yet his heart remains set on something else, on the pretty girl whose star rises along with his, their paths crossing and recrossing, a lifelong affair sparked and snuffed and sparked again by the forces that careen their fates along."

I didn't love How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, but it was certainly an interesting and very distinctive novel. It's told in the second person, addressing "you" as the main character, which was intriguing. Second person present tense definitely makes the book more intimate; not only is the reader the reader, but also the narrator, the protagonist, the thing that the book centers around. I will admit that I never really imagined myself as the main character, because that would have been just a little odd. But the idea is good. 

Each chapter purports to explain one step in the path towards getting filthy rich. The first, for example, is "Move to the City". There's "Get an Education", "Don't Fall in Love", "Avoid Idealists", "Learn from a Master", "Work For Yourself", "Be Prepared to Use Violence", "Befriend a Bureaucrat", and more. But it becomes increasingly clear to the reader that this is not really a self-help book. It doesn't offer anything concrete to make yourself "filthy rich"; it's more an exploration of sorts. 

Overall, though, I was disappointed with How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. My expectations were high, although not astronomically so, and the book wasn't one of those compelling, fascinating, novels that I will return to again and again. I did like the writing, and it was slyly funny in places, but it never wowed me. Not at all. Also, it went by too quickly, and was kind of disturbing. It's definitely not a book for the faint of heart. It can be slyly humorous at times, which I did enjoy. I will say that it's not worth $26.95. Maybe I'll do a post about how ridiculously expensive hardcover adult books are.

This is a very short review, but I really don't have that much to say about How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. There were some aspects that I liked, but many others that I didn't. The writing just wasn't very compelling at times. 

Read How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia:
  • if you like fiction
  • if you like Mohsin Hamid
  • if you like books set in "rising Asia"
  • if you like books that purport to be one thing but are really something else
228 pages.

Rating: **