This might not be the most coherent of reviews because I totally loved this book. It’s the whole cliché – I laughed, I cried, and I was completely disThis might not be the most coherent of reviews because I totally loved this book. It’s the whole cliché – I laughed, I cried, and I was completely disappointed when it was over.
Piper was a fantastic heroine with a great character arc. Sometimes you read a book, and even when it’s good, the character journey is pretty predictable, but I never felt that way with Piper. She begins as a fantastically intelligent girl who struggles to express her personality both at school and with her family. Many of her difficulties originate in her lack of confidence – not in herself so much but in her ability to find a voice in a world that highly values hearing and speech and dismisses most other forms of communication. When she decides to become the manager of a high school band, she’s forced to confront society’s paternalist attitudes towards Deaf people and Deaf culture head on. Piper moves from mainly a passive role in society to a person who knows what she wants and how to achieve it. It’s something she’s always known – we learn very quickly that she’s an insanely good and aggressive chess player but the process of applying this to her own life is a complicated one.
She’s snarky, determined, crazy smart, and completely stupid about boys. I absolutely fell in love with her the instant she appeared on the page.
I also loved every member of her very present family. Each member of the family is going through their own struggle. Her father’s trying to adapt to the loss of his job and becoming the stay-at-home parent, her mother deals with suddenly being the sole income and the secondary caregiver, her little brother Finn (who I utterly adored and wanted as my own brother) is trying to adapt to going to high school as the “brother of the deaf girl.” And the baby just received cochlear implants that will allow her to enter the hearing world. Sometimes even when a family or parents appear in a YA novel, their lives seem to revolve around the central character’s, but it’s clear in The Five Flavors of Dumb that each of these people has their own life, their own inner struggles, and the story becomes not just Piper’s but the entire family’s especially as they all try to resolve the conflicts between the hearing members – now including the baby, Grace - and Piper’s Deafness.
The titular band is also comprised of strong and interesting personalities, and there’s really no need for external conflict because the interpersonal issues are set up so well. Even so, there’s definitely two tiers of character development within the band – the girls - Tash and Kallie - and Ed become fully three-dimensional characters while Josh and Will lurk in the background even when Josh acts as antagonist to his own band.
While there isn’t any overt violence or sexual themes in the book, the narration shies away from absolutely nothing. Some of the themes and emotions are raw enough that it feels like the book is addressing much more controversial issues, and that just strengthens the overall text. There’s so much in this book that I loved! If I could think of a cool way to do it, I'd draw a comparison between this book and the movie Almost Famous because while the story is completely different, the ability of music to save and transform lives comes through in the similar ways. Seriously, go read this book. I can’t even stress that enough....more
So this book? Totally adorable. I don’t usually stay up past my bedtime to read a middle grade book, but that’s what happened tFrom Books and Threads.
So this book? Totally adorable. I don’t usually stay up past my bedtime to read a middle grade book, but that’s what happened the other night as I raced to finish and see what the ending was going to be. If you ever watched Frontier House or just dreamed about what living on the prairie like Laura Ingalls might be like, you’d probably enjoy this one.
I really liked Gen as our narrator. She moaned and complained like any thirteen year old girl, but her complaining never slipped into ‘just grow up already’ territory or got on my nerves. It probably helped that she had a lot to complain about - I’d complain too if I were dragged to a summer long farming experience without being able to brush my teeth or check my email, and I’m into historical interpretation! She’s smart and observant and manages to find the humour and absurdity in her own situation - trying to pump herself up by singing Beat It to the corn or accidentally peeing on her stocking because she can’t make herself use the outhouse. Which is where the blog comes in, of course, as Gen texts her observations to her friends back home using a smuggled in cell phone and one of them (they never appear except by text so I can barely distinguish between them) posts her texts on a blog for her computer science summer school class.
Gen’s family is also a well-developed combination of characters. At first I was a little concerned because her father’s defining characteristic seemed to be being afraid of bears and her mother’s was a determined cheerfulness in spite of all reality. But as the book continued - and Gen matured a little and began to see more clearly - her parents emerged as three-dimensional characters in their own right. Gavin, her ten year old little brother, became one of my absolute favourite characters with his epic fishing prowess and attachment to the family chickens. I really enjoyed watching Gen and Gavin’s relationship develop from one of benign neglect into a real partnership and friendship between the siblings.
Camp Frontier itself made me stare and mutter things like “there is NO WAY their insurance company would allow this.” When the campers arrive, they’re fed a communal supper by the camp owners and then bundled off to their separate farm plots with no training, no instructions, just a “go to, cook on the wood stove, farm that corn, and kill those chickens! Here’s some cornmeal and possibly rancid salt pork! And, oh, by the way, you’re being graded!” Obviously the book’s scope wasn’t to question the insane decisions (or insurance premiums) of the insane owners, but I kept wanting to tell them that if they attached a week of instructions on how to actually perform the tasks being asked, the families would probably have a much better time of it!
The other camp families (there are four total) were an amusing combination of survivalists, a newly blended family trying to coalesce, and parents trying to give their little girl the vacation of her dreams. We don’t get to know the other families as well as Gen’s of course so they’re mainly sketched in, but the narrative manages to make them all seem real as they struggle with similar issues of farming and feeding their families with limited provisions and a woodburning stove. The other children become more major as Gen and Gavin bond with them over the insanity of the camp and their attempts to perform 19the century chores. I really liked the sweet possibly developing relationship between Gen and Caleb, the hot felt hat-wearing neighbor boy.
This review sounds overly gushing, and I suppose that it is, but it was a very cute book that never pretended to be more than what it is while portraying a very different type of summer vacation from the more normal beach reads. Gen grows up a lot over the course of the book, and the reader gets the pleasure of seeing how this changes her and her relationships to her family and community. I’d definitely recommend Little Blog on the Prairie....more
I loved this book. Like “it needs to come live with me right now” love. But I’m not entirely convinced that all the readers of A Brief History of MontI loved this book. Like “it needs to come live with me right now” love. But I’m not entirely convinced that all the readers of A Brief History of Montmaray will feel the same way. While A Brief History... is a short book with spurts of adventure and action, FitzOsbornes in Exile feels much more like an ‘adult’ book set in late-1930s high English society. There are debutante balls, politics, references to the Mitford sisters and British Fascists and the League of Nations, and a great cameo by a young Jack Kennedy.
So I think you need to be at least a little interested in interwar Europe or high Society to really enjoy this book. Or possibly just too much in love with the wonderful FitzOsborne siblings. Otherwise it may seem overly long and boring in places.
With that out of the way, I’ll continue! We still get Sophie as our narrator though this time her journal entries are often from a much greater distance that in the first book. I kind of loved how much the book felt like a real journal with Sophie often opening the entries with “I meant to be writing in this more often, but...” Or maybe that’s just my journals that always end up that. She’s definitely grown up after the events of A Brief History..., and I loved seeing how she’d matured (and continued to mature). She’s no longer the sweet, slightly naive girl - well, she’s still sweet - but she understands politics much more deeply and comes to play an ever more important role in Montmaray politics (otherwise known as the disputes within her family). Sophie’s the girl that no one notices because she’s shy and quiet but who observes absolutely everything and then uses it to her (sometimes) slightly Machiavellian advantage.
It’s really interesting to see England as a whole and London Society through the lens of a girl who’s only ever lived on an island and barely known more than 15 people in her entire life. Sophie, her cousin Veronica (my second favourite character in the books), and her little sister Henry all have to adapt to the expectations of girls - and Princesses! - by the upper class. For all of them, the adaptation is difficult, but perhaps especially so for the incredibly intelligent and outspoken Veronica who can’t bear to play the sweet, silent debutante. Her arguments about politics during dinners and parties are some of my favourite parts of the book. As is Henry’s expedition to have tea with Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at Buckingham Palace.
I didn’t mention it in my previous review, but I also liked the not-just-friends relationship between Toby (the new King of Montmaray and Sophie’s elder brother) and Simon (the ‘Lord Chancellor’ of their country). The reactions of the older girls to the discovery of this relationship is perhaps a little too blase for the times, but watching both Toby and Simon try to decide if their connection is worth maintaining in the face of a society that wholeheartedly disapproves of it - not to mention the fact that Toby needs to produce an heir - was both interesting and a little heartbreaking.
The climax of the book is just before World War II breaks out and occurs at a League of Nations meeting (seriously. My little international relations-loving heart was a-flutter) which was again, very different from the first book and perhaps exemplifies the completely different tack this book takes. The reader gets to watch Veronica come into her own, and it took everything I had not to stand up and cheer. Well, also I don’t want people to think I’m entirely insane.
I’m thrilled to find out there’ll be a third book featuring the FitzOsbornes, and I look forward to reading it as soon as it comes out. Like I said at the beginning, this book won’t be for everyone, but if you’re at all interested, I’d completely recommend it. ...more
I devour books about Queen Victoria, her family, her Court, the society, everything. It’s a quirk, I know, and I couldn’t tell you why I’m so intrigueI devour books about Queen Victoria, her family, her Court, the society, everything. It’s a quirk, I know, and I couldn’t tell you why I’m so intrigued by that awfully stuffy Queen and her enormous family, but I’ll read anything that comes out about her. Which is one of the reasons why I love the mini-explosion of books about Victoria R including the fantastic movie released recently Young Victoria. Not so surprisingly, I loved it.
So I was excited to see this novelization of the year leading up to Victoria’s accession to the throne in 1838. It’s a well-documented time period - not the least through her numerous diaries - and the history of her childhood and teenage years needs little dramatization to be interesting. Michaela MacColl has obviously done a lot of research into this period and what results is a fantastic introduction to seventeen year old Victoria (or Drina as her family called her - smartly MacColl omitted this and thereby avoided possible confusion). This is really the perfect book to recommend to someone who’s seen Young Victoria but maybe doesn’t want to dive into heavy (but excellent) biographies like Hibbert’s Queen Victoria: A Personal History or Kate Williams Becoming Queen Victoria.
Our entry to Princess Victoria’s world is the recently orphaned Liza. Left destitute by her parents’ sudden death, she manages to turn her upper middle class background and knowledge of languages into a position as a lady’s maid to the Princess and her companion/governess Baroness Lehzen. She’s immediately introduced to the tensions and intrigues in Kensington Palace as she’s asked to use her fluency in German to spy upon Sir John Conroy and the Princess’ mother, the Duchess of Kent.
I really love the use of Liza (a completely fictional character) both to give the reader a newcomer’s view to the insanity of Victoria’s life at the time and as a young girl trying to make her way in a world both beyond her ken and so very different from the introduction at Court and rich marriage that her parents expected. The daughter of a merchant, Liza views the world from a transactional basis: if she serves Victoria well, the Princess might reward her when she becomes the Queen, if she’s rewarded, she can retake her position in society and make that rich marriage she hoped for. But as Liza serves and becomes friends with the Princess and also is introduced to the wider world beyond the palace, her focus slowly changes to one encompassing the possibility of true happiness and (oh yes) love. The character development seen here is a lot of fun to watch, and while some of Liza’s escapades seem unlikely, her intelligence and interest in the world is both endearing and makes her a likable heroine.
As much as I enjoyed Liza, I absolutely adored the characterization of the Princess Victoria. She’s so different from the popular culture image of “we are not amused,” black-clad Victoria of her later years, but you can still see how the eighteen year old can develop into that woman. She's not always nice especially to those she considers below her, and one can very clearly see the blinders she wears that often block her empathy or loyalty to any besides herself and her governess. Victoria struggles with her position in her family, resisting her mother and Sir John Conroy’s attempts to control her, and asserting any measure of power she can in the very restrictive and sheltered atmosphere of Kensington Palace. It's a measure of MacColl's skill that in spite of this, Victoria still emerges as an engaging and sympathetic character.
I was really thrilled that MacColl decided to expand her focus include the quickly changing society outside the palace walls. With Liza - and to a lesser extent Victoria - we get to explore London, the continued rise of newspapers and broadsheets and the professional middle classes, the position of women in society, and especially the plight of those lower class women without protection from society, the law or any opportunity to move up in the world. Liza's love interest is a (very charming) printer who helps widen the focus of the story as well as the two rather sheltered girls at the heart of it.
I loved reading Prisoners in the Palace though I almost didn’t pick it up due to the truly unfortunate cover. Don’t be turned off by that though, and definitely check it out if you’re interested in women in history or Victoria herself. It's a fantastic historical read with just enough fiction (what's fiction is clarified in the afterword for those interested) to the historical fact and some truly interesting characters....more
I wanted to reread Birthmarked before reading its sequel Prized, and since I never reviewed it, I’m going to do so now. Of courFrom Books and Threads.
I wanted to reread Birthmarked before reading its sequel Prized, and since I never reviewed it, I’m going to do so now. Of course, I’m not totally comfortable reviewing rereads so we’ll see how this goes. On the second read, this book still makes me love it and shudder at the thought of my beloved Great Lakes going dry and becoming desert-dry valleys or ‘unlakes’ in the parlance of the book.
Gaia is an interesting heroine. She’s a midwife instead of the ass-kicker more common to young adult fiction. She’s also incredibly stubborn, not terribly quick on her verbal feet, and has built rarely-breached walls around herself. Gaia believes she fell into a pot of hot melted beeswax when she was a baby, causing a massive scar across her left cheek. The scar and the stares caused by it have caused her to pull into herself, pushing away anyone who tries to become anything closer than an acquaintance. I seriously enjoyed watching her grow from a reticent village midwife into someone who could very easily be called a freedom fighter.
On the other hand, her about face from dutifully taking newborn babies from their mothers to deliver to the walled Enclave to thinking that the Enclave’s system was evil happened almost too quickly - within just a matter of pages. But once Gaia decides something, she decides it with her entire heart and judges all those around her accordingly. It’s a trait I enjoy in main characters even when it makes me want to repeatedly beat them over the head for being a judgemental ass. Her utter loyalty to those she loves - her parents who she runs into danger for, the babies she delivers, her friend Emily who she’d protect at all costs - dovetails nicely with the decisiveness. They combine to effect most of the action in the book.
The overarching world-building in Birthmarked isn’t always of the highest caliber. It’s understandable that the characters wouldn’t wander around talking about whatever happened 300 years ago to cause the climate to change and the lakes to dry up. But some additional information about the current society, how the Enclave and Wharfton developed and how they currently function would have been interesting. My biggest issue here is the use of hemophilia. Those who live in the Enclave (inside the wall) are suffering from inbreeding, and one of the results in this society is ever more common occurrences of hemophilia. Except that it seems to be used incorrectly. Hemophilia is a recessive trait carried on the X chromosome which makes boys more likely to inherit the disease while girls tend to be carriers. So why then does O’Brien have a family with a healthy son and a daughter who died of hemophilia? If both parents have the gene, than both the father and the son should also have the disease. It’s a frustrating problem because hemophilia is such a well-known disease. A rare disease could have gotten away with some errors, and I wish O’Brien had chosen to go in that direction.
This bugs me even more because so much of O’Brien’s other worldbuilding is incredible. Her details about midwivery and herbs are obviously well-researched and considered. The description of Gaia’s rundown village of Wharfton as teeming with life contrasting with the literal and figurative sterility of the Enclave was very well done. The comparison managed to be subtle and slowly grow throughout the story instead of hitting the reader over the head with its obviousness.
There’s very little romance so if that’s what you’re looking for, I’d probably advise another book, but Gaia and her potential love interest have a well-developed relationship that moves from antagonism to uneasy allies to antagonism again to potential friends or more. I was pleasantly surprised that the interactions managed to avoid all the cliches from hate-at-first-sight to insta-love or starcrossed lovers.
The end of Birthmarked throws everything completely up in the air, and I don’t expect Prized to cover any of the same ground (literally or figuratively) as the first book in the trilogy. It should be an interesting ride! I’d definitely recommend Birthmarked to anyone looking for a character-driven dystopian novel with a stubbornly determined heroine at the heart. ...more
This book creeped me out. I seriously stayed up until about 5am so I could finish it and find out what the HECK was going on. (What the heck in a goodThis book creeped me out. I seriously stayed up until about 5am so I could finish it and find out what the HECK was going on. (What the heck in a good way. I could not figure it out.)
This was an old-fashioned Gothic horror novel that probably would’ve been published as an adult novel if YA wasn’t having such a renaissance because it read very much like the old-fashioned Victoria Holt/Daphne DuMaurier/even Ann Radcliffe (if we’re going to get old school) type of story. There were Gothic plot twists galore from identical twins parted at birth to hidden passageways to threatening stepfathers to a protagonist who rarely leaves her home.
Speaking of, I actually really loved the old-fashionedness of that last. Lucy, our book-reading heroine, stays home like a proper upper class lady of the early 20th century unless she’s paying calls with her mother or walking in the park with a chaperone. It’s not a lifestyle I would ever enjoy, but it’s completely appropriate for the time period and very rare to see used in a modern book. I like it when heroines aren’t always snarky and spunky. Lucy was thoughtful and over-analyzed things and people way, way too much. But she remained a good judge of character - and she knows it. Which makes the denouement that much more confusing and traumatising for her. Oh, and she liked to read. A lot. I’d like to draw a parallel between Lucy Sexton and Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland just because it amuses me, but beyond the obvious heroines in a ‘Gothic’ novel sense, the only comparison is in my imagination...and the fact both like to read. A lot. And that neither, if seen in their infancy, would have supposed them to be born a heroine.
Though we see them only from Lucy’s perspective, the supporting cast was well-developed also. The identical twins, Aliese and Helen, remained a bit mysterious as they really needed to in order for the plot to work, but watching as Lucy begins to not be able to tell the difference between her mother and her Aunt Helen was chilling. Lucy’s father and Kit, the handsome boy next door, were more fully drawn as Lucy knows them better, and both were characters I enjoyed very, very much. (I want a Kit. Can I have one now please?)
This is the first book I’ve read by the author, and I’ll be happy to see if the library has any other copies of her work. The Twin’s Daughter wasn’t the best book I’ve read this month or this year, but it was a creepy and fun ride...just don’t expect to go to bed once you get into it....more
I know, I know, I’m late to the party for this book. I don't have any good excuse - I read Tithe years ago and enjoyed Black's work on The SpiderwickI know, I know, I’m late to the party for this book. I don't have any good excuse - I read Tithe years ago and enjoyed Black's work on The Spiderwick Chronicles, but for some reason I never picked up White Cat. Beyond my lateness, I don’t usually review books right after reading them, but last night, I stayed up way, way too late to finish White Cat because I couldn’t put it down.
White Cat hit so many of my story kinks: complicated sibling relationships, boarding schools, an alternate reality with a well-thought out magic system and interesting political atmosphere, and a boy-girl relationship that went beyond love at first sight (I know, it’s sad that becomes something to look for).
I really enjoyed Cassel as the narrator, and I say that as someone who generally does prefer female narrators in my reading. He was an interesting and well-fleshed out character who grew dramatically during the course of the book. The reader gets to watch as Cassel struggles with conflating the mantra that family is everything which had been literally cursed into him with the possibility that his brothers had treated him as just another mark. There are times when it feels like Cassel descends into too much self-pity, but as both a teenager and someone dealing with the betrayal of everything he thought true, it also feels excusable.
The politics of Black’s world are a lot of fun to read about (if probably not so much fun to live). While the debate about registration and testing of the ‘curse workers’ feels a little X-Men, the history revealed in the rise of the magic using crime families and the constitutional amendment against magic gave the paranormal aspect a thorough grounding in society. I especially liked the societal mandate to always wear gloves - and the fact that Black takes that to its obvious conclusion with the touch of bare flesh on skin becoming both slightly titillating and scary.
Finally, Lila struck me as a fantastic character. The daughter of a crime lord, she was both a lot more violent and less caring than most female YA characters - as the daughter of a crime lord should be. I’m not one for wanting to read versions of a book with another viewpoint character, but I think that a Lila-POV story would be a lot of fun to see.
I’m reading Red Glove now, and I’m pretty sure that the wait until April for the trilogy’s conclusion is going to be agonizing. ...more
Did you know Orson Scott Card could still write a good book? Apparently he can. Along with my brother and dad, I read and enjoyed OSC as a child and tDid you know Orson Scott Card could still write a good book? Apparently he can. Along with my brother and dad, I read and enjoyed OSC as a child and teenager - Ender’s Game, the Alvin Maker books, that sadly unfinished Homecoming series, but more recently I’d stopped reading him almost completely, turned off by the quality of his more recent books.
Pathfinder, however, is a pleasant return to old form. I don’t really know why I picked it up off the library’s shelf, but from page one, following Rigg and his childhood friend Umbo on their way to fulfill the last wish of Rigg’s father - that he meet his sister - is an interesting and well-written story.
The journey of a talented and well-educated young boy isn’t exactly new territory for Card, and while Rigg is a worthwhile and interesting protagonist, he starts the story almost fully formed by the education his father provided. As we get to know Rigg, we see different facets of his personality, but the book’s character development takes place mostly in the secondary characters. These friends and companions of Rigg grow and change as they learn about themselves, their society, and the odd talents many of them seem to possess.
Spanning from the backwoods of ‘upriver’ to thecapital of their world, Card takes his time to look at the subtle changes of culture and language as Rigg, Umbo, and Loaf, their self-appointed guardian, travel towards the city and the discovery of Rigg’s true identity. Very quickly we learn that he may be the scion of a recently deposed Imperial family, and while his ‘father’ has subtly trained Rigg for this, stumbling blindly into a wasp’s nest of politics and rebellion never leads to good times for our characters. As is this author’s wont, sometimes Card’s plot takes a turn into discussing his own feelings on politics, but this proselytizing is easily overlooked and not terribly distracting.
My absolute favourite part of this book is the time travel aspects. As I described it to a friend, the book is time travel without paradox. The characters cross and recross their own timestreams, making changes as they go. The chapter prologues also play into part of the time travel story though in a subtle way that reveals itself as the book continues. It’s an intriguing way to look at time travel and one quite different from the ones we usually see in science fiction and fantasy.
I didn’t realise Pathfinder was the first in a proposed trilogy until after I finished. I look forward to reading the remaining books, but Pathfinder ends in a way that could easily make it read as a standalone novel. This book is an intriguing combination of high fantasy and science fiction and may be especially enjoyed by preteen and teenage boys....more