I've been reading the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer as Disney-Hyperion has been making them available via NetGalley as a promotion for the releas...moreI've been reading the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer as Disney-Hyperion has been making them available via NetGalley as a promotion for the release of the final book in the series this summer: The Last Guardian. The Lost Colony may be one of my favorites, as it's the point in the series where we start to see Artemis growing up and becoming more of a teenager than he may have seemed before.
At the beginning of the book, Artemis is simultaneously attracted to a girl and seeking some mysterious apparition. As per usual, the two things are connected; Artemis and the girl are seeking the same thing: the appearance of a demon caught out of time. During the Fairy Wars, the demons found themselves trapped out of time. Artemis, naturally, is better at predicting the degradation of the time spell that holds the demon island in Limbo. With the help of his friend Holly Short, the sprite who's been with him through all the novels; his faithful guard, Butler; and a demon who may or may not be a warlock, Artemis tries once again to save both the fairy and human worlds.
While a quickie plot summary (that tries hard not to spoil the book) may sound very much like the other books, what makes this one so different is that Artemis is fighting his hormones. He has a crush on the girl who also wanted to capture the demon, and his actions are at times distracted by his feelings. This isn't like the Artemis Fowl, precocious evil genius that we met in the first book, and it makes him a much more likable character as a result. The more human he seems, the more fun the books are. Much like the Harry Potter books, Artemis manages to change along with his audience, and while some readers will be discovering him for the first time this summer with the publicity for the last book, I think it helps to see a character age and face changes in his life rather than remain stagnant, because it keeps the series itself from becomes the same thing over and over again.(less)
Most people are probably familiar with Madeleine L'Engle from her young adult novels, such as the Newbury Award winner, A Wrinkle in Time. However, sh...moreMost people are probably familiar with Madeleine L'Engle from her young adult novels, such as the Newbury Award winner, A Wrinkle in Time. However, she has also written many books for adults, including her journals and novels.
L'Engle's novels for adults are often similar in theme to her young adult novels, intertwining self-reflection with spiritual themes, and usually giving at least a passing mention to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and the surrounding neighborhood, where L'Engle herself often lived.
::: A Story of Two Davids :::
As Certain Women opens, we are introduced to Emma Wheaton and her father, David, both New York stage actors. David is dying, and Emma has come to spend the summer with him and his eighth wife on his boat, the Portia to say her goodbyes.
However, Emma has more to come to terms with than her father's terminal illness. Her marriage to a celebrated playwright, Nik Green, appears to be over, and as she and her father remember the past, they are drawn together over an aborted play of Nik's based on the Bible story of King David and his wives. The parallels between David Wheaton's life and that of the Biblical King force both father and daughter to face ghosts of the past and make their peace before David died.
::: Telling the Story :::
As with many of her novels, L'Engle switches constantly between plot lines. Through Nik's play, we see the story of David and his wives, and through Emma's viewpoint, we also learn David Wheaton's past as well as see his present as family members come to say goodbye, including two of his ex-wives. As David and Emma confront each memory, we also see how closely his life has followed that of the Hebrew King's, as well as where their fates are dissimilar.
Emma is also forced to look at her marriage to Nik when he comes to visit her father, as well as how her grief over events in her lives has impacted her marriage as well as her life.
::: Goliath Can't Be Vanquished That Easily :::
L'Engle, who has shown what a light hand she can have at interweaving religious elements with her secular plotlines, is so heavy-handed with this story that you feel as if you are reading the script for a Star Wars film. Look! The father's name is David! And he's had all these wives! And his wife Abigail is the wise friend, even after the divorce, just like the wise Abigail in the Bible story! It's funny that in the course of re-reading some of L'Engle's books in order to review them, I find my two least favorite, but Certain Women is one of maybe two books of hers that I really can't say I loved.
From the very beginning, you can spot the ending of the story, and the huge cast of characters means that far too many get short shrift in character development. Even for a die-hard L'Engle fan like myself, there just isn't enough meat here, unlike her other fiction for adults. I just didn't find myself caring enough about Emma or her family, no matter what tragedy or triumph she dealt with. While the advice given to Emma is to choose a wedding in life over a funeral, the book doesn't take its own advice.
If Nora Roberts is the queen of contemporary romance fiction, then Julie Garwood is arguably the queen of period romance. One excellent example of her...moreIf Nora Roberts is the queen of contemporary romance fiction, then Julie Garwood is arguably the queen of period romance. One excellent example of her command of the genre is her New York Times bestseller Saving Grace.
::: True Love in Feudal England :::
Lady Johanna was married to the brutal Baron Raulf at the age of 13. After his death, her foster brother arranges for her to be married to a Scottish laird, Gabriel MacBain, now running her late husband's land holding in Scotland, which Johanna had inherited upon his death. Johanna at 16 is barren, and has suffered physical abuse at the hands of Baron Raulf. Marrying the laird is frightening enough, but Johanna finds herself an outcast, accepted by neither of her new husband's clans: the MacBains a group who banded together to follow him, nor the Maclaurins, who chose to ask him for help even though their former laird never acknowledged his illegitimate son.
As Johanna slowly learns to love and trust her husband, her determination helps to band the two clans together into one, save the life of a woman badly beaten by another laird, marry her foster brother off, and forge a new life for herself in Scotland with her husband, but only after defeating some unscrupulous English barons and a cruel English bishop.
::: Why Garwood Succeeds Where Others Fail :::
Julie Garwood is like Nora Roberts in the respect that she does a great deal of research about the clothing and culture of the time she is writing about. Everything from the design of Gabriel's keep to the weapons used to the women's clothing is described in detail. I can't vouch for its accuracy, but it really makes you feel like you are back in that time period.
Even more importantly, however, Garwood does an excellent job at character development. Sure, Saving Grace follows a typical romance formula where a meek and formerly abused woman falls into an arranged marriage and both overcome the original situation as well as several obstacles placed in their paths to fall in love and live happily ever after, but Garwood creates a gradual falling-in-love that is believable, because the characters and their reactions are believable. Each decision that a major character makes fits in with their personality, and they all make small changes that make the happy ending make sense.
Saving Grace is a great summer read: not too complicated, but meaty enough that you don't feel as if you've wasted time by reading it. And I can virtually guarantee you'll find yourself researching the 1200s in Great Britain by the time you finish the book.
I'm something of a Bourdain addict, having first discovered him via his Travel Channel show eating his way through disturbing things in out-of-the-way...moreI'm something of a Bourdain addict, having first discovered him via his Travel Channel show eating his way through disturbing things in out-of-the-way locales, then via his book A Cook's Tour, so I came to Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly in a somewhat backward fashion.
That said, this is a brilliant piece of work. You don't expect celebrity chefs to write this well (even if they do have a couple of works of fiction under their belts), and you assume ghostwriters come into play, but Bourdain manages to come off as completely self-effacing, while at the same time, as point-blank, often vulgar, and offensive as his television persona would suggest.
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly takes you through every back room and secret of the world's kitchens you might ever want to know (and plenty you probably don't want to know; I may never eat chicken again). However, it's impossible to not want to eat everything in sight while reading this, and none of the processed food you buy in the grocery stores, either. Bourdain speaks of food, and the cooking of same, with such love, and reverence, that you can't help but be drawn in.
The book isn't without its humor, however, and the characters he describes, including himself, aren't to be missed.(less)
Knowing that I was in for a struggle trying to keep my five-year-old, Buster, interested in being read to for 20 minutes a day this summer, we headed...moreKnowing that I was in for a struggle trying to keep my five-year-old, Buster, interested in being read to for 20 minutes a day this summer, we headed off to get him a few books that might hold his attention. I was pleased to see that a newish line of books about a teenage Jack Sparrow were available, so I got him the first in the series: Jack Sparrow: The Coming Storm by Rob Kidd.
::: Becoming a Captain :::
Jack Sparrow: The Coming Storm introduces us to Jack before he's the drunk pirate we know from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, when he is a 15-year-old boy. Caught stealing a bag in a pub one night, he meets the pub owner's daughter Arabella, and soon enlists her help as well as a few others they meet along the way. Jack, you see, is looking for the Sword of Cortes, a mythical sword that, when reunited with its scabbard, gives its holder untold power.
::: No, He Isn't Drunk :::
I'll admit I was a bit dubious at the thought of Jack Sparrow as the hero in a children's book. Even in this book's recommended age bracket of the middle-school set, I'd be wary of a drunken, carousing pirate being someone I'd encourage kids to read about in a series.
I was pleasantly surprised, however. While the Jack Sparrow character in Jack Sparrow: The Coming Storm (and I'm assuming the rest of the series) isn't exactly angelic, he displays all of the good heart that the movie Jack does with none of the more adult characteristics.
The book is interspersed with illustrations credited only to "Disney" and they came just often enough to keep Buster motivated. All are done in pen and ink and add a visual assist to some of the more complicated plot points. It's definitely not geared toward younger readers, but as a read-aloud chapter books we read over the course of several nights, it was a hit, and my seven-year-old grabbed it and read it as well.
Overall, Jack Sparrow: The Coming Storm is a great start to what promises to be just the series the children's genre has been missing, appealing to boys and girls alike who are looking for more daring adventures that don't involve wizards.
I came to sci-fi author Piers Anthony in a roundabout way, discovering the Mode series before any of his other, more well-known series. I read the fir...moreI came to sci-fi author Piers Anthony in a roundabout way, discovering the Mode series before any of his other, more well-known series. I read the first three books when they were released, and then the series seemed to never be completed, and it was only by accident that I stumbled over DoOoon Mode several months ago and added it to my huge to-be-read pile. I finally got around to reading it this past weekend and am left wishing I'd never known the series had been completed.
::: The Plot :::
DoOon Mode requires you to have read the first three books in the series, and read them recently. While Anthony does go back to give some background, he does so sporadically throughout the book (the very opposite of the dreaded infodump) and if you haven't read the first three books, you will have absolutely no idea what is going on, especially since the book opens right in the middle of the action, where readers were left at the end of the previous book -- Chaos Mode which would have been fine were it not published eight years after Chaos Mode and I wasn't reading it 18 years after Chaos Mode.
Colene, the 14-year-old girl at the heart of the series; her now-husband Darius, who multiplies joy in his home world; a floating slug sort of creature, Burgess; and Nona, the would-be queen of another magic world, have been dumped back into a world they know to be hostile and have to somehow escape and make their way back to Colene's beloved telepathic horse companion. Now, even for a sci-fi book, that's a lot going on in 370 pages, but Anthony also has to resolve Colene's sexless marriage to Darius (she was raped before she met him; never mind her being 14), Nona's lack of desire to rule her own world, the well-being of the 10 null servants assigned to their party in the hostile DoOon Mode in which they find themselves, ruled by the Emperor Ddwng, Darius' need to have a wife in his home world from which he can draw joy which he multiples for his people as well as someone to have sex with afterward to complete the ceremony...
::: Lost? You Aren't Alone :::
In an author's note at the end, Anthony reveals the series was pretty much DOA at the previous publisher, Ace, and he wrote it for himself. However, even with all that plot to tie up, the last 40 or so pages are spent dealing with Colene's rape as well as what was apparently a repressed memory of childhood sexual abuse -- in detail.
It was a let-down ending for a let-down series ender that also involved a Xanth tie-in with the Demon Metria (who refers not to Xanth, but to her location as a "Demon Mode" ARG). The relationships between the characters seemed flat and often mere caricatures of themselves from previous books. It's the opposite of what you think a labor of love should feel like, especially since Anthony reveals in the note he was going to self-publish the book if it hadn't found the home it did with Tor.
DoOon Mode left me wishing for a real ending for this series I loved so much. Maybe I just got too old for it. But it felt like an improper closure.(less)
Every so often, you'll find a gem in the bargain books section of a bookstore. So it was with The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan, a novel based on...moreEvery so often, you'll find a gem in the bargain books section of a bookstore. So it was with The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan, a novel based on actual events in the history of the Mughal Empire of India.
::: The Plot :::
Ghias Beg flees from Persia after his father's estates revert to the government, and he cannot pay his debts. During his journey from Persia, his wife gives birth to a daughter, Mehrunissa (meaning Sun of Women), but there is no way they can afford to care for her as well as the children they already have. Joining caravans, they find luck in a nobleman who is heading to the court of Emperor Akbar. He asks Ghias Beg to go with him, promises to present him at court, and finally, saves Mehrunissa's life with his generosity.
So begins the apparently charmed life of Mehrunissa in The Twentieth Wife. Her father lands a position as treasurer to the Emperor, her mother and she are invited to visit the Imperial zenana where the wifes and concubines of the Emperor live, and she not only gains the favor of the Emperor's favorite wife, head of the harem, but she also catches the eye of his son, Prince Salim. So begins a love story that will take the two through political intrigue, assassination plots, wars, power struggles within the harem, and Salim's ascent to the throne.
The Twentieth Wife is a fictionalized account of the life of actual Empress Når Jahån, consort to Jahangir, Emperor of Hindustan, and father of Shah Jahan (best known for building the Taj Mahal.
::: Five Stars :::
I read the other reviews of this book as soon as I brought it home, and was pleasantly surprised by my own experience with this book. From Mehrunissa's favorite status with her father and his education of her beyond the usual education provided to girls at the time, we see a character that couldn't help be enchanting as well as intelligent and wanting a higher station in life. Mehrunissa knows that women in power are the ones who have favored status in the Emperor's zenana for they have the most freedom, and examples are given in the book of how the women in the harem often influenced the Emperor's decisions, from marriage arrangements to punishment of would-be assassins.
Vivid descriptions of clothing, food, and decor serve to set the tone, giving the reader a taste for how those in the Mughal Empire lived. The wealth and style of living is fascinating, and the small mentions of both the Portuguese Jesuits and the English traders demonstrate the future that is to come for India.
The cast of characters can be difficult to follow at times, but standouts are Emperor Akbar's favored wife, Ruquyya; the scheming Jagat Gosini, who will stop at nothing to remain Jahangir's favored wife; and Ali Quli, the soldier who conspires against Jahangir at every turn.
The only downside to this book is the characterization of Salim/Jahangir. We never see what changes him from the selfish, callow youth to the mature Emperor, nor what drives a drinking, opium-smoking boy to become a morals-wielding Emperor. However, all is forgiven because this is a book about Mehrunissa, and we see her hopes and desires, laugh and cry with her, and wish right along with her that she will finally get to live the life of her dreams.
I'd be lying if I said that I looked forward to taking my five-year-old son Sassa to the library each week to play the summer reading game. While the...moreI'd be lying if I said that I looked forward to taking my five-year-old son Sassa to the library each week to play the summer reading game. While the game DID help us get him to allow us to read to him, it didn't increase his love of books AT ALL and the task of checking out MORE books each week ranked right about the same level as a root canal for me. Luckily, he had another week that a game spin assigned him a reading topic (fantasy or fairy tale) and we found A Practical Guide to Dragons by Lisa Trumbauer with the rest of the librarian's suggestions for that category.
::: The A to Z of Dragons :::
A Practical Guide to Dragons is told from the perspective of an apprentice student of dragons as he learns information from his master. Written as a "non-fiction" book, it breaks dragons into categories (almost like zoology), and includes such "facts" as wingspan and weight, favorite nesting environments, schematics of the dragon's lair, personality type, and usual foes (including likely results from a confrontation).
The book is full of large, full-color illustrations that are beautifully detailed, appealing to the casual reader as well as fantasy/dragon fans. Since the book is written in the style of an apprentice, occasional hand-written "notes" are included as well, making it seem even more real.
::: A Practical Guide to Dragons Had More Than One Fan :::
Usually, my [ex-]husband and I would argue in the evenings over who had to take on the task of reading to Sassa; after all, 20 minutes with a reluctant five-year-old with ants in his pants seemed like a good 20 hours. When A Practical Guide to Dragons was on the schedule for that night, however, not only did we fight over who had reader duty, but Buster was also enthusiastic, often asking for more when his 20 minutes were up (we tried to keep it to his contracted amount to stretch the book out a bit!).
Each evening, our 20 minutes usually covered three dragons, and both Sassa and I eagerly looked forward to the following night to learn more about the next set we'd be reading about. The illustrations were vibrant and detailed, and included little tidbits about facial features like horns and teeth that got Buster talking about what we were reading.
A Practical Guide to Dragons appealed to everyone in the house, and usually, the other kids would make an appearance when it was time to read this book to Sassa. Both my [ex-]husband and I enjoyed it immensely as well with its cross-generational appeal. I need to go see if Ms. Trumbauer has written any similar books, because now that it's fall, Sassa is again reluctant to be read to. Unless, of course, we head back to the library to check A Practical Guide to Dragons out again.
Scott Pilgrim is your average, 23-year-old hipster: he's "between jobs," in an admittedly crappy rock band, and has a girlfriend who's still in high s...moreScott Pilgrim is your average, 23-year-old hipster: he's "between jobs," in an admittedly crappy rock band, and has a girlfriend who's still in high school and is just progressing to the point of kissing boys. Then he meets delivery girl Ramona Flowers, a New York transplant to Scott's hometown of Toronto, and his entire world does a 180, because Ramona comes with a set of evil exes who want to do Scott in.
Most people are familiar with the set-up of Scott Pilgrim after the movie version, and the first graphic novel in Bryan Lee O'Malley's series, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life is being reissued this fall.
The characters still stand up as well today as they did back when the story was first published; most of us can identify with the immature and often annoying Scott; his acerbic gay roommate Wallace; his bandmates; and his ridiculously sheltered girlfriend, Knives Chau, who begins the story as far more childish than her 17 years. Some of the plot points are a bit dated (like the idea that anyone would not know what Amazon.ca was or how to get there online), but overall, for a contemporary-based comic story, it's held up well.
The new edition includes bits of trivia about the movie, as well as shots of the Toronto-area locations O'Malley based many of the places in the story on.
Personally, I discovered the one place I cannot make the transition to ebooks as a result of receiving a copy of this e-galley from NetGalley: graphic novels. The format hasn't made a good transition to digital, and I struggled with the Adobe Reader to get the sizing big enough to see the details in the drawings (especially important for this comic, because as fans of the series know, Scott's band's songs can appear in tiny print between panels), and I was left feeling like I was poring over a newspaper with a magnifying glass rather than having a seamless reading experience.
When the reissues start coming out this fall, this is one book I'll be back to buying in hardcover versions.(less)
Back when gas was a nickel a gallon and I was able to fill my Model T for less than $1.00, young adult books meant exactly that: appropriate for young...moreBack when gas was a nickel a gallon and I was able to fill my Model T for less than $1.00, young adult books meant exactly that: appropriate for young adults. Oh sure, there may have been some make-out scenes and a veiled reference to sexuality, but the young adult section consisted mainly of Judy Blume and Madeleine L'Engle books. Piers Anthony and his fondness for panty-showing was risque, and Blume's Forever downright dirty.
It is with this background, along with a dose of stupidity, that I picked up Marked, by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast, for my nine-year-old daughter.
::: Marked How? :::
Hear me out here; at first glance, Marked seemed like the ideal book for Beanie, who's read all the Harry Potter books as well as the first two Twilight novels. In Marked, Zoey is approached at school by a vampyre tracker, who marks her as one who will go through the Change, which we learn can be fatal. Those similarly marked leave life as they know it behind them and move into a residential school called House of Night, where they learn everything they will need to know for their new life.
Much like Harry Potter's move into the world of wizards, Zoey is swept up in an entirely new world. She quickly makes an enemy out of Aphrodite, the head of an elite society at school (see also: Harry Potter's nemesis Draco Malfoy), but has been taken under the wing of the school's High Priestess, Neferet (see also: Dumbledore).
This first book in the series takes us through Zoey's acclimation to the school, helped by her grandmother's Cherokee heritage and spiritual training, as well as what appears to be a very special mark; the usual crescent outline of a fledgling vampyre is fully filled in by the time Zoey arrives at the House of Night, much like that of a mature vampyre (see also: Harry's lightning scar).
::: What Could Go Wrong? :::
In my stupidity, I handed over the book without reading it first. Probably not my finest parenting moment, because, as a friend was kind enough to point out, a scene and resulting discussion that occurs early in the book is so not appropriate for pre-teens (or even young teens) that I was in serious mother fail territory. In Zoey's very first walk through the halls of the school, she comes upon two fledglings, one of whom is attempting to perform oral sex on the other. We meet them again later as Zoey's arch-nemesis and potential love interest, but even if the act itself is implied and not completed, Zoey's resulting inner dialogue discusses "blow jobs" with great frequency. In other words, I apparently get to have a conversation with my pre-teen I'd hoped to put off for a few more years.
The popularity of the book (and its associated series) really isn't a mystery, however. Take the currently popular vampire genre, add in a splash of the best-selling childrens books of all time (Harry Potter) with a splash of goddess mythology and Wicca and you have a book designed to entice younger girls. It's an easy read, and were it not for the overt sexual discussion and other inappropriate-for-tweens-and-young-teens situations and actions, one I would have probably let Sissy read, even with the occasional profanities. As it stands, as a parent, I'd have appreciated a warning in the book blurb about how adult some of the themes were, pushing this out of what I'd consider to be the realm of "young adult" even if the story's heroine is 16 years old.
I'll be back to reading books before letting my kids read them, but in the meantime, I'd recommend this for adults who liked the Harry Potter and Twilight books, as well as older teens who are fans of same.
My third-grader asked me to join a school book club with her, which I have dutifully read for every month. Unfortunately, aside from the single Judy B...moreMy third-grader asked me to join a school book club with her, which I have dutifully read for every month. Unfortunately, aside from the single Judy Blume title (FRECKLEJUICE), I haven't enjoyed a single one of them.
Louis Sachar is an award-winning children's writer (for HOLES), and the Marvin Redpost series (of which A FLYING BIRTHDAY CAKE is a part) has been very popular.
However, neither my third-grader nor I particularly cared for the book.
Mind you, it's a bit beneath her reading level at this point, but even if it did take her longer than 30 minutes to read this, I'd still probably have the same reaction: just because readers are children doesn't mean they need to be hammered over the head.
The book seems to lose its train of thought at several places. It begins at a sleepover party, then a new boy arrives at school. We have the moral story of "it's good to not go along with the crowd when they're bullying that is so outrageous even my daughter said "Uh, is the teacher even there?" and then some allusion back to the beginning of the story.
At times it's difficult to even tell who the main character is supposed to be, especially at the beginning, and the entire story seems awkwardly set up.
It leaves me to wonder whether the market is so small for chapter books because so many of them seem designed just to get children to read words rather than actually make them want to know more about a story.(less)