Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stealing Heaven - Elizabeth Scott

Dani has been trained as a thief by the best - her mother. Together, they move from town to town, targeting wealthy homes and making a living by stealing antique silver. They never stay in one place long enough to make real connections, real friends - a real life. In the beach town of Heaven, though, everything changes. For the first time, Dani starts to feel at home. She's making friends and has even met a guy. But these people can never know the real Dani - because of who she is. When it turns out that her new friend lives in the house they've targeted for their next job and the cute guy is a cop, Dani must question where her loyalties lie: with the life she's always known - or the one she's always wanted.

I'd been reading good things about Elizabeth Scott for a while, but Stealing Heaven is the first Scott book I've read, and I've definitely been missing out. I wasn't initially too excited about reading about about thievery, but then I remembered how much I loved (and still love) The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, and reminded myself not to have preconceptions about books on a certain topic.

In Stealing Heaven, Scott does a masterful job of making the reader empathize with not only the main characters, but the secondary ones as well - even those who are not necessarily bundles of love, joy and morality. I often felt pity for Danielle's mother, who is seemingly incapable of happily leading any life but one of lies and crime, and who distances herself from anyone she might come close to truly caring for. Danielle, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to lead the "normal" life her mother abhors - to get a chance to have friends, or even to really know someone besides her mother. In my opinion, the best books are populated by people one could meet on the street, and this is definitely the case with Stealing Heaven. While the plot in the book is also interesting, well thought-out, and occasionally suspenseful, the characters are definitely the most important element.

There is also a romantic interest in Stealing Heaven, as one could guess from the above synopsis, and I suppose some might classify the book as a romance novel. However, I don't see it that way - there are strong romantic elements in the book, but they weren't what dominated my reading of the story. Rather, the struggles and hopes of the characters, not to mention the characters themselves, drove the novel forward and kept me reading attentively to the end. I would wholeheartedly recommend Stealing Heaven.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Witch Hill - Marcus Sedgwick

The fire in his house was a family tragedy that Jamie can't forget. Fire dominates his waking thoughts and his dreams. When his family sends him away to Crownhill to recover, they don't realize they are sending him to a village with its own dark history of witchcraft - and with ancient buried powers that are unleashed by Jamie's presence. A present-day boy, a seventeenth-century girl, and an ancient crone: for a single moment, their lives are fused by fire.

This was one of those books that I picked up randomly at the library. I had heard of Marcus Sedgwick, but hadn't read any of his work, so I figured that the 147 pages of Witch Hill would be a good place to start. After re-reading Ethan Frome this afternoon in preparation for an AP English test, I thought Witch Hill would be a refreshing read.

This book is definitely a quick read - it took me about an hour to read it straight through. Sedgwick's prose is fast-paced, but not rushed, and Jamie's first-person narration kept me interested throughout the book. One thing that bothered me, though, is how long it took me to figure out how old Jamie was. At first, I thought he was around twelve or thirteen, but it became clear later on that he was around sixteen. To me, it seems like it should be more obvious how old a character is unless there is some purpose for obfuscating their age, and in this case, there was no such purpose as far as I could tell. On the whole, though, I greatly enjoyed Witch Hill, and I will look forward to reading The Restless Dead, the only other Sedgwick book my library owns.

Dead Politician Society - Robin Spano

After the mayor falls down dead in the middle of a speech, a clandestine student society claims credit for his demise. Claire Vengel is given her first undercover assignment: to pose as a student and penetrate the society. A streetwise amateur mechanic, Clare finds university a foreign land, and she has trouble creating an in with the suspects. She quickly alienates a popular professor and loses the respect of police superiors. When another politician is killed, Clare kicks herself into high gear. She forges friendships with students and makes inroads into the secret society. As the body count rises, Clare realizes that the murderer she has to unmask is someone she has come to consider a friend. She only hopes that the friend doesn't unmask her first.

I received Dead Politician Society through the Goodreads First Reads program. The book was released in hardcover on September 1 of this year, and is to my knowledge Robin Spano's first novel.

Clare, the main character in Dead Politician Society, is a highly immature young woman who behaves irresponsibly throughout most of the novel. However, it is entertaining to read about her many mishaps and attempts to impress her superiors. While Spano's writing is not particularly stylistically impressive, I enjoyed reading the book and the plot twists kept me reading. The characters were neither completely flat nor well fleshed out, but somewhere in between. Likewise, the plot was not completely unoriginal, but neither was it particularly fresh and new. As a whole, the book is clearly a first novel, and met my expectations as such. While I wouldn't rush out to buy the next Claire Vengel novel (I assume from the cover that there will be more), I would probably pick it up at the library, and I would look forward to seeing Spano improve her craft.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot

Doctors took her cells without asking. Those cells never died. They launched a medical revolution and a multimillion-dollar industry. More than twenty years later, her children found out. Their lives would never be the same.

I picked this up in the library almost a month ago, and still hadn't read it. After renewing it once, I finally picked it up, and I couldn't be more glad. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cells were harvested by doctors during the course of her treatment for cervical cancer. After Henrietta's death, those cells multiplied prolifically and have been used in a multitude of laboratories around the world. Skloot follows Henrietta's life, death, and her family's journey through their discovery of what Henrietta's cells meant to the scientific world.

While I enjoy nonfiction, I don't read nearly as much of it as I do fiction because it's generally more difficult for me to find nonfiction that I can thoroughly enjoy. However, this was not at all a problem with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. On the back of the book, a Booklist starred review is quoted as saying that Skloot writes with "a novelist's artistry, a biologist's expertise, and the zeal of an investigative reporter." This short quote just about sums up my experience with Skloot's writing. This book captivated me and kept me reading just as much as a good novel, while still remaining journalistic and clearly nonfiction. Rebecca Skloot manages to strike a perfect balance between style and substance. This balance, however, is not the main reason I enjoyed the book - Henrietta Lacks' story is simply fascinating, and I'm stunned that it has never been written about in such detail before. Again, a quote from the back of the book (this time from Ted Conover) says it perfectly: "This is exactly the sort of story that books were made to tell - thorough, detailed, quietly passionate, and full of revelation." I couldn't describe it better.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson

Lisbeth Salander - the heart of Larsson's two previous novels - lies in critical condition, a bullet wound to her head, in the intensive care unit of a Swedish city hospital. She's fighting for her life in more ways than one: if and when she recovers, she'll be taken back to Stockholm to stand trial for three murders. With the help of her friend, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, she will not only have to prove her innocence, but also identify and denounce those in authority who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer abuse and violence. And, on her own, she will plot revenge - against the man who tried to kill her, and the corrupt government institutions that very nearly destroyed her life. Once upon a time, she was a victim. Now Salander is fighting back.

I have waited such a long time to read this book - I had it on hold at the library since July 25, and it finally came in yesterday. Naturally, I didn't do much but read in my spare time yesterday or today, and I am absolutely delighted with this last book in the Millenium trilogy.

I was slightly worried that, after loving the first two books, I might be disappointed with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. This was definitely not the case. The plot kept my eyes glued to the page at every possible moment. Even though Salander is confined to a hospital bed or a prison cell throughout most of the story, the book manages not to feel stagnant in the slightest; the plot is always moving, though never rushed. Aside from this, all the characters are exceptionally well drawn. None of the characters are perfect, and none are completely "bad" either (some would probably disagree with me on the last bit, though). I feel Larsson had a very good insight into human nature and human behavior, and he was able to use that insight very well. The first two books, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire, were exciting, well-written, had wonderful characters and a complex and captivating plot. In my opinion, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest surpassed them both.

Today, I was looking at Stieg Larsson's website and found that the Millenium trilogy was actually intended to be ten books, and that Larsson died while writing the fourth. Though I knew that he had died after submitting the first three novels to his publisher, I had no idea that there were originally supposed to be seven more. Some have hoped that Larsson's partner, Eva Gabrielsson, could finish the fourth book, but she is positive that this would not be legal in Sweden. For my own part, while I wish that Larsson was alive today and able to finish the ten books, I am glad that there is not likely to be anyone finishing the series in his stead - I feel like this very rarely works well. What's your opinion on the matter?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Passion - L.J. Smith

Back at the lab, captured like animals, Kaitlyn and her friends must face the true meaning of what the link means, and what their lineage is.  They also have the fight of their lives on their hands, as Dr. Xetes does his best to do them in.  But the real question for Kaitlyn is: Rob or Gabriel?  Sunlight or darkness?  Kait has to search her heart for the answer.

When I sat down to write this review, I realized how little I have to say about the book that I didn't already say in my reviews of The Strange Power and The Possessed. The plot is exciting but not particularly original, the characters are interesting and do develop to a reasonable extent, and the romance is rather (in my opinion, of course) trite. Just reading the above blurb, which I got from the author's website, kind of wants to make me throw up in my mouth. Fortunately, the actual book does not focus as much on romance as the blurb indicates - if it did, I don't think I would enjoy these books at all. As it is, I enjoyed the books, but I seriously doubt that I will ever re-read them, and while I'd recommend them to fans of paranormal romance or Twilight, I wouldn't strongly recommend them to anyone else. If they sound like you'd enjoy them, you probably would; otherwise, stay away.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Possessed - L.J. Smith

Kaitlyn and her buddies are on the run. Having learned the dark secrets of the psychic institute they head north, looking for shelter, not daring to even contact their parents or old friends. They're on their own in a race for time, when Kaitlyn discovers Gabriel's dark secret: he's a psychic vampire. He needs to drain other people's life-force to live, and he hasn't been doing it. What to do? Kait volunteers - and finds the experience not entirely unenjoyable.

After reading The Strange Power, the first book in the Dark Visions series, I was left with expectations that The Possessed be just as exciting as the first - and it was. Unfortunately, the romance is more played up in this book than in the first, which I decidedly do not prefer. However, the paranormal adventure part of the book was still more important and well done, so I'm sticking with the series. Again, this is definitely a light read, but it held my attention for the short time it took me to finish. Sorry for the short review, but I really don't have anything else to say about this one!

The Strange Power - L.J. Smith

Kaitlyn is an artist, but not an ordinary one. She draws pictures of things that are going to happen in the future. Everything she draws comes true - but sometimes she can't figure out what she's drawn until it's too late. Kait is only too happy when Dr. Zetes, a scientist who is studying psychic abilities, invites her to come to California and join his school of similarly talented individuals. There Kaitlyn meets golden boy Rob, a healer, and the dark lone wolf Gabriel who apparently wants nothing to do with her. But with so much supernatural energy going around, it's hardly surprising that the psychics develop a telepathic link that can't be broken.

 I was given the Dark Visions series - The Strange Power, The Possessed, and The Passion - last year, but I hadn't read them yet. In part, this was because the cover of my collective edition looked like it was meant to appeal to Twilight fans, and I'm definitely not a Twilight fan. I've been trying to go through some books that have been sitting around for a while, though, so I picked it up.

Though The Strange Power was written in 1994, I would never have guessed had I not checked the front of the book. After all, it shares the traits of the most widely marketed teen fiction today. Paranormal? Check. Romance? Check. Not only that, the romance side of the story is very similarly constructed to that of Twilight. Dark, brooding, mysterious boy? Check. Warm, kind, (sort of) innocent boy? Check. Fortunately, Kaitlyn is not nearly as sappy and weak-willed as I found Bella to be. Also fortunately, romance is not - at least, not so far - the main element of the book. For the moment, the paranormal fantasy element is stronger than the romance, and I'm really (really) hoping it stays that way throughout the trilogy.

All that said, The Strange Power kept me reading. I wanted to know what happened next, and I wanted to find out more about the characters. The premise was interesting, and the plot developed in an interesting, though not always unexpected, way. Without this, I doubt the book would have held my attention. As it is, though, I would recommend The Strange Power particularly to fans of the paranormal romance genre, and I am eager to see what the next two books have in store.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Everything Is Going to Be Great - Rachel Shukert

When she lands a coveted nonpaying, nonspeaking role in a play going on a European tour, Rachel Shukert - with a brand-new degree in acting from NYU and no money - finally scores her big break. And, after a fluke at customs in Vienna, she gets her golden ticket: an unstamped passport, giving her free rein to "find herself" on a grand tour of Europe. Traveling from Vienna to Zurich to Amsterdam, Rachel bounces through complicated relationships, drunken mishaps, miscommunication, and the reality-adjusting shock that every twentysomething faces when sent off to negotiate "the real world" - whatever that may be.

I received Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour from the publisher as a Goodreads First Read giveaway prize in August, and started it immediately. And then I got sidetracked. And sidetracked again. And again. And...well, you get the point. This wasn't because I didn't like the book, because I enjoyed every minute I spent reading it. I'm not actually sure why it took me so long to finish, but at any rate, I am finished (finally), and here's my review.

I was initially attracted to this book simply because it's about travel, and I am generally fond of travel books - in fact, a proportionally large amount of my favorite books involve travel of some kind. Also, I loved the cover, which affects my reading choices more than I might like to admit. Fortunately, I was not at all disappointed by Shukert's memoir. Her writing is hilarious and very tongue-in-cheek from the very first page: "There are many wonderful ways to use this book. For example, if you are removing a hot casserole dish from the oven and have misplaced all your trivets, you could use this book instead." While her style has the potential to come off as contrived, I didn't find it to be so; on the contrary, the book felt very honestly written. Though I did have to cringe at Rachel during several parts of the book (she makes some very stupid decisions over the course of the memoir), it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the book. On the whole, I definitely recommend Everything Is Going to Be Great.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

Everyone in Prentisstown can hear everyone else's thoughts in the form of raucous, overwhelming Noise - there is no space for privacy, secrets, or silence. But one day, deep in the swamp, Todd Hewitt and his dog find an area of complete quiet, which is completely unheard of. Slowly, Todd beings to suspect that Prentisstown has a history different from the one Todd has been taught, and this history drives Todd and Manchee to flee for their lives. The only problem? It's hard to run when there's nowhere to go and everyone can hear you think.

The Knife of Never Letting Gothe first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy, was recommended to me a couple weeks ago by Michelle (a.k.a. Clover) of Fluttering Butterflies. If I liked the Hunger Games series, she said, I'd like the The Knife of Never Letting Go. I immediately put the book (which was, of course, checked out) on hold at my local library, and it came in a few days ago. Michelle, you were definitely very absolutely extremely correct. The Knife of Letting Go is the perfect book for anyone who likes the Hunger Games trilogy - and, for that matter, anyone else.

Like most people invested in the Hunger Games books, I cried while reading Mockingjay. However, I was suprised to find that I cried even more during The Knife of Never Letting Go. Does that make me a bad Hunger Games fan? Anyway, The Knife of Letting Go is absolutely amazing (though not because it made me cry - that does not, in my opinion, define a good book). Todd, who narrates the book, cannot read or write, and I thought at first that his dialect might detract from my experience. However, it became more natural and less noticeable over time, and I didn't really have any issue with all the "ain't"-ing. Todd and Manchee were both very likeable, and I thought Ness did an excellent job of portraying what dogs would say if they could talk. The plot was excellent - fast-paced, fairly complex, and utterly engaging. The Knife of Letting Go was, for me, one of those books where you completely and entirely forget what's going on around you and are wholly absorbed into the story. The book accurately portrays the costs of war while not being too overwhelmingly depressing, and leaves the reader wanting more. 

Now, I need to go finish my homework so I can get started on The Ask and the Answer!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

One Day - David Nicholls

On July 15, 1988, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew meet for the first time the day before their college graduation. Though they know that they will probably never see each other again after they graduate, neither can stop thinking of the other, and they stay connected over the years, developing a unique relationship. One Day chronicles this relationship, checking in on Em and Dex on July 15 of every year from 1988 onward.

I thought the premise of this book was very interesting and, at least to me, unusual. However, I did think it might be confusing to only "see" characters one day every year, and I was afraid that might make me enjoy the book less. However, Nicholls does very well in keeping the reader unconfused - while I didn't know everything that had happened to the characters at every point in the book, I was not in the least confused. Rather, I was captivated by the way that Emma and Dexter changed over the years, and yet remained the same people they were when they first met. I did experience a lull in the plot somewhere in the middle of the book. While I was still interested in what was going on, it just wasn't as exciting for me for 50 pages or so. Now that I think about it, though, that might be a good thing; I'm not sure that all-excitement-all-the-time would have been good for this particular book.

Also, I should mention that while I rarely very rarely very, very, extremely rarely cry while reading a book, I came very close toward the end of One Day. I won't say what happens, but there is one very touching scene that particularly affected me - luckily, though, I didn't cry, as I was in the middle of my library media class at school, which is not the best place in the world to start bawling. (Though my friend did start crying in there over Mockingjay...so I guess it wouldn't be a first.) Anyway, I absolutely loved One Day. It's unique and readable and interesting (and not depressing, so don't get that idea), and I've already recommended it to several people. If it sounds interesting at all, I'd encourage you to pick it up.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Adoration of Jenna Fox - Mary E. Pearson

Jenna Fox has just woken up from a year-long coma. She does not remember anything about her personal life - her parents (assuming that they are her parents, because she can't remember them) tell her what her name is, tell her that she was in a terrible accident, and they give her videos of her life to watch, but she doesn't remember being the little girl on the screen. Slowly, bits and pieces of Jenna's memory begin to come back. But along with those memories, Jenna has questions about what really happened to her, and no one wants to give her answers. 

I found the beginning of The Adoration of Jenna Fox somewhat confusing, but that was because Jenna is also very confused about what's going on and, for that matter, who she really is. And, aside from anything else, the book is very gripping. I read it in two hours straight, and had no desire to pause at any point during the book. The Adoration of Jenna Fox was almost like a suspense novel in that it had twist after turn throughout most of the book, but it didn't feel rushed or too fast-paced to me.

I was very pleasantly surprised with The Adoration of Jenna Fox - it was one of those books that I chose in the library because it had a pretty cover and looked halfway interesting, but I'm extremely glad I picked it up, and I look forward to reading more of Pearson's writing.

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay is the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, the first two books of which were The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Unlike most of my reviews, this one is going to have spoilers, because I just don't know how to write about Mockingjay without writing about important plot events. However, I will only write spoilers for The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. So if you've read the first two but not Mockingjay, you'll be fine. If not, you've been warned.

At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss has managed to make it out of two successive Hunger Games alive. Despite this, she's still not safe, as the Capitol wants revenge - and full control of the districts, most of which have truly begun to revolt. President Snow blames this on Katniss, and she is driven along a path not entirely of her own making as she tries to protect not just herself, but everyone she loves.

There is a LOT of death in this book. I know some people found this discouraging and hated the book because of it. However, this was not the case with me. While Mockingjay was certainly not a cheery novel, I liked it better for its accurate depiction of war and the consequences of war. The characters in the series are not black or white, good or bad - they are all shades of gray, and that is even more true in Mockingjay. There were times when I absolutely hated Katniss and some of the other characters for the choices they made, but I did not empathize with them any more or less. The characters in the Hunger Games series are portrayed as humans, just like you or I, and the circumstances they are put in are believable in the context of human nature. This is my favorite thing about Collins's writing, and yet it is what made the books so painful at times. Mockingjay is a brilliant book, but it is not escape fiction by any means. Read it, by all means, but don't expect it to cheer you up.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Seventy-Seven Clocks - Christopher Fowler

Seventy-Seven Clocks continues the Bryant and May books, a series of mystery novels that are centered around odd couple John May and Arthur Bryant, detectives working in London's Peculiar Crimes Unit. Responsible for solving crimes that don't fit in the range of the normal police, the PCU is faced this time with rat poison, an exploding suspect, a secret society, and (oddly) Gilbert and Sullivan operas. People are dying right and left, and Bryant and May have no suspect.

Seventy-Seven Clocks is the third book in the series, the first two being The Water Room and Full Dark House. That said, I have read neither of those two - in fact, the only other Bryant and May mystery I've read is Ten Second Staircase, the fourth book. This has so far presented me with no difficulty in understanding or enjoying the book, and I would encourage readers to go through the books in whatever order they please.

While the Bryant and May books are mystery/thriller novels, they are also very humorous. John May and Arthur Bryant have very different personalities and eccentricities, and yet manage to work together in a manner that is both effective and fun to read. The plot of Seventy-Seven Clocks is unexpected and original, at least in my experience, and kept me guessing all the way through. Sergeant Janet Longbright, who also works in the PCU, is one of my favorite characters in both of the books, though I'm not sure why, but all of the characters are well-written. If in search of a good mystery novel that's not terribly dark, I would definitely recommend that you read Seventy-Seven Clocks.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Cardturner - Louis Sachar

In The Cardturner, Alton Richards is forced by his mother to be his old, sick, blind, and rich Great-Uncle Lester Trapp's cardturner at the local bridge club. Mr. Richards just lost his job, and Mrs. Richards is hoping that Alton can worm his way into the uncle's good graces, securing a spot in the will. Alton very reluctantly agrees, though bridge is the farthest thing from his idea of a good time, and is thus drawn into the world of bridge. He begins to follow the game and enjoy going, eventually meeting and becoming friends with Toni Castaneda, who has been classified as "crazy" by Alton's parents.

Prior to finding The Cardturner on the "new books" shelf at my local library, I had read Sachar's Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Holes, and Small Steps. I loved the first two, but didn't like Small Steps that much, so I wasn't sure what to expect from The Cardturner, especially as I had no experience in reading YA bridge novels (understandably, as I'm pretty sure there's only one). Much to my surprise, I enjoyed The Cardturner very nearly as much as I liked Holes - in other words, a lot. All the characters are great, though the Richards parents are not all that likeable, and Trapp (or "Uncle Lester," as Alton's parents would like him to be called) was my absolute favorite. As Sachar pointed out in a preface, it would be difficult to write a book about bridge without writing about the mechanics of the game, and The Cardturner does contain quite a bit of technical bridge-talk. However, these sections are kindly prefaced with a small picture of a whale, in reference to Moby Dick, and a short summary follows the lengthier description. While I didn't really understand a lot of the technical stuff, I did read and enjoy the sections - I just didn't always quite follow them.

If someone had told me a week ago that I would be reading a book about bridge by Louis Sachar, I would by no means have believed them. However, here I am, writing this review of The Cardturner, a book about bridge which I absolutely loved. If there is one thing I didn't like about the book, it was that I couldn't always understand what was going on bridge-wise, but I still enjoyed reading those sections. Overall, I highly enjoyed The Cardturner, and I would recommend it.

I have a question for you...

I've been wanting to post book covers in my reviews to make them more visually interesting, but I also don't want to violate copyright. I am kind of confused about how all that works, so if someone could explain it to me in the comments I'd be very appreciative. Thanks in advance!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Name is Memory - Ann Brashares

My Name is Memory is the most recently published of Ann Brashares' books. It is about Lucy Broward, a perfectly normal teenager who is about to graduate high school, and Daniel Grey, a mysterious boy who Lucy has been admiring from afar. On the night of the last school dance, Daniel and Lucy come together by chance, and Daniel tells Lucy that everyone has past lives, and that he is unique in that he remembers his. According to Daniel, he has been falling in love with Lucy (whom he calls Sophia, a name he once knew her by) for hundreds of years. As might be expected, Lucy is alarmed, frightened and disbelieving, and runs away. Daniel does not contact her again, but over the next several years, though, she begins to realize that things are not as they seem and that Daniel was indeed right.

I vaguely remember reading The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and its successors somewhere around eighth grade; however, I don't remember much except that I enjoyed them and that Bridget was the soccer player (I think). Probably at least partly because of this, I was quite surprised to enjoy My Name is Memory as much as I did. The fact that I read the book in one sitting gives testimony to how captivating and well-paced it is, and I found the relationship Lucy and Daniel is very compellingly written. I love the dynamic between Daniel and Lucy, as well as her previous incarnations, when he knows who she is and she doesn't know who he is - the nearest comparison I can make is seeing a high school sweetheart twenty years later and them not recognizing you, but that really is a pitiful comparison. It almost seems like My Name is Memory could have a few sequels as well, but it's not slated to as far as I know. Maybe that's just my wishful thinking; I would love to see more of Ben, the mysterious, memory-gifted (that's what I'm calling it) person who has lived many, many times and seems to know a lot more than he's telling.

Anyway, I'm getting off the point: I very much enjoyed My Name is Memory, and I will definitely look forward to reading (and perhaps re-reading) more of Ann Brashares' bookes in the future.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

13 Little Blue Envelopes - Maureen Johnson

13 Little Blue Envelopes is about a teenage girl, Ginny, who receives a package from her Aunt Peg several months after Peg's death. The package contains thirteen numbered blue envelopes with the instructions that Ginny must open each envelope one by one and in numerical order, and that she cannot open the next envelope until she has completed the "mission" set forth in the envelope before it. The envelopes take Ginny to London, Scotland, Amsterdam, and Greece, among other places, and the things Ginny experiences and the people she meets change her forever.

13 Little Blue Envelopes was the first Maureen Johnson book I ever read; I found it at my local library and fell in love. Though I have now read several of Johnson's other books, 13 Little Blue Envelopes remains my favorite. This is probably partly because it prominently features travel - I love traveling, fiction about traveling, nonfiction about traveling, movies about traveling...the list goes on (and on). Aside from that, though, I enjoy 13 Little Blue Envelopes because it is funny, well-paced, has great characters, and I identify with Ginny in several ways. I always enjoy seeing her grow, have fun, get frustrated, get conned, and gain friends throughout the story, and I highly recommend the book.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Necromancer - Michael Scott

The Necromancer is the fourth book in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, the first three being The Alchemyst, The Magician, and The Sorceress. The series is about twins Josh and Sophie Newman, two ordinary teens whose lives are changed irrevocably when they discover that Sophie's employers are actually immortals Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel, and that Sophie and Josh may be the twins of legend, destined to be extraordinarily powerful for good or evil.

I've greatly enjoyed this series so far, and The Necromancer is no exception. The series is steeped in the mythology of many different cultures, which I absolutely love - characters in the series include the Torc Madra, Prometheus, Isis and Osiris, and Quetzalcoatl, just to name a few. The books are also very fast-paced, and are quick reads despite their length. And while I've found some series to get more tepid as the series progresses, that is not the case with these books - I enjoyed The Necromancer every bit as much as The Alchemyst, if not more.

I have found each of these books very difficult to put down, and I always have difficulty waiting for the next to come out. For fans of fantasy, mythology, and/or young adult literature, this series, including The Necromancer, is a must-read.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

I first read Wuthering Heights about five years ago, and while I loved it at the time, I hadn't picked it up since. But because it was part of my AP English Language reading list, I read it again, and I must say that I don't like it half as well as I remember liking it the first time around.

According to the back of my tattered, school-issued copy, "There are few more convincing, less sentimental accounts of passionate love than Wuthering Heights," and it is "the story of a savage, tormented foundling, Heathcliff, who falls wildly in love with Catherine Earnshaw, the daughter of his benefactor, and of the violence and misery that results from their thwarted longing for each other." Well, then. First of all, I'm not sure what exactly makes Wuthering Heights "convincing"...what exactly am I intended to be convinced of? Anyway, the blurb is a pretty good summary as far as I'm concerned. Heathcliff is definitely savage and tormented, and there is plenty of violence and misery.

However, I would like to point out that from my point of view, their longing for each other was thwarted by no person or persons more than Heathcliff and Catherine themselves. If Wuthering Heights was real and set in present day, I would sent Catherine straight over to a little blog called How Not to Fall in Love - I have a feeling she might find it very useful. Throughout almost the entire book, the main characters seem to have the aim of being as utterly senseless as possible. In fact, the housekeeper, Nelly was the only significant character who seemed to have a lick of sense (pardon my colloquialism). While there was some reconciliation at the end, I was disappointed that the book didn't really follow the development of the two characters who did become friends. Rather, the reader jumps ahead a bit and finds that it has all already happened, and that he/she can only learn of what's been going on through a retelling. When a book doesn't have an action-packed, gripping plot, I find that I need some character development to keep me going, and I didn't find sufficient development in Wuthering Heights.

Perhaps I will like the book after studying it in English, but I doubt it. Maybe this will be one of those books that I read every five years and react differently each time. Have you read Wuthering Heights? What did you think?

Mockingjay Giveaway!

Hello, everybody! I usually don't post about giveaways, but I am extremely excited about this one. Beth of Writing It Out is giving away a copy of Mockingjay, the final book in the Hunger Games series, and a beautiful mockingjay pin. The giveaway is here, and I encourage everyone to enter! Good luck!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ethan Frome and Other Short Fiction - Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome and Other Stories contains Ethan Frome, The Touchstone, "The Last Asset," "Xingu," and "The Other Two." While I own Wharton's The House of Mirth, I hadn't read any of her works prior to this book, which I read for AP English Literature. I will divide this review into five parts, one for each work - this will make my post rather long, but I hope you don't mind. :) I wrote each section just after finishing that piece, so they are organized in the order I read them.

Ethan Frome
The book Ethan Frome is about (funnily enough) Ethan Frome, a farmer who lives in a rural New England town. Frome's already fragile relationship with his wife Zenobia, or "Zeena," is tested when Zeena's cousin, Mattie, comes to stay with them and take care of Zeena. Ethan clearly has feelings for Mattie that Zeena notices and naturally does not approve of. When Zeena announces that she is getting a hired girl and that Mattie will have to leave, Ethan and Mattie sled down a hill into a large maple tree, hoping to die together rather than live apart. Unfortunately, they are only crippled, and Mattie, Zeena, and Ethan end up living together, though unhappily, for the rest of their lives.

Knowing that Edith Wharton came from a prominent New York family and never experienced rural life or financial hardship, I was quite impressed with how well she portrayed the characters, as well as their financial situations and stations in life. It did not feel as though Wharton was condescending to the rural poor, or as though she had no idea what she was writing about. Aside from that, I enjoyed the story quite a lot - Wharton's imagery depicting the New England countryside created a beautiful, desolate setting that was very appropriate for the characters and story. I felt compassion for the Fromes and for Mattie, and enjoyed reading the book. I know there is symbolism in the book, but I usually don't pay attention to symbols while reading, so I'll be interested to study Ethan Frome in English this year.

The Touchstone
The Touchstone is a novella about Glennard, a man whose love for a woman (Alexa) he cannot marry without greater finances drives him to sell hundreds of love letters from a newly deceased famous author, Mrs. Aubyn. The letters are made into a book, and while Glennard does marry Alexa, he doesn't tell her - or anyone else - that he was the recipient or even the seller of the letters. The book, titled The Aubyn Letters, becomes an object of horror among the women of Alexa's circle, who all think that the man who received and sold the letters must have been a cretin to do such a thing to poor Mrs. Aubyn. Glennard feels more and more remorseful, and though he wants Alexa to know what he has done, he does not want to tell her himself. Instead, he gives her a stack of papers to sort through, and leaves a receipt from a check clearly indicating him as the one who sold the Aubyn letters in the pile hoping she will understand and say something to him. Weeks go by, and even after going through the letters Alexa does not mention the receipt. Finally, Glennard confronts Alexa, and...well, I just can't bring myself to tell you what happens.

I absolutely loved The Touchstone. The characters were very real to me, Wharton's writing was as descriptive and lovely as in Ethan Frome, and the plot was very engaging. While my favorite part of the book was the very end, I loved the whole thing and I can't wait to discuss it in English. I find myself falling in love with Wharton already, and I haven't even read the last three stories yet.

"The Last Asset"
In the short story"The Last Asset," Paul Garnett is asked to do a favor for acquaintance Mrs. Newell - Miss Hermione Newell is engaged, but the groom's parents will call off the wedding if Mr. Newell does not attend. While Mr. and Mrs. Newell are still married, they do not have regular contact and Mrs. Newell insists that Mr. Newell would not welcome a visit from her. Garnett agrees to do the favor, though he is motivated by Hermione Newell's wishes more than those of her mother. I enjoyed this story very much - I wish that Wharton had revealed whatever caused the rift between Mr. and Mrs. Newell, but that wasn't in any way a deal-breaker for me. I found the characters as interesting and real as in The Touchstone - I especially enjoyed reading about Mrs. Newell, who I found rather ridiculous. The plot wasn't very complex (though I don't suppose it could be in the amount of pages it takes up), but did have a couple twists and turns that I enjoyed, and I would recommend it.

When I started "Xingu," I had absolutely no idea what it was about. However, I definitely didn't expect what I got. "Xingu" is a short story about the Lunch Club, a small group of upper-class women who like to think of themselves as erudite and scholarly. When the club manages to get a notable woman writer, Osric Dane, to attend one of their luncheons, everyone is terribly excited. The day of the luncheon arrives, and when Osric Dane arrives, the conversation stalls. Finally, Mrs. Roby - who is generally agreed upon to be the least desirable member of the Lunch Club and the least "up" on current topics - asks Mrs. Dane what her opinion on Xingu is. An intense conversation on the subject follows, and when the conversation begins to turn to Dane's most recent novel, a subject which clearly bores Dane, Mrs. Roby announces that she has to leave for a bridge meeting. Osric Dane then runs out after her, wanting to know more about Xingu, and the Lunch Club ladies are left, embarrassingly, on their own. Of course, it turns out that none of them, even those who proclaimed to have had their lives changed by it, have the faintest idea what Xingu is. I must say, I kind of had an idea how the whole "Xingu" thing was going to turn out (thoughI'm not going to tell you). That said, the fact that I saw what was coming in at least one respect didn't diminish my enjoyment of "Xingu" one slight bit. The whole story was absolutely hilarious from beginning to end - while it's not the type of humor everyone would appreciate, I loved it. I definitely didn't expect humor from Wharton, and while "The Last Asset" had elements of humor and satire, "Xingu" was satirical humor at its best. I laughed out loud quite a few times during this twenty-one page story, occasionally startling my mother. I would definitely, definitely recommend "Xingu," and I think it's my favorite story so far.

"The Other Two"
Mr. and Mrs. Waythorn are happily married. Though Mrs. Waythorn has been married twice before, to a Mr. Haskett and then to a Mr. Varrick, she does not have much to do with either of them, and the Waythorns live peacefully on their own with Lily, Mrs. Waythorn's daughter from her marriage to Mr. Haskett. However, the situation is complicated when Lily falls ill with cholera, requiring Mr. Haskett to visit her at the house rather than having Lily visit him. On top of that, Mr. Waythorn is required to engage in business with Mr. Varrick in the stead of Waythorn's partner, who is laid up with gout. In the climax of the novel, all the characters (excepting Lily) manage to end up in the same room together, resulting in embarrassment particularly on the part of Mrs. Waythorn. I don't think I'm managing to make this sound like a very interesting story, but I quite liked it. It's similar to "The Last Asset" in that you never find out exactly what happened in the past - in this case, what caused Mrs. Waythorn to divorce Mr. Haskett and Mr. Varrick. While I would've liked to find this out, I still greatly enjoyed "The Other Two," and I regret that it is the end of my Edith Wharton reading for the time being.

In conclusion, I loved all the pieces in Ethan Frome and Other Short Stories, and I will definitely be reading more of Wharton. If you made it through this whole post, congratulations and thank you!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

We watched this movie at the end of the year in one of my middle school social studies classes, and the movie made want to never, ever read the book. All I remembered from the movie was a gory boar's head on a stick and a bunch of boys running around like wild men and fighting with each other. I probably wouldn't have picked up Lord of the Flies due to this experience, so I'm glad I had to read it for my upcoming AP English Literature class. While I don't love the book by any means, I understand and appreciate it far more then I understood or appreciated the movie.

In Lord of the Flies, a group of English schoolboys are crossing the ocean (in all likelihood they were evacuating the country, as it is implied that there is a war going on) when their plane crashes, killing all the adults and leaving the boys stranded. Two boys, Ralph and Jack, quickly emerge as possible leaders, and all the boys vote for Ralph to be the primary leader, with a boy called Piggy as his second man, and for Jack to be the head hunter, with a boy named Roger as his next-in-command. Eventually, Ralph and Jack become the leaders of opposing factions rather than leaders working together within one group, and more and more boys join Jack's group out of fear or a desire for power. As Ralph's group grows ever smaller, they become the prey of Jack's hunters and must struggle to stay alive.

My favorite quote from this book is found on the very last page: "Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and ----." The last part of the sentence is a spoiler, so I won't post it here, but I felt like that quote kind of mirrored how I felt after finishing the book. Lord of the Flies is and excellent portrayal of the dark side of human nature that exists to some extent in us all, young or old. One thing I found particularly compelling was the faith of some of the children in the power of adults to set things right. At one point toward the end of the book, Piggy wishes that adults were on the island because things wouldn't have gone so badly wrong. However, this is clearly contradicted by the fact that the adults in the story, though absent from the main plot, are waging a war that on many levels makes no more sense than the war between the two groups of boys. The theme I got from the book is that people are generally dark creatures, and that the great wars of men and rulers are no less nonsensical than the war games of children. Depressing? Yes. Dark? Quite. Fortunately, that is often to my taste, and such was the case with Lord of the Flies.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Angel's Game - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Though it did take me nearly a week to read The Angel's Game, that had nothing to do with the quality of the book. Rather, it had to do with the fact that I've been up to my ears in working on my spreadsheet of colleges I might apply to, applying to scholarships, and that sort of thing. Every time I had a moment in which I allowed myself to pick up The Angel's Game, I was hooked within a couple of pages and continued reading furiously until responsibility (or lunch) called.

The Angel's Game is a prequel to the bestselling novel The Shadow of the Wind, a fact that I did not know until I was already into the book. Oops. I didn't realize this because I picked the book up off of the "new books" shelf in the YA section of my local library, and was only enlightened when I read Jess's review of The Shadow of the Wind on Park Benches and Bookends. Anyway, The Angel's Game takes place in 1920s Barcelona and follows young novelist David Martin, who writes popular novels under a pseudonym. Martin has finally attained residence in the old house where he wanted to live as a child when he receives a letter from mysterious French editor Andreas Corelli, who offers to pay him an enormous sum of money to write a book that will create a new religion. The further into his writing Martin gets, however, the more reluctant he becomes, and he and the people he cares about start to suffer for it.

The atmosphere, subject matter, and themes of The Angel's Game remind me of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which I reviewed in June, and after taking a look at Zafon's website, I see that he and/or his publisher have made the same comparison. I'm not sure if that indicates my lack of originality, the validity of the claim, or both. Regardless, I really enjoyed The Angel's Game. I found its plot intriguing and its characters even more so, and even after finishing the book I still have questions. For me, this is a good thing - I don't always like everything to be tied up neatly. Fortunately, my library also has The Shadow of the Wind and The Prince of Mist, another book by Zafon, and I will be checking those out shortly...though perhaps I should wait until I finish my AP English required reading.

Until next time, happy reading!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Big Mouth and Ugly Girl - Joyce Carol Oates

I first heard of this book when...um, someone (EDIT: Clover of Fluttering Butterflies)...posted a favorable review of it on their blog. I can't remember who it was; if it was you or you know who it was, please comment so I can put a link in this post. Anyway, my mom is also a big Joyce Carol Oates fan, and since my local library had the book, I thought I'd pick it up.

Big Mouth and Ugly Girl is about Matt, a popular class clown, and Ursula, a tall, awkward girl who is the antisocial star of the school's basketball team. They are barely acquaintances, but when Matt is suddenly accused of threatening to blow up the high school, Ursula steps up as the only witness willing to defend Matt and insist that he made no such threat. As the book goes on, Ursula and Matt band together, forming an unlikely pair.

I had never read anything by Joyce Carol Oates prior to this book, but I will definitely be heading back to the library to pick up some more of her books. Big Mouth and Ugly Girl is a character-driven book, which I generally enjoy, but it also has an entertaining plot that never gets stagnant or boring. Ursula and Matt are out-of-the-ordinary characters, but not strange in a way that makes them seem implausible, and I related in some way to them both. I would certainly recommend Big Mouth and Ugly Girl for fans of Joyce Carol Oates and/or young adult literature.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Leviathan - Scott Westerfeld

I waited so long to read this book. I'm a big Scott Westerfeld fan, but I didn't want to pay full price for the hardback and my library didn't have a copy until one day, lo and behold, there it was on the 14-day book shelf! Of course, I took it home and started reading immediately.

Leviathan is a young adult steampunk novel - that is, a book that blends historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy, often recounting a different, more technologically advanced version of historical events. In Leviathan, World War I is just beginning, and Europe is preparing for war. The Austro-Hungarians and their German allies have Clankers in their arsenal, mechanical war machines equipped with giant guns. On the opposing side, British Darwinists fight using fabricated animals.

The book follows Alek, the Austro-Hungarian prince, and Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. When Alek and Deryn cross paths in the mountains of Sweden, they must learn - along with their fellow countrymen - to work with the enemy in order to survive.

While I have greatly enjoyed all Westerfeld's other novels, I wasn't sure what I would think of Leviathan. I'd never read anything from the steampunk genre before (in fact, I didn't actually know what steampunk was until I looked it up), and while the idea appealed to me as a fan of both historical fiction and sci-fi/fantasy, I wasn't sure if my hopes would be fulfilled. After reading this book, I certainly can't speak for steampunk as a whole, but I can and will definitely recommend Leviathan. The story and characters are captivating, Keith Thompson's illustrations are gorgeous, and the suspense was enough to keep me whizzing straight through the book. In fact, I may end up buying a hardback copy of Leviathan just for the endpaper illustrations, which will not be present in the paperback edition. I know that Leviathan is the first in a series, but I'm not certain when Leviathan's sequel is supposed to be released, or even if there is a date set at all. In any case, I will definitely be eagerly anticipating the rest of the series.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Animal Farm - George Orwell

First, I would like to encourage everyone reading this to visit my friend Ayushi's book blog, The Book Worm. I don't often (in fact, I'm not sure I ever do) link to other people's blogs on here, but I am Ayushi's only current follower, and I think that's a shame. I really enjoy reading her blog and I would love to see others enjoying it, too. But, on to Orwell--

I have been in a terrible reading rut for the past ten days or so - I have five books to read for AP English Literature, and one of them is Animal Farm. I've read Animal Farm before and I didn't like it at all. I felt like I should read it soon for class instead of reading something I might enjoy more, but I just didn't want to read it. This, unfortunately, resulted in me not reading much of anything for quite some time, which is quite unusual. This afternoon, I finally sat down and took about an hour to re-read Animal Farm...and I didn't like it this time either.

I feel like I should clarify that I don't dispute Animal Farm's literary greatness or worth, and I don't think it's a terrible book. I think it is a masterful piece of satire that everyone should read at some point in their life. "Some animals are more equal than others" is a perfect example of some modern viewpoints, and the transformation of Animal Farm from a community of willing, hardworking equals to a dictatorship is done in exemplary style. Despite all this, I just don't like reading it. I read enough of this material in the actual news, and parts of the book are just too painful because they remind me of actual stories about actual people in the actual, real-life world. I don't particularly mind nonfiction being exclusively painful, but I want to enjoy at least some small part of fiction, and I can't find any enjoyment in Animal Farm. I'm not quite sure why I have this problem with Animal Farm and not with 1985, Anna Karenina, The Book Thief, and other books which I count among my all-time favorites. Perhaps because in the latter books, the storytelling captures me, the characters charm and captivate me, there are some moments of hope, or even all of the above. Whatever the reason, I just can't bring myself to enjoy Animal Farm.

In any case, Animal Farm is quite evidently just not my cup of tea. I am very sure that I'll enjoy analyzing it and writing about it in AP English Literature this coming school year, but I'm also very sure that I will probably never enjoy reading it.

Have you read Animal Farm? If so, what did you think about it?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Confessions of a Shopaholic - Sophie Kinsella

Confessions of a Shopaholic is one of those rare books that I did not read before seeing the movie adaptation, which I watched a little over a year ago. The book and movie are about Becky Bloomwood, a financial journalist bored with her job whose shopping impulses far surpass her income, and what happens when she discovers a financial story that she actually cares about. When I saw the movie, I cringed constantly at Becky's silliness, immaturity, and inability to control herself; therefore, I didn't have an urge to pick up the book immediately afterwards. However, I recently remembered the book (I can't remember why) and decided to get it through PaperBack Swap - my library doesn't have it, and I figured I could always repost it after reading.

Like in the movie, Becky spends most of the book making highly irrational decisions and throwing reason out the window at every possible opportunity. At one point, she buys a book on cutting personal spending and is determined to follow it exactly. Of course, she fails at this, and therefore decides that her only other option is to make more money. Naturally, she goes and buys a lottery ticket and plans on winning the lottery to get her out of debt - she looks forward to winning all day, and when another number is called, she is actually really surprised. This kind of behavior made me cringe, roll my eyes, and mentally hit Becky over the head multiple times in an attempt to restore her to her senses. During the movie in particular, I remember being scrunched up in my seat and, at one point, covering my eyes so I wouldn't have to watch her be idiotic again. Eventually, though, she does change: she begins feeling guilty about purchases, and eventually manages to turn her situation around. While I don't think this scenario is realistic, it was fun to read.

While I did enjoy the book, I definitely would have liked it better if I could have sympathized with Becky more. I won't be reading it again. However, I do recommend Confessions of a Shopaholic as a light read - but only if you think you'll be able to stand the main character's reckless spending and endless frivolity.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy

I decided to read The Mayor of Casterbridge after Allie (of A Literary Odyssey) reviewed it favorably. It's the first of Hardy's books that I've read, though I intend to read Tess of the d'Urbervilles at some point, and I'm very glad I picked it up.

The Mayor of Casterbridge is, according to the back of my copy, the only one of Hardy's works to have a tragic hero as the main character. The book begins with a drunken Michael Henchard selling his wife and baby daughter to a sailor at a fair in the town of Casterbridge. Though he tries to find his wife after the drink has worn off, Henchard is unable to do so and decides that they were probably lost at sea. Henchard's fortune rises, and eventually he becomes the successful and fairly well-loved mayor of Casterbridge. Then, his wife and child--now a teenager--show up. The sailor has died, and they have nowhere to go, so Mayor Henchard gradually takes them in. However, many twists and turns occur, ultimately leading to the discovery of what Henchard did so many years ago, and to his downfall.

I wouldn't normally expect a book published in the 1800s to be really suspenseful; however, The Mayor of Casterbridge definitely got and kept my attention. The many unexpected plot developments made it as exciting for me as some books that are actually in the suspense genre. Aside from that, I loved how Henchard develops from the "bad guy" drunkard in the beginning to someone much more pitiable in the end. Hardy also definitely managed to portray human relationships faithfully; none of the characters' relationships were predictable or simple or trite.

To close, I will quote from Allie's review of The Mayor of Casterbridge:  "Many of his other titles I have heard mixed things about. It seems like Hardy might be one of those writers you either love, or you hate. I could be wrong, but based on what I have seen, that seems to be the case. And after finishing this lovely novel, I may be in the "love" camp." Me too.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I Was Told There'd Be Cake - Sloane Crosley

I first read I Was Told There'd Be Cake in January, and I have no idea why I didn't review it then. I must have been busy or lazy or both, because I absolutely love this book, which contains fifteen essays by Sloane Crosley on the subject of various things in her personal life.

The first essay in I Was Told There'd Be Cake, which also happens to be one of my favorites, is "The Pony Problem," wherein Crosley describes her fear of what would happen should she suddenly die and her parents clean out her apartment, finding her stash of toy ponies. Sloane describes her relationship with real and toy ponies by writing, "It's like those movies with animated insects. Sure, the baby cockroach seems cute with CGI eyelashes, but how would you feel about fifty of her real-life counterparts living in your oven?" Another of the essays, "The Ursula Cookie," describes Crosley's experience with the boss from hell (whose name is Ursula), and in "You On a Stick," Sloane is called upon by a long, long, long-lost high school friend, Francine, to be the maid of honor in her wedding.

While I do have a few favorites in I Was Told There'd Be Cake, I loved--not liked, loved--every essay in the book. They're funny, they're witty, and they're somehow utterly relatable despite the fact that I have never owned a single toy pony or volunteered at a butterfly exhibit. I would highly recommend this book to almost anyone; in fact, I can't think of a single person I know who wouldn't enjoy it. I suppose that could be because I know all the same kind of people, but I'm willing to risk it and recommend I Was Told There'd Be Cake anyway.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sepulchre - Kate Mosse

Sepulchre, the sequel to Labyrinth (which I read and reviewed), follows two different characters in two different time periods, as did Labyrinth. Léonie Vernier is seventeen years old and living in Paris in October 1891 when she accompanies her beloved brother, Anatole, to visit their widowed aunt in the small mountain town of Rennes-les-Bains. During her stay, Léonie finds out that the Domaine de la Cade, her aunt's estate, has been the subject of local superstitions for years; Léonie studies these superstitions, leading her to a pack of eerie tarot cards. In her explorations of the Domaine de la Cade, Léonie makes another discovery--a Visigoth sepulchre. The sepulchre and the tarot cards involve Léonie in the deepest secrets of the estate, eventually leading to a dramatic conflict and a difficult choice for Léonie. Meredith Martin, on the other hand, arrives in Rennes-les-Bains in 2007, checking into an old hotel, the Domaine de la Cade. After a coincidental encounter leads her to a tarot reading, Meredith becomes more entrenched in the mysteries and old superstitions of the area, becoming involved in her own conflict and finally discovering what ties her and Léonie together.

The fact that I'm writing this review directly after finishing Sepulchre at about 1:30 in the morning should give you a little bit of a clue as to how I felt about this book. While Sepulchre is rather hefty (565 pages), I flew through it, beginning just before bed yesterday and finishing about twenty minutes ago. As in Labyrinth, the sections alternate between the two characters. Since the conflict was resolved at the end of Labyrinth, I really had no clue what this book was going to be about, and how it was going to tie in with the first. While the two foremost characters are entirely new, several reappear. This added to the suspense of the story for me--every time someone I recognized entered the plot, it made me even more eager to find out what would happen next.

While I found Sepulchre more enjoyable for having read Labyrinth, I have to think that one could read either one alone and still find them understandable and satisfactory--that is, there are not facts laid out in Labyrinth that are necessary to the reading of Sepulchre. This and the relatively unrelated central conflicts of the two books makes me wonder how Mosse will tie everything together, or even if she will, in the last book of the trilogy. While I've looked on Mosse's website, the only information I can find on the last book is that it will be called Citadel and will be published in the UK in Fall 2010. In fact, the last time Ms. Mosse updated her blog was March 7, 2009. I suppose that until an American release date is published, I will simply have to wait...and a long wait it will be. In the meanwhile, I urge any of you in the UK to read both Labyrinth and Sepulchre before Citadel comes out, and then find a copy of it--just don't tell me the ending!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ice Cold - Tess Gerritsen

Maura is a Bostonian medical examiner who, in Wyoming for a medical conference, impulsively decides to join a friend from college and a few others on a ski trip. Halfway between their destination and the last gas station, the group's SUV gets stranded in feet of snow. Eventually deciding to go for help, the group travels up a private road to the village of Kingdom Come, where a small group of identical houses stand apparently abandoned--there is frozen food on the tables, windows are open, doors are unlocked, and vehicles remain in their garages. It appears as though the residents of Kingdom Come simply vanished in the middle of their day, but as Maura and her friends begin finding footprints, they suspect there is someone watching them.

This is a pretty typical thriller novel as far as plot goes (except for one point, that is, which I will not mention here because I am adamantly against spoilers). However, I will say that Gerritsen's writing embodies, to me, an example of what thrillers should be like. Ice Cold is quick-paced, captivating, and thrilling. I read this in a few hours today, during which I did absolutely nothing else (well, I suppose I ate some peanuts, but I went to the kitchen in back with my nose in the book). I didn't expect this book to be a piece of great literature, and it wasn't--but it did serve its purpose in my mind, that purpose being to entertain and engage me for a few hours of suspense and pure enjoyment.

Thanks to Tess Gerritsen and Ballantine Books for supplying me with a paperback ARC via Goodreads. It was requested, but not required, that I write a review, favorable or otherwise. Ice Cold will be available on July 27, 2010.

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

I first read The Catcher in the Rye in March of 2009, and I did not enjoy it at all. I thought Holden Caulfield was a boring and annoying narrator, and I failed to empathize with him as the teenage audience is generally wont to do. I had wanted and expected to love Catcher, so it was a huge disappointment for me. Despite this, I picked the book back up this spring--I'm taking AP English Literature next year (yay last year of high school!), and The Catcher in the Rye, Ethan Frome and Other Stories, The Lord of the Flies, Wuthering Heights, and Animal Farm are the five required summer reading books. I wasn't really looking forward to re-reading J.D. Salinger, so I decided to read it first and get it over with.

Just in case you haven't read what is probably the most famous young adult novel ever (even though it was originally published for adults), I should probably take this opportunity to explain that The Catcher in the Rye follows and is narrated by Holden Caulfield, a teenager who relates various experiences he had one year at Pencey, the private boys' school he attended until being expelled for failing every class but English, and what he did after being expelled. The book's title comes from Robert Burns' Comin' Through the Rye, a misheard line of which led Holden to picture himself as a guardian who catches children running through a field of rye just before they fall off of a cliff.

In the book, Holden wears and carries around a red hunting cap, and often wonders what happens to the Central Park ducks when winter comes and the water freezes over. Apparently, this is some great example of symbolism, but I didn't "get" that symbolism either time that I read the book. To me, it is not necessary--while the book may carry symbolism or hidden meaning, I didn't find that I enjoyed the book less for not getting that symbolism. Rather, the main problem I had with the book the first time I read it was that Holden was just so whiny. He is immature and over-emotional, and while he pretends to be an adult through much of the book (when he is in New York City alone), nobody really falls for it. This time, however, I somehow didn't find his whining as troubling, though it certainly did not go unnoticed. Salinger is very good at portraying things in a way that made me think, "Yeah, wow, that's really how it is in real life," whatever "it" is. One example would be some of the things that Phoebe, Holden's younger sister, says and does: her actions and words are completely in accordance with how children act, at least in my experience. The only thing that really bugged me this time around was one of Holden's verbal tics, "It really is." It seemed like every time Holden described something, he followed it with "It really is." I found myself thinking, "Yes, Holden, I KNOW it really is, or you wouldn't have said it, now please get on with the narration!"

All in all, I loved The Catcher in the Rye this time around, and I'm very glad I had an excuse to re-read it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex is about Calliope Stephanides, a Greek-American girl who, beginning in puberty, discovers that she is not like other girls, and in fact is not a girl at all. Due to several generations of incest, recessive genes have come together in Callie--that is, Cal--causing 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. This means that while he looks and acts entirely like a girl until puberty, Cal is actually a boy.

The first two "books" of Middlesex follow Cal's Greek family as his grandparents, brother and sister as well as third cousins, marry and move to the U.S. in the 1920s. These grandparents, "Lefty" and Desdemona, have a son, Milton, and their cousin Sourmelina has a daughter, Tessie. The narrative follows the family as Milton and Tessie grow up and, eventually, marry and conceive a child. In the second half of the book, this child, Calliope, grows up, eventually realizing that she is somehow different from others. After visiting a doctor in New York City, Callie decides to run away and become Cal. While I won't give away the entire rest of the plot (I hope I haven't given away too much already, but I'm sorry if I have), the book ends with Cal being at peace with who he is.

This book was not what I expected at all. I knew roughly what it was about, but I had no idea that half the book would follow the family of the main character rather than the main character himself. That said, I was not disappointed in the least. I felt that knowing Cal's family background somehow illuminated the complicated relationships within the family, which I thought made the story much richer. Written in the form of an autobiography, the narration in Middlesex is nonetheless captivating, and every one of the characters is complex and well fleshed out. Due to its setting, the book contains some social commentary, describing the attitude toward blacks, Greeks, and basically anyone "different" in 1960s and 1970s Detroit, where the Stephanides family lives, as well as the animosity between Greeks and Turks. As well as being entertaining, Middlesex made me want to research hermaphrodism and gender in general, and I will be recommending it to all my book-loving friends.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Labyrinth - Kate Mosse

Sorry for being gone so long! No, I was not dead, I was not in Antarctica, and I was not attempting to read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (though I do intend to at some point) or Tolstoy's War and Peace (which I also intend to read; Anna Karenina is one of my favorites). Rather, I was doing schoolwork--to make a long and painful story short, I had to do two semester classes, chemistry and A.P. World History, in a few short weeks. Understandably, I didn't have much free time, but I'm back now, a proper high school senior! How strange.

Had I had the time, I'm quite sure I would've read Labyrinth by Kate Mosse straight through. While it's not a quick read by any means, it is very captivating and suspenseful. Labyrinth follows the story of Alice, a volunteer on an modern archaeological dig, and Alais (the "i" has an umlaut over it, but I can't figure out how to do that on Blogger), a young woman in medieval France. On the dig, Alice discovers a cave with two skeletons, writing on the walls, and the pattern of a labyrinth on the floor. From there, Alice is thrown into what becomes a search for the Holy Grail. Back in 1209, Alais' father asks her, as the Crusaders approach to wipe out the French Cathar "heretics," to help protect an ancient book, one of three that will reveal the secret of the Grail.

The book alternates between Alais and Alice, the chapters becoming shorter and shorter near the climax. This added greatly to the suspense of the book for me. I love when the plot of a book leads me up a giant hill, culminating in one point where I see everything--the "aha!" moment, if you will--and Labyrinth certainly does that. The characters were very well fleshed out as well, though there was one character (Oriane, Alais' sister and one of the baddies) that seemed one-dimensional. Another thing I enjoyed about the book was the depth to which the book was entrenched in history. Labyrinth is often compared with Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, but I don't think that comparison is valid beyond the surface, at least not as I read both books. When reading The Da Vinci Code, I consciously noticed Brown's use of historical fact; my mind would be diverted from the plot momentarily, noticing that he was referring to something that actually happened. In Labyrinth, this was not the case at all. I was immersed in the story the entire time I was reading it, and the fact that the historical background existed did not distract me from the story as it did in The Da Vinci Code.

I greatly enjoyed Labyrinth, and after finishing it, I ordered Sepulchre, the second in the trilogy. I can't wait until it arrives--as Philippa Gregory said, "the past comes to life." History and suspense lover that I am, I couldn't help but love it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Everything Is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer

When I bought Everything Is Illuminated, I actually went to the store with the intention of buying Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. It, however, was a good $5 more, and my cheapness won out. I couldn't be happier--Everything Is Illuminated is an incredible first novel, and I can't wait to read Foer's other books.

Everything Is Illuminated is definitely a book that you have to pay attention to; the changing time periods and perspectives would otherwise be confusing. In the book, a young man named Jonathan Safran Foer sets out to find the woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. To do this, he travels to Ukraine (which I used to call 'the Ukraine,' but after reading this book, I realize that makes no sense), where he is guided by Alex, a young translator who speaks wonderfully terrible English, Alex's grandfather, and Alex's overly loving dog, Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. However, the book also follows Jonathan's ancestors, particularly his grandfather, Safran. This is what can make the book confusing, but again, it will only be confusing if you don't pay attention. Pretty much the entire first half of the book is absolutely hilarious. While it has serious moments, to be sure, Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior and Alex's butchered English are highly entertaining. The second half, however, has less humor, but is by no means less captivating and wonderful.

As the Baltimore Sun said of Everything Is Illuminated, "Maybe two or three times in a lifetime, a book transcends its genre to become an experience. Everything Is Illuminated is an event of this order." Yes, actually, it is that marvelous. Honestly, I wasn't immediately drawn in by the blurb on the back of the book, but I couldn't be more glad that I picked it up anyway. I give this book full marks--not that it needs my approval.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Illustrated Man - Ray Bradbury

The twenty stories in The Illustrated Man are based around a man who was tattooed, or illustrated, by a woman from the future. The stories in the book are the stories depicted on the Illustrated Man's body, and range in topic from the end of the world to the endless Venutian rains to the life and death of the person who happens to be watching the illustrations.

While I enjoy reading short stories, I don't often enjoy collections of short stories--though, granted, I haven't read many. Neither did I enjoy the only other Bradbury book I've read, Fahrenheit 451. However, I decided to pick up The Illustrated Man regardless of these facts, partly because the premise fascinated me and partly because my friend Ayushi (who has a book blog that you should go read) read and enjoyed it. This definitely turned out to be the right choice. There wasn't a single story in the book that I didn't enjoy, and there were many that I absolutely loved. If I have spare money anytime in the next few months, I'll most likely buy it. The stories in The Illustrated Man were touching, alarming, creepy, awe-inspiring, and eerily prescient, often all at once. Maybe I'll have to read some of Bradbury's other work, or even re-read Fahrenheit 451. Suggestions?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Foucault's Pendulum - Umberto Eco

Casaubon, the narrator of Foucault's Pendulum, is writing a thesis on the Templars when he meets Jacopo Belbo, an editor at Garamond Press, at a bar, and they start talking. Casaubon, Belbo, and Belbo's colleague Diotallevi begin to inspect the wild theories of Colonel Ardenti, who claims that the Templars constructed a centuries-long plot for revenge against those who caused the disbanding of the order. Casaubon, Belbo, and Diotallevi consider Ardenti's ideas to be complete lunacy, and decide, as a joke, to construct their own, fake version of the Templar plan. Unexpectedly, Colonel Ardenti disappears, and the made-up Plan begins to take on a life of its own as "They" find out about the plan and want the information necessary to complete it.

I've been intending to read Foucault's Pendulum for just under a year, but forgot about it entirely until recently, when I decided to make a list of books to read over the summer. I decided to start with Foucault's Pendulum because it was one of the longer books on my list, and found that not only is it long--it is vitally necessary to keep a dictionary at hand while reading this book, and not just any dictionary, because many won't have all the words. While some people might find this intimidating or cumbersome, it just made me enjoy the book even more because I got to learn a ton of new words along the way (though I probably won't remember half of them). As for the plot, I was massively confused, though entertained, for most of the first half of the book. If you plan to read Foucault's Pendulum, be warned: you will probably feel the same way. However, Eco intended this confusion, so don't despair, carry on, and it will come clear eventually.

While Publisher's Weekly calls Foucault's Pendulum a "psychological thriller," I wouldn't really describe it as such. There are certainly elements of a psychological thriller, but there are also elements of historical fiction, conspiracy theory books (not sure that's a genre, but betting that it is), metaphysics, and occultism. I really don't know what genre to put this book in, and I think that's a good thing. I generally find that if a book is not easily defined or categorized, it ends up being more complex and interesting. While I was indeed very, very confused for parts of the book, I was, without exaggeration, intrigued from the very first until the very last page, and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who thinks they'd enjoy it (if you don't think you'd enjoy it, you probably wouldn't).