Monthly Archives: October 2010

Wolf Tower

Lee, Tanith. Wolf Tower (1998). 223 Pages. Puffin. $6.99

The Claidi Journals: Book 1

There is the House and Gardens, and then there is the Waste. Claidi is bored and miserable, she serves the awful Lady Jade Leaf, and is trapped by the Rules and Rituals of the House. Should she dare to deviate, speak out, or disregard a Rule or Ritual, she could find herself banished to the Waste.

That isn’t seeming like such a bad fate, at the moment. Especially if she gets to make her escape with the handsome Prince Nemian. What awaits her in the Waste is not what she expected, and Claidi, free at last, learns more about herself and her world with every day.

First Lines:

Yes.

I stole this. This book.

I don’t know why. It looked… nice, I suppose, and nothing has been  nice for years. Well, not often.

It was in h er stationery chest, out of which she sometimes makes us– mostly me– get her a piece of silk paper or thick parchment. Then she doodles a few stupid lines of awful “poetry.” Or a foul painting, like used washing-water in the Maids’ Hall with something dropped in it– lime juice or jam. And then we all have to applaud. “Oh! How clever you are, Lady Jade Leaf. What bright-shining genius!” Because she”s royal. And we are not. Oh no. We couldn’t ever do anything wonderful like that.

Thoughts

Claidi’s world is simultaneously similar to (they have ice cream) and different from (there are still roving bandits and places like the House) our world, which can be tricky to pull off. It is, however, well done.

Claidi herself is a very interesting character; she starts off as a rather meek maid, and grows in determination and personality as her story progresses. At first, things just happen to her, but by the end of the book, she seems ready to make decisions for herself. At times, Claidi is inconsistent; on one page, she says that she is not good at science, on another she talks about the microclimate of the House and how it disrupts storms. But, for the most part, the issues are easily overlooked.

As a whole, with an endearing character who grows into an interesting character, the book is well worth reading. It gets a 4/5.

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Book of a Thousand Days

Hale, Shannon. Book of a Thousand Days (2007). 304 Pages. Bloomsbury. $17.95

The Synopsis:

Unlucky Dashti was hopeful when she learned that she would be lady’s maid to the beautiful Lady Saren. Unfortunately for Dashti, her first day of work resulted in her imprisonment in a tower with Lady Saren– they will be there for seven years, or until Saren agrees to marry Lord Khasar. As a contrast to the dark, cruel Lord Khasar, there is Khan Tegus– a man Saren has pledged herself to.

Dashti is resourceful and practical, and has every intention of getting them out of the tower alive, which would be easier if Lady Saren would help. Neither girl has any idea of what awaits them at the end of their time in the tower, and as their food dwindles, they begin to wonder if they will even last that long.

First Lines:

Day 1

My lady and I are being shut up in a tower for seven years.

Lady Saren is sitting on the floor, staring at the wall, and hasn’t moved even to scratch for an hour or more. Poor thing. It’s a shame I don’t have fresh yak dung or anything strong-smelling to scare the misery out of her.

Thoughts:

Based off of Grimm’s “Maid Maleen,” and set in a Mongolia-esque country, Book of a Thousand Days is Dashti’s story, told in journal form. Dashti is a survivor, and against all odds, she has the determination and character to persevere, which is what makes her interesting. Coupled with that determination, however, is a sense of worthlessness; Dashti honestly feels that she has no value beyond her role as Saren’s servant, and it makes her frustrating, at times.

The world is interesting, Dashti’s voice unique, the entire concept brilliantly executed. Saren can be more than a little frustrating at times, as can Dashti’s self-deprecation, when it is clear that she is worth much more than she knows.

Book of a Thousand Days scores a 4.5/5, because it’s brilliant, but the girls could be frustrating.

I really loved this book, however, and it made me want to pick up Tanith Lee’s Claidi books again.

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

A Curse Dark as Gold

Bunce, Elizabeth C. A Curse Dark as Gold (2009). 392 Pages. Scholastic. $9.99

The Synopsis:

The Stirwaters Woolen Mill has been the center of Shearing (a small English town, pre-Industrial era) for nearly a hundred years, and it has always had bad luck. So have the Millers– the family has owned it since it was built, and never once has a son lived to inherit. The townsfolk whisper of a curse, but strong, practical, determined Charlotte Miller refuses to believe in nonsense.

Perhaps it is a good thing that Charlotte is so practical, because after her father’s death, she inherits nothing but debt and problems. Before his death, her father borrowed £2,000 from Uplands Mercantile, and they are collecting upon the debt immediately. The Stirwaters Mill is the center of the town’s economy, and if it closes the entire town loses their livelihoods. Desperate to keep that from happening, Charlotte will do anything to save her family’s mill, so when a mysterious stranger offers her a chance to save the mill (at a small price), Charlotte accepts.

Of course, Charlotte will soon learn that the bank is the least of her problems…

First Lines:

When my father died, I thought the world would come to an end. Standing in the churchyard in my borrowed mourning black, I was dimly aware of my sister Rose beside me, the other mourners huddled round the grave. Great dark clouds gathered over the river, and I knew them for what they were: The End, poised to unleash some terrible wrath and sweep us all right out of the Valley. I let go my hold on Rosie’s arm, for I was ready to be swept away.

Thoughts:

There are times when books build slowly, bit by bit, adding in the pieces and building the story. Before you know it, you’re enthralled. Charlotte is a strong lead, one whose logic you can follow (even if you don’t agree with it) and whose dedication to her home and family is paramount in her life. She is a bit too pigheaded at times (which can be frustrating to the reader) but it is part of her character. She is surrounded by friends and family, townfolk who have their own stories (which are expanded upon as appropriate) and every character seems to serve a purpose.

Because the story is loosely based on “Rumpelstiltskin,” major plot points are predictable, but that does not detract from the story. The fact that Charlotte is her own person, with such a strong personality means that you’re not entirely sure how they’ll get from point A to point B.

I am not an impatient reader. I am willing to give the author time to build their universe (perhaps a trait from reading the works of Robin McKinley, which frequently start slow and build up steam as they move along) and I truly appreciate the way it all comes together. Of the complaints that I came across in bad reviews (on goodreads) was pacing– quite a few people thought it was too slow. If you prefer books that drop you right into the action, this is not the book for you. If you do not mind giving it a bit of time to build up to the main story, then by all means, do pick up a copy.

I loved this book, despite not loving Rumpelstiltskin. It is far from my favorite fairy tale, but I think this particular interpretation is a significant improvement over the original. This book gets a 5/5.

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The funny thing about this particular book is that I got it on a book binge, and it’s been sitting here waiting to be read for a few days. Then I read about StarCrossed somewhere, and was looking for that, but when the local Borders didn’t have it, I decided to read a book that I already had at home, which is when I figured out that I already had one book by Elizabeth Bunce. My mom and I had a bit of a laugh over that one. (The pair of us have a bad habit of re-buying books, or buying a billion books by one author before we figure out that we’ve been doing it. For example, we have three or four copies of several Kay Hooper and Lynsay Sands books.)

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Filed under Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

The House on Mango Street

Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street (1991 ed). 110 Pages. Random House. $9.95

From time to time, I’m tempted to revisit books I’ve read before, to see if I feel differently later. For example, in High School English, we read The House on Mango Street, which I remember enjoying, but not paying a lot of attention to. So when I got the chance to re-read it, I did.

Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes deeply joyous, The House on Mango Street tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, whose neighborhood is one of harsh realities and harsh beauty. Esperanza doesn’t want to belong– not to her rundown neighborhood, and not to the low expectations the world has for her. Esperanza’s story is that of a young girl coming into her power, and inventing for herself what she will become. (Back Cover)

The story is broken into vignettes* which are fairly journal-like in their narration. While the story as a whole is about Esperanza, at times the focus is on one of her friends or neighbors. The story begins when Esperanza and her family move to Mango Street, a relatively impoverished area with a growing latino population. Esperanza simultaneously wants friends and an escape. She wants a place to call “home” and not just a house to live in. She wants a chance to be somewhere besides here, in a place that is her own.

A House of My Own

Not a flat. Not an apartment in back. Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own. With my porch and my pillow, my pretty purple petunias. My books and my stories. My two shoes waiting beside the bed. Nobody to shake a stick at. Nobody’s garbage to pick up after.

Only a house quiet as snow, a space for myself to go, clean as paper before the poem. (p 108)

There are a few things in the book which could be considered dated; Esperanza’s first job is at a photo developer’s, where she matches photographs with their negatives. Her brother wants to be like the Spartans in The 300 Spartans** so he stands outside in the cold (the colder, the better). There is, however, nothing regional about the book. If I had not been told by the back of the book, I would never have thought it was supposed to be Chicago. Esperanza’s story could be uprooted and placed in any city in the U.S. and it would be the same story; a young girl wants to escape the fate of other women in her neighborhood. She wants to break the cycle, and be the girl who does not move from her father’s house to her husband’s, to raise daughters who will fall into the same trap.

There is a lot of violence in this book, though it is not explicit. Most women are beaten by their fathers and/or husbands. At least one (Rosa) is literally locked away. Esperanza is raped. Several other girls (most notably Sally) sleep around in an attempt to pretend that they are free. Nearly all of them hoped for love at one point, but settled for whatever came their way first.

It is a sadly hopeful book. Esperanza wants more, and by the end, there is a feeling that she will get it. She is a survivor, a girl who can come from a neighborhood like this and still make something of herself.

In Conclusion:

The House on Mango Street is an interesting book, the sort you can read more than once and get something new each time you approach it. The language is simple, and beautiful. The story is hopeful, despite everything else. It is not a hard read, but it has a lot to think about. Perhaps this is why it is taught in school; there is so much to talk about with so little reading; 110 pages is not intimidating. It gets a 5/5.

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* Not to be confused with vinaigrette, which is what I think of every time I say/type/read that word.

** Which is not 300, though I suppose one could pretend.

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Filed under General Fiction

E-Books and E-Readers?

I’ve been wondering for a while if it’s worth my time to get a Kindle. On the one hand, it’s technology, which means it’s dated nearly as fast as you can buy it. On the other hand, it’s a small piece of technology that can hold tons and tons of books.

So I’m asking you, oh people of the internet. Is it worth getting a Kindle? Are any of the other readers better? If price wasn’t an issue, would you get one? Which one would it be?

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Real Reads: Pride and Prejudice

Austen, Jane. Real Reads: Pride & Prejudice (2009). 64 Pages. Windmill Books. price unknown*

We can’t help re-making the greats, sometimes we do silly things, like dumbing them down so they’re more “child-friendly” which sometimes works. Occasionally, books are too dense, and contain vocabulary which children would not recognize. I am of the opinion that this struggle is positive, and dictionary skills are a good thing to acquire.

The book at hand is a simplified retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Gill Tavner did the re-write, and Ann Kronheimer did the illustrations. The style of writing and the style of drawing do work well together, and the overall effect is mild and pleasant. There are characters whose roles have been cut (Kitty, Mary, & Mr Collins most notably) and there are story-lines which have been altered or removed (the estate’s entailment, Charlotte’s spinster status, and more) but the book acknowledges this in the back, and explains that it is well worth reading an unabridged version. The story is very short (it ends after 54 pages) but it is easily comprehended. They did a fairly good job of simplifying a classic to make it a quick, easy read for children.

There is a whole set of Real Reads Classics, including their Indian Classics line (which has the Ramayana, a fun story). I imagine it’s a fairly popular way to get younger audiences reading books which are mostly tackled by adults these days.

In Conclusion:

For now, this version gets a 3/5. By adult standards, it’s nothing special. It’s a solid abridgment, aimed at children, and it has nice illustrations. It’s got the major plot points in it, and it references the plot points it has removed. It offers some discussion/consideration questions at the back, and is therefore a fairly good volume. I have not run it by my sisters (the age group at whom it is aimed) and pending their approval, it may get a score upgrade.

I’ll be running this by my sisters to see how much kids actually like stories like this, but I think that it’s a good start, and an easy way to introduce kids to classics. I’ve been conditioned to feel that classics are good, and that it’s important to read, even if what you’re reading is not “good” by adult standards. It gets a 3/5 until I get a sisterly stamp of approval for a score upgrade.

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* I found it on a clearance shelf in the back corner of a second-hand store. I’m not sure how much it originally cost, but I paid $.99 for it.

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction

Kiss Me Deadly (Anthology) Part 3

Telep, Trisha (Editor). Kiss Me Deadly (2010). 430 Pages. RunningPress. $9.95

Review: Part 3 (Part 1, Part 2)

There is an awful lot to say about this anthology, so it has been split up into several parts. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 in their own posts. This book is definitely worth picking up, as it features several very good stories.

The anthology is the second to a “pair,” though the first half The Eternal Kiss is focused on vampires, and this is general paranormal. As I think I’ve said before, it features a lot of authors who I have never heard of, but there are at least a few whose other works I’ll be seeking out.

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Filed under Book Review, Contemporary Romance, Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction

Secret Santa Fun

Bringing some attention to the Booklovers Secret Santa (hosted by The Neverending Shelf) it sounds fun!

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Ten Things I Hate About Me

Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Ten Things I Hate About Me (2009). 297 Pages. $8.99

Those of you brought here by google; what are you looking for? If you have questions, post them in the comments and I will try to answer them for you.

This book was a couple firsts; it’s the first book I’ve read by an Australian author, and it’s the first book I’ve read about a Muslim teenager. That made it a bit strange (since it was set in Australia) but still interesting.

Jamilah Towfeek is a Muslim-Lebanese-Australian high schooler who just wants to blend in and fly under the radar. She’s straightens her bleached hair, wears blue contacts, and goes by “Jamie” when at school. She refuses to talk about her family or culture to anyone. She doesn’t want to deal with the racism; and she wants to be popular,but only “Anglos” can be popular.

Outside school, however, Jamilah loves her heritage. She goes to madrasa (Arabic culture/language school), she plays darabuka in a traditional band, she has a close-knit family, and she loves Lebanese food. She’s not ashamed to be Muslim or Lebanese– unless she’s at school.

Books like this have an inevitable ending; the deceit fails somewhere, and the selves must merge. Jamie does eventually vanish in favor of Jamilah, though the path she takes to get there is not an easy one to follow. With the support of her family, and some friends she doesn’t know she has, Jamilah learns to embrace herself, and her heritage, no matter where she is.

There is a lot of discussion about immigrant families– Jamilah’s father says at one point, I came here, and I integrated for you. You should not still be fighting it, you should be able to be proud of being Muslim-Lebanese-Australian. There is also a little about the hijab— Jamilah’s sister wears it, while Jamilah doesn’t– and some discussion about the role of women and the interpretation of the Koran. There is still more about ramadan* and madrasa, and other aspects of Jamilah’s culture.

One of the things which most struck me was the fact that Jamilah is so aware of being Muslim in a post-9/11 world**. She is very aware that her heritage makes it nearly impossible for her to be an airline pilot, and it ensures that she is always “randomly screened” when traveling through airports. She worries about being a stereotype, about being seen for the extremists of her religion, rather than for herself.

In Conclusion:

I was not expecting a book set in Australia, and I was a little confused by some of the slang (Wog for example, is not a word I know) but I did really enjoy it. Jamilah manages to be a character you want to root for as she tries to re-define herself. Her struggle is both unique and average; many teens have to find their identities, it is not exclusive to immigrant teens, though it can be harder.  This book was surprising, and interesting, and scores a 5/5.

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* Ramadan is mentioned, but never discussed in depth. I suppose because it is the most well-known of Islam’s holidays.

** I know that an awful lot of Americans are racist bastards, who assume that a hijab, a beard, or a Sikh’s turban mean “terrorist,” but I did not think it was such an issue in places like Australia.

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Filed under Book Review, Realistic Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Rampant

Peterfreund, Diana. Rampant (2009). 402 Pages. HarperTeen. $8.99

I was first introduced to Diana Peterfreund’s man-eating unicorns in Kiss Me Deadly, which is when I knew I had to read Rampant. I didn’t bother even reading the back of the book, I just jumped in. I was not expecting what I got:

“‘I will never really leave,’ said the unicorn. Diamond sparkles floated from the tip of its glittering silver horn. ‘I will always live in your heart'”

I swallowed the bile rising in my throat and forced myself to continue reading.

“Then the unicorn turned and galloped away, its fluffy pink tail swinging merrily as it spread its iridescent wings to the morning sunshine.”

Oh, no. Not wings, too.

“Every time the unicorn’s lavender hooves touched the earth, a tinkling like the chime of a thousand fairy bells floated back toward the children.”

Having just read a story about man-eating unicorns, this was not at all what I expected to find on page 1. I closed the book, walked away for a few minutes, then came back and gave it another go. This time, I got what I was expecting.

Astrid Llewelyn never thought her mother’s crazy stories about unicorns were true. When one attacks her boyfriend in the woods, she has no choice but to believe. Unicorns– previously thought extinct, even by her mother– are back with a vengeance, and Astrid will learn much more about her heritage than she ever knew.

Before she’s really had time to process, Astrid — a descendant of Alexander the Great, and thus a hunter– is on her way to Rome to study unicorn hunting at the Cloisters of the Order of the Lioness. Of course, since the last unicorn was killed several hundred years before, the Cloisters have fallen into disrepair, but that might be the least of their worries. Other hunters need to be found, a task which is easier said than done, as they must not only be descendants, but they must also be virgins (a rarity in teen girls this day and age.) Astrid (and the other girls) must learn to fight like true unicorn hunters, or they will die.

I loved this book. I was totally a unicorn girl when I was little. Our games would go something like: “I’m a princess, and I have a unicorn who’s sky blue with sparkly pink wings and purple mane and tail and her horn is silver and she’s super special because she’s a unicorn princess… … … etc etc etc” A few hours later, when we were done describing our unicorns, we could get to playing our game. I’m not sure I ever really outgrew that phase. I do love that this manages to be completely unexpected; who would think of unicorns as carnivorous and evil? I know I wouldn’t have. I also love the modern setting because Astrid’s disbelief mirrors the reader’s own.

Astrid manages to grow from the beginning to the end, and she transforms into a true warrior. She’s got her problems along the way, and she’s not always happy with her choices, but she keeps going. I really liked that about her.

In Conclusion:

With what can only be called a unique approach to unicorns, Diana Peterfreund manages to make Rampant a special book about butt-kicking teenage girls. It’s firmly based in real mythology, and despite the fantastical beasts, feels like something a lot of teens could go through. It gets a 5/5 because it was that good.

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Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction