Sunday Woodcutter meets a talking frog in the Wood. She knows immediately that he's not just any talking frog but one who used to be a human. She can'...moreSunday Woodcutter meets a talking frog in the Wood. She knows immediately that he's not just any talking frog but one who used to be a human. She can't help lift the enchantment on him because he doesn't remember his human life, and even the accepted method of kissing him doesn't work. Then, a few days after meeting the frog, Sunday discovers that her own family is affected by enchantment, and that she herself has powers she never realized. But she can't use them to help her frog friend because he has disappeared.
I loved this. Each unfolding of the story reveals a different fairy tale. As Sunday tells the frog about her 12-member family, we learn that her eldest sister, Monday, married a prince and gifted her family with a tower to live in that, along with the house they built around it, resembles a shoe. Fantastic. And her fourth sister, Thursday, ran off with the Pirate King. The Pirate King! Awesome. This is not so much a fairy tale retelling as a fairy tale patchwork, like the skirts the fifth sister, Friday, makes, creating bright harmonious pieces out of random varied bits. Really enjoyable.(less)
This one is as unputdownable as The Girl of Fire and Thorns. It was good to spend more time with Elisa and some of the other characters I liked from t...moreThis one is as unputdownable as The Girl of Fire and Thorns. It was good to spend more time with Elisa and some of the other characters I liked from the first book. I hope Elisa comes into her own as the queen in the third book, and that we get to see more of Cosme. Only a few more months to wait!(less)
I finished the last (for now) Maisie Dobbs book today. I've enjoyed spending the month with Maisie and her cohorts in 1930s England, a setting that's...moreI finished the last (for now) Maisie Dobbs book today. I've enjoyed spending the month with Maisie and her cohorts in 1930s England, a setting that's mostly unfamiliar to me. Maisie Dobbs, a former lower housemaid who was given an education by benevolent employers and served as a nurse during WWI, is now a private investigator in London, solving mysteries with the aid of her paid assistant, her mentor, her friends and sometimes even Scotland Yard.
Here are some things I like about this series (warning: general spoilers): 1) The secondary characters change as much as Maisie does. They're not just static sidekicks; they go through life-changing events and make big decisions that affect Maisie as much as, or more than, the cases she is working to solve. 2) There hasn't been a happily-ever-after romance for Maisie. While I hope that Maisie does end up happily married when she's ready for it, as a fellow 30-something single woman, I've appreciated following her romantic troubles and happinesses and confusions throughout the series. They seem more realistic and believable than a single, one-book romance would have been. 3) Because this has been such a long series, Jacqueline Winspear has had the time to develop several interesting story arcs, such as Maisie's different romantic relationships. We also get to see major changes in her assistant Billy Beale's life.
Does anyone know how long this series is going to go? I could happily follow Maisie for several more years.(less)
This book has left me puzzled. And confused about what is puzzling me. I know I read it too quickly to enjoy the good writing, but I wanted to know wh...moreThis book has left me puzzled. And confused about what is puzzling me. I know I read it too quickly to enjoy the good writing, but I wanted to know what was going to happen, and I had only so much lunch time. What I Was is the reminiscence of a 100-year-old man who lived an unexpected life when he was a 16-year-old schoolboy in 1962. (By my calculation, that means that he is telling this in the year 2048. This is not important to the story.) He has started at his third and most mediocre school just off the coast in East Anglia when he meets Finn, a boy his age who lives in a tiny, tidy hut on a bit of land that is accessible only at low tide or by boat.
Finn lives the life the schoolboy wants to live. Finn is the boy the schoolboy wants to be. The schoolboy, whose name is only revealed at the end, disdains, but fully participates in (if that isn't too active a term), the mediocrity of his life: the school, the other students, the life he's being led to. About the one student who follows him around despite all discouragement, he says, "His habitual wretchedness left me cold back then, as so much of human weakness did." In contrast to the dull grayness of his regular life, Finn is beauty and grace and strength. Finn catches his supper in the sea and cooks it over a fire that he has built. Finn climbs up cliffs and maneuvers small boats in a tossing ocean with ease.
Maybe part of what is puzzling me is that the schoolboy and Finn's story doesn't really end. I suppose the stories I've been reading lately have all had satisfying closure, so this story's lack of it has left me somewhat adrift. I still enjoyed the book, although I liked Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now much better.
Keri lives in Summerton, an idyllic beach town in New Zealand where the locals all know each other and it never rains between Christmas and New Years....moreKeri lives in Summerton, an idyllic beach town in New Zealand where the locals all know each other and it never rains between Christmas and New Years. But Keri wants to get out and see more of the world, especially now that her beloved older brother, Jake, is dead. He committed suicide. At least, that's what she thinks until Janna, a friend whose own brother died years before, tells her that both their brothers were murdered, and she's going after the killer. They join forces with Sione, a tourist boy whose brother was also killed. As they figure out a pattern in the murders, narrow down suspects and try to protect the next victim, they discover dark and very dangerous powers at work in their town.
The characters are truly the stars of this book. The story is told from Keri's, Janna's and Sione's views, although Keri (who speaks in first person while the others' chapters are in third) is the principle narrator. Keri is a planner. Beginning at a young age, she has developed plans for various possible catastrophes, from broken arms to earthquakes. She doesn't like when people act in ways she doesn't see as rational. I sympathized with her on this. Janna is a bassist who wants to make it big in the music industry. I was ambivalent about her at the beginning but really liked her by the middle. She doesn't do well in school, but she has great talents outside it. Unlike the girls, Sione didn't get along well with his brother. He was always the weaker, less popular younger brother. He's sweet and sensitive and usually lets fierce, rugby-playing Keri or outgoing, determined Janna take the lead, but he comes into his own by the end. They're very different people, and I liked all three.
I think this is the first book I've read that's set in New Zealand (Lord of the Rings doesn't count!), so it was interesting to get bits of the Summerton culture. There are several issues that come up around the edges of the main mystery. This seems like regular life to me - sometimes these issues can be your central focus, but sometimes they're just one more thing you deal with while you're concentrating on a bigger event. One of those issues is race. Keri is half Maori, I think, and Sione is Samoan but lives in Auckland most of the year. One of Janna's bandmates is Chinese, and the boy she likes is a Japanese exchange student. It's a different mix of races than I'm accustomed to where I live, but the friction is similar.(less)
On a hot day, Nana cuts out a row of 5 paper dolls for her young granddaughter Sally. She draws the face, hair, dress and shoes on the first girl. But...moreOn a hot day, Nana cuts out a row of 5 paper dolls for her young granddaughter Sally. She draws the face, hair, dress and shoes on the first girl. But before she can draw the next girl, the paper dolls disappear. They drift through the city into and out of the hands of an artist, a musician and a student, who each add details to one of the dolls. The 5 sisters are more than just dolls; they are extensions of their creators and inspirations in their turn.
You really couldn't do this book without pictures; Patricia MacCarthy's illustrations are delightful.(less)
Hero is the quiet one in a loud, argumentative, brilliant family. Her mother became famous years ago after publishing a book on raising children. Her...moreHero is the quiet one in a loud, argumentative, brilliant family. Her mother became famous years ago after publishing a book on raising children. Her older sister has just returned after a long absence, with the teenaged son of her former boyfriend in tow. Her older brother stays at home all the time, supposedly working on his thesis. Her younger sister is chatty and boisterous, and her father stays home to care for them all. Hero loves her family but sometimes wants to escape them.
She frequently goes down the street to an old estate where she can roam the pathways in the trees and live in her own world for a while. Then one day the owner of the estate sees her and invites her in, and Hero discovers that neither her home world nor her private world is what she thought it was.
I really really liked Margaret Mahy's writing style. She's insightful, and her language is full of imagery. That is true of many authors, of course, but Mahy has a unique twist. I will be looking for her other books. Here are just a few of the quotes that I took down.
...back then when I was only twelve, I had two lives. The life I lived with my family was my real life, but the tree life--the early-morning life, which I lived before anyone else was up and about--was also my true life even though it was partly invented. Real life is what you are supposed to watch out for, but an invented life, lived truly, can be just as dangerous.
But I would probably have turned into Old Fairy Tales, which was the book everyone read to me when I was small--the book I used for secret advice . . .for divination. Even when I was as old as ten or eleven, I would try to take Old Fairy Tales by surprise, opening it anywhere, pointing with the first finger of my left hand (my fortune-telling finger) and taking advice from the line I found myself pointing at.
Every so often I'd catch a glimpse of the house, its weather-beaten tower standing at the end of the main block like an exclamation mark at the end of a magic word.
Real is what everyone agrees about. True is what you somehow know inside yourself.
My reflection showed briefly in puddles, shrunken now to hand size as I walked by. A muddy ghost with smudgy features was walking with me every step of the way, sole to sole with me. Soul to soul with me!
Ian Schoenherr's black-and-white drawings add a lot to the suspense and mystery of The Apothecary. Most of the illustrations lurk in the background of...moreIan Schoenherr's black-and-white drawings add a lot to the suspense and mystery of The Apothecary. Most of the illustrations lurk in the background of the chapter ends and beginnings, but there is one full-page spread that hits you in the gut.
Janie, our heroine, begins the story in sunny California, where her parents are screenwriters in Hollywood. But it's the 1950s, her parents are suspected of being Communists, and so the family flees to cold war-ravaged London. Janie's parents are happy working on a BBC production of Robin Hood, but Janie has a little more trouble adjusting.
Then she meets Benjamin, son of the apothecary whose shop is near Janie's flat. The two of them quickly become involved in a dangerous mystery. Because I had no idea where the story was going, I won't say anything else about the plot for fear of being spoilery. But I enjoyed the unexpected (for me) twists and adventures and the surprising new friends.(less)
Someone has done Something to seriously disturb the almighty Sullivan matriarch (who is actually called Almighty by her family), and she is threatenin...moreSomeone has done Something to seriously disturb the almighty Sullivan matriarch (who is actually called Almighty by her family), and she is threatening to disinherit the whole family unless that person confesses. Because no one knows which crime has brought on this threat, sisters Norrie, Jane and Sassy each submit a written confession to Almighty.
The book begins with Norrie's confession, then goes to Jane's and then to Sassy's. In other books with multiple narrators, I've often become so involved with one narrator that I've wished they could finish telling their side before moving to the next person. Sometimes the narrator switch is jarring, and it takes me a second to adjust to the other person's story. But I got my wish in this book and discovered that there are advantages to the other way after all. After starting Jane's story, I missed Norrie, and I didn't get to find out what happened to her until the very end. Aside from that, though, the format works for this book, because each sister can tell her story uninterrupted. Although the girls are talking about the same stretch of time, I didn't feel that there was any repetition, because each sister has such a different perspective.
The Sullivans are an old, rich, Baltimore clan, and they live in a big house with a tower room that has passed from St. John, the oldest brother, to Sully, the next brother, and now to Norrie. The kids call their mother Ginger and their father Daddy-O. The name Daddy-O makes me giggle. Ginger and the girls go to tea at Almighty's every Tuesday.
Conversation topics at recent teas have been Norrie's upcoming Cotillion and Jane's bad behavior in their all-girl Catholic high school. Norrie has been fast losing interest in Cotillion (and in her escort, the eligible grandson of Almighty's bosom friend) because of a happy grad student she's met in a night speed reading class. Jane starts a blog to reveal all the dastardly deeds of her evil family. And Sassy is pondering her newly developed invincibility that has let her walk away with only bruises after being hit by a car. Twice.
The characters in this book, not just the sisters, are delightful. Almighty's current husband (#5) is a quiet, comforting presence throughout the book, even under sad circumstances. Cassandra, a 5th-grader Sassy is tutoring in math despite her admitted ignorance in the subject, is refreshing and matter-of-fact, and although she doesn't believe Sassy's invincibility theory at first, she is willing to hear Sassy out and add her own opinions.
I also liked Robbie, Norrie's new boyfriend, but he was my one big problem with this book. Party pooperish of me this may be, but I think that 25 is way too old to be dating 17. (Unless you're Colonel Brandon, in which case you can be 35 to Marianne's 17, but that was a very different time.) I realize that age is a somewhat arbitrary standard on which to base behavior, but a line must be drawn somewhere, and in this case, I will side with the law and wish they had waited until Norrie was 18.(less)
Beatrice has just moved with her parents to Baltimore, where her father will be a professor at Johns Hopkin...moreThis is my first favorite new read of 2012.
Beatrice has just moved with her parents to Baltimore, where her father will be a professor at Johns Hopkins, her mother will stay home and act more and more oddly, and Bea will attend a private school with only 40 students in her senior class. Thanks to alphabetical chance, Bea Szabo is seated next to Jonah Tate, the boy that her classmates treat like a ghost. Bea tries to be friendly to him, and Jonah introduces her to a late-night call-in radio show, thus beginning a strong, unconventional friendship. Bea and Jonah are more interested in meeting the callers to the radio show (one of whom is from the future, another of whom is holding out hope that Elvis will come back to life and to her) and taking a secret trip to Ocean City than in hanging out with their classmates at repeated parties or going to prom. Trying not to be too spoilery here - Jonah discovers something about his past that his father has been hiding from him, and Bea willingly helps him try to sneak around his father to fix it. But it gets too big for Jonah, and even Bea can't help him.
Reading about Bea and Jonah made me think about how conventional I am (something I don't tend to dwell on). Before the move Baltimore, Bea and her mother used to spend their time together dressing up in elaborate costumes and recreating scenes from old movies that Bea would photograph. She and Jonah don't want to go to prom because it just isn't their thing, and they can come up with something to do they'd enjoy so much more. I didn't go to prom either, but if I had, it would have been a big deal to me. If they (Jonah in particular) had gone, they would have been more than bored.
I liked Bea. She seems to be comfortable with herself. She is willing to help Jonah with his risky plans, but she is also more grounded than her mother. She tries to be nice to her classmates but isn't at all concerned with getting the popular ones to like her. Her narrative was easy to read with some humor to leaven the heavy parts.
Experience told me that not many guys were into flat-chested sticks with big round lollipop heads and stringy hair, unless by some miracle that was the regional definition of cute. If so, I hadn't come across that particular region. Mom kept telling me I had to grow into my face, but I knew a euphemism when I heard one.
Jonah, meanwhile, broke my heart. He is a very good friend to Bea, often thoughtful and caring. But when he gets into his trouble, he withdraws into the ghost-like boy he had been before Bea moved in. My staid adult self recognizes that my teenage self would have related to Jonah (not that I had to deal with anything like what he has to). Bea's mother says:
"Jonah always struck me as kind of, I don't know, insubstantial." "You're wrong," I said. "He has substance. It just flickers off and on." "Reminds me of somebody else we both know," Mom said. I think she was talking about Dad but, frankly, it could have been anybody.
How to Say Goodbye in Robot is a moving book about a relationship that is more than friendship, more than romance, but in the end is unable be saved by just one person or even by the real love of both people.(less)
4 stars because it made me giggle out loud on the bus and in the lunchroom at work.
The characters live in an America that's controlled by The Corporat...more4 stars because it made me giggle out loud on the bus and in the lunchroom at work.
The characters live in an America that's controlled by The Corporation: Because Your Life Can Always Be Better. The Corporation fills the TV lineup with shows like "Captains Bodacious," about hot boy pirates, one version of which is "Captains Bodacious IV: Badder and More Boaciouser," and promotes such products as Lady 'Stache Off with triple beauty action (in addition to removing hair, it moisturizes and tans). The Corporation also sponsors the Miss Teen Dream Pageant, whose ratings sadly have been dropping.
The plane carrying the current contestants of the Miss Teen Dream Pageant crashes on an isolated island. The surviving girls figure out how to feed and shelter themselves, and then they discover that there's more going on on the island than they'd ever imagined. Such as arms deals and political intrigue. Also, they receive a visit from the Captains Bodacious pirates.
The story is totally, but subversively, over-the-top. Outrageous truths about today's media can be stated openly in a situation that is itself unbelievable. For instance, one of the messages from the story's sponsor says:
"The Corporation would like to apologize for the preceding pages. Of course, it's not all right for girls to behave this way. Sexuality is not meant to be this way - an honest, consensual expression in which a girl might take an active role when she feels good and ready and not one minute before. No. Sexual desire is meant to sell soap. And cars. And beer. And religion."
The story itself is quite entertaining, but the book is also a good starting point for discussions on a variety of subjects affecting teens (and not-teens) today, whether they're beauty queens or not.(less)
Lauren Myracle brings up important topics in this book. But I really wish the main character hadn't put herself in some of the dangerous situations sh...moreLauren Myracle brings up important topics in this book. But I really wish the main character hadn't put herself in some of the dangerous situations she did. They turned out okay for her, but I felt like shouting, "You're 16 years old! Do NOT go by yourself into a guys' college dorm!" My extra-cautious instincts kicking in, I suppose. I was a very boring teenager.(less)
This is the story of a Lithuanian girl during WWII who is sent, with her family, to a work camp in Siberia. When I was flipping through the book at th...moreThis is the story of a Lithuanian girl during WWII who is sent, with her family, to a work camp in Siberia. When I was flipping through the book at the bookstore, I wasn't sure I was going to get into it, but it was an engrossing, heart-twisting story about an aspect of history I wasn't familiar with.(less)
I enjoyed this very much. At 16, Elisa is married to a man she's never met, a king in a land far from hers. After the wedding, they encounter danger a...moreI enjoyed this very much. At 16, Elisa is married to a man she's never met, a king in a land far from hers. After the wedding, they encounter danger almost immediately as they travel through the wild jungle to his home. After they arrive, the king asks Elisa to keep their marriage a secret for a while and to observe what she can of his political guests. Unexpectedly, she finds herself in a position to learn firsthand the living and political situation of some of her husband's less fortunate subjects. I like how Elisa matures through the book, and I have certain hopes for the sequel.
An aside: Elisa is chosen by the god at birth - a once-a-generation occurrence - and religion is important to her. In other reviews, I've seen people comment that they were worried that the book would be too religious and were relieved when it turned out not to be. Maybe it's because I'm religious, but I thought this was an odd concern (although maybe it's one of those things where you see something mentioned by other people so you feel obligated to say something too - like me, here). I would classify this as a fantasy novel. I don't really see the difference in accepting, for the duration of a book, magical power as opposed to religious power, especially if the religion is made up.(less)
Political intrigue, espionage, a wealthy, titled suitor, possibly cursed Egyptian artifacts, an anonymous author who might be the spinster Miss Austen...morePolitical intrigue, espionage, a wealthy, titled suitor, possibly cursed Egyptian artifacts, an anonymous author who might be the spinster Miss Austen - Agnes Wilkins's debut season is more exciting and dangerous than she could have dreamed. A fun, fast read.(less)
*Mild spoiler* I enjoyed this, but I might have liked it better if I hadn't read it so disjointedly. It's 1936, and Abilene Tucker's father has decide...more*Mild spoiler* I enjoyed this, but I might have liked it better if I hadn't read it so disjointedly. It's 1936, and Abilene Tucker's father has decided that life on the road isn't appropriate for a young lady and has sent her to stay in his hometown of Manifest, Kansas. As she talks to people in the town, particularly the diviner Miss Sadie, Abilene learns more about her father's early life. His story was the most interesting to me; Abilene's stayed in the background.(less)