Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Review: Let It Snow

Let it Snow: three holiday romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
4 stars

Reasons for reading: it's Christmas!; three of my favourite YA authors; Winter-themed book for the Four Month Challenge

Synopsis/review from Kirkus Reviews: "Three top authors of teen fiction join forces for a collection of linked novellas set in the same small town in North Carolina on Christmas Eve. During the worst blizzard in 50 years, a packed train gets stuck in the snow, and teens from the train interact with teens from the town in ways both hilarious and romantic. In Johnson's "The Jubilee Express," a 16-year-old passenger named Jubilee meets Stuart, who takes her home to his family and convinces her that she needs a better boyfriend than the one she left at home. Green's offering is "A Cheertastic Christmas Miracle," narrated by Tobin, who struggles with his buddies through the snow so they can meet 14 stranded cheerleaders. Myracle contributes "The Patron Saint of Pigs," about a local girl named Addie who has just broken up with her boyfriend. The conclusion ties up the plot strands from all three stories, with all the main characters enjoying coffee at Starbucks on Christmas night."

My thoughts: This was a great holiday read!! I loved that the stories were interconnected. Each one was definitely in the author's usual style, and I like all of their styles. I'd just finished Paper Towns by John Green, so it was neat to read a light romance by him so soon afterwards. He still has his great group dynamics and one-liners. I think Maureen Johnson is incredibly funny and cool and her story about Jubliee and her parents' obsession with the Flobie Christmas Village was a hoot. Lauren Myracle had her usual girl who learns not to be so self-centered while trying to remember to pick up a teacup piglet for her best friend. And then it all comes together in a crazy wind-up at Starbucks.

The verdict: Lots of romance and laughs, perfect reading for the holidays.

Another verdict: Raidergirl liked it, too!

FAIL - Fall Into Reading Challenge

Alas, I'm one book short on this challenge, I couldn't get Hunger Games from the library in time. Oh well, I'll try again next year!

1. Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster
2. The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells
3. Hunger Games
4. Addled by JoeAnn Hart

Review: Paper Towns

Paper Towns of John Green
4.25 stars

Reasons for reading: Really enjoyed his Looking for Alaska; last book for the YA Challenge

Synopsis: "Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life - dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge - he follows.

After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues - and they’re for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees of the girl he thought he knew."

First line: "The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle."

My thoughts: The way John Green writes is just so cool. I love his dialogue, his characters, and his humour. Q's interactions with his buddies Radar (who edits the "Omnictionary" website compulsively) and Ben (who tends to speak in capital letters and whose conviction that he is God's gifts to the "honeybunnies" of the world has yet to be proven) are hilarious. The discussions of Radar's parents' "world's largest collection of black Santas" alone is worth the price of admission.

The all-nighter at the beginning of the book is a great look at Margo's bold outlook on life and Q's timid (but trying to be braver) one. It's quite light-hearted, but there are some really dark times after she goes missing (and, I have to say, Q's search took a bit longer than I'd have liked). At one point I thought it was going to be like Looking for Alaska - boy in unrequited love with a charismatic but suicidal girl. But I should've trusted Green, he doesn't write the same book twice.

After the dark middle, the book ends with another light-hearted all-nighter, this time a road trip with Q, his buddies, and their girlfriends to find Margo. The peeing in bottles, the road-trip food, the camaraderie - it's excellent.

There's even a cool educational, well-researched element - did you know there's actually such a thing as a paper town? You'll find out all about them in this book.

At the heart of the book are questions of how well we really know people and ourselves. Are we all connected? Do we only see parts of people? How well do we know, and even really like, our best friends? Do we need to leave what we're familiar with to grow or can we stay where our roots are?

The verdict: Another winner from Green. It's no wonder he's a Printz Award winner.

Also reviewed at Care's Online Book Club.

YA Challenge Wrap-up

And another one! Woo, I'm getting these all done just in the nick of time before I head off on vacation. This is such a great challenge because I love YA lit - I'm already looking forward to next year's, yay!

1. Jars of Glass by Heather Hepler and Brad Barkley
2. Death by Bikini by Linda Gerber
3. Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle
4. Suck It Up by Brian Meehl
5. Masquerade: a Blue Bloods novel by Melissa de la Cruz
6. Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison
7. Envy: a Luxe novel by Anna Godbersen
8. Zombie Queen of Newbury High by Amanda Ashby
9. Paper Towns by John Green
10. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
11. Confessions of a Triple Shot Betty by Jody Gerhman
12. Pretties by Scott Westerfeld

Seconds Challenge Wrap-Up

Hooray, I did it! This was a great challenge because I'd read so many great first books last year and this gave the even more incentive to continue with their authors! Thanks to the amazing J. Kaye for hosting it!

Here's my final list:
1. Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson
2. Murder with Puffins by Donna Andrews

3. Three Can Keep a Secret by Judy Clemens
4. Grounds for Murder by Sandra Balzo
5. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
6. Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos
7. The Dead and the Gone by Mary Beth Pfeffer
8. Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
9. Betrayed by PC Cast
10. Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
11. The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
12. Plantation by Dorothea Benton Frank

Review: Throne of Jade

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik (Temeraire, book 2)
4.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Loved the first book; Seconds Challenge (though slightly cheaty as I'd planned to read a different book, but this is still a second!)

Synopsis: "When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.

Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await."

First line: "The day was unseasonably warm for November, but in some misguided deference to the Chinese embassy, the fire in the Admiralty had been heaped excessively high and Laurence was standing directly before it."

My thoughts: Another late review, oops! But this was a great sequel to His Majesty's Dragon. It was really interesting to see the interactions between the Chinese and British groups. I felt sad for Temeraire when he discovered how well dragons are treated in Asia as opposed to their near-servant status in Britain. Laurence is his usual stand-up self, his main concern being Temeraire, even when it means standing up to his own government. There's international intrigue aplenty as the Chinese seem to be trying to get Temeraire back, perhaps even at the cost of Laurence's life. I couldn't imagine how things were going to work out, but I knew they had to because there are (thankfully) more books! The way around the difficulties was rather a cunning solution, which was satisfying.

The verdict: I can't wait to read the rest of this series!

Review: His Majesty's Dragon

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (Temeraire, book 1)
5 stars

Reasons for reading: Husband highly recommended the series; Owlmoose chose it for Herding Cats

Synopsis: "Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors rise to Britain’s defense by taking to the skies . . . not aboard aircraft but atop the mighty backs of fighting dragons.

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire."

My thoughts: Gosh, this review is late! I read this one back in the summer. But I loved it - both Husband and Owlmoose were right. It's such a cool concept - that dragons were used basically as airplanes. Temeraire is an amazing character - wise, innocent, petulant, brave, loving.... And Laurence is the perfect stoic British sailor. Their bond is a wonderful thing to witness. It's really interesting to see how the dragons and their captains are treated rather like second-class citizens in the armed forces - people are still pretty afraid of dragons and the people (some dragons will only take female captains, incredibly shocking in 19th century England) who ride them are thought of as odd ducks.

The verdict: High-flying adventures abound in this tale of a man and his dragon!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review: Beautiful People

Beautiful People by Wendy Holden
4 stars

Reasons for reading: Wendy Holden is fab; I'm using her for my last Celebrate the Author of the year, although Wikipedia now can't decide if her birthday is is in December or June, 1965. So, if I'm wrong, sorry, but she's still worth celebrating!

Description: "Struggling actress Darcy’s doing avant-garde Shakespeare (all-naked King Lear, anyone?) when The Call comes from LA. An Oscar-tastic director. A movie to make her famous. The hunkiest co-star in Hollywood. So why hesitate?

Belle’s a size-zero film star, but she’s in big fat trouble. Hotter than the earth’s core a year ago, she now Tinseltown toast after her last film flopped. She'll do anything, anywhere, to get back to the big time.

Sam’s a model agent hunting for the Next Big Thing. When she finds it on a London street she almost faints with greed. Is this face perfect? Yes. Does it want to be a model? No. But Sam’s not giving up that easily. She’s not giving up at all.

Nanny Emma needs a new job. Unfairly sacked by the posh boss from hell, she’s desperate. When she's offered the charge of a celebrity baby, it seems all her dreams have come true. But are her nightmares just about to begin?"

My thoughts: Another fun one from Wendy Holden. You always get what you expect with her - funny, fluffy, sexy, with spot-on, scathing bits (2 characters have names based on words for "cockroach" and the worst of the twitty, bitchy nannies is called Totty Ponsonby-Pratt).

The highlights included the naked King Lear, an Italian chef who adores food and women who adore food, a macaroon-loving grandmother (interestingly to me, anyway, I'd never actually seen a pretty, delicate, pastel French macaroon until yesterday!), and some adorable children.

The verdict: A fun read. Everyone, both good and bad, gets either who or what they deserve - hurrah!

What's in a Name? Challenge Wrap-Up

Hooray, another challenge done! I like this one, it's fun to find books to fit the categories. Thanks to Annie for hosting it for the last 2 years!

Here are my books:

1. Medical condition: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
2. Body part: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
3. Building: The Beach House by Jane Green
4. Profession: The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas
5. Time of Day: Last Night at the Lobster by Stuart O'Nan
6. Relative: The Almost Archer Sisters by Lisa Gabriele

I enjoyed all of the books - I think Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac edges out City of Bones by a tad for spot #1 because I liked the amnesia angle and it was a bit of a "tighter" book. My least favourite was Last Night at the Lobster, mainly because it was more of a novella than a novel. But there weren't any books I didn't at least enjoy an average amount, so hooray!

Now I have to get working on my sign-up post for What's in a Name #3, starting next year!

Review: The Dead and the Gone

The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I was riveted by Pfeffer's first book; Seconds Challenge

From the publisher: "Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It enthralled and devastated readers with its brutal but hopeful look at an apocalyptic event—an asteroid hitting the moon, setting off a tailspin of horrific climate changes. Now this harrowing companion novel examines the same events as they unfold in New York City, revealed through the eyes of seventeen-year-old Puerto Rican Alex Morales. When Alex's parents disappear in the aftermath of tidal waves, he must care for his two younger sisters, even as Manhattan becomes a deadly wasteland, and food and aid dwindle. With haunting themes of family, faith, personal change, and courage, this powerful new novel explores how a young man takes on unimaginable responsibilities."

First line: "At the moment when life as he had known it changed forever, Alex Morales was behind the counter at Joey's Pizza, slicing a spinach pesto pie into eight roughly equal pieces."

My thoughts: This book was an interesting companion to Life As We Knew It (note the echo in the first line) because it was about a girl in a fairly rural area who still had her mother with her. Alex lives in New York City and suddenly becomes the only parental figure to his younger sisters. LAWNI was also told from Miranda's first-person perspective in her diary, while this book is in third person.

I didn't find that this book had quite the atmosphere of the first book - I remember really feeling the presence of the looming moon in the first book. Perhaps in the city it wouldn't make as much of an impression, or perhaps Pfeffer felt she'd already done that. The realities of city life during a disaster were pretty well-drawn - death and rats and danger, though I think Alex managed to look after the girls well enough that they didn't experience the full horror.

Faith plays a central role in the book, which isn't something that comes up in most of the YA novels I've read. Alex's sister Briana is so devout she's almost a nun already, while Alex struggles with his faith when confronted with the horrors of the disaster. Even under horrible conditions, the daily acts of prayer and attending church play a large part in the Morales siblings' lives.

The book ends with a tiny spark of hope, but overall I'd say it's even bleaker than the first one.

The verdict: Another good survival/disaster story from Pfeffer.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
3.75 stars

Reasons for reading: I've been meaning to since it came out; Medical Condition book for the What's in a Name Challenge

From the jacket flap:

"If Naomi had picked tails, she would have won the coin toss.
She wouldn’t have had to go back for the yearbook camera, and she wouldn’t have hit her head on the steps.
She wouldn’t have woken up in an ambulance with amnesia.
She certainly would have remembered her boyfriend, Ace. She might even have remembered why she fell in love with him in the first place.
She would understand why her best friend, Will, keeps calling her “Chief.” She’d get all his inside jokes, and maybe he wouldn’t be so frustrated with her for forgetting things she can’t possibly remember.
She’d know about her mom’s new family.
She’d know about her dad’s fiancée.
She wouldn’t have to spend her junior year relearning all the French she supposedly knew already.
She never would have met James, the boy with the questionable past and the even fuzzier future, who tells her he once wanted to kiss her.
She wouldn’t have wanted to kiss him back.
But Naomi picked heads."

First lines: "Above all, mine is a love story. And like most love stories, this one involves chance, gravity, a dash of head trauma."

My thoughts: This was a really interesting, enjoyable book. Amnesia can be such a soap-opera cliche, but I thought Zevin handled it well. After falling down a flight of stairs, Naomi can't remember a thing from the past 4 years. I found it to be a fascinating concept - if you didn't know anything about your current life, would you still think it was worthwhile? Would you still like your friends and hobbies? Would you like yourself? I think I'd still be okay, but maybe not. Naomi has lost 4 very important years - from 12 to 16, so she's basically an entirely different person than the one she remembers.

It's also interesting the way people react to her amnesia. Will is a wonderful friend, making her CDs and DVDs and writing to her to try and jog her memory (and, contrary to the blurb, patiently reminding her of things). Her dad tries to help by making rather useless lists of what she can't remember, but overall he does a pretty good job of trying to help her through an impossible situation. Her dumb jock boyfriend, Ace, asks if she remembers something and then rambles on about it, even when she says no. And, of course, he wants them to start having sex again, which in Naomi's mind she's never done before. Her mean girl "friends" use her weakness to get even meaner. But since she's a blank slate, Naomi's willing to get to know new people and try new things, which is very good for her.

Then there's beautiful, tortured James. Rather like a duckling bonding with the first creature it sees, he's the only person there when Naomi trips and he accompanies her to the hospital. From then on, she's in love with him and this leads where all girls being in love with tortured souls always leads. Can you tell I found that part a bit annoying? But it does fit in with the story, I'm just tired of teen girls falling for bad boys!! (He's not really bad, but he's pretty messed up.)

And, fortunately, despite a lot of misunderstandings, things turn out very well, even better than they were before Naomi's memory vanished, since she seems (apart from her friendship with Will) to have been a perfect example of teenage brattiness.

Favourite section: Naomi and her family are watching a nature documentary that has just stated that, before mating, a male porcupine will cover the female from head to toe "with his own urine."

"His own urine?" Dad asked. "Isn't that redundant? Who else's urine might he be using?"

The TV narrator advised "never getting too near porcupines mating," which seemed like sound, if obvious, advice to me.

My thoughts: Despite some angst, an interesting and overall enjoyable read.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Review: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I loved the first book in this series; Seconds Challenge

Synopsis: "Gregor learns of his role in another Underland prophecy, yet he swears he will never return to that place. But his vow crumbles when his little sister, Boots, is snatched. Gregor knows it is a ploy to lure him to the subterranean world, but he gives in and heads back underground, where he is reunited with his bat, Ares, the princess Luxa, and new allies. Together, they descend into the deadly Waterway in search of an ominous rat known as Bane. But Gregor must face the possibility of his greatest loss yet, and make life and death choices that will determine the future of the Underland."

First line: "When Gregor opened his eyes he had the distinct impression that someone was watching him."

My thoughts: The second book in this series is a great read, too! I was concerned it would just ben another "adventure" that was exactly the same as the first, but Collins manages to fit it into the format she established (Gregor has to go on a quest to fulfill a confusing prophecy for the Underlanders) while still including fresh elements. Boots is as adorable as ever. The underground creatures like enormous rats and roaches continue to be fascinating, and are joined by funny but very annoying giant fireflies who eat like pigs and bicker constantly. Gregor's connection to the Underland continues to grow, especially as he learns that he has a special capacity for fighting. Princess Luxa didn't play as much of a role as she did in the first book, I hope there will be more of her in the next one. Also, I hope that Gregor's dad regains his strength and his character develops and he's able to join in the adventures.

The verdict: A great sequel!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Review: Addled

Addled by JoeAnn Hart
3 stars

Reasons for reading: It's been on my TBR list for years; Fall Into Reading Challenge

Synopsis: "Eden Rock Country Club is a grand New England institution, a lush haven of leisure and cocktails, where gossip and intrigue lurk discreetly behind a veil of old-world propriety. But one Fourth of July, a flock of geese descends on the club's manicured lawns; never fond of outsiders, the Eden Rock denizens find these new guests distinctly unwelcome. When Charles Lambert, a bond trader with a strong portfolio but a weak golf game, accidentally kills a goose with a wayward drive, he sets in motion a series of events that will leave the club and its members changed forever. His wife, Madeline, must face the mutterings of other members about the state of her marriage—and his sanity. Meanwhile, their daughter, an animal rights activist, mounts a quixotic campaign to make the club go vegan, much to the annoyance of Vita, a talented, obsessive chef who has her own plans for the geese."

First line: "Pearls clicked on knotted strands as a tidy cluster of women gathered outside the library, nodding to the one with the ebony cane."

My thoughts: I wanted to like this book more than I did. It was still an enjoyable read, but what the social commentary aspect of it came off to me as rather preachy - there was a lot about vegetarianism (some of it meant to be tongue-in-cheek, I guess) and a lot of stuff about vegetarianism, people's relationships to animals and their food, how some people can afford to be picky about where there food comes from and others truly can't, upper classes versus those that serve them, etc. It's just not what I was looking for in a light read. And while there were lighthearted moments and happy endings, a lot of it just felt so sad - people cheating on their spouses, midlife crises, pathetic poor little rich people... There were some funny moments, particularly with dead geese turning up in the wrong place at the wrong time and a vegan girl who can't resist Ben and Jerry's or leather shoes.

The verdict: While I preferred Rattled for commentary on people vs. animals and social snobbery, this wasn't a bad read, just not what I was in the mood for at the moment.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Review: City of Bones

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: this series is all the rage; Body part book for What's in a Name? Challenge

Synopsis: "When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing — not even a smear of blood — to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy? This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . ."

First line: " 'You've got to be kidding me,' the bouncer said, folding his arms across his massive chest."

My thoughts: This was a book that kept me reading well into the night! I think it would be great to recommend to girlie Twilight fans and also to boys - it has vamps, werewolves, faeries, demons, slaying, flying motorcyles, and a tiny bit of romance. And Clary is a great heroine - she quickly adapts to numerous scary, life-changing, unbelievable events. She's very brave, determined to save her mother and also her friend Simon when he gets himself into a shape-changing mess.

Like most first-in-a-series books, a LOT happens in City of Bones - the world of Shadowhunters and Downworlders has to be set up, as well as the Uprising that caused a rift between two factions of hunters. There was a lot to take in, but it didn't feel overwhelming. And there were enough action-packed scenes to make it worth reading through the set-up stuff.

The verdict: I can see why this series is so popular with teens and I'm glad I read the book so I can recommend it to them. I'll probably also read the rest of the series, City of Bones definitely leaves you hanging off a cliff at the end.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Review: Along for the Ride

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

4 stars

Reasons for reading: Sarah Dessen's great!; book starting with A for the Four Month Challenge

Description: "It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live. A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend."

First lines: "The e-mails always began the same way. Hi, Auden!! It was the extra exclamation point that got me."

My thoughts: I've been going through some serious not-sleeping myself lately, so I could relate to Auden. Although I don't have the luxury of being able to sleep during the day, sadly! Ah, teenage summers... :-)

It was quite wonderful to see academic, no-nonsense Auden learning the basics of having a social life - friends, girliness, the importance of having fun, and even what it's like to have an actual boyfriend. Eli seems like a bit of a cold jerk at first, but once his tragedy is revealed and he comes out of his shell with Auden, he's another great Dessen guy. I enjoyed Auden's (at first very unwilling) growing relationship with her step-mother and her love for her newborn baby sister. Auden's relationship with her parents - her demanding, academic, seemingly "cold bitch" of a mother and her selfish ass, novelist father - changes appropriately as she realizes she doesn't have to be like either one of them. She learns that sometimes people change and sometimes they don't, but you can change yourself.

The verdict: Yet another winner from Sarah Dessen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Review: Rilla of Ingleside

Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: it's the last book in the Anne series and I never got to it; I'm celebrating Maud's November 30, 1874 birthday for November's Celebrate the Author challenge

Synopsis: "Anne's children were almost grown up, except for pretty, high-spirited Rilla. No one could resist her bright hazel eyes and dazzling smile. Rilla, almost fifteen, can't think any further ahead than going to her very first dance at the Four Winds lighthouse and getting her first kiss from handsome Kenneth Ford. But undreamed-of challenges await the irrepressible Rilla when the world of Ingleside becomes endangered by a far-off war. Her brothers go off to fight, and Rilla brings home an orphaned newborn in a soup tureen. She is swept into a drama that tests her courage and leaves her changed forever."
First line: "It was a warm, golden-cloudy, lovable afternoon."

My thoughts: I always had a soft spot for Rilla, the "roly-poly baby" of the Blythe family. But I'd put off reading this one, largely because of its realism. It's basically the only book of the Anne series that really mentions much about the outside world and in this case, it's the terrible world of the Great War. While it reads like historical fiction now, the book was written in 1920, just 2 years after the war ended. This added an extra layer of interest for me, in addition to reading about my beloved Blythes. Montgomery obviously drew on her own experiences during the time - the horror, as well as the details of the war, really ring true. (Sadly, in the biography at the end it says that she was so depressed by World War II that she basically stopped writing, even letters, and died in 1942.)

While Anne is relegated to being "Mrs. Blythe," Rilla takes on a lot of her old spirit - romantic and feisty, although with a great deal more beauty than her mother had as a child. Along with the pain of the family's boys going to war, one by one, there are the usual scrapes, agonizing embarrassments, and hopes and dreams found in all of the series. I particularly enjoyed the chapter where Rilla eats a slice of humble pie (something her mother was very familiar with) and goes to ask a former chum for help with a money-raising concert only to find she's wearing two completely different shoes and stockings. And there's a lovely, heartbreaking but heartening story about Jem Blythe's faithful dog running throughout the book, as he waits for his master to return.

With the war theme, this was a good book to read around Remembrance Day. And it turns out I've missed the second to last book in the series, Rainbow Valley. Quite a few of the characters were new to me. So, I'll have to go back and read that one. Honestly, it's shameful for me call myself an Anne fan and not realize I'd missed a book! :-)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review: The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I enjoyed her Ya-Ya books years ago; I like Southern lit; Fall Into Reading Challenge

Synopsis (from Barnes and Noble): "In the small river town of La Luna, Calla Lily enjoys a blissful childhood under the loving light of the Moon Lady, the feminine force that will guide her throughout her life. From her mother, M'Dear, Calla learns the old, womanly art of healing through "fixing hair." On the same river banks, Calla tastes the sweetness of first love. But when a broken heart knocks the breath out of her, Calla transforms hurt into inspiration and heads for the wild and colorful city of New Orleans to study at L'Academie de Beaute de Crescent. In that extravagant big river city, she comes to understand fully the power of her "healing hands" to change lives and soothe pain, including her own."

First line: "I know the moon and the moon knows me."

My thoughts: This was a sweet book, mostly a coming-of-age story. I liked that Calla Lily enjoyed life in both New Orleans and her beloved La Luna, but that she came home in the end. There is a lot of love in this book - almost everyone who knows Calla Lily loves her and she is a very loving person. There is also a lot of sadness in her young life, but thankfully she has enough people to comfort her along the way. Her relationship with her family, especially M'Dear, is lovely and she has some very true friends in Sukey and Renee - the three girls are very different, but they make a great trio. Calla Lily is smart, spunky, and amibitious but a good girl at heart, Renee is very quiet and a homebody, and sexy Sukey just wants to have fun.

I had a wee bit of trouble with the magical realism element of healing through hairdressing. Although maybe I was just envious of Calla's clients - I'd love to be able to have someone give me a shampoo and draw the pain from my soul at the same time!!

There is a lot of lovely moon and river imagery and I liked the theme of the Moon Lady watching over Calla and her loved ones.

The verdict: A good read with the message that people are basically good and that love, music, good food, and a good hairdo can go a long way to helping to heal a person's pain.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: recommended by both
Renay and Owlmoose for Herding Cats

Description: "They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he's part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count. Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the fabled Thorn, and the greatest weapons at his disposal are his wit and cunning. He steals from the rich - they're the only ones worth stealing from - but the poor can go steal for themselves. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con-artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards. Together their domain is the city of Camorr. Built of Elderglass by a race no-one remembers, it's a city of shifting revels, filthy canals, baroque palaces and crowded cemeteries. Home to Dons, merchants, soldiers, beggars, cripples, and feral children. And to Capa Barsavi, the criminal mastermind who runs the city. But there are whispers of a challenge to the Capa's power. A challenge from a man no one has ever seen, a man no blade can touch. The Grey King is coming. A man would be well advised not to be caught between Capa Barsavi and The Grey King. Even such a master of the sword as the Thorn of Camorr. As for Locke Lamora ..."

First line: "At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy."

My thoughts: I really liked the solid male friendships and loyalty in this book. It's almost two books, it start out quite lightheartedly with Locke coming to Father Chains, learning to be a thief, and meeting his fellow Gentlemen Bastards. In the middle, the tone changes to a much darker and sadder one, which took me by surprise. There was still Locke's spunk and cleverness and the strong friendship, but it took me a while to adjust. That said, the book is still satisfying and probably more so for the change to a more serious vein.

I had some of my usual problem with fantasy with this book - the world-building. Although the eerie, beautiful, alien Elderglass towers of Camorr are interesting to read about, I just don't have a lot of patience. That's why I tend to prefer my fantasies set in our world, like the Dresden Files books. But Camorr held my attention better than most. It was very Venice-like, with bridges and canals and Italian-sounding names. There's even a Mafia!

The verdict: Huh, I may protest too much, I seem to be becoming more of a fantasy girl. Darn Husband for geek-ifying me! :-) I think I might read the rest in this series, especially since Renay says it's "the one I really want to list because the female characters in Red Seas Under Red Skies are more awesome than all of you bitches." I can get behind that! Also, I just learned that Lynch is from Minnesota, which always gives folks an in with me. :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: Suck It Up

Suck It Up by Brian Meehl
3 stars

Reasons for reading: the cover; wanted to read a boy vampire novel; Young Adult Challenge

Description, from Booklist: "Meehl creates an original and light variation on the current trend in brooding teen vampire protagonists with Morning McCobb, a geeky, 16-year-old, New York orphan doomed to immortality. Morning’s “turning” from mortal to vampire was an accident; usually, only the young and beautiful are selected to join the vampiric community. The leader of the International Vampire League selects Morning to be the first vampire to out himself to humans, or Lifers. Thus begins a mutually manipulative relationship involving Morning, ace publicist Penny Dredful, and her 16-year-old daughter, Portia, a beautiful would-be filmmaker."

First line: "In the end is beginning." Luther Birnam's deep voice rained down from the high platform, charging the air above a wide semicircle of cadets. "In the beginning is end."

My thoughts: Well, I did get a nice change from Twilight-ish vampire romances, so that was good. While I think this book came out before the show, it reminded me a lot of True Blood - vampires "coming out of the casket" thanks to blood substitutes. Because he's non-threatening and has never tasted human blood, Morning is chosen to be the IVLeague's poster boy for Out Day. There are a few "traditional" vampires left who don't want this to happen, so one of them sets out kill Morning. Various attempts fail (it's apparently a 3-step process to kill a vamp), Morning and Portia fall in love, Birnam isn't as kindly as he seems... There are also lots of puns and bad jokes. And shape-shifting!

The verdict: I think this one would be good for younger teens, especially boys, and those not looking for scary stories. Girls could also enjoy it, thanks to cool Portia, but probably not hardcore Twilight fans. I found it a bit long and not a page-turner, but for a different take on vampires, it was worth a read.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: Are These My Basoomas I See Before Me?

Are These my Basoomas I See Before Me? by Louise Rennison
Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, book 10
3 stars

Reasons for reading: enjoyed the rest of the series; Young Adult Challenge

My thoughts: *Spoiler Alert* Well, we come to the end of Georgia's diaries. And, honestly, not a moment too soon. 10 books was quite enough, especially since they only seem to cover about a 2-year time period. After that many books, you'd expect some changes, but there aren't really any. Spectacularly self-centred Georgia does seem to learn a bit of a lesson about friendship but overall the main thing she's learned is that she's not grown up yet. Which is fair, she is only 15. But this book wasn't much different than the previous one(s), right down to the girls having to perform an all-female Shakespeare play. Now, the play provides some of the funniest scenes in the book (the girls have to represent the blood from the fight scenes via interpretive dance and mime and the largest-busted girl in school ends up playing Romeo), but we've seen it before. And we've seen adorable but pyscho preschooler Libby and wild and violent kitty Angus and the ace gang and their disco dancing. (And we've heard, over and over, the lesbian-phobic jokes that were annoying from the start and are really, really old now. This book seems to have more of them than all the others combined.)

But at least the ending we all wanted happens - Georgia ends up with wonderful Dave the Laugh. But even that is a bit...lackluster. The book ends with a kiss, but Georgia is still unsure about everything. Not that thats not normal for a teenager or, indeed, anyone, but I could have used more after hanging in there all this time. I agree with this reviewer from Barnes and Noble: "Georgia did not go out with a bang, she just kind of walked of the stage. Nothing more."

The verdict: Georgia is still funny, Dave the Laugh is someone I'd love to have dated, and the series has been lots of fun. But it's definitely time for it to end.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Review: Homer and Langley

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow
4 stars

Reasons for reading: this month's book club selection

From the publisher: "Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers–the one blind and deeply intuitive, the other damaged into madness, or perhaps greatness, by mustard gas in the Great War. They live as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, scavenging the city streets for things they think they can use, hoarding the daily newspapers as research for Langley’s proposed dateless newspaper whose reportage will be as prophecy. Yet the epic events of the century play out in the lives of the two brothers–wars, political movements, technological advances–and even though they want nothing more than to shut out the world, history seems to pass through their cluttered house in the persons of immigrants, prostitutes, society women, government agents, gangsters, jazz musicians . . . and their housebound lives are fraught with odyssean peril as they struggle to survive and create meaning for themselves."

First line: "I'm Homer, the blind brother."

My thoughts: This was a very well-written, interesting book. Doctorow immerses the reader in the lives of these eccentric brothers. Their descent into hoarding, their eccentric outlook on life (especially Langley), and, the part that I enjoyed most, their fraternal love for each other. Deserted by every other person in their lives, they had only each other and their house to rely on. Despite their strangeness, it was quite a portrait of brotherly devotion.

The book covers 4 wars and many changes in society and New York City. It's interesting to see them from the brothers' viewpoint - most things don't really affect them, but Langley does get excited about new technology (although he often discards it once the novelty wears off) and their neighbourhood slowly changes from wealthy to poor, ungentrified Harlem.

I have to say, though, that I find the real story of the brothers just as interesting as the book. There are photos and a history of the men here:
One thing that I found a bit odd about the book was that their lives seemed to be very, very long. When I looked them up online, I saw that they both died in 1947, 20+ years before their demise in the book. (Their dates are mentioned in the book and Doctorow notes that it's a work of fiction, I just hadn't noticed the dates beforehand.) While it's conceivable that a World War I veteran would live that long, I definitely found it a bit odd, especially since Homer is sleeping with a young hippie girl and Langley is still ambulatory enough to roam all over New York to get their food and water. I doubt he would have been able to do this at 89 or so. So that was a bit of a niggle as I was reading it, but not enough to put me off what was otherwise a great story.

The verdict: I've always been daunted by Doctorow, but this shorter book was a good introduction. I may read more of his books and I bet they'll get me interested in looking up the historical figures/events they're based on.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Genre Challenge Wrap-up

I did it, I got through all 10 of the genres I chose! Thanks to Samantha for hosting it. (And for my prize of Abigail's Story, too!)

Here's what I read:

1. Crime - The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz
2. Detective - The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom
3. Mystery - And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
4. Thriller - Vodka Neat by Anna Blundy
5. Science Fiction - A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
6. Action/adventure - Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
7. Fantasy - The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
8. Realistic - Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan
9. Historical - The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
10. Western - The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas

This was a great challenge for introducing me to new books. I don't think I'd ever read a Western before and I hadn't really thought about women writing them, so that was a cool discovery. I was glad to finally read a James Bond novel, even though it wasn't my favourite. And it got me to read the fabulous And Then There Were None, which had been lingering around in the back of my mind under "I really should read that..." Sadly, The Case of the Missing Books was a huge disappointment (apparently to Samantha and to a lesser extent to Raidergirl, too).

Wow, yet another challenge finished! 6 more to go before the end of the year...

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
4.5 stars

First line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."

My thoughts: What can I say? It's a hoot. It's just really well done. The author integrates Jane Austen's words seamlessly with the zombie content. P&P is one of my favourite books and he weirdly did it justice - Darcy and Elizabeth still get their love story and most of the characters are drawn exactly right. The stupid people are still stupid, the mean are still mean and get their comeuppance, the people we love are still lovable. There's a lot of exaggeration, of course. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is a first-class zombie killer attended by a fleet of ninjas, for example. And Elizabeth and her sisters have all been trained by Shaolin monks in self-defence and have pledged their swords to the King until they die or get married. I was a bit sad that Mr. Bennet was made out to be a real jerk, but his behaviour even in the original isn't always that nice, except to Jane and Elizabeth. Wickham's punishment is hilarious and well-deserved. I loved how the zombies were referred to with such Regency refinement, such as "the sorry stricken" or "the unmentionables."

I don't know if I'll read Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, as I don't know it as well as P&P. I might, although the novelty might wear off in the sequel. But, if he writes Emma and Evildoers, I'll be there!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Review: The Crime Writer

The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz
3 stars

Reason for reading:
Crime novel for the Genre Challenge

Description: "Drew Danner , an L.A.-based crime novelist, awakens in a hospital bed with a scar on his head, blood under his nails, and a cop by his side. Accused of murdering his ex-fiancée, Drew has no memory of the crime but reconstructs the story the only way he knows how—as a novel. As he searches the dark corridors of his life and the city he loves, another young woman is similarly murdered and Drew must confront the very real possibility of his own guilt."

First line: "I woke up with IVs taped to my arms, a feeding tube shoved through my nose, and my tongue pressed against my teeth, dead and thick as a sock."

My thoughts: The book starts off with a real bang - Drew wakes up from having a brain tumor removed and is accused of murder. It was suspenseful and you really wondered how or if Drew was going to be able to clear his name when all of the evidence was stacked against him. He goes on a reckless quest to find out if someone framed him - so reckless that I found myself telling him several times that he should stop it, he'd only be digging himself in deeper!

L.A. is almost another character in the book. The author has obviously spent a lot of time there and writes eloquently and sometimes humourously about its beauty, superficiality, and cruelty.

The secondary characters are well drawn. Drew's best friend Chic, a former ballplayer famous for dropping a game-losing pop fly, is a great character - wise, calm, and a fiercely loyal and helpful friend. His life with his wife and brood of children is sensitively portrayed, a good contrast to the chaos in Drew's life. Drew also manages to acquire a Little Brother while trying to solve the case - Junior, a wise-cracking, dog-loving, often-in-court graffiti artist.

I think my favourite parts were the pages that replicated Drew's manuscript - basically a book within the book. They had his editor's snarky comments scrawled in the margins, which was an entertaining touch.

By the end the book sort of devolves into more of a typical murder mystery, but there is enough action and enough twists along the way to make it a pretty satisfying book. Not entirely my thing, but it was an interesting read.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Graceling

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
4.25 stars

Reasons for reading: heard it was really good - one of our book suppliers said she was recommending it for all teenage girls who asked her for Twilight!; for the Young Adult Challenge

Description: "Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug. When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone."

First line: "In these dungeons, the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind."

My thoughts: This book kept me up late into the night, always the sign of a great read! Everything about it is well-done - the fantasy setting of the 7 kingdoms, the idea of people being Graced as everything from swimmers to mind readers to fighters, the characters, the romance, the adventure and conflict...

Katsa really has to grow in this novel - she goes from feeling like nothing more than an attack dog, treated with fear and revulsion by almost everyone, to realizing that she is caring, intelligent, and that her Grace is something more than she realized. She grows into her Grace and, along the way, learns how to care about people and allow them to care about her.

The romance element with Po also works well - it's not treacly at all. These two have finally found a person who is both their equal and a complement to their personalities.

The verdict: I can't wait to read the sequel, Fire! This is a novel that works well as everything - an adventure, a fantasy, a coming-of-age story, and a romance! (I wonder what my Grace would be....?)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Borders' 100 Favourite Books of All Time

Zee at Reading in the North posted about this and, like her, I can't resist a good list, either!

I guess Borders asked customers to vote for their favourite books, and this list is the result. So, just for the heck of it, I've bolded the ones I've read and italicized ones I'd like to read.

Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien
My Sister’s Keeper – Jodi Picoult
Twilight – Stephenie Meyer
Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Book Thief – Markus Zusak

1984 – George Orwell
Magician – Raymond E Feist
Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
Bronze Horseman – Paullina Simmons
Shantaram: A Novel – Gregory David Roberts
Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
Power of One – Bryce Courtenay
The Davinci Code – Dan Brown
Angels & Demons – Dan Brown
Alchemist – Coelho
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
Holy Bible

The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
Fortunate Life – AB Facey
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
Cross Stitch – Diana Gabaladon
Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
Child Called It – Dave Pelzer
Mao’s Last Dancer – Li Cunxin
Tomorrow, When The War Began – John Marsden
Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt
Dune – Frank Herbert
Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
April Fool’s Day – Bryce Courtenay
Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – Patrick Suskind
Ice Station – Matthew Reilly
Shadow of the Wind – Ruiz Zaf
Briefer History of Time – by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
Eragon – Christopher Paolini
Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
Tuesdays With Morrie – Mitch Albom
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Clockwork Orange: Play With Music – Anthony Burgess
Little Prince
& Letter to a Hostage
Charlie & the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe – CS Lewis
Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Really Short History of Everything – Bill Bryson
Crime & Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Lion Called Christian – Anthony Bourke
God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Tully – Paullina Simons
Time to Kill – John Grisham
Marley & Me – John Grogan
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Road – Cormac McCarthy
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
In Turkey I am Beautiful – Brendan Shanahan
Breath – Tim Winton
Jessica – Bryce Courtenay
Animalia – Graeme Base
Secret History – Donna Tartt
Godfather – Mario Puzo
Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
Stand – Stephen King
Bridget Jones' Diary – Helen Fielding
New Earth: Create A Better Life – Eckhart Tolle
Seven Ancient Wonders – Matthew Reilly
Wild Swans: Three Daughts of China – Jung Chang
The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks
American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
The Belgariad – David Eddings
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres
Looking for Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta
PS I Love You – Celia Ahern
Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough
Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
Good Omens – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
Chocolat – Joanne Harris
The Princess Bride – William Goldman
Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

So, a few of my actual all-time faves are on this list - The Princess Bride, Anne of Green Gables, Bridget Jones' Diary, and Pride and Prejudice. A couple of my guilty pleasures are, too - The Notebook and Angels and Demons. That's the cool thing about a list by "the public" - it's more likely to have popular fiction on it. They don't have to be "the best," they just have to be ones people enjoyed.

A lot of the books aren't surprising, but I have to say there are quite a few I've never even heard of. I'm also surprised about Animalia by Graeme Base - an awesome picture book, but I wouldn't have thought it had that wide an audience - not compared to, say, Where The Wild Things Are or Goodnight Moon.

So, what do you think? Any of the italicized ones that I should skip? Any that I didn't pick that I have to read? Did any of your faves make the list?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Review: Such a Pretty Fat

Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I've had Lancaster recommended to me several times, I liked the sound of her snarkiness; I needed some weight-loss motivation; first book for the Fall Into Reading Challenge

First line: "Today on the bus a guy called me a fat bitch."

My thoughts: I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. The last time I read a weight-loss memoir, it was the abysmal Food and Loathing. It left me feeling pretty flat. But Lancaster's reputation for humour is well-founded - I enjoyed this one a lot.

One of my favourite parts was when she and her friend got on a riff about how no-one ever uses "You have such a pretty face..." for anything but being overweight. It's never followed by anything like "...if only you weren't as dumb as a bag of hair" or "...too bad your children were spawned by Satan."

I liked that Jen didn't care either that she was fat or a bitch with the guy on the bus. I've been called both separately and at the same time, and I've never managed to be particularly nonchalant about it (there's usually crying involved). Actually, one of the sad parts of the book was that she started out with really amazing self-esteem and gradually lost it as she tried to diet. It seems like it came back, thankfully, but I really felt for her, since I already feel bad most of the time, and I find that becoming obsessed with eating right and exercising does definitely put lots of pressure on my already iffy self-esteem.

I was glad to see a realistic portrayal of weight loss - that it is possible with hard work, but you'll have setbacks and it won't be easy. You're going to be angry, sore, frustrated, and hungry. Jen also came to the conclusion that losing weight and getting healthy has a lot to do with growing up - even if you're almost 40. At almost-35, I think I'm in that same boat.

The only slightly non-"realistic" thing was that, of course, trying to lose weight became Jen's job. I could spend hours counting calories and having double-workout days, too, if I didn't have to work 8 hours a day. I think it was great that she was able to do it, and obviously she couldn't have written the book if she didn't, but most people don't have that luxury. And I'm not saying she doesn't realize that - I'm just a bit sensitive when people lose weight outside of an average person's life and then we all feel we should be able to do it easily. I've never really forgiven Oprah (all you need is a personal chef and trainer at your beck and call 24/7!) for it, actually.

The verdict: I'll definitely be reading more of Jen's books for some good laughs. And, she helped inspire me to start going to a personal trainer! So, thanks, Jen!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Celebrate the Author: PG Wodehouse

Love Among the Chickens by PG Wodehouse
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I lurve PG Wodehouse and am celebrating his October 15, 1881 birthday for the Celebrate the Author Challenge

Description: "Jeremy Garnet has never particularly liked chickens, but his friend Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge is convinced that they are the route to certain fortune. Needing a bit of a break from London, Garnet is talked into accompanying Ukridge to his new poultry farm in Dorset. Unfortunately, when Ukridge is around things never seem to go according to plan, and with the additional complications of angry professors, threatening creditors, misbehaving chickens - oh, and true love to boot - Garnet's holiday in the country is looking less restful by the minute!"

First line: "'A gentleman called to see you when you were out last night, sir,' said Mrs Medley, my landlady, removing the last of the breakfast things."

My thoughts: The description states that this is the novel that first made Wodehouse famous. Huh, I had no idea! I would've thought it was the first Jeeves book. But this was still a fun romp, if not as excellent as Jeeves and Wooster. The Wodehousian language is there, I particularly enjoyed a section where Garnet refused to be sneered at by a chicken.

Ukridge is an oaf and an occasionally wise fool. He gets to be a bit much, but he's pretty amusing. It's hard to believe that he gets people to go along with his schemes, but he must have some kind of charm. Garnet is a bit bumbling but fairly normal. I liked that he was an author, there were some funny bits involving the faint praise accorded his novels by the newspapers. There are typically Wodehousian scrapes involving locked houses, tipped boats, and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. And there's love at first sight, who can resist that?

The verdict: Spend some time chuckling among the chickens.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review: Vodka Neat

Vodka Neat: a Faith Zanetti thriller by Anna Blundy

2.5 stars

Reasons for reading: The title/cover caught my eye on our New Books shelf; Thriller for the Genre Challenge

Description: "Vodka Neat features Faith Zanetti, a war correspondent with plenty of libido, good looks, a great sense of humor, and a zest for life that never quits. She's the new Moscow correspondent for a leading newspaper--chosen for the job because she married a Russian when she was a teenager. But the minute she steps on Russian soil, she is instantly arrested in connection with the murders, fifteen years before, of a couple from a neighboring apartment. She was drunk at the time, but surely not that drunk. In order to solve the mystery, what she needs to do is find the charming Russian black marketer she married as a nineteen-year-old. And when she finds him, her problems really begin."

First line: "Moscow 1989 - There was a do at Dom Literov, the literary house."

My thoughts: I didn't hate this book, and Blundy clearly knows Russia really well, which was interesting, as I don't know much about it. But it just wasn't my thing. For one, I didn't really get the "thriller" part of it. I felt it was more like a mystery. There were some twists and a climactic, violent scene, but I didn't really feel, well, thrilled. The basic plot had some good parts (the actual mystery of who killed the couple next door and a horrifying case of mistaken identity) but there were almost a few too many twists on the way to resolving it. Blundy's obvious knowledge of and love for Russia bogged the book down, I found - there was too much discussion of the cold, the bleakness, the weirdness of the country and the rampant alcoholism there (whether you're Russian or not). Perhaps if I'd read the first book in this series, I'd have felt warmer towards Faith, who is getting over the loss of her mother and a mental breakdown, which I assume happened in volume one. I admired her toughness, but she's a very messed-up human being (although there may be a tiny bit of light at the end of her tunnel by the end).

The verdict: I thought Kirkus Reviews summed Faith and the book up well: "A hard-drinking, foul-mouthed protagonist in Putin's Russia, occupying a landscape nearly as depressing as she is. "

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review: Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks

Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: The title/cover; I like Lauren Myracle's books; another book for the Young Adult Challenge

Description: "Growing up in a world of wealth and pastel-tinted entitlement, fifteen-year-old Carly has always relied on the constancy—and authenticity—of her sister, Anna. But when fourteen-year-old Anna turns plastic-perfect-pretty over the course of a single summer, everything starts to change. And there are boys involved, complicating things as boys always do. With warmth, insight, and an unparalleled gift for finding humor even in stormy situations, beloved author Lauren Myracle dives into the tumultuous waters of sisterhood and shows that even very different sisters can learn to help each other stay afloat."

First line: "I'm out by our pool with my sister Anna and my best friend, Peyton."

My thoughts: This book looks at two sisters who are starting to grow apart as they grow up. They can come together again, but they need to break out of the roles of big and little sister. Carly is a well-drawn character, complete with some typical teen annoyances - she defines herself as different than everyone at "Holly Roller" high school by what she thinks she's not rather than what she is. She also, for all her complaints about life as a rich kid, doesn't seem to have any problem living in a big house with a pool and being given a credit card to go clothes shopping with, for example. But all of Carly's rebelling does show that she at least thinks about things like racism and poverty, unlike the entitled, plastic kids at her school. Anna can be a bit of a brat, but she's definitely hitting puberty without much help from either her mother (who thinks her budding bosom means she's fat) or sister (who's jealous and can't get over her role as know-it-all big sis).

Other characters include bad boy love interest Cole who is obviously bad news to everyone but Carly (who is almost painfully stupid about it, but then, she's a teen girl in lust), while lovely, quiet, and Dutch Roger waits in the wings for Carly's blinders to come off. Everyone should have a Roger! Vonzell, Carly's new friend and the only black girl at their school, is a welcome breath of reality and true friendship, while Peyton, with her hair extensions and fakeness, has definitely reached the end of her usefulness as a pal. The girls' parents seem to be almost caricatures of aloof rich parents at times, when they're not making hurtful comments about the girls.

The verdict: A good sister story - both girls manage to come out stronger at the end. And...there are baby ducks involved! You can't go wrong with a book that has baby ducks in it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Review: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I really enjoyed the first book (The Penderwicks); Brittanie suggested it for Herding Cats II

Description: "The Penderwick sisters are home on Gardam Street and ready for an adventure! But the adventure they get isn’t quite what they had in mind. Mr. Penderwick’s sister has decided it’s time for him to start dating—and the girls know that can only mean one thing: disaster. Enter the Save-Daddy Plan—a plot so brilliant, so bold, so funny, that only the Penderwick girls could have come up with it."

First line: "Their mother had been here in the hospital with the new baby for almost a week."

My thoughts: "Old-fashioned" comes up in reviews for this budding series and it really is - in the best way. It's warm and funny and full of loving (though not sappily so) relationships. Brittanie says "This series is timeless. I did not even realize it is set present day." It's true - remove a few references to things like computers, and it could be set in a bygone era. And that's a good thing!

It also has an undertone of melancholy, as the sisters' mother passed away right after the last Penderwick sister was born. This book looks a bit more at that sad event and also shows that Mrs. Penderwick had a plan - she didn't want her husband to be lonely, so she charged his sister (Aunt Claire) with delivering a letter to Mr. Penderwick ordering him to start dating once the girls were old enough.

So the girls try to set him up on horrible dates (he's required to go on a certain number) so that he won't find anyone to marry. In between, scientific Skye and writer/drama queen Jane get into trouble over switched homework assignments, eldest Rosalind is sure that she really doesn't care at all about their neighbour Tommy, and no-one believes adorable Batty when she says a man who looks like a bug is hanging around Gardam Street. And as for Daddy's dating? He comes up with a plan of his own, only to find that perhaps the answer is closer than the Penderwicks thought...

The verdict: A great sequel, hooray! A sweet, lovely, funny story about a close-knit family looking for a missing piece of the Penderwick puzzle.