Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Salt Letters - Christine Balint

Rated: B-




The Salt Letters: A Novel

Synopsis
(from Barnes & Noble)

Christine Balint's vivid first novel is the story of one woman's dramatic and agonizing journey from her home in genteel England to the then-unknown New World of Australia in 1854. Traveling in steerage aboard The Maiden Tide, Sarah is thrown into claustrophobic, filthy, and often flooded quarters with other "unmarried women," who stoically endure one horrific hardship after another: illness, infection, heat stroke, and lice, for starters. To pass the time, the women tell stories about the lives they've left behind, revealing tightly held secrets to the strangers who have become their traveling companions. But it's Sarah's memories of life at home in Shropshire, thoughts of her family and her cousin Richard, that keep her sane. She attempts to write to her mother, explaining the reasons for her departure and begging for forgiveness, but she is unable to finish the letters she begins. And she longs to see her cousin Richard, for whom she has left England for a more welcoming New World where she has heard that hard work is well rewarded and the soil is "moist and thick with nuggets of gold." Lush with sensuous prose and authentic detail, The Salt Letters is the tale of a woman whose physical and emotional limits are stretched to the breaking point -- all in the name of love. It is a compelling read by a truly "great" new writer.

Thoughts

I thought the prose was very fluid, very like an impressionist painting - the picture is vivid, but it's never ugly.  It definitely mirrors the thematic references to water.  Although I loved the way the words connected - more often than not, the thoughts do not connect nearly as well.  The book is full of water metaphors - but there are so many of them and there are so many insinuations that it becomes very unclear about what is actually going on, what she is remembering, and what she is imagining.  Is she pregnant?  Is Richard her half brother?  I believe the answer to these two are yes, but they are never really answered.  Is he on the ship with her?  Is he still alive?  Is he?  Those answers are much more ambiguous.  And the most vague of all - what is the meaning and importance of all the water metaphors?  The ending left me very confused with a distinct feeling of dissatisfaction to all of the questions I still had left.

Overall

I loved the prose, but I feel like the rest of the story was sacrificed to the superiority of the prose.  I like fluidity in my prose, but not in differentiating between memory and present, reality and imagination.  I feel like the author got lost in her writing - in such a way that it was to her own detriment.  I would not feel inclined to recommend this novel, but I do not regret reading it.  Despite my confusion towards the plot, the writing was exquisite.  And I know this makes me a hypocrite for not rating it even lower (I've even revised it so it's not as high as I originally rated it - a 6) since I always say plot above all things...but I am such a sucker for beautiful prose.

Recommended

Historical fiction and poetry lovers

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Here On Earth by Alice Hoffman

Here on Earth (Oprah's Book Club)
Rating:  B+


Synopsis

From bestselling author Alice Hoffman comes Here on Earth, a spellbinding tale of love and obsession. After nearly twenty years of living in California, March Murray, along with her fifteen-year-old daughter, Gwen, returns to the small Massachusetts town where she grew up to attend the funeral of Judith Dale, the beloved housekeeper who raised her. Thrust into the world of her past, March slowly realizes the complexity of the choices made by those around her, including Mrs. Dale, who knew more of love than March could have ever suspected; Alan, the brother whose tragic history has left him grief-stricken, with alcohol his only solace; and Hollis, the boy she loved, the man she can't seem to stay away from. Erotic, disturbing, and compelling, Here on Earth is the dramatic and lyrical account of the joys of love, and the destruction love can release.

Thoughts

  Alice Hoffman is one of my favourite authors of this century.  I love how she takes you somewhere so dark, but always brings you back up for air, leaving you feeling like you have experienced something absolutely incredible.  I love how she is able to romanticize even the darkest tale.  That being said, this was a little too dark for my taste.  It describes how destructive love can be - how it can absolutely consume you.  A love like this painted in a better light would be how I would describe "true love" or your "soul mate" - how this one person draws you in and is the one match that understands your very core of being.  She paints the flip side of this - you can't help who this person is.  This person might be a despicable human being and you will love him or her just the same.   What Hoffman has created is a modern Wuthering Heights.  Normally I would like this.

  Let's start with Hollis - our Heathcliff of the novel.  Just like his predecessor, he is a dark, somewhat misunderstood villain.  You can understand his violent urges - jealousy, his resentment of his treatment as a youth, his need to control - but it somehow doesn't redeem his actions.  And beyond that, he is just so damn unlikeable!   I don't think Hoffman ever intends for us to like him either - he's possessive, callous, greedy, vengeful, and not a single character in the book likes him except for Hank, who worships him, and March.

March Murray.  Let's just start with her name.  It bothers me.  I couldn't really tell you why, perhaps it is the corny alliteration.  Or to make my next point, perhaps it is because it is an exceptionally bland name.  Which fits her exceptionally bland personality.  She seems to have almost no personality or distinguishing features other than the streaks of grey in her hair.  She is perfectly normal, and in my eyes, this is a fault.  This is all personal taste of course, I can understand why Hoffman chose to do this.  Just like Catherine (the elder) of Wuthering Heights, her story follows the same line - married to a man who she can not love back despite his exceeding kindness.  In both tales her brother is a man who despises the Heathcliff character and makes "Heathcliff's" life miserable.  After the brother falls from grace, "Heathcliff" takes his vengeance out on the brother's son.

This son in Hoffman's novel is Hank.  Despite Hollis's blatant mistreatment of Hank, Hank considers what Hollis does for him generous.  Hank is also Hollis's biggest foil - What Alan does to Hollis is the exact same situation Hollis puts Hank in.  Unlike Hollis, Hank shows gratitude, ethics, and goodwill towards all.  He does not maintain a state a resentment except, perhaps, to his father.  Hank was too naive for my taste, but as a character he really grows, and I grew to like him as well.

Out of all the characters though, Gwen has the most growth.  She starts out as a horribly bratty teen - I really disliked her character.  But when her mother reverts to being the child, Gwen really pulls herself together and takes care of things.  By the end of the book she was probably my favourite character.  Both she and Hank have such a mature outlook on life and love which really contrasts with the insanity that makes up the love between their pseudo parents.

Overall

The prose was beautiful as always with Alice Hoffman's work.  I thought it was very well-written, especially in her ability to use every character and every action for a specific reason.  It just didn't work for me.  The subject material and the way it was approached was a little darker than I liked.  I probably would have liked it if I had really felt a connection with any of the main characters.  Without that connection, it made it really hard for me to wade through.  A good book - just not for me.

Recommendations

The chick lit reader who enjoys tackling serious books, Oprah book club lovers (I've found that there are many books that I feel I should like but just can't bring myself to do it are on this list.  It's very strange), anyone who is a sucker for great flowing prose.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I'm back!!

I know it appears that I have vanished off the face of the earth for the past month, but I'm back (I know you thought you got rid of me :-p).  Moving took over a good few weeks of my life and I was excited to make use of my free weeks before school works - guess whose school blocks off this site?  Typical.  BUT I have internet now - it's been almost a month without it!!  So now that I've come up with my billions of excuses I shall go back to celebrating and enjoying my absolutely fabulous balcony.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell


Synopsis

Barnes and Noble:  "Let us begin with two girls at a dance," writes Maggie O'Farrell, and the reader is immediately pulled into a journey across continents, generations, and the hidden landscapes of the heart. The story she tells encompasses the confused present of a contemporary young woman, Iris Lockhart; the unsuspected past of Iris's grandmother, Kitty, adrift in the forgetfulness of Alzheimer's; and the long-concealed life of Kitty's sister Esme, who has spent a lifetime institutionalized for refusing to accept the conventions of 1930s Edinburgh society.

At the novel's opening, Iris's complicated life demands all her attention: Her vintage clothing shop barely turns a profit, she's having an affair with a married man, and she's never fully reconciled her intense attraction to her step-brother. But all this is pushed aside when Esme's existence is revealed to her, and she discovers that a great-aunt she never knew has been locked away for 60 years, a patient in a mental hospital that's preparing to close its doors for good. After initially refusing to do so, Iris decides to care for Esme and brings the elderly stranger into her home. As the two women become acquainted, Esme's memories—the childhood she and Kitty shared in India, the death of their young brother, the family's migration to Scotland, and Esme's youthful rebellion against the mores of her class—transform Iris's sense of her family's past, opening a vault of secrets that will change the character of everything she thought she knew.

With seamless narrative artistry, O'Farrell weaves an enthralling tale—and builds page-turning suspense—while shifting between Iris's and Esme's points of view, illuminating both with Kitty's fractured but vivid recollections. The taut fabric of the novel's telling enmeshes the reader in a tangled web of jealousy, deception, and betrayal that is shocking, heartbreaking, and unforgettable. Alive with the energy of trapped desires, 
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a riveting work of literary imagination. 


Thoughts

When I closed this novel I was stunned.  I can not articulate how satisfied, confused, angry, delighted...but most of all how completely astounded I was.  I immediately wanted reread it - an urge I have never felt before.  Usually I sit and revel in the feeling of finishing a good book.  This one had me in a frenzy!

This review will be very hard - I have to convince you to absolutely read this novel...without letting the smallest secret slip, or the ambiance of the novel will be ruined.  O'Farrell juxtaposed Iris, the typical modern day woman, with Esme, the typical modern day woman - who grew up in the early twentieth century.  Much of what we would consider given was absolutely taboo in Esme's time.  The biggest example?  Wanting to continue her education rather than get married.  A series of events, many of them catalyzed by Esme's unwillingness to conform led to her confinement in a mental institution.

During this period of time, families could force a woman into an asylum simply because they wanted to get rid of her.  This wasn't some third world thing or fiction - this really happened, and more often than one would think.  Want proof?  Google it - or watch The Changeling with Angelina Jolie, an accurate depiction of what women who didn't conform had to go through (accurate for Hollywood, anyway).
What Esme went through was only fiction in that her character isn't real.

Esme was sent to the institution due to her parents' intolerance of her actions - but she stayed there due to her sister's jealousy - and the unforgivable act that Kitty committed.  Through Esme's thoughts and Kitty's memories, the dark acts of this family is slowly revealed.  It is utterly captivating - my only criticism is that Iris's life and her own scandal are overshadowed by her grandparents' pasts.

The novel ends vaguely - you know what happened, but certain details are so vivid that you puzzle over the meanings.  Most of all though, you are left questioning Esme's state of mind - is she mentally imbalanced, or was her act deliberate, and cold-blooded?  After all, while she may not have originally been unbalanced, she spent 60 years forgotten by her family, heavily medicated, and alone.  And then there's Iris, and her messed up love life - the novel ends in the middle of a confession, leaving the reader wondering what her decision will be.

This novel is very dark, and very twisted - as it often is when a novel is written about a family.  O'Farrell mastered the effect of knowing just how much the reader really wants to know - after all a book like this doesn't have the same impact if every secret is revealed.  It worms its way into your thoughts there and stays there for weeks - maybe even months.  I would rank this book as a top 3 contender for books I've read this year, if not THE best book I have read this year.

Overall

This was one of my favourite books of the year, and quite possibly of the past decade.  Maggie O'Farrell perfected the balance of what to reveal and when, and what to just let peek out.

Recommended

Again this felt like "modern gothic literature" although I still have yet to really understand what it means.  So if you like novels like The Thirteenth Tale and The Shadow of the Wind, this will suit your taste.   Any one who loves a good scandal and dark family secrets will also love this book.

The reader should also enjoy quick narrator and time changes since whose point of view and when it takes place changes at least every few pages.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In the Company of the Courtesan - Sarah Dunant

Rated: C








In the Company of the Courtesan
Synopsis

My lady, Fiammetta Bianchini, was plucking her eyebrows and biting color into her lips when the unthinkable happened and the Holy Roman Emperor’s army blew a hole in the wall of God’s eternal city, letting in a flood of half-starved, half-crazed troops bent on pillage and punishment.
Thus begins IN THE COMPANY OF THE COURTESAN, Sarah Dunant’s epic novel of life in Renaissance Italy. Escaping the sack of Rome in 1527, with their stomachs churning on the jewels they have swallowed, the courtesan Fiammetta and her dwarf companion, Bucino, head for Venice, the shimmering city born out of water to become a miracle of east-west trade: rich and rancid, pious and profitable, beautiful and squalid.
With a mix of courage and cunning they infiltrate Venetian society. Together they make the perfect partnership: the sharp-tongued, sharp-witted dwarf, and his vibrant mistress, trained from birth to charm, entertain, and satisfy men who have the money to support her...

Thoughts

I was a little disappointed in this novel. I had thought I had read Birth of Venus by Dunant, but it turns out for some reason I confused it with The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland (I know, total sacrilege to the art students out there). I feel a bit sorry for the book because of this - it isn't fair to compare anyone to Vreeland, who is one of my absolute favourite authors.

Because I started with that standard in mind, the book was just a little trashier than I would have liked. Granted, it IS about a courtesan, but the prose itself is just...vulgar. Again, granted this is probably for the above stated purpose, but I just didn't enjoy it as much. Unfortunately it is really hard for me to separate the two books in my mind. Everything about this book was just...less complex. Not simple, per se, but just not as tightly woven as a Vreeland book. I also prefer more introspective and philosophical moments than this book displays. I think the reason I am having difficulty critiquing this book is because I feel like it is a book I should like - but because I was deceived (by myself, sadly) I feel strangely let down.

Overall

An ok book. Weak prose, but a stable story line/plot. I didn't really like it, but I don't feel it's any reason any one else shouldn't like it.

Recommended

Chick lit, historical fiction


                         
Book Review                                    Book Review





Thursday, July 15, 2010

Evermore - Alison Noel

Rated: D




Evermore: The Immortals
Synopsis

Since a horrible accident claimed the lives of her family, sixteen-year-old Ever can see auras, hear people’s thoughts, and know a person’s life story by touch. Going out of her way to shield herself from human contact to suppress her abilities has branded her as a freak at her new high school—but everything changes when she meets Damen Auguste…
Ever sees Damen and feels an instant recognition. He is gorgeous, exotic and wealthy, and he holds many secrets. Damen is able to make things appear and disappear, he always seems to know what she’s thinking—and he’s the only one who can silence the noise and the random energy in her head. She doesn’t know who he really is—or what he is. Damen equal parts light and darkness, and he belongs to an enchanted new world where no one ever dies.

Thoughts

While I found the novel addicting, addicting doesn't mean a book with substance. It was your typical teen drama. There isn't a whole lot to say...by typical teen drama this is what I mean.

Don't read if you don't want spoilers!!! (although really, as I said, none of it is surprising).


Girl: Gorgeous but doesn't know it. Something traumatic happened to her in the past and now she's withdrawn and all the popular girls hate her.

Boy: Gorgeous. Perfect. Loves girl.

Girl loves boy but best friend loves boy. Boy loves girl. Boys ex-girlfriend tries to kill girl. Turns out Boy and Girl are immortal and pretty much soul mates.

Overall

Twilight. Without the bloody vampires. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but I will not be reading the rest of the series unless completely desperate. This story has been told, oh, only about a billion times now! At least Gossip Girl brings somewhat original ridiculous drama, and at the time Twilight was somewhat original...all these copy-cat stories are really getting on my nerves. For what its worth, the author made an attempt at originality by creating something LIKE vampires but not.

Recommended

Teen readers, lovers of Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. Good for a fluff read if you want some easy drama to pass the time.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Ice Queen - Alice Hoffman

Rated: A








The Ice Queen: A Novel
Synopsis

Be careful what you wish for. A small town librarian lives a quiet life without much excitement. One day, she mutters an idle wish and, while standing in her house, is struck by lightning. But instead of ending her life, this cataclysmic event sparks it into a new beginning.
She goes in search of Lazarus Jones, a fellow survivor who was struck dead, then simply got up and walked away. Perhaps this stranger who has seen death face to face can teach her to live without fear. When she finds him, he is her opposite, a burning man whose breath can boil water and whose touch scorches. As an obsessive love affair begins between them, both are forced to hide their most dangerous secrets--what turned one to ice and the other to fire.

Thoughts

I have read a few of Alice Hoffman's books before, and each time I am shocked by how beautifully she writes. For some reason it catches me by surprise in every novel without fail. That said, I think this is my favourite novel so far. Hoffman's prose is...indescribable. It is delicate and beautiful, yet paints a graphic, detailed picture in the reader's mind. The story is part fairy tale, part real life. And, as the main character references, this is definitely a Grimm's Brothers fairy tale. At one moment tragic, the next redemptive, this book encompasses everything one could ever want in a novel. It is realistic, yet supernatural. It is tragic...yet leaves you feeling uplifted at the end of the novel. I always find it hardest to accurately describe the novels that have the hugest impact on me. Words simply become inadequate.

Another reason why I love this book? I didn't even realize it til writing this review - the main character remains nameless the whole book. It in no way distracts from the story - it only adds emphasis to her first 30 or so years of trying to disappear into the background.

My only criticism? I could not figure out how she found out the truth about her mother. Did Ned tell her? When? I also had difficulty understanding how attached she was to her grandmother given her wish to keep everyone, including family, at an arms length away. I also wish the book had been longer - it spent very little time on the resolution. I would have liked more time with Ned and finding out how her lover (I don't want to spoil the ending with names) came back into the picture.

Overall

I am too easily entranced by fairy tales and beautiful prose. I am not sure I would love this in a reread, but perhaps because I only read the novel a week ago, the impact is still fresh in my mind. I really loved this novel and the journey it took me on.

Recommended

I wouldn't recommend this for everyone. In fact...I'm not entirely sure who to recommend it to. People like me who love anything related to a fairy tale, anyone who loves good literature. Because of the themes of the story, its possible readers of Jodi Piccoult will enjoy this, although the approach and writing styles are completely different.



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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Peeps - Scott Westerfeld



Synopsis

A year ago, Cal Thompson was a college freshman more interested in meeting girls and partying than in attending biology class. Now, after a fateful encounter with a mysterious woman named Morgan, biology has become, literally, Cal's life.
Cal was infected by a parasite that has a truly horrifying effect on its host. Cal himself is a carrier, unchanged by the parasite, but he's infected the girlfriends he's had since Morgan. All three have turned into the ravening ghouls Cal calls Peeps. The rest of us know them as vampires. It's Cal's job to hunt them down before they can create more of their kind. . . .

Thoughts

I have to say this new fad of vampires has really fed me up with literature lately. Luckily, I read Peeps before Twilight, otherwise I would NEVER have picked this book up. If you are looking for sexy vampire love, don't look here. No sparkly vampires appear in this novel - vampirism is painted in a totally scientific light. Vampires are people who are infected with a parasitic virus. This is a totally new take on vampires and I love how it alternates between what is going on and descriptions of parasites. A chapter is devoted to the story line and characters, and then the following chapter juxtaposes this with a description of a parasite and how it works. This only emphasizes the scientific nature of vampirism and allows the reader to understand how the relationship between the parasite and the human interact. Although some readers may find this distracting, I liked how it was not incorporated into the story, allowing the reader to focus solely on Cal's life and the drastic changes he is going through as well as allowing the story line to build tension and anticipation as we discover why this outbreak has become so prevalent in modern times.

Overall

No matter how scientific the material can get, Scott Westerfeld manages to keep the story line from being bogged down and become stagnant. As always his prose keeps things humorous and filled with drama. An excellent read.

Recommended

Anyone who likes drama will like this, and while the typical sci-fi reader may not enjoy this, it will spark the interest of those who enjoy biology. Anyone who has read Westerfeld's other series (Uglies, Pretties, Specials) will enjoy this series. Specific audiences targetted: Chick lit (although the focus is not love, there is enough drama involved and some minor love scenes that chick lit readers should enjoy this) and teen readers with a selection of sci-fi readers.

P.s. I Love You - Cecily Ahern

Synopsis

"A novel about holding on, letting go, and learning to love again.
Now in paperback, the endearing novel that captured readers' hearts and introduced a fresh new voice in women's fiction" — Cecelia Ahern.

Holly couldn't live without her husband Gerry, until the day she had to. They were the kind of young couple who could finish each other's sentences. When Gerry succumbs to a terminal illness and dies, 30-year-old Holly is set adrift, unable to pick up the pieces. But with the help of a series of letters her husband left her before he died and a little nudging from an eccentric assortment of family and friends, she learns to laugh, overcome her fears, and discover a world she never knew existed.

Thoughts

I found that the topic was moving, but I was unimpressed at how it was executed. The ideas and actions often wandered - something deep would be discussed and then BAM! - they're in the middle of the ocean? I understand, having dealt with the deaths of people I love, how one moment you are ok and then something tiny sets you off. Ahern did a good job showing the reactions of those in grief...but at times the situations Holly is put in seem so contrived.

The prose was not sophisticated - it almost sounded as if it hadn't been proof read. It just sounded...juvenile almost. The dialogue sounded so forced! The vocabulary was not very diverse...it made it hard for me to get fully absorbed in the novel.

On the other hand, the concept of this novel was outstanding. Although the story line wavered at time, if it had a little more continuity I would have loved the entire premise of this book. Ahern's take on death and grief was perfect - many authors have the tendency to overdo it and then have the character magically ok a short time later. I felt she depicted Holly's journey in a true manner. I also liked the ending (I don't want to give a spoiler here, but if you read the novel, you will understand what I mean in regards to the man).

Overall

Overall, plot was good, writing was not. An ok read.

Recommended

Chick lit lovers who don't mind delving into a more serious topic.

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Book Review                                      Book Review





The Borgia Bride - Jeanne Kalogridis

Rated: 9 stars


The Borgia Bride: A Novel
>Synopsis

Vivacious Sancha of Aragon arrives in Rome newly wed to a member of the notorious Borgia dynasty. Surrounded by the city's opulence and political corruption, she befriends her glamorous and deceitful sister-in-law, Lucrezia, whose jealousy is as legendary as her beauty. Some say Lucrezia has poisoned her rivals, particularly those to whom her handsome brother, Cesare, has given his heart. So when Sancha falls under Cesare's irresistible spell, she must hide her secret or lose her life. Caught in the Borgias' sinister web, she summons her courage and uses her cunning to outwit them at their own game. Vividly interweaving historical detail with fiction, The Borgia Bride is a richly compelling tale of conspiracy, sexual intrigue, loyalty, and drama

Thoughts

If you like scandal, this book is for you. Although this is filled with the highest of taboos, this book manages to maintain beautiful character development and a full, deep plot - it escapes the typical downward spiral to Gossip Girl style (which, although a guilty pleasure of mine, does not count as any kind of serious literature). Although it has a slow start, I think it only adds to the depth of the novel as the first few chapters introduce you to the true character of the main players in this novel. You become so attached to Sancha that you feel her heartbreak and rage through each trial she has. Kalogridis's prose only enhances these feelings - she expresses Sancha's range of emotions - from love to hatred, rage to despair, perfectly. This book has EVERYTHING: a page-turning plot, expressive prose, excellent character development. What I love most about this book? Based on what I have read surrounding this era - despite all the mind-defying drama...it is a feasible interpretation of the Borgia's and those who were affected by their opulent lifestyle.

Overall

A very interesting interpretation of the historical events surrounding the mysterious deaths and scandals of the Borgias. Very well written, full of intrigue - historical fiction at its best. A very good read.

Recommended:

Historical fiction lovers - especially for possibly the most scandalous age of Italian history. This would also appeal to those who like reading about love, war, betrayal, etc. Basically a book that can appeal to anyone who doesn't mind a little history.




Friday, June 25, 2010

The Black Gryphon - Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon

Rated: D


The Black Gryphon (Mage Wars)
Synopsis(from allreaders.com)

"This book is listed as part of the Heralds of Valdemar series, but it actually takes place about 1000 years before Valdemar even existed. Ma'ar and Urtho, the Mage of Silence, are at war with one another. Skandranon, one of Urtho's gryphons, is a spectacular aerial fighter. Amberdrake, Skan's human friend, heals the minds, hearts, and, sometimes, bodies of many of the soldiers and healers, but even he sometimes needs a shoulder to lean on. Winterhart might be someone Amberdrake could come to depend on, but first she has to get past the secret about herself that she's buried and her belief that the nonhumans in Urtho's army are little more than somewhat intelligent animals. Zhaneel, another gryphon, has suffered because the humans around her believed that, but, with help from friends, her stunted self-esteem blossoms. In the end, they must all try to survive the consequences of the Mage Wars."
Melissa Cookson, Resident Scholar

Thoughts

This book didn't really do it for me. I'm pretty picky about books that feature other species like gryphons, faeries, elves, etc. All of the races here acted very human. I understand that part of the point here was interracial cooperation (showed through the species) and that the other species are human equals, but I feel that emotionally they should be tinged with other qualities. The story line was kind of iffy too - it ended up being kind of like a fantasy romance novel. It was a very stereo-typical for this genre, which isn't necessarily always a bad thing, but in this case it was for me. I knew EVERYTHING about what was going to happen within the first three chapters. It kinda takes the fun out of it when you know who's going to hook up with who, who's going to die, who's actually a traitor...it was too easy to see through! I'm the queen of looking up the ending of a book before I finish reading it, but the fun is in seeing how things get to that end.

Overall

A below-average book, but its good if you are in the mood for exactly what this book has to offer - no surprises, fantasy war and love.

Recommended

Sci-fi/fantasy readers, romance readers who don't mind other species being featured in the novel.
Fantasy/Sci-Fi Readers who don't mind romance.




Aquamarine & Indigo - Alice Hoffman

Rated: 5 stars

Aquamarine And Indigo - Water Tales
Synopsis:

Hailey and Claire are best friends and next-door neighbors. Throughout a long hot summer they spend their days at the Capri Beach Club, dreading the end of the season when Claire will move with her grandparents to Florida. The two girls are often the only ones using the Beach Club, which is in disrepair and will close at the end of the summer. After a violent storm that whips waves from the beach into the pool, they discover a mysterious presence at the bottom of the pool - a mermaid who has become separated from her kin and is in search of love on land. As they work together to help the mermaid survive and find her heart's desire, Hailey and Claire learn to accept their pending separation and appreciate the magic of each moment they spend together with Aquamarine.

The people of Oak Grove fear water because their town once endured a terrible flood, so they do everything to keep water out of the town. Martha Glimmer and her friends, Trevor and Eli McGill, feel different from others in the town. Martha's sadness is largely due to her mother's recent death. Her father has withdrawn into his own sorrow and allowed a neighbor, Hildy Swoon, to provide meals and tend their house, but Martha resents her presence bitterly. Trevor and Eli, nicknamed Trout and Eel by those who make fun of the webbing between their fingers, have had odd habits ever since they were brought to town by their adoptive parents. The boys like to add salt to their drinking water, prefer fish to any other food, and free the frogs from the science lab at school. Martha, Trout and Eel decide to leave home to find what each most desires, but their running is cut short by a storm that brings all characters in the story face to face with their own true nature.

Thoughts:

I was really, really surprised when I started reading this book - it hadn't occurred to me that Alice Hoffman had ever written children's books or young adult novels. I just saw who the author was and added the book to my wishlist, as I usually enjoy Alice Hoffman novels. So imagine my surprise when I cracked open the book! It wasn't what I wanted to read, and as its a children's book, I don't have a whole lot to say. I would say its innovative as far as a children's book goes and that my 8 year old cousin would probably love it.

Overall

Cute little kid short stories - definitely for a younger audience

Recommended

Children, probably aged 7-10. Younger if the child has the stamina for a simple chapter book.




Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Shoe Queen - Anna Davis

Rated: 9 stars


The Shoe Queen
Synopsis

1920s Paris. The ‘Crazy Years’. English society beauty Genevieve Shelby King parties till dawn with the artists and writers of bohemian Montparnasse. She has a rich husband, a glamorous apartment and an enormous shoe collection. But there is something hollow at the centre of Genevieve’s charmed life.

When she spots a pair of unique and exquisite shoes on the feet of her arch rival one night, her whole collection – indeed, everything she has – seems suddenly worthless. The exclusive designer Paolo Zachari, renowned for his fabulous shoes and his secretive life, hand-picks his clients according to whim. And Zachari has determined to say no to Genevieve.

As her desire for the pair of unobtainable shoes develops into an obsession with their elusive creator, Genevieve’s elaborately designed life comes under threat, and she is forced to confront the emptiness at its heart.

Thoughts

I first read Anna Davis in her novel Cheet, a novel about a woman who carries a different cell phone for each boy she's with. I was shocked when I found out The Shoe Queen is by the same woman! This is a complete change in genre, yet she doesn't fall short. This novel is filled with mystery - yet nothing that would not be found in any other woman's life in this time period. It's about the love versus duty. It is not - as the title implies some shopping crazed woman - Genevieve has great character depth. She's a real woman - which I love. Its hard to describe, but too often characters become mostly flawed, or mostly good. Genevieve does not have "flaws" or "good attributes" - she just is. I think Davis's approach to characters is my favourite thing about this novel. Everyone is real - its not separated into good or bad.

I also think she did a decent job depicting the bohemian life - although I can't say I have done much research in that area. All of the situations were plausible - in fact most of them were based on real events during that time.

Overall

A good read. Great character and plot development. A well researched book that feels very real - the way life really happens - no happy endings nor life shattering tragic endings.

Recommended

Chick lit and historical fiction readers. Any one who understands the beauty of shoes.



Mozart's Sister - Rita Charbonnier





Synopsis

The fascinating life of Wolfgang’s older sister, Nannerl—whose talent may have equaled her brother’s

Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart, affectionately called Nannerl by her family, could play the piano with an otherworldly skill from the time she was a child. At the tender age of five, she gave her first public performance, amazing the assembled gentlemen and ladies with the beautiful music she created.

Yet it was her brother, Wolfgang, who carried their father’s dreams of glory. As the siblings matured, Nannerl’s prodigious talent was brushed aside. Instead of playing alongside her brother in the world’s great cities, she was forced to stop performing and become a provincial piano teacher to support Wolfgang’s career. Nannerl might have accepted this life in her brother’s shadow but for the appearance of a potential suitor who reawakened her passion for life, for love, for music—and who threatened to upset the delicate balance that kept the Mozart family in harmony.

Thoughts

I thought this book was fantastic! Mozart is a household name, yet little is known about h
is prodigy sister. The story was very compelling and I felt the heartbreak and frustration with the protagonist (Mozart's sister). The story is told through different mediums - various letters, although most of the tale is told following Nannerl's point of view. It follows her growth from a young girl full of promise, to a bitter young woman, and ends as she finds herself a mature, grown woman who creates her own happiness. I was pleased to find this book was well researched - Mozart's travels, Nannerl composing, the beliefs and actions of the time period - all of these things are true. The liberties taken during this story to make it a fiction of work are very believable - and probably not too far off from what could have happened.

Overall

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Full of truth, yet without the stagnancy of a history text, there is much to be learned from this novel. The prose was well-written, the plot well thought out - overall a very well put together book. It has a little bit of everything - romance, drama, and most of all, music.

Recommended

Firstly, the music lovers - this would speak to you. Historical fiction lovers would also love this novel, as well as those who enjoy a strong female figure.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hacking Harvard - Robin Wasserman

Rated: 8 stars



Hacking Harvard
Synopsis

It's the ultimate challenge: breaking into the Ivy League.
The hack:
To get one deadbeat, fully unqualified slacker into the most prestigious school in the country.

The crew:
Eric Roth -- the good guy, the voice of reason.
Max Kim -- the player who made the bet in the first place.
Schwartz -- the kid genius already on the inside...of Harvard, that is.
Lexi -- the beauty-queen valedictorian who insists on getting in the game.

The plan:
Use only the most undetectable schemes and techno-brilliant skills. Don't break the Hacker's Code. Don't get distracted. Don't get caught. Take down someone who deserves it.

The stakes:
A lot higher than they think.

They've got the players, the plot, and soon -- the prize.
It's go time.

Thoughts

This is a nice easy read that entertains well without being entire fluff. It takes on the biased admissions process in Ivy League Schools, while managing to keep the story line pretty light. While the ending isn't too hard to figure out, the novel manages to stay fresh with the characters' witty banter and the insight into the stress induced by such a warped admissions system. The story incorporates a couple of unforeseen twists, love, family, friendship, cool technology...basically a little bit of anything anyone would ever want.

Overall

A witty, easy read that manages to touch on social issues without become didactic. Well written with a good ending.

Recommended

Young adult readers, chick lit readers, spy novel readers, computer geek readers - basically anyone from any genre that enjoys a little adrenaline rush.



Vivaldi's Virgins - Barbara Quick

alRated: 9 stars



Vivaldi's Virgins: A Novel


Synopsis

Barbara Quick re-creates eighteenth-century Venice at the height of its splendor and decadence. A story of longing and intrigue, half-told truths and toxic lies, Vivaldi's Virgins unfolds through the eyes of Anna Maria dal Violin, one of the elite musicians cloistered in the foundling home where Antonio Vivaldi—known as the Red Priest of Venice—is maestro and composer.

Fourteen-year-old Anna Maria, abandoned at the Ospedale della Pietà as an infant, is determined to find out who she is and where she came from. Her quest takes her beyond the cloister walls into the complex tapestry of Venetian society; from the impoverished alleyways of the Jewish Ghetto to a masked ball in the company of a king; from the passionate communal life of adolescent girls competing for their maestro's favor to the larger-than-life world of music and spectacle that kept the citizens of a dying republic in thrall. In this world, where for fully half the year the entire city is masked and cloaked in the anonymity of Carnival, nothing is as it appears to be.

Thoughts

You don't have to be a musician or history lover to be intrigued by this book. Narrated by a mostly fictional character, this protagonist gives us an insight into one of the most famous musicians of all time - Antonio Vivaldi. Set in an orphanage for young girls (really it was for illegitimate children), music was one of the few ways to become successful in these places. Vivaldi was a big part of that, composing, conducting, and teaching the students how to play.

This novel described 18th century Venice perfectly - with all of the usual scandal associated with it. Barbara Quick's protagonist had a strong voice, full of questions and yet maturity for a young 14 year old. Her story, and of course Vivaldi's story enrapture the audience through their pains and successes. I also applaud Quick's unique interpretation of Vivaldi's actions towards the end of his life.

Overall

A very interesting read. Music lovers will be interested in this of course, but the novel doesn't make Vivaldi a main character to the exclusion of Anna Maria's voice - she has mysteries and dreams of her own. This novel is about a young woman's struggle to find herself in a world where by birth she is excluded.

Recommended

Music lovers, historical fiction lovers, young adult readers, mystery lovers - this book really gives itself a wide audience.



Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Sleeping Beauty Proposal - Sarah Strohmeyer

Rated: F




The Sleeping Beauty Proposal
Synopsis

A wickedly funny fairytale for modern women from the “laugh-out-loud funny” (Washington Post Book World) author of The Cinderella Pact.Genie’s commitment-phobic boyfriend is finally proposing—on national television. To the woman he’s been seeing on the side. It’s a major wake-up call for a girl who’s hit the snooze button on her life a few too many times.With no names mentioned on the broadcast, Genie finds herself flooded with presents and congratulations. It’s up to her to explain the mistake, but sometimes waking up is hard to do.When her parents start planning the reception, she can’t help enjoying herself. Why call off the so-called engagement just yet? It’s fun to play princess. But unless a prince shows up—and soon—this dream could start getting weird.

Thoughts

This book was the most ridiculous piece of crap I have ever read. The plot is outlandish. The characters are insanely unbelievable. There was NO substance to this book. The main character is your stereotypical middle-aged woman. She talks about the same things all these woman talk about in these sort of books - weight and marriage. Her boyfriend is a grade-A asshole. Completely black character. The new love of her life is perfect: smart and absolutely gorgeous. These characters act to the extreme of their stereotype. Its almost laughable - if it didn't hurt so much to read it. I tried. I don't ever not finish a book, but this one sorely tempted me.

Overall

This book was not worth my time. It takes a lot for me to not enjoy anything about a book, but this book managed to be so ridiculously over the top it made it to my small list of least favourite books of all time.

Recommendations

No one. But if I'd have to pick, a chick lit fan with low standards.


The End - Lemony Snickett



Synopsis

You are presumably looking at the back of this book, or the end of the end. The end of the end is the best place to begin the end, because if you read the end from the beginning of the beginning of the end to the end of the end of the end, you will arrive at the end of the end of your rope.

This book is the last in A Series of Unfortunate Events, and even if you braved the previous twelve volumes, you probably can't stand such unpleasantries as a fearsome storm, a suspicious beverage, a herd of wild sheep, an enormous bird cage, and a truly haunting secret about the Baudelaire parents.

It has been my solemn occupation to complete the history of the Baudelaire orphans, and at last I am finished. You likely have some other occupation, so if I were you I would drop this book at once, so the end does not finish you.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket


Thoughts

Overall this series as a whole really made me tired. It took effort to go through the repetition and the story line began chasing itself in circles. However, the purposes of this book (and series) - expanding children's vocabulary, teaching ethics/morals, and introducing "the great unknown" (death) was very effective. The relationships and plots of this series are very complex and if you miss one detail you are lost, so I feel the series can only apply to a narrow age group - too simple to entertain older kids and too complicated for younger ones to understand, although its possible I underestimate children.

Despite my overall distaste for the series, I found this a very satisfactory ending to the series - this book was in the top three written for the series I would say due to mature ideas, great symbolism, and the ending of the book. Unlike most children's books, this series ends without answering all the questions - leaving the reader to decide the fate of the Baudelaire's, although *SPOILERS*the hints lean towards their probable death. *SPOILERS* This series really matured throughout its thirteen books.

Overall

I personally did not enjoy this novel or series. I read it because I started reading it and I HAVE to know how things end. I found the prose extremely irritating and the repetition of the plot only slightly less so. However, the mysteries that develop in each novel keep you hooked.

Recommended for

Children from the ages 8-13.



The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Rated: 7 stars





The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Random House Reader's Circle)
Synopsis

"I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers."
January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she's never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb...

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends — and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island — boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society's members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways

Thoughts

Set during WWII on a small island off the coast of England during German occupation, this book is narrated almost entirely through letters. This means that the POV gives a lot of different perspectives - kind of in first person, kind of in third person, it can cover a large assortment of experiences and emotions. I also liked how a book united a community during a Nazi occupation and how this book created relationships that spanned over countries. Very book empowering :-).

2/3 of the book have great character development and tension built up from the war as well as personal relationships. It is a little vague where the story is going however. The ending, sadly, falls short in comparison to the rest of the book. It is very cliche - a romance sprouts out of nowhere in the last few chapters of the book, finishing the novel. It seems very abrupt and out of character. There is a reason for this. Unfortunately the author died before she finished the book, leaving her niece to finish the book. I have to congratulate the niece for having the guts to pick up a story and try and match the style.

Overall

A decent read, relatively light-hearted for a historical fiction novel, especially during this time period.

Recommended

Historical fiction readers, chick lit, and anyone looking for a good, light read.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Elsewhere - Gabrielle Zevin



Synopsis:

Bookmooch:   Welcome to Elsewhere. It is warm, with a breeze, and the beaches are marvelous. It’s quiet and peaceful. You can’t get sick or any older. Curious to see new paintings by Picasso? Swing by one of Elsewhere’s museums. Need to talk to someone about your problems? Stop by Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatric practice.

Elsewhere is where fifteen-year-old Liz Hall ends up, after she has died. It is a place so like Earth, yet completely different. Here Liz will age backward from the day of her death until she becomes a baby again and returns to Earth. But Liz wants to turn sixteen, not fourteen again. She wants to get her driver’s license. She wants to graduate from high school and go to college. And now that she’s dead, Liz is being forced to live a life she doesn’t want with a grandmother she has only just met. And it is not going well. How can Liz let go of the only life she has ever known and embrace a new one? Is it possible that a life lived in reverse is no different from a life lived forward? This moving, often funny book about grief, death, and loss will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.


Thoughts


The first time I read this a few years back, I was absolutely captivated by the ideals behind this story. While the prose is simple, the concepts behind this story are very mature. I've always played around with the idea of reincarnation - I find it interesting. This novel manages to depict after death in a pseudo-reincarnation format. It's a totally unique concept (at least for me - I haven't heard of it yet).

Having just reread it does not change my feelings towards this novel. Although I usually go for books with absolutely outstanding prose, this book needed simplistic prose to offset the magnitude of the themes in the novel. The book is far from being all about death - the main character goes through all the stages of grief and mourning, and has to learn how to cope with this huge change in her "life". This book is about growth and love - even after a great tragedy. You become so moved by the challenges this young woman goes through and has to overcome - you relate to the experiences she has to go through in trying to become a normal person again. And, as any person more experienced in matters of love, you hit upon the ability to love more than one person with all your heart.

I find that I often have this difficulty with books that I love - I have very little to write as it is hard for me to describe why I love them. All I can say is that I hope you read it and discover what I did in this novel.


Overall:

An excellent novel. Something that I read in my early high school years and has managed to stick with me since then. One of my absolute favourite teen fiction reads.

Recommended for

Young adult readers - especially lovers of Deb Caletti and Sarah Dessen.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Go Ask Alice - Anonymous

Rated: F





Go Ask Alice
Synopsis

January 24th
After you've had it, there isn't even life without drugs....

It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth -- and ultimately her life.

Read her diary.

Enter her world.

You will never forget her.

For thirty-five years, the acclaimed, bestselling first-person account of a teenage girl's harrowing decent into the nightmarish world of drugs has left an indelible mark on generations of teen readers. As powerful -- and as timely -- today as ever, Go Ask Alice remains the definitive book on the horrors of addiction.

Thoughts

This is a "true story" (this point has been contested, but to no avail) written by a young woman. I have to say that I did not enjoy this novel. The prose is very childish. I understand it is written from the point of view of a young woman who did not expect this to ever be read, but the prose was so poor it was painful to read. Sadly, I really couldn't get past that.
Overall

Disturbing, not well written. I did not like it.

Recommended

Parents who force their kids to read things to scare them into being good? I wouldn't particularly recommend this one to anyone.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wicked Lovely - Melissa Marr

Rated: B-


Wicked Lovely (Wicked Lovely (Quality))
Synopsis(from bookmooch.com)
Product Description
Rule #3: Don't stare at invisible faeries.

Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in mortal world. Aislinn fears their cruelty—especially if they learn of her Sight—and wishes she were as blind to their presence as other teens.

Rule #2: Don't speak to invisible faeries.

Now faeries are stalking her. One of them, Keenan, who is equal parts terrifying and alluring, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer.

Rule #1: Don't ever attract their attention.

But it's too late. Keenan is the Summer King who has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost—regardless of her plans or desires.

Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working anymore, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.

Faerie intrigue, mortal love, and the clash of ancient rules and modern expectations swirl together in Melissa Marr's stunning 21st century faery tale.


Thoughts


This book was a little too stereotypical for me. The characters are completely flat - Aislinn is a Mary Sue character: beautiful, nice, and everyone loves her. The boys are all hott and nice and can't help but try and protect Aislinn. Seth is your bad boy - but totally sweet of course. Keenan is a player, but of course he really just loves one girl. The Winter Queen is just evil. I love my villains to be grey, not black! It ends up being your cliche teen romance. While I can appreciate it at times, I value character development over all things and I am sick of seeing perfect characters and knowing exactly how the story is going to end.

I also felt that the faeries...well they weren't very faerie like. Faeries are fey - capricious and they don't understand morality in the way we do. These faeries all had very human emotions and reactions. The book is basically another Twilight series.

I didn't hate the book while reading it - I actually enjoyed it. But having thought about it since then, it is just like every other teen book these days. I will probably read the next couple books in the series to see if the characters improve - after all this is the first book in a series. The prose was ok and enough action happened so that the complete lack of character development wasn't as apparent.

Overall


A fluff read. No depth, but entertaining enough.

Recommened

Teen fantasy readers. Twilight lovers will enjoy this book.


Nobody's Princess - Esther Friesner



Synopsis

She is beautiful, she is a princess, and Aphrodite is her favorite goddess, but something in Helen of Sparta just itches for more out of life. Not one to count on the gods—or her looks—to take care of her, Helen sets out to get what she wants with steely determination and a sassy attitude. That same attitude makes Helen a few enemies—such as the self-proclaimed "son of Zeus" Theseus—but it also intrigues, charms, and amuses those who become her friends, from the famed huntress Atalanta to the young priestess who is the Oracle of Delphi.

In Nobody's Princess, author Esther Friesner deftly weaves together history and myth as she takes a new look at the girl who will become Helen of Troy. The resulting story offers up adventure, humor, and a fresh and engaging heroine you cannot help but root for.

Thoughts

This wasn't a particularly spectacular book in any way. It was humorous at times, but that's about it. Helen, although like-able, is still a bit of a brat and her character depth doesn't really ring true. Maybe this is because of the connotations we always have of her - a vain woman who managed to start an epic war. The story line is ok, the prose is ok (although a bit childish at times), the characters are ok...it just didn't really do much for me.

Overall

An ok book, good for a young adult fluff read if you're bored.

Recommended

Young adult readers, especially those who like mythology.

The Magician's Elephant - Kate DiCamillo



Synopsis


What if? Why not? Could it be?

When a fortuneteller's tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortuneteller's mysterious answer (an elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true. With atmospheric illustrations by fine artist Yoko Tanaka, here is a dreamlike and captivating tale that could only be narrated by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. In this timeless fable, she evokes the largest of themes — hope and belonging, desire and compassion — with the lightness of a magician’s touch.


Thoughts

Despite the simple prose, the concepts and entire story line of the book were much deeper and more complicated than in a mere children's book. I found it moving and introspective - aspects you don't usually see in a children's book.


Overall

A very good read (despite the fact that I am almost ten years older than the targeted age group).   A deep read for a children's book.

Recommended

Older children. It's also a good book for parents to read to their children - simple enough for children to enjoy, but complex enough that it doesn't become mind numbingly boring for parents.