3.5 stars Quite lovely in parts, but I found this strangely lacking in emotional complexity. It also bears the weight of the legacy of many other sto...more 3.5 stars Quite lovely in parts, but I found this strangely lacking in emotional complexity. It also bears the weight of the legacy of many other stories before it that touch on similar plot elements or themes, so that two of the three most central mysteries don't come as surprises at all. And the third? The third is left unexplained.
I wish I could go on a date in the 50s, in no small part because Stan Crandall is ever so dreamy. If you haven't met him yet, and you have a weakness...moreI wish I could go on a date in the 50s, in no small part because Stan Crandall is ever so dreamy. If you haven't met him yet, and you have a weakness for nice boys with a winning grin, you really should swing by to pick him up for your next book date!
Stan is the object of affection in Fifteen, and he has a golden tan, green eyes, brown hair with a dip in it, and a sincere smile. Jane Purdy meets him one summer afternoon when he saves her from a babysitting disaster, and though he asks her out shortly afterwards, she's never quite sure of herself when it comes to their relationship. Why should a popular boy like that like her anyway, when there are smooth girls like Marcy Stokes around? With her casually streaked blonde hair, Marcy is the "cashmere sweater type" who always has a way of making Jane feel completely out of place.
Remember when boys helped girls with their coats, when it was scandalous not to wear stockings, when high schools sponsored steak bakes, and when the triple feature was followed by a trip to the local soda shop? No? Well, I don't either, but I get to pretend I'm living in the 50s every time I reread one of Beverly Cleary's teen romances. She's more well known for her beloved middle grade books, but she brings the same sort of warmth and wisdom to her YA novels as well. While some of the customs and details are charmingly dated, the themes of self-discovery and heartbreak are timeless and, I daresay, universal.
After all these years, this book still feels so honest and engaging to me, and is such a great story about making the transition between childhood and adulthood. Jane tries her best to deal with her many uncertainties, from school to unfamiliar cultural experiences to her dating woes, and I feel such sympathy for her wistfulness at feeling left out of something and the small fibs she tells when she's trying to be sophisticated. And as liberated and independent as women are supposed to be now, I can't imagine there is a girl out there who doesn't identify with Jane's thrill at the prospect of beach picnics and swimming parties on Stan's arm. The author also does a wonderful job of creating a familiar sense of time and place, whether it's Jane's comfortably worn in home with her parents or a sitting on a rock by the river on a date.
The golden age of America depicted in Beverly Cleary's novels is idyllic and perhaps idealized, with nuclear families and strong moral values taking center stage. But that is exactly what I like so much about them. I love the sweetness and simplicity of this escapism, and I love Fifteen in particular because it's wonderful to read stories about ordinary girls like Jane--and how her attraction to Stan is mostly based on the fact that he's nice. How novel is that? Very much so, in these jaded times.
Stan Crandall may not be be the first guy teenage girls think of anymore when they fantasize about swoon-worthy boys. But he's welcome to stop by and take me for a ride in his powder blue coupé anytime.
Random Side Note
Incidentally, if you ever decide to try making a chocolate coke float, which is Jane's drink of choice at Nibley's Confectionery and Soda Fountain, I'd recommend using the usual paper-wrapped plastic straw as opposed to the paper ones that are so popular these days. The striped paper one I used looks pretty in the photo, but it got soggy before I'd even finished drinking it! And I didn't even have the distraction of sitting across the table from a cute boy. (view spoiler)[Damn it! (hide spoiler)]
A haunted house, a forbidding lady, a master who has gone mad, and a servant girl caught up in the middle of the whole mess. If this premise appeals t...moreA haunted house, a forbidding lady, a master who has gone mad, and a servant girl caught up in the middle of the whole mess. If this premise appeals to you, there's no doubt you'll delight in this book. I'm a big fan of Victorian fiction, and the author does a superb job of making the era come alive and keeping the language and decorum pretty true to the period.
Abigail Tamper is a 14-year-old servant at Greave Hall, where she's lived all of her life. Her mother died under mysterious circumstances not long ago, and the troubled Master of the house seems to know more about her death than he will admit. Abi has few confidants among the other servants, and her only protector against the cruel Mrs. Cotten, who rules the household, is her childhood friend Samuel, who is the Master's son who is badly wounded from his service in the Crimean War. Abigail's terror and loneliness are palpable, and readers will feel for her as she tries to unravel the mystery and figure out whether there is more danger in the supernatural forces present in the house...or from the earthly ones.
This is an enjoyably creepy, atmospheric Victorian murder mystery with a strong heroine and wonderfully detailed, moody setting. The descriptions of Abigail's duties as a housemaid are particularly well done, as well as the hierarchal interplay between the servants. While experienced readers may guess the villain before he's revealed, this is a quick, enjoyable read and a terrific addition to the gothic genre, especially for the younger teens for whom it's intended. Plus there's an embroidered fabric Ouija...how fun is that?
I love Victorian fiction and I enjoy crime thrillers, so I thought this would be right up my alley...but I just couldn't get into it. The writing styl...moreI love Victorian fiction and I enjoy crime thrillers, so I thought this would be right up my alley...but I just couldn't get into it. The writing style just didn't appeal to me after I read a couple of chapters and skimmed a few more. Oh, well...(less)
A fantastic series that I loved as a kid and still holds up for adults. Well-written, engrossing mysteries with engaging characters and just enough of...moreA fantastic series that I loved as a kid and still holds up for adults. Well-written, engrossing mysteries with engaging characters and just enough of Sherlock himself to whet the appetite for investigation and adventure.(less)
Well, well, well. This short story, which is billed as a prequel to The Girl in the Steel Corset, is probably technically better than the actual book,...moreWell, well, well. This short story, which is billed as a prequel to The Girl in the Steel Corset, is probably technically better than the actual book, if only because it feels more complete and is much tauter and better plotted. The mechanical wizardry is still a little nuts, but somehow it's in a more enjoyable way here--it's almost what you'd expect from a film that's been MST3K'd.
There weren't quite as many threads connecting it to the main story as you might hope, aside from a few near-miss encounters with Griffin, but overall it's kind of a fun novella. This is actually quite a bit longer than I expected (maybe a tad longer than it needs to be?), but anyone who enjoys Steel Corset will probably also enjoy this one.
This book is currently still available as a freebie for Kindle and for Nook, although you may certainly download to read on your computer as well.
All three of us ended up liking, but not loving it the way so many of our fe...moreThe final discussion post for our Book Thief Readalong is up on the blog!
All three of us ended up liking, but not loving it the way so many of our fellow readers seem to. What did you think?
3.5 stars I loved Max, "The Standover Man," Hans, and few other moments, but overall found that the writing style distracted from the story for me. Disappointing that I don't love this as much as so many of my fellow readers seem to.
3.5 stars. This book is not at all what I expected! I thought it was historical fiction, but there's too much crazy melodrama for it to be that. Then...more3.5 stars. This book is not at all what I expected! I thought it was historical fiction, but there's too much crazy melodrama for it to be that. Then I thought it was a historical romance, but it's far too detailed and well done for that, too. So the book is either extremely campy historical fiction or really, really excellent historical romance. But either way, it's loads and loads of fun.
A few things you should know about me that factor into why I enjoyed this book so much:
* I am picky about my tea. I have a lot of tea accessories and I love the ritual of going to tea and eating elegant little sandwiches. * I have a weakness for gorgeous gowns and ladies in big hats. I read lots of catalogues and fashion magazines. * I own vintage gloves and handkerchiefs. I dart around flea markets looking for pretty brooches. I get Victorian Papers catalogue. * I am somewhat obsessed with food. I read food blogs and tweets and magazines and cookbooks. I have a whole cupboard devoted to baking materials.
That part of me, the girly romantic part who loves pretty fans and peonies and nesting, is the one who loves this book. The author writes wonderful descriptions that bring up the exotic scent of tea wafting up from a tin, the heartiness and comfort of a good hot meat pie, and the bustling activity on the teeming streets of London.
The sensible part of me, the one who files her taxes in January and grits her teeth at the misuse of the term "literally," notes the following:
* This book is wildly melodramatic and unrealistic and predictable. * Every character is one-dimensional; they are either perfect or evil. * There are too many POVs. * The Jack the Ripper subplot is superfluous, as are some of the secondary characters and details. * Far too many people die. * There is too much name-dropping. (Yep, you can do that in a Victorian novel, as long as you include Gauguin and the Prince of Wales various other luminaries in your anecdotes.) * There is an unfortunate tendency to jump forward in the story and then backtrack with a flashback. * The author gives her characters a little too much credit in coming up with innovations in their fields. * There are too many instances of telling us things about a character rather than showing them. * Fiona is the ultimate Mary Sue with her beautiful face and figure, brilliant blue eyes, and tendency to strike awe and admiration in everyone she meets.
Having said all that, however, I really started to like Fiona after she leaves London. In the beginning, she's just a willful, reckless teenager, but she gradually develops into a pretty strong and admirable woman. I also liked how she gradually builds her wealth through her ingenuity and enthusiasm (and lots of luck), as well as the master scheme she undertakes to take revenge on those who have done her wrong.
I really liked the descriptiveness of the author's writing, particularly in regards to London and the day to day life of the working class. The author has a good ear for language and I enjoyed reading about the tea factory and the development of Fiona's tea trade, Joe's vegetable stand, and Fiona's little merchant shop. I am surprised that an author who writes so well in that regard, however, settles for such sketchy characterizations and overly dramatic plots. Fiona and Joe and Nicholas and so on are all likable, but none of them are very deep, and they all behave in ways that approach hysteria at times. I would also have liked to have seen Fiona achieve some measure of (view spoiler)[personal fulfillment outside of her relationship with Joe. You shouldn't have to wait 10 years and cross an ocean to get to happiness. (hide spoiler)]There are also far too many instances of "Look how wonderfully Fiona does this" types of passages. Editing these sorts of things could have easily turned this into a truly excellent work of historical fiction.
Still, I was so entertained by this novel that I couldn't stop reading it. It's sort of like a Victorian soap opera--high camp, beautiful clothes and setting, and lots of fun. I wasn't at all surprised by any of the events that occurred or by any of the characters, but I was pleased by the time I spent with them.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Have you ever pictured yourself wandering among the tombs at Westminster Abbey, marveling at the sheer wonder of being among the greatest literary fig...moreHave you ever pictured yourself wandering among the tombs at Westminster Abbey, marveling at the sheer wonder of being among the greatest literary figures in history? Sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray is taken to Poets' Corner by someone who understands exactly what such an experience will mean to her, and this lovely little moment in the sequel to Clockwork Angel perfectly encapsulates everything I love about the Infernal Devices series. Tessa is a shapeshifting Shadowhunter who is becoming accustomed to her powers, but in the middle of all the magic and mystery in Victorian England, the relationships between Tessa, the enigmatic Will, and the thoughtful, sensitive Jem remain the very heart of the story.
Following a rather, ahem, provocative prologue, the story really begins as the London Institute of Shadowhunters is given two weeks to find the evil Magister, who is still determined to gain control of Tessa’s powers and bring down the Enclave. Tessa and the Shadowhunters must battle dreadful clockwork creatures, demons, and even treachery within their own ranks before everything around them is forever altered. Readers who agonized over the last book will be happy to know that we see the beginnings of the ties between the Lightwood and Herondale families, find out what the initials "JTS" mean, and spend more time getting to know all the characters, including Magnus, Jessamine, Henry, Charlotte, and Sophie.
Here are the other important elements that I loved from this story:
Tessa, Will, and Jem
Tessa becomes more sure of her unique position and powers, and her relationships with both the boys in her life deepen in a life-changing way. Jem unexpectedly reveals an incredibly alluring side to him that we’ve never seen before, and we finally discover the devastating secret in handsome Will’s tragic past. This is one of the most well-written love triangles I’ve ever read, with a strong girl torn between two very attractive and honorable boys; there are good reasons for Tessa to love them both, but also excellent reasons for her to give her heart to neither. It is nothing short of torture to feel Tessa’s deep pull towards Jem and Will, both of whom have swooningly romantic and wildly sensual moments with our heroine. Believe me, the infamous Dirty Sexy Balcony Scene more than lives up to its promise, and I clutched my pearls more than once while reading this book!
What Tessa never forgets, however, is that as confused as she is about her feelings for Jem and Will, there is also a lifelong friendship between them that she must honor. Jem’s illness, Will’s love for and dependence upon him, and her own need for self-respect all contribute to an intensely difficult situation, and one that made me hurt for everyone involved.
The Victorian details in this novel make me quite ill with pleasure. That's right, ill with pleasure. I'm not even speaking solely of catnip such as the clothes and carriages and the like, but of a finer, deeper authenticity that has to do with a way of truly immersive thinking, rather than just trifling details. It seems to be so difficult for many YA historical fiction authors to refrain from projecting anachronistic modern attitudes onto period characters, but Tessa Gray stands out as a true Victorian heroine. She shows courage and spirit, but it's within the appropriate behaviors and thinking patterns for a girl living in the 19th century; if she breaks tradition, she thinks about it (and we know it's unusual) before she does so.
Even while she's being trained for self-defense by other Shadowhunters, Tessa spends a great deal of her time struggling to reconcile her magical powers and responsibilities with her upbringing and social decorum. The role of women in oppressive circumstances has always interested me, and Tessa’s internal dialogue and conduct (along with Sophie’s) are notably in keeping with all the other spot-on period details, which are meticulously researched and beautifully woven into the story. Before she began writing this series, the author rather famously moved to England for six months and read nothing but books written or set in the Victorian era, and even walked all the streets that her characters might have traveled. There is a certain mood and style that is decidedly steeped in the foundations of this research, and the dexterous language and witty dialogue feel pretty nearly perfect and true to the time—with allowances for fantasy and magic, of course. Tessa transcends the thinking of the time and uses clever magic and thinking to outwit her adversaries at every turn.
A Love of Literature
Another thing I also adore about this series is how much appreciation all the characters have for literature. I still remember the awe I felt the first time I went to Westminster Abbey, and it struck a chord to hear Tessa say, “I can’t explain it. It’s like being among friends, being among these names.” Upon traveling to the countryside for the first time, she also says, "I feel as though I have seen it before. In books. I keep imagining I’ll see Thornfield Hall rising up beyond the trees, or Wuthering Heights perched on a stony crag.“ It is nearly impossible for any lover of books, particularly those with an unruly bit of romance in her soul, to fail to thrill when reading words like this. Tessa is a kindred spirit for me, and I think she would be for many other thinking, dreaming readers as well.
If you were dying for this second installment in the Infernal Devices series, rest assured that it has been more than worth the wait. It's full of great action scenes, a clever use of magic, and the hilarious dialogue that we've come to expect from these characters. It is, however, also an intensely emotional read for those invested in the characters, so be prepared with tissues—I cried several times near the heartbreaking end and it's going to be so hard to wait another whole year for Clockwork Princess. Was the book satisfying? Yes. Was it agonizing? A thousand times, yes. But it was painful in the most exquisite and emotionally truthful of ways.
This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
I really, really wanted to like this book. I'm a fan of novels set during the Victorian era, as I've always been very interested in how thinking, reas...moreI really, really wanted to like this book. I'm a fan of novels set during the Victorian era, as I've always been very interested in how thinking, reasoning people-especially women--manage to survive in such a repressive society. It's the same reason I like Jane Austen novels, because the yearning for connection with other human beings is so often at odds with the strict customs of the day.
There's a tendency now in books for authors to just ignore those rules and just barrel forward with whatever story or agenda they may want to promote. I know that it's difficult from a modern standpoint to write about a spirited heroine without bending some rules here and there, but it's annoying that so many authors go ahead and just plain break them. Don't get me wrong--the author clearly has done a lot of research into the time period, and I believe it was also her educational specialty. But I find it tiresome that girls in historical novels keep getting put into breeches or constantly talk back at their superiors or go out and linger unattended on the streets. I know, I know, Mary is supposed to be a detective and whatnot, but girls of this time and in her position would never dream of behaving in this way. Showing courage and spirit and passion when extraordinary circumstances call for it is one thing, but to blithely move about everyday life as if expressing your wishes and opinions is commonplace is just plain wrong for this time period. If this is something an author wants to do, he/she is better off writing a steampunk novel or a story set in an alternate universe. I would argue that there must be a way for a gifted writer to make the book more true to the period of the time while keeping the spirit of adventure alive.
The writing itself is something that bothered me, too. The language of the time is fairly formal and specific, with a distinct wording and rhythm of its own. I just didn't feel convinced by the tone that was struck here, nor were the plotting or the mystery or the characters particularly unique. I happened to have the follow-up book from the library and I skimmed through that one as well to see if it was any more engaging, but for me, unfortunately, these books just don't work.
Boy did this book draaaag. It's absurdly long, was not engaging, and it's beyond annoying when characters turn to address the reader directly with win...moreBoy did this book draaaag. It's absurdly long, was not engaging, and it's beyond annoying when characters turn to address the reader directly with winking comments, especially when it interrupts the flow/action of a supposedly moody historical piece.(less)