Friday, January 28, 2011

Woman in White Readalong: Post #2 (Done!)

So I have completed Wilkie Collins' sensation novel The Woman in White. Verdict? Crazy goings-on and villainously vile villains. Count Fosco might be one of the most chilling and awesome foes I've come across in a while—I still assert that he is super creepy, but also a genius. And Countess Fosco was a close second for creepy factor.

I was interested in the amount of narrators who told the story. One contemporary review (included in the back of my edition) mentioned that it was like witnesses at a trial, and that is pretty accurate, though I'm not sure it's as negative as the reviewer seemed to think. I enjoyed getting the whole story, and that would not have been possible without those other narrators.

There were quite a few contemporary critics that disliked it, actually. But despite this, Victorian England seemed to just eat it up. This is the first "sensation novel," according to Camille Cauti in her introduction, which was a great supplement to the novel (lots of info on the time in which it was written and Collins's life, as well as critical analysis of the novel itself). A sensation novel is described by Cauti as similar to the Gothic novels popular at the time, what with the intrigue and suspense and all, but minus the supernatural stuff. Everything in The Woman in White is based in reality, though it may be far-fetched.

Anyway. I wanted more crazy stuff going on, and I totally got it. The second half delivered for sure—I was surprised a few times at the turn of events.

I'm sorry to say, though, that I still found Laura irritating when she was in the narrative. Marian was way better, and way more interesting. In fact, the most interesting characters were all secondary (or rather, not Laura or Walter). Fosco and Marian are my top two for the whole of the book. Countess Fosco is also an interesting lady that the book would be less fun without.

I can certainly recommend this book as a fun classic to read that keeps you engaged and in suspense, though it does get slow in parts (mostly toward the beginning). I'm very glad I read it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another readalong!

Hi all.

I've decided to embark on another readalong, hosted by Unputdownables. This time it's Villette by Charlotte Bronte, regarded by some as superior to Jane Eyre.

If you're interested, join us!

Review: "The Liberation of Gabriel King" by K.L. Going

Title: The Liberation of Gabriel King
Author: K.L. Going
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2005
Where I got it: Saw it at the library and borrowed it.

Fear can encompass many different things. A person can be scared of spiders, swinging off the rope swing into the lake, or of bullies. They can even be afraid of the fifth grade. Gabriel King is afraid of all of these things, but if his best friend Frita makes it her mission to help "liberate" Gabe and beat his fears. The summer of 1976 will be the summer Gabe becomes brave, and he has Frita to help him—she's not afraid of much of anything. But as the two friends work through Gabe's list of fears, Gabe realizes she is afraid of some things and needs to work on her own list—but it will take an awful lot of courage to confront the things Frita fears the most.

It's good to read a story set after the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s that deals with racism in the South. There aren't a lot of stories that I've come across in my reading that deal with the post-Jim Crow South, but this late elementary/early middle grade book is one of them. Frita is a black girl living in Georgia, and she has been "integrated" into the white school in Hollowell, where she met Gabe. She is a firecracker, always willing to go on adventures and often having to drag Gabe with her. Despite their remarkable differences from each other, the two are incredibly loyal to each other and the best of friends.

Though most of the book focused on fear and overcoming it, there is a bit of history included within the scant 151 pages of the novel. Readers learn about Jimmy Carter before he became president; I had no idea he was a peanut farmer before he made it to the White House, and I certainly had no idea about his stand against white supremacy. We also take a look at the treatment of African Americans during and after the Civil Rights Movement, though not in great detail.

I also thought it was great that Going did not shy away from using the n-word. It was especially relevant for me to read this right after the whole Mark Twain "let's censor the language because it's offensive to modern readers" thing. The use of that word certainly made an impact on me, not to mention it made the narrative all the more believable. There are some very serious issues that Frita and Gabe have to grapple with, and it forces us as readers to think critically about the situations. And yet, Going still managed to include a good deal of humor and playfulness within the two friends' fear-busting exploits.

There were a few flaws I noticed that detracted from the book for me. Though I thought it was sweet how Gabe didn't really see why Frita's skin color mattered to so many people, I found it difficult to believe that he had never come across racism before, especially having a best friend who would most likely be often on the receiving end of it. He seemed genuinely confused about why white people would treat black people differently, and didn't seem to understand why Frita would be targeted in their community. And his frequent realizations vocalized as "Huh. I'd never thought of it like that" or something similar sounded forced and trite to me—it got irritating.

Though it had its drawbacks, I still liked this story of doing the right thing and gathering courage, even if it means facing your worst fears. The two friends might not have crossed every single thing off their lists, but they certainly learn what it means to be brave.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top ten books I wish I'd read as a kid

Today is Tuesday, which means another top ten list. Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish—if you think you'd like to write up your own list, head on over!

Today's topic: Top ten books I wish I'd read as a kid.

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I mentioned this in my top ten books I can't believe I've never read list, BUT it's not for lack of trying. I've attempted it twice, and just couldn't get through it. I got it for free on my nook, so maybe it will give me a reason to try again. It's just something I wish I already finished.

2. Matilda by Roald Dahl: This is definitely something I wish I'd read when I first wanted to read it back in fourth grade. I was enchanted by the cover when I passed it in the library at school, but I never went in and checked it out. I read it this past summer and I'm very glad I did, but I think it would have meant more if I were younger.

3. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: I spoke with an elementary teacher at B&N one day who was surprised that I had never read this and proceeded to tell me that I NEEDED TO READ THIS IT'S AMAZING AAHHHH. So I bought it and it's still sitting on my shelf. I feel like I missed out on something.

4. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George and its sequels: I feel like I would have loved these when I was younger. I recently read the first one and did; it's right up my alley of settings and people and plot, sort of like Scott O'Dell (who I LOVE).

5. Sing Down the Moon by Scott O'Dell: Speaking of Scott O'Dell, this is one I never got around to reading—in a burst of frugality, I didn't buy it when I saw it for a dollar (I was younger, mind you) and to punish myself I refused to buy it for more than that. Luckily I found it at a used book sale for 50 cents and I now have it waiting for me in my bookcase.

6. The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper: This is another series that I know I would have loved when I was younger, since I was into the fantasy stuff like that, especially when it's mixed up with mythology. I've read all but the last one now.

7. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh: I feel like everyone has read this and it's a classic that I should read as soon as possible. Especially if I want to be a youth services librarian.

8. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White: I know, I know. This was also on my "can't believe I've never read it" list. I bought a copy and I have it, and I intend to read it, but I wish I had done that when I was a child to appreciate it with a child's eyes.

9. The Ramona Quimby books. Seriously, they are hilarious. I wish I had read Beverly Cleary's stuff when I was little.

10. Anything by Judy Blume. I feel like I totally missed out on important parts of childhood by skipping these. I had to learn about my period from those videos they showed us in health class—imagine!

Anything on here ring a bell? Or do you have a completely different list?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Review: "Mockingbird" by Kathryn Erskine

Title: Mockingbird
Author: Kathryn Erskine
Publisher: Philomel Books, 2010
Where I got it: I requested it from the library.

*Starred Review*

As someone who has Asperger's, 10-year-old Caitlin has trouble understanding why people act a certain way and how to react to them in turn. She would always turn to her older brother Devon to explain things and situations for her, but Devon dies in a tragedy that rocks their entire community. So not only is Caitlin left without her most trusted friend and big brother, she must learn how to deal with the way her father is now acting, the way others treat her in school, learning empathy, and most important of all, getting to Closure.

If you haven't heard of this book yet, just to tell you, it won the National Book Award for young people's literature. And let me tell you, it certainly deserved it. Through Erskine's book we see the world through Caitlin's eyes and mind. She doesn't Get It (as she would say) most of the time, as she can't understand certain emotions or reactions. She has to work really hard to see how another person is feeling and how to make them feel better, instead of worse. It's very illuminating to see how a person with Asperger's might view the world, and gives us a tool to understand them better and the way they see things better.

Despite her lack of understanding others, Caitlin is remarkably intelligent and an incredible artist. Throughout the book, Erskine uses Caitlin's artistic talents as a device—her refusal to use color goes hand in hand with the way she likes to see the world. Black and white are much easier to deal with than colors that can run together and blur. But as she begins to learn empathy and friendship, as she begins to find the ever-illusive Closure, Caitlin begins to see that color might be useful.

What really struck me about this novel was the rawness and realness of everything. Erskine does not really censor much, but not in an inappropriate way. What I mean is, Caitlin just reports things as she sees them, bluntly and accurately—this is especially true when she describe her father's violent reaction when he hears the news of his son's death and his subsequent grieving (mostly detachment, refusal to speak of Devon, and lots of crying),  and how she herself is dealing with the loss of the only person who seemed to understand how to talk to her. We also see things that Caitlin misses. She has incredible skills of observation, and doesn't shy away from telling us everything—actions and gestures that she doesn't understand are not lost on us, and I felt it all the more.

We also see the way a tragedy can affect everyone involved, even those who are related to the ones who caused it. It's heartbreaking, but the quest for Closure is a bold and valiant one that Caitlin tries to share with the entire community.

The mockingbird title comes from Devon and Caitlin's shared love for the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. Throughout, Caitlin keeps returning to this, to her nickname Scout that Devon gave her, and to all of their likeness to the three main characters in the film and book (Jem, Scout and Atticus). In the end, Devon is the symbolic mockingbird—dead despite his innocence, but living on in the memory of his family and of his community.

Incredibly moving and poignant (I use that word not as a cliche; I mean it with all my heart), Caitlin shows us a world that we mostly try to ignore. She shows us ways to deal with grief, both good and bad, but all real; after death and tragedy, we must find our way to Closure, and to living again.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


I've been debating on the ratings thing for a while now, and I think I've finally come to a satisfactory solution. I will do away with star ratings, but for those that are incredible and absolutely amazing, I will give a "starred review" like they do in review journals.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: "Judy Moody" by Megan McDonald

Title: Judy Moody
Author: Megan McDonald
Illustrator: Peter Reynolds
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2000
Where I got it: The library.

Judy Moody is a fun series for young readers, with a spunky heroine who isn't afraid to get her hands dirty. Judy wants to be a doctor when she grows up, is constantly being annoyed by her younger brother Stink, has a bunch of collections of things, and has a Venus fly-trap as a pet. In this first book of the series, she has to figure out what things make her Judy Moody, since her third-grade teacher assigned them to make a ME collage—what will she put on her poster?

I've seen this series around a lot over the past few years, and finally decided to check it out (again, thanks to Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a-Day Almanac). I'm really glad I did. Judy is a great character—certainly not afraid to get her hands dirty, she digs right into any type of experiment or fun prospect despite it's possible yucky-factor. She picks up toads, collects scabs (btw, gross) and finds food for Jaws (the aforementioned Venus fly-trap). Plus, she's got a best friend who's a boy, Rocky, which I think is very cool.

The situations she gets into are incredibly realistic, as are the conversations she has with her family and friends. This is especially true when it comes to Stink—I feel like I had the SAME arguments and back-and-forths with my own younger brothers. Stink talks in an erratic way that sounded all too familiar—just random enough, though the thoughts were sort of connected.

And Peter Reynolds' illustrations are awesome. Sort of doodley and cartoony, they are still incredibly detailed. The first double-page illustration is of Judy's room, and his little touches everywhere (a discarded apple core and ice cream container, posters taped to Judy's wall, a jar labeled "Jelly Bean Collection") make it a lot of fun to explore and examine closely.

I will definitely pick up the next titles in this series—I'm loving Judy's different moods, and the way she gets through each and every conundrum and situation she finds herself in. In this first book, my favorite was her solution for her almost-ruined collage (read it and find out what happens and how she fixes it—so great!).

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Movie review: "The Secret of Kells"

Title: The Secret of Kells
Studio: Cartoon Saloon
Director: Tomm Moore
Co-director: Nora Twomey
Art director: Ross Stewart

*Starred Review*

This will be my first-ever movie review, but The Secret of Kells was just so fantastic that I couldn't pass up telling others about it. Plus, it has to do with books, namely the masterwork the Book of Kells, the world's oldest and mostly complete illuminated manuscript.

The story begins (after whispers of secrets by an unknown narrator and images of escape from a Viking-ravaged place) with 12-year-old Brandon chasing a goose, after its quills for the illuminators (those monks who create books) at the Abbey of Kells. This is around 800 AD, when the Book was created. Soon a story unfolds the likes of which I haven't seen in a good long time. Brother Aiden comes to the island, a celebrated and well-respected illuminator who escaped the Northmen on his island of Iona. Brandon is intrigued by this new character and his book, incredibly curious and eager to learn what he can. He soon becomes something of an apprentice to Brother Aiden, though secretly, as his uncle Cellach, the abbot of Kells, is incredibly strict. He forbids Brandon from going outside the walls of the abbey to protect him from outside dangers, and eventually forbids him from working with Brother Aiden. Brandon's curiosity and desire to please Brother Aiden and help with the Book cause him to disobey and venture into the woods, where he meets Aisling, a mystical creature who claims she owns the forest. But when the Northmen attack Kells, Brandon and Brother Aiden, with the aid of Aisling, know they must protect the Book at all costs.

Where to begin. The animation in this film is absolutely exquisite. Full of detail and vibrant color, the textured drawings are angular at some points and full and curvy at others, giving each character incredible definition and distinctness from his or her surroundings. The illuminations that are being drawn by the characters float and move on their own, giving us viewers the sense that the words and images the illuminators are creating are far more important and powerful than Abbot Cellach believes them to be. The way the animation moves and flows is gentle and striking in its subtlety.

Celtic mythology plays a large part in this movie, as well—monsters and fairies lend to its mystical tone.

The musical score is absolutely brilliant, and I think I'm going to try to get my hands on a copy of it one way or the other (there is no CD on Amazon, just MP3s, but that might have to be it). Both haunting and lively, the Celtic-inspired score complements the action and animation of the film.

The characters are all wonderful. Brandon is a boy who must face his fears and do what's right, despite the fact that his uncle (also in charge of the abbey) tries to force him in an opposite direction. It's clear that Cellach loves Brandon but is not sure how to show it, and thus keeps him locked up in order to keep him safe, not realizing that he is stunting Brandon's growth in the process. Aisling is spritely and quick, with the power to communicate with nature and ask it to do as she wishes—a trait that she uses to help Brandon even at great risk to herself (and her fear of certain places and things). She is truly loyal, and does what she can to help.

And the Northmen are terrifying. Large and hulking, they are not depicted as human. They are stone statues come to life, without faces, killing and burning everything and everyone they attempt to conquer. They're voices are deep and rumbling grunts that go through you and strike fear in their victims, inhuman.

There is too much to say about this movie for this one little review. The raw emotion I felt while watching it surprised me. I can't remember the last time I sobbed while watching a movie, especially an animated film. Other times, I found myself catching my breath and what I was seeing. The beauty, horror and triumph in this story are, for me, indescribable, though I am trying.

And the best part is, this is a movie about the importance of books. The words and images Brandon studies so hard come to life for us, and for the monks. The movie is saying, Don't let us lose these all-important volumes! See to what lengths people have gone, all for the sake of creating and saving books!

As for the audience, I wouldn't show this to very young children, as there are some disturbing scenes, as well as scary ones.

I have been lucky enough to see the Book of Kells with my own eyes, and it is truly something to behold. If you ever find yourself in Dublin, Ireland, make your way over to Trinity Church, where the Book of Kells is permanently on display for the public to see, appreciate and cherish.

Please do yourself a favor and go see this incredible movie. It's an instant play on Netflix. Or just go out and buy it, it's totally worth owning. But see it! It is remarkable, and wholly enchanting.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Challenge! And question.

I have decided to take part in The Broke and the Bookish's Nonfiction Challenge, hooray! I need to read more nonfiction, especially since I have so many that I own that I've been MEANING to read but just haven't gotten around to yet. Here are the categories:


I think I can handle this. I'm going for Future Jeopardy Champion, with 7-9 titles. I think the only ones I might not hit are medical and money. The others I like to read anyway. Here we go!

I also have a question for you all. I'm looking for opinions. I am considering getting rid of my ratings, as I get frustrated in having to assign stars to books, but I'm not sure about it. There was a lot of discussion going on this past weekend over at The Perpetual Page-Turner about it and it made me revisit this issue in regards to my own blog. I'm leaning toward getting rid of them (including from all of my old reviews). What do you all think?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Review: "Delirium" by Lauren Oliver

Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher: HarperTeen, Feb. 1, 2011
Where I got it: I received this as an eGalley from NetGalley.

This book will be released by HarperTeen on February 1, 2011.

Imagine a world where the pain of remembrance and love does not exist. Heartbreak, romance and even simple love does not exist, cannot exist past your eighteenth birthday. At least, not since the cure. This is the world of Lauren Oliver's Delirium, a dystopia where love and hatred are replaced by indifference.

For 17-year-old Lena, this is the only world she has ever known. With a mother who killed herself because of the disease, she is extra careful to watch out for any of the signs of the illness—she is not her mother. But things change when she meets Alex, who seems so different from all the other cureds (or, those who have gone through the procedure to remove the ability to love from the brain). With her friend Hana, Lena begins to see that the government might not be telling them everything about the cure, how they operate, and about love.

Oliver has created a fairly original premise for a novel in Delirium. Love is a disease, and it must be eradicated for the sake of the human race. Yet as we read farther into the novel, we realize that the communities are all fairly closed off from each other. There is never any news from other states, or even other parts of Maine, where the book is set. It's just Portland, and that's all we or the characters know.

What is truly terrifying is how I see why love is considered a disease in this world. Each chapter begins with a quote from a government pamphlet or book, or a common rhyme that explains what the disease is, why it must be destroyed, and just other insights into this culture. Oliver does a wonderful job at listing the symptoms and phases of the disease (preoccupation, difficulty focusing; perspiration, sweaty palms; periods of despair, lethargy; obsessive thoughts and actions; pain in chest, throat and stomach; etc), making it sound as if it is, indeed, something to avoid at all costs, much like pneumonia or something. The worst outcome of the disease is death, as in the case of Lena's mother (suicide). Lena hears horror stories of people who have "contracted the deliria" and throwing themselves off buildings or dying in other horrible ways.

Lena herself is an interesting character to watch through the story. She is at first very careful with her activities, taking no risks, and her more outgoing, engaging friend Hana is much more fun to pay attention to. I kept on wondering what made Oliver choose Lena as her narrator, but after reading it I can see it was a very deliberate choice—we see how this world can be perceived as normal, and have the satisfaction of seeing Lena start to rebel as well.

As far as plot goes, I thought it started off a little slow. It was necessary for the exposition, but it just seemed a little languid for a while, which isn't necessarily a bad thing; it contributed to the tone. Plus, as always, Oliver's prose is something to be savored. Lovely and flowing, it is one of the novel's greatest achievements.

I am looking forward to the sequel, as the ending was a wicked cliffhanger.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: "Diamond Willow" by Helen Frost

Title: Diamond Willow
Author: Helen Frost
Publisher: Frances Foster Books, 2008
Where I got it: Library, after reading about it on Anita Silvey's awesome Children's Book-a-Day Almanac.

*Starred Review*

Told in diamond-shaped poems, this is the story of 12-year-old Willow, a part-Athabascan girl (on her mother's side) who lives in a remote part of Alaska with her family in a tiny community where the only means of transportation are dog sleds and snow machines. Willow isn't very popular at school and tries to stay on the periphery, but she wants her parents to trust her and let her have more responsibility. Finally, her parents let her mush the dogs, led by her favorite, Roxy, alone to her grandparents' house; but on the way home, an accident—as well as unearthing a family secret—will change the way she sees herself, and how she lives her life.

Frost carefully sculpts each poem to fit into a diamond shape, which she explains in her author's note at the beginning. A diamond willow is not a specific type of willow, she explains, but any willow that has lost branches—wherever there was a wound in the tree and a branch fell, a diamond shape appears, with a darker center. Frost also gives a richer, deeper center to each of her poems—bolded letters spell out a secret thought from Willow, who narrates them.

Interspersed are narrations from animals in and around Willow's home, giving a different perspective of the story and providing some context. What makes these narrations so important is the fact that the animals contain the spirits of the characters' departed ancestors. Each had been human at one time, and still they look out for their own.

I cannot say how much I loved this book. The poetry was beautifully crafted, not only to shape the diamond, but to spell out the deeper message. These short thoughts lend an incredible clarity to Willow's spirit and soul; they are the cries behind the words she speaks that are never said aloud, but that she feels so sharply within her mind and heart. I loved finding these bursts in the heart of each poem, and they lend such richness to the story and to Willow.

The story itself is heartrending, as well. It's an incredible yet gentle family story that will not leave me for some time. Willow grows so much, and I loved watching it unfold. I will be going out and buying this for my own collection for sure, as it's well worth owning.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Woman in White Readalong: Post #1 (Halfway!)

The Woman In White Readalong: Halfway Point

Hooray, I've made it halfway through this novel! I am quite liking it so far, though I'm waiting for the real action to begin again. I was riveted by Anne Catherick's encounters with our narrators, though I am sorry that there haven't been more.

I like most of the characters, especially Marian Halcombe, who is a strong and worthy opponent to all the evil men she finds herself around. Plus she's one smart cookie. Walter Hartright is a nice man too, though he is pretty sexist (as I think Collins was, if this text is to give any clue). I liked reading his narrative, as he seems to be the most proactive of the bunch of "good guys," being the only young man of the group—Marian can only do so much, as a woman. The biggest annoyance I had was Hartright's 2-page(ish) description of Laura's loveliness. SNORE. I get it, she's pretty and you pretty much love her. MOVING ON.

I don't particularly care for Laura, unfortunately, as most of the story revolves around her situation. She's pretty weak and not very intelligent, but I suppose I should give her a little slack since she can't be expected to be able to stand up for herself very well (the times, you know). I just wish she had more of a backbone. Her husband, Sir Percival, is a terrible bully and abusive, which disturbs me. I'm hoping he will get what he deserves, but we shall see I suppose. He's truly awful.

And Count Fosco? Super creepy. He seems to be a genius, knowing exactly how to appeal to everyone and getting them in his grasp. He is a master manipulator, holding all the cards, and he knows it.

All in all, I'm eagerly looking forward to where this is going. I hope to see more of Hartright, and I can't wait for the real action to start. I want to know what Sir Percival's secret is, and what will become of everyone, especially Anne Catherick, the woman in white.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Top Ten Bookish Resolutions

Another Tuesday, another top ten list! This week's top ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is one I can certainly get behind: bookish resolutions. Yes, the new year has begun, and with it come goals we set for ourselves to make it a better year than the last. I have a few that have to do with reading—let's see if I can actually get up to ten.

1. Read more classics. So far this one is going rather nicely. I'm halfway through The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins, and I've started War and Peace by good ol' Leo Tolstoy. It helps that I now have a nook and, like a hundred classics that I downloaded for free when B&N was doing that awesome promo.

2. Don't get caught up in trying to maintain this blog to the point where it becomes a chore. I need to relax with this. It's supposed to be fun, not homework! I don't think I'll review every book I read, because then I'm going to feel like it's something I have to do instead of something I want to do. That said...

3. Try to review more MG books. I have been focusing too much on teen stuff lately. While this isn't a bad thing, I do love me some middle grade literature. I have so many good ones waiting to be read on my shelf, ones that I have had signed by the author. I even spoke to the authors at length at some point.

4. Read the following as soon as possible: Bamboo People by Mitali Perkins, The Red Umbrella by Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Chains and Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson. All among the authors I spoke to about their books/work (see above).

5. Start some YA and/or MG book clubs. I have taken steps toward starting one at the library I work at (in Lexington, MA) and at my Barnes & Noble (in Burlington). Please come if you see it advertised and you're in the area!

6. Read the books I take out of the library in a timely matter. Too often do I have to return books I've taken out because I haven't had the time to read them. Plus doing this puts all the other books I actually own on the back burner. Bad Tahleen.

7. Stop spending so much time online and more time reading. This one I'm doing a pretty good job of so far. You might have noticed my reduced Twitter activity. (But probably not. I'm no egoist haha.)

Honestly, that's all I can think of right now. So. Those are my lucky seven bookish resolutions. Head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to link to your own top... whatever.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Review: "Poison Study" by Maria V. Snyder

Title: Poison Study
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Publisher: Luna, 2005
Where I got it: Hooray for the library and taking books out for free. Also, as a side note, I like this cover, which was the cover for the edition I read. I think it is real nifty and way better than the other ones out there. (In one she has blonde hair, which is SO wrong. What's up with that? Also, they are totally white washing the covers. She's supposed to have bronze skin. NONE of the ones I saw did.)

Yelena is scheduled to die. Sentenced to execution for the murder of her benefactor's son, she is fully prepared to face the consequences of her actions one year later—but she is given an unexpected choice. She is offered the position of food taster to the Commander, leader of Ixia. Choosing the possibility of life over certain death, Yelena is trained to detect poisons in each of the Commander's meals; yet she is constantly looking for a way out. But things get complicated as she forges friendships, discovers betrayal, and unearths several state secrets; all the while, she pushes away her feelings for the impassive and cold Valek, her trainer and the Commander's right-hand man. All she wants is to get out of this situation alive, but at every turn that seems impossible.

I enjoyed Yelena's story. She is an incredibly strong woman, who has undergone and continues to endure pain, torture, abuse and the threat of death. Though her situation vastly improves once she is released from the dungeon, she still lives the nightmares of her past in her mind. Her strength and determination are the only way she is able to live through the initial horrors that led to her imprisonment, her position as food taster and constant target for violence and assassination, and her memories.

I really liked Valek too—incredibly loyal and compassionate beneath his stony exterior, he ended up gaining my trust by the end of the book despite his ease with killing and questionable motives for helping Yelena. I loved watching his and Yelena's relationship slowly develop; neither are sure if they can trust one another, yet a friendship begins to blossom between them without their realizing it.

Most of the secondary characters were just fantastic, too. Rounded and three-dimensional, they all had their faults even if they were good guys. And the Commander is fascinating—though this is a military dictatorship, it seems to work pretty well (at least at the time the book takes place) and he is well-respected and liked for the most part. Though not everyone is happy with the regime, the Commander is not evil as one might expect, and I was very interested in all his personality quirks that are revealed along the way.

As for the plot, I certainly wanted to know where this was all going. There is intrigue, espionage, fighting and mystery-solving going on all over the place. Little twists here and there kept me guessing, though some points were a little predictable (though not much).

I read this for a book group, and though there were only three of us we kept a pretty good discussion going, aided by discussion questions in the back of one of the editions we had. There is a lot going on in this, especially in how the cultures work and why the Commander chose to do certain things over others. A thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable read, I will most likely pick up the sequels at some point (when I find the time, hooray).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Review: "The Ask and the Answer" by Patrick Ness

Title: The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking Book Two)
Author: Patrick Ness
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2009
Where I got it: My library.

**Spoilers for The Knife of Never Letting Go**

After a terribly hangy cliffhanger, Ness continues the story of Todd and Viola on New World, this time as they process their new surroundings and situation in the colony of New Prentisstown, under the direction of Mayor (now President) Prentiss. Kept separate by the new regime, Todd and Viola both narrate their own stories and experiences; Todd as a prisoner and then worker under Mayor Prentiss, and Viola in the healing house under the formidable and strong Mistress Coyle. Things aren't as terrible as they feared at first, but as time goes by they both notice things that aren't humane or right. It doesn't take long before they must choose what side to support, whether they agree with everything going on or not.

This second installment of the Chaos Walking trilogy is no disappointment. Though not as heart-poundingly intense as the first, it is still chock-full of tension and twists that I wasn't expecting. Ness is more subtle in this one, and that's not a bad thing.

Though the plot certainly kept me turning the pages, this is very character-driven as well. We see a lot of development in certain characters, especially Davy Prentiss, that I never would have imagined after reading the first book. There is also a little development in Todd and Viola's relationship, despite the fact that they are separated for most of the book.

The way Ness portrays the Mayor is truly terrifying. An ally, or a foe? He is alternately kind and maniacal, and I was never quite sure which way it would go; I always wanted to believe everything he stood for is evil, but Ness wrote him in such a way as to confuse me enough to wonder. Mistress Coyle is similarly handled. I was never sure if I should trust her motives or not. For those of you who read Mockingjay, I was reminded of Snow and Coin by these characters, respectively. I'm not saying they're the same by the way, I'm just saying that these two characters put me in mind of those two.

It was interesting to hear Viola's point of view in this book. Part of why I loved The Knife of Never Letting Go so much was Todd's voice and the way Ness wrote him and his vernacular. That was lost when Viola narrated, as she is from a more educated background than Todd, and she has no Noise. Todd's stream-of-consciousness style is still beautifully written here, but I missed it when I read Viola's portions. That said, I am glad we get to hear her story as well.

Ultimately this is a story about the cause, effect and practice of warfare. Ness goes into the decisions made during war, and the ethics involved on both sides, yet he is not black and white about it. There is some very philosophical debate within the pages, and it will certainly raise some discussion questions if you read this for a book club or in a class.

And the ending? Be prepared for another massive cliffhanger. I think I'll take my time before reading the third book (which I have taken out of my library already), just to recover a bit from this one, but I fully intend to find out what happens.
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