Monday, December 30, 2013

The Interrupted Tale (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book IV) Review

Last year I reviewed the third book in this adorable series, The Unseen Guest. Since then, I've been eagerly awaiting the publication of book four and as usual, Maryrose Wood did not disappoint.

The book opens with intrepid nanny, Penelope Lumley, in a bit of a depression because it is her 16th birthday and no one at Ashton Place is aware of that. Of course everything perks up nicely by the end of the first chapter. She receives an invitation from Charlotte Mortimer, the beloved headmistress of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, to speak at the first annual Celebrate Alumnae Knowledge Exposition (CAKE). Lady Ashton grants Penny permission to take the Incorrigibles off to her alma mater where the governess is disturbed to find Judge Quinzy on the board of trustees, making all sorts of unpleasant changes. After the events of previous books, Penelope is still convinced that the judge is really Edward Ashton, supposedly the late father of her employer, Frederick Ashton.

Penny must care for her rambunctious and intelligent charges, write her speech, navigate the changed school and try to solve the mystery of Judge Quinzy. She learns that the Swanburne Academy is on the verge of being changed completely by the new trustees and must win over the alums and the board by her speech demonstrating her academic talents learned at the school. Of course she has the help of her charges, her former teachers and friends, Ms. Mortimer and Simon, her special friend who appears after a dangerous excursion with pirates.

The book ends with an Interrupted Tale, as the title suggests, which only goes to further the mystery of the series. What mysterious affliction plagues the Ashton family? Why must Penelope continue to dye her hair? Why does Judge Quinzy refer to "pruning" a bit of his family tree to keep one line strong? Why do I suspect that Penny and the Incorrigibles are related to the Ashtons? There are no straight answers in this novel, but as usual, Wood's writing is witty and entertaining and you can't help but cheer for the plucky governess and her adorably wolfish charges!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Whatnot Review

My husband bought me The Peculiar last year as a surprise Christmas present and I completely loved it, despite being a bit suspicious of how good it could possibly be since a teenager wrote it. However, as I wrote in my recap of the previous book, Stefan Bachmann is a wealth of talent and I sincerely hope he keeps writing.

Bachmann dives back into his alternate London with Arthur Jelliby at a party celebrating the upcoming war with the faeries. The action quickly switches to Hettie, off in the Old Country with the faery butler, and a new character, a street urchin known as Pikey Thomas, who lives in London. Hettie's brother, Bartholomew takes the back seat in this adventure, showing up about 30% into the book and leading Pikey in an attempt to rescue Hettie. Arthur Jelliby, one of the protagonists in the first book makes only the most minor of appearances here. Most of the book follows Pikey, whose eye was stolen some time before by a fairy. Instead of a human eye, he has a grey eyeball that sometimes catches glimpses of the Old Country. When Hettie, in the Old Country herself, picks up a pretty necklace from which hangs something that looks like a human eye, a connection is established between the two. Bartholomew needs Pikey's help in getting into the Old Country to rescue Hettie and he is also comforted by the occasional glimpses of Hettie that Pikey sees.

Hettie, meanwhile, gets taken in by a fairy noble, who seeks to make the little girl's life miserable. She wants Hettie to be her Whatnot, or living toy of a sort. The girl doesn't realize how long she has been gone. There are references to her having been missing for years, but the exact amount of time is unclear. Hettie is smart, stubborn and resourceful so despite the twists and turns that her storyline takes, it's clear that she's a survivor, who is willing to sacrifice herself if need be. It seems that between the books, Bartholomew became the ward of Jelliby and spent all of his time and money searching for his sister. Bath, where the majority of the action took place, is barely mentioned, while even London takes a back seat. The Old Country is vividly described by Bachmann, especially the creepy, constantly changing manor house where Hettie lives for a time.

Eventually Pikey and Hettie's storylines converge, as London preps for a major war against the faeries that they've hated for so many years. Everything comes to a head as the faeries from the Old Country find a way into London. The ending is very satisfactory and wraps the plot up nicely, if a little quickly. I felt bad for the kids' mother, who seems to have no role in any of this. I wonder if Barth ever went home to check in on her. The Whatnot is billed as a companion to The Peculiar and seems to have wrapped up the plot nicely. I know Bachmann is writing a third book, but it's unclear if it will be connected to this world or not. All in all, this was a fast paced, enjoyable novel that lived up to the promise of the first.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Monday, December 9, 2013

An Old Betrayal Review

Just about every November, there's a new Charles Lenox mystery released by Charles Finch. I recapped his last two last year: A Burial at Sea and A Death in the Small Hours. This newest book finds Lenox in London, continuing his very busy work as a member of Parliament. Since the last book, he has risen in the ranks to become a very important MP. He spends much of his time on the benches, in meetings and reading blue books of information. He is still happily married to Lady Jane and is a doting, although quite Victorian, father to little Sophia, who is mostly being raised by a nanny as was typical of the time.

As always, Lenox manages to find time to investigate crimes. He remains a mentor to John Dallington, former playboy aristocrat and current detective. Dallington spends the early part of this book gravely ill, which leads to Lenox stepping in and setting off the mystery of the chapter. A plea for help to Dallington leads Lenox to a train station cafe early one morning where he watches for the anonymous person to show up looking for help. He is surprised to discover that the man he was looking for was actually a woman. The woman sees someone who frightens her and flees from the scene before Lenox learns who it was. She was startled by a young man who Lenox speaks with briefly. It quickly appears that this young man is impersonating a nobleman who lives in the country and blackmailing the young woman, who works for the queen.

This one moment at the train station leads to a much larger mystery involving land titles, vengeful nobles and an attack on the queen herself. The woman from the station, Grace, plays only a minimal role, although it seems as though she would be more important. Lenox works with Dallington, while also meeting with two other London detectives. There's also a new investigator on the scene, Miss Strickland, who Lenox is convinced is really a man hiding behind a woman's name or using a woman as the front of the agency. Miss Strickland's agency shows the first hints of modern detecting, employing a fingerprinting expert as well as medical examiners to help solve crimes. Rather than one man acting alone, Strickland's group uses the talents of many different people. Strickland herself isn't exactly what Lenox was expecting but at the end, the surprise itself was a pleasant one with hints of a even more pleasant arrangement for Dallington.

Meanwhile, Lenox deals with Parliament, nasty rumors about his secretary, Graham, and the Prime Minister, Disraeli himself. His dear friend Thomas McConnell and his wife Toto are struggling with their marriage again and of course Lenox's brother, Edmund, makes an appearance. Like the previous books, the mystery itself is wrapped up around 80% into the book and the rest of the novel ties all the little pieces together and sets Lenox on a new course of his life, one which should be quite interesting in the next book. Graham's life also takes on a possibly fascinating new course, so I'm looking forward to seeing what ends up happening to Lenox's former butler.

I was interested to read in the back of the book that Charles Finch wrote a contemporary novel called The Last Enchantments, which will be coming out early in 2014. However, early reviews do not look too good. I'm hoping he doesn't abandon Charles Lenox, as this series always gets good reviews and continues to be engaging even 7 books in.

Buy it at amazon & Barnes and Noble.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Rosie Project Review

The Rosie Project was one of amazon's best books of October. It sounded intriguing and as it was totally different in tone from Allegiant, I went for it. The novel is by Graeme Simsion, a brand new author from Australia, where the book is already very popular.

The Rosie Project follows Don Tillman, a socially challenged genetics professor who works at a university in Australia. Don readily admits that socializing isn't his thing. But yet, he decides that he is ready to get married. He wants a partner but is beyond obsessive about what that wife will be like. After a few dates, he decides to come up with a questionnaire for his future spouse, including their BMI, view on smoking and alcohol. He relies heavily on his friends, Gene and Claudia, a couple in an open marriage. Their relationship and Don's reaction to it causes a lot of unintentional humor. Gene is on a quest to sleep with one woman of every nationality. Because Don is so direct, he keeps telling Claudia what Gene is actually up to when he claims he is working or whatever.

Despite their own problems, Gene and Claudia help Don on his quest. Gene ends up sending a woman named Rosie to Don's office. Don assumes that she is a candidate for the wife project, which Gene was helping to sort. He also automatically dismisses her as being totally unsuitable for a variety of reasons (she is a "barmaid", as Don calls her, so she isn't intellectually equal to him, plus she smokes). However, when Rosie asks Don for help in identifying her birth father, he ends up spending more and more time with her. Soon, Rosie is shaking Don out his routines. Don had previous had a standardized meal plan where he made the same dinner on the same day every day of the week. Rosie quickly changes that as well as introduces Don to making cocktails, dancing and traveling outside of his comfort zone in more ways than one.

Don is quite the character. It seemed clear to me that he has Asperger Syndrome or some other form of high functioning autism. In fact, early on in the book, he takes on a lecture that Gene was supposed to give to children with Aspergers and their families and I kept waiting for him to realize, oh wait, I have all of these characteristics too. That does eventually come up in the book, but it takes a while. Rosie is a bit of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype but she is still a lot of fun and it's enjoyable seeing Don's world turning upside down.

One of the best parts of the book is that the author has links (at least in the kindle version) to all of the recipes that Don makes in the book. I'm dying to make his lobster and avocado salad! Anyway, this is a sweet, quirky romantic comedy. Apparently Simsion is writing a sequel. I'll probably read it although I felt like The Rosie Project wrapped up really nicely and doesn't really need a second book. But in any case, it's a fun read!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Allegiant Review


Last winter I read Veronica Roth's Divergent and Insurgent, the latter of which I did not enjoy as much as the former. Before I started Allegiant, I checked out The Transfer, a short story set before the series started that focused on Tobias on his own choosing day and then in his first moments as a Dauntless initiate. It's the first of three short stories starring Tobias. The Transfer was a good reminder of the Divergent world before I dove into Allegiant, which picks up in Chicago right after the events of the last book. Tobias is his mother Evelyn's right hand man, helping her control the city with her factionless followers, while Tris is in jail and faces a trial. This part is over quickly, though, and Tris is freed and approached by the Allegiant, a group of residents who want Chicago returned to the way it was, factions and all.

The Allegiant decide to send some of their group, including Tris, Tobias, Uriah, Christina, Cara and Tris' betraying brother Caleb out of Chicago in search of the people who left the video saying that they needed the help of the Chicago residents. Once they get out of the city, they are quickly approached by some people who take them back to a former airport, near the city, that is now the seat of a branch of the government. The Chicago crowd learns that years before this, genes started to be identified as causes of behavior and scientists worked to eliminate those genes. However, removing certain genes (or rather working to emphasize certain genes), like the murder gene, had unintended consequences. So people who had cowardice removed became aggressive and sometimes murderous. Those who were super intelligent often lost compassion. A war broke out between those who were genetically damaged and those considered genetically pure. Eventually the experiments started. Chicago, as it turns out, was a giant experiment to see if the genetically damaged would eventually be cured. Tris, as a divergent, is genetically pure since her genes started to heal themselves, giving her personality aspects of the different factions.

Tris accepts this, but Tobias is torn apart by being considered genetically damaged, a diagnosis that brings to the surface his childhood abuses at the hands of his father. This drives a wedge between Tris and Tobias (yet again), especially after Tobias lets himself get dragged into a terrorist attack on the airport by those fighting for the rights of the genetically damaged. Unfortunately this attack led to the near fatal injury of one of their group. Tris, meanwhile, learns interesting information about her mother, and gets asked to take a seat on the bureau's council. In that way she learns that the federal government wants to shut down the experiment in Chicago, which is one of the only remaining of the original experiments trying to cure the genetically damaged. The bureau's response is to wipe the memories of everyone in Chicago in order to reset the experiment and keep it going. Since Chicago is an experiment, video cameras monitor all the action there 24/7, just like The Truman Show. The Chicago group is upset about this decision, except Tobias, who secretly wishes his parents' minds would be wiped. Tris and Tobias manage to mend fences (finally consummating their relationship) and team up with their friends with a plan to inoculate some of their family members and friends in Chicago, while also attempting to steal the memory serum from the airport's weapon's lab in order to wipe the bureau workers' minds. This way they can teach the government that genetically damaged people aren't bad and deserve equality.

I had read before this book that it had a shocking ending, which I completely agree with. I certainly was not expecting what happened, given that this is a YA novel. Even Katniss got a happy ending in Mockingjay. The ending was certainly hopeful for many of the characters but not all of them make it to the end. Let's just say that the selflessness of Abnegation ran strong in some of the protagonists even to the very last moment... even when it mean sacrificing themselves. While Allegiant really only touched on the actual Allegiant group briefly and most of the action took place outside of Chicago, this novel was much better than Insurrection, the second book in the series, but still not as good as Divergent. I'm intrigued by the movie that is coming out next March. One of my friends reminded me about it today so now I'm excited to see it with her next year. Overall, Allegiant was a satisfying end to the series, even if it did have a shocking twist for the characters.

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mad About the Boy Review

(Warning, mild spoilers to follow...)

When I was 19, I lived in Australia for six months. I vividly remember being upset that I couldn't pack too many books and that I didn't have a lot of money to buy too many. This was pre-kindle days, of course. At one point, I ended up in a bookstore where I bought Bridget Jones' Diary and Bridget Jones: The Age of Reason. I absolutely fell in love (like much of the world) with flighty, zany, unlucky in love Bridget. I devoured both of those books and read them over and over for a long time. Granted, I probably haven't picked up either book since college or not long after, but I remember the plots pretty well. I did see the first movie, but really wasn't crazy about it (although maybe I should rewatch. I do love Colin Firth) and therefore never saw the second one. I remember reading that Helen Fielding had written some articles around 2005/6 where Bridget was still involved with both Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy. This led to a pregnancy of a little boy, who ended up being Daniel's son. She wound up living with Daniel, but Mark had apparently offered to adopt the baby, suggesting that he was still around.

This plot was abandoned for the third novel, Mad About the Boy. Bridget is older but still a ditz who drinks and eats too much. She is a 51 year old widow (it's no spoiler to reveal that Mark Darcy died five years before the present story - Fielding revealed that in several interviews) with two young children, Billy and Mabel. Bridget could barely take care of herself in the previous novels and now she has two children to manage. Their life is happy but disorganized and messy. Mark left her enough money that she doesn't need to work but they live in a small, comfortable house where a nanny cares for the children often and Bridget spends her time writing. She is working on an updated screenplay for Hedda Gabler, which she mistakenly believes was written by Chekov instead of Ibsen. Her friends, still ridiculous, boozy and offering terrible advice, call her a born again virgin since she hasn't had sex since Mark's death. Bridget also struggles with school drop off and pick up, the remotes, passwords for all technology and social media.

As an adult, Bridget is certainly still endearing and her exploits kind of adorable in a hot mess sort of way. I tore through this book in only a few days, a nice change from how long MaddAddam took me (I loved that book a lot and because of that really took my time and paid attention to it). However, as someone who feels that their life is more or less together at 32, Bridget's flightiness at 51 is a bit exasperating. Get yourself together, lady! The book starts in the present and then flashes back a year to Bridget as a sad, overweight widow, who finally resolves to improve her life by starting to lose weight. Because I bought the original books in Australia, the weight check ins at the start of every diary page were always in "stones" so I never had any idea what Bridget actually weighed. Buying the American version of this book was a nice change. Anyway, after some false starts, Bridget manages to lose about 40 pounds and starts exploring social media. She becomes annoyingly obsessed with Twitter, something I can't stand in real life, so it was a bit irritating that Bridget was so fascinated with it. I was also like, go be with your children (clearly my own infertility issues made me a little annoyed that Bridget had kids at 43 and 45 and neglected them in favor of social media) and stop playing around online. Bridget also has the maturity level of a 5 year old as she constantly talks about farting and vomit. That gets old rather fast.

But that's Bridget for you. She was always a bit over the top and annoying. But she is also relatable (why is blogger insisting that I'm spelling this word incorrectly?) in a lot of ways. She's an absolute mess who needed Mark Darcy to manage her life (how's that for feminism?) and keep her in line, while also allowing her to lighten his life - which is why they were meant to be. Anyway, the book zips along taking Bridget from one crazy situation to another. Twitter introduces her to Roxster, a 29 year old "toy boy" (as an American, I kept saying "boy toy", "boy toy" to myself). While Roxster certainly helps to reawaken Bridget sexually, the relationship clearly has no staying power, much like Daniel in the earlier books. In the background, Mr. Wallaker, a strict, disciplined teacher at her son's school, lurks. Much like Darcy, Bridget and Wallaker do not start off well but it's clear that something is going to happen between them as Wallaker keeps showing up. So yes, Helen Fielding essentially recreates the Darcy/Bridget/Daniel love triangle with Roxster and Wallaker. And it ends much as you would expect the book to in a romantic, completely satisfying way.

My husband always makes fun of me for referring to books as breezy, but that's what this way: a deliciously comforting, fun and entertaining read that brings Bridget to a whole new, unexpected (for her) happy ending, one you can't help but feel that she truly deserves after everything she's been through.

NY Times Review

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MaddAddam Review

I'm a little embarrassed that it's been over a month since my last review. Chalk it up to my new insanely busy schedule. I love my new job but the first year of teaching anywhere is insane. I'm getting used to shorter periods and a longer commute by car rather than subway. The commute means I lose out on reading time. Plus, I used to read at the gym but now I take Zumba classes three times a week so now I don't have that time. Long story short, it takes me longer to read books and I just haven't had time to sit down and process this novel so I can properly review it.

So here goes. I first read Oryx and Crake years ago and absolutely loved it. I'm a big fan of Margaret Atwood. The Handmaiden's Tale was the first dystopian book I ever read. Oryx and Crake is Atwood's first book (I think) featuring a male protagonist. At the time, I had no idea the book would have a sequel, let alone become a trilogy. The Year of the Flood came out before I got a kindle, which I think was around 2009 or 2010 so it's been a while. I loved both of those books, rereading Oryx and Crake once I read The Year of the Flood. Those two novels take place concurrently, with characters who weave in and out of each other's stories. Both novels end at the same scene. Fortunately, MaddAddam picks up with that moment, or a bit after, and propels the story forward. There's a helpful breakdown of the plot from the other two books in the beginning of MaddAddam to remind the reader of what's happening. The basic story takes place in the future, where science has taken people to crazy new lengths (pigs that are bred to carry human body parts for organ transplants and become super intelligent) and corporations create compounds where the wealthy live. The rest of society lives out in the pleebands where crime and poverty run rampant. A genius named Crake looked at the world and decided that people were not worth saving. He designed a pill called BlyssPluss that wiped out the majority of the population. He also created new bioforms, referred to as the Crakers, who are designed to be better people. The first book focuses on Jimmy, Crake's best friend, who was unknowingly given the vaccine for the pill, allowing him to live as the caretaker for the Crakers. The second book focuses on Ren, a former girlfriend of Jimmy's who grew up in the pleebands (unlike Jimmy, who was raised in a compound) with a group called the God's Gardeners. The two novels go back and forth in time, focusing on first the current time, post-disease and the past as Jimmy (and Ren) grow up.

MaddAddam followed a similar construct. In the present, Toby, a former God's Gardener/friend of Ren's (whose story was also revealed in The Year of the Flood), is living with some former God's Gardeners, as well as people referred to as MaddAddamites, scientists who worked with Crake to design the Crakers. The Crakers have relocated from the seaside to the nature preserve where they live. Life goes on, such as it is in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Toby fears that two escaped Painballers (criminals who survived Painball, an option to prison that sounds a lot like the Hunger Games) will come after them. She also worries about Jimmy, who has been in a coma since the end of the last book, as well as Amanda, viciously raped by the Painballers and accidentally sexually assaulted by the Craker men who thought she was ovulating (Crakers mate in a group atmosphere). Most of all, she struggles over her feelings for Zeb, the gruff former God's Gardener, who is one of the leaders of her ragtag group. Fortunately, Zeb returns her feelings and spends most of the novel telling her HIS story. 

Like the previous two books, this novel moves back and forth in time. Zeb was raised by a sadistic preacher father along with his half-brother Adam (who grows up to be Adam One). The two young men eventually escape from home, separate and hide out in the world, away from their dad. Zeb gains a wealth of different experiences and comes into contact with various people from the previous books like Pilar and a very young Crake. Zeb's story weaves into the present as the Crakers grow fascinated by him and Toby tells his life to them as a "bedtime story". The Crakers have turned Oryx and Crake into gods (a fascinating turn of events since Crake wanted to eradicate institutions like religions from the world with his purge) and idealize Zeb as well. There are some very funny misunderstandings with the Crakers, who address everyone as "Oh Toby" or "Oh Zeb". When they hear someone say "Oh, Fuck", they think Fuck is a person and Toby has to invent a story that Fuck is an invisible helper of Crake's. That cracked me up every time I read it.

Frankly, not much happens in this book. Like the other novels, I always wanted more from the present. Zeb's story is interesting and a good read but I always just wanted to find out how these little group would survive the world. I think I felt that way about the other books too, but it's been so long since I've read them. I really recommend reading all three consecutively because I know I missed a lot that I didn't remember from the other two novels. I enjoyed reading how Zeb got to be in the God's Gardeners and then how he showed up with this group but I was more satisfied with the climatic scenes at the end between the Painballers, the Pigoons (pigs with human intelligence) and the Gardeners/Crakers/Addamites. And there was a lovely and sad look at what came next for the group. One of the little Craker boys, Blackbeard, became fascinated by writing and learned how to read and write because of Toby, which of course leads to written history and perhaps religious doctrine, defeating the purpose of Crake's purge of humanity. 

Atwood creates incredibly three-dimensional, fascinating characters and a gripping story. It's a wonder that the flashbacks are as interesting (even though I wanted to stay in the present more) as the present day. Even though these books are probably classified as dystopia or sci-fi, really the stories are so well-written that I think most fiction readers would enjoy them. You can start with either Oryx or The Year of the Flood, although I recommend Oryx but definitely save MaddAddam for last. Someday, I really hope I have a chance to reread the whole thing to really appreciate the world that Atwood created.

NPR Review

Awesome essay about Crake's Attempted Utopia

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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Heirs and Graces Review

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that I love Rhys Bowen's Lady Georgie series (aka the Royal Spyness series books. The series follows lady Georgiana Rannoch, 35th in line for the British throne in the time before The King's Speech took place. It's the Great Depression and even royals are not immune to the economic disaster. Georgie is the younger sister of a Scottish duke who has gone bankrupt after having to pay his father's death dues. Technically, Georgie should be cared for by her half-brother until her own marriage, but that proves to be more complicated than it would seem given the family's lack of money and her sister-in-law's unfriendly demeanor.

Throughout the books, intelligent, clumsy (but not in an over the top Bridget Jones way - Georgie is a bit too practical for that) Georgie stumbles on and solves mysteries, while trying to keep herself afloat financially. She refuses to be married off, even to a prince, because she wants to marry for love, and also resists being made an elderly noble woman's companion. Each book puts her in a new position as she strives to live while only having skills taught in finishing school.

In this book, which takes place about six weeks after the last novel, Georgie is living with her flighty mother, helping to record her memoirs. This doesn't last long as her mother gets summoned to her boyfriend's side for the winter and leaves Georgie high and dry. Lucky, Georgie writes to her cousin, the queen (aka the mother of the king Colin Firth played in The King's Speech) to ask for help and the queen luckily finds something for Georgie to do. Turns out the dowager duchess of a wealthy home (think Downton Abbey) was desperate for an heir after her son (who clearly isn't too into ladies) refused to do his duty of marrying and producing a child. Duchess Edwina learned that her son John, who died in WWI, had been married to a school teacher in Australia, who was pregnant at the time of John died. The son, Jack, was raised on a sheep farm in Australia and while uncouth, is technically the actual heir to the estate, which of course is entailed and needs to pass to a male family member.

Georgie is enlisted to live at the estate and help Jack acclimate to high society, something she knows quite a lot about. The house is huge and filled with an assortment of family members from Cedric the rather nasty duke and his young male followers, two elderly aunts, Edwina's daughter and her two children and of course a ton of servants. The house is filled with tension once Jack arrives as he is the furthest things from an acceptable duke. Matthew Crawley was at least civilized, while Jack is more comfortable on a horse herding sheep. However, he's a nice young man and while he wants nothing to do with the dukedom, he is willing to try and learn.

Until, of course, the duke himself is discovered dead with a knife in his back. It's up to Georgie and her fiance, Darcy, to solve the crime with the sort of help of the local police inspector. Of course her friend, Belinda, makes an appearance and her horrible maid, Queenie pops up from time to time. There's a slightly forced appearance by Georgie's beloved granddad, who really has nothing to do with the story. I think that was just a concession to the fans. While the mystery is being solved, Darcy and Georgie grow closer although they aren't any closer to marriage, despite their engagement at the end of the last book. However, it seems as though they are getting there.

The story wraps up nicely although I wish I knew what happened to some of the characters in the family like the crippled Elisabeth. I had several guesses as to who the murderer would be but was pleasantly surprised by the final reveal. As usual, Rhys Bowen has crafted an entertaining historical mystery. Can't wait until the next one!

Buy it on amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, September 2, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed Review

I read The Kite Runner ages ago and really loved it. I've meant to read A Thousand Splendid Suns for a long time and never got around to it, but I spotted Hosseini's newest novel, And the Mountains Echoed on the list of summer reading books at my new school. They offered a bunch of fiction and non-fiction choices and part of my opening meetings tomorrow include a book discussion. I sort of waited until the last minute to pick this up but fortunately I finished over the weekend, just in time for the discussion.

And the Mountains Echoed is lovely and heartbreaking in a million different ways. The story begins with a simple fairy tale that a father tells to his young children. However, hidden within that simple story is the devastating choice the father has had to make. Impoverished and with a new (pregnant) wife to support, the father decides to sell his daughter to a wealthy couple who are unable to have their own child. Young Pari is only 3 or so when she is sold, but her brother, Abdullah, is seven years older and is devastated by the loss of his sister.

And the Mountains Echoed deals with the ramifications of the father's decision. Each chapter follows a different character in a series of interlocking stories as we learn what happened to Abdullah and Pari throughout their lives. The stories span from the 1930s through 2010 and from Afghanistan to Europe to the US. One of the earliest chapters follows Nabi, Pari's step-uncle, the chauffeur for the wealthy couple who at the end of his life writes a letter explaining his actions and the consequences. Another chapter follows Pari throughout her life in France. Yet another deals with a plastic surgeon who is connected to the house where Pari lived in Kabul.

It isn't always obvious how these stories are connected. The one about the plastic surgeon in Greece is probably the least connected but each chapter serves to explain something about Pari and Abdullah's life at some point or another from what happened to the town where they were born to how their father ended up with his second wife.

Most of the chapters except the last two are told in third person but then the narrative switches to first person, which is interesting. Additionally, Hosseini does an excellent job of giving each character a unique voice. Most of the chapters are quite long but the plot winds together nicely leading to a bittersweet but wholly satisfying ending.

I think I'm going to have to read A Thousand Splendid Suns ASAP as I really loved this book. It's definitely worth the read.

NY Times Review

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls Reviews

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls has been getting a lot of press this summer and it's well worth the hype. The novel follows Thea Atwell, a sixteen year old during the Great Depression, who has been shipped off to a school in the Appalachian Mountains for reasons unknown at the start of the book. She feels isolated and alone, drawn to a few of the girls at the school, but also to her headmaster, Mr. Holmes.

Thea's background is slowly revealed over the course of the novel. She lived in Florida with her family: her parents and twin brother, Sam. They lived a quiet, rather isolated existence, broken only by the occasional visits from her uncle, aunt and older cousin, Georgie.

Thea's isolated childhood leaves her confused about her raging hormones as a teenager. Her desires lead to tragedy within her family and eventually to her forcible removal from her home. Thea is again isolated from her family in the mountains. She finds friends, but holds herself aloof from most of them. Again, she flirts with danger as she draws closer and closer to her headmaster, Mr. Holmes.

The plot is well paced and intriguing. Thea is similar in a sense to Bettina in The Chocolate Money, which I read earlier this summer. Both girls had to grow up too fast and have difficult family situations. Both go off to boarding school where their precocious natures get them into trouble. Both girls grow as an effect of their pasts and their time at school. Thea is certainly more likable than Bettina ever was, probably due to their different backgrounds and circumstances (Thea grew up in a loving household while Bettina's mother was not really the warmest).

There were things that happened off screen so sometimes the timing was confusing. Thea cuts her hair at one point which is mentioned by another character later in the book but we never saw that happen. It doesn't really matter in terms of plot but there were other instances where I was thrown off by something that happened off page and thought I'd missed a few pages.

However, besides that, this was a great book to read on a sweltering summer day. I highly recommend it.

NY Times Review

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Countdown City: The Last Policeman Book II

Sorry I've been so MIA this summer. I've had a lot to keep me busy - exploring a new city, etc - and haven't been fully motivated to keep up the blog. Plus I've been reading a lot of graphic novels, which I haven't been reviewing. Anyway, onto my most recent read:

Last summer I read The Last Policeman and for the most part loved it. Click here for the link to that review. In Countdown City, Henry Palace, white hat extraordinaire is back on the case despite being out of a job. The world is now three months away from the asteroid's landing in the far east. In that time, tons of refugees are seeking shelter in the west, as far from the impact as they can. Of course no one knows how much destruction will arise from the impact so even America isn't entirely safe.

Hank tries to stick to his daily routine, meeting two of his former colleagues at their old diner, which now only serves tea, caring for his dog, Houdini, checking in on his little sister, Nico, and stumbling into cases. He is asked early on to find the husband of his former babysitter, which takes him on various adventures. He stumbles onto some black market areas of New England and winds up looking for a girl at the University of New Hampshire where the students have overthrown the faculty and established their own Utopian society. Meanwhile, Nico and her group believe they can stop the asteroid from causing serious damage. Along the way, Hank gets seriously injured, and Nico does come to the rescue, lending some credence to her ideas that she might be able to help minimize the effects of the asteroid.

Like the previous book, I still love Henry Palace. He's just such a good guy. And also like the last book, he put the mystery together rather abruptly. The end was sort of a whirlwind. And then the epilogue seemed to come out of nowhere, although I liked where Hank ended up in the end. I'm curious to see where the third book goes and if Nico and friends are actually able to stop the asteroid from causing serious damage. Hopefully the third book will be out next summer!

Author's website

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Friday, July 19, 2013

The Chocolate Money Review

I read most of this book yesterday while recovering from an IVF retrieval. It was a good distraction and went by fast. The Chocolate Money follows chocolate heiress Tabitha "Babs" Ballentyne and her daughter, Bettina, through their Chicago life. Left her parents' money at a relatively young age, Babs bought a luxurious apartment in Chicago, which she refers to as the aparthouse because of its size. Her daughter, Bettina, is witness to her mother's ostentatious lifestyle and ridiculous rules.

The first part of the novel follows Bettina at the age of 11. Babs is pretty much a horrific mother - sharing way too many personal details about her sex life, waking Bettina up at all hours to be punished over the smallest infractions and pulling her out of school to go shoe shopping. Bettina is desperate for her mother's love and affection, which so very rarely comes. She ends up forming an attachment to Mack, a married man who Bettina is having an affair with. Even when the affair winds down, Babs uses Bettina to get at Mack and his family.

Fast forward four years to Bettina's entry into Cardiss, an east coast private school. Part II covers her first two months at the school. Babs doesn't make an appearance until the end of that part but her presence is impossible to forget, especially as you see the damage that she inflicted on her daughter over the years. I found this section to be very similar to my memories of Curtis Sittenfield's protagonist in Prep, (which I wrote before reading this description of the novel on amazon: "As funny as it is scandalous, The Chocolate Money is Mommie DearestPrep, and 50 Shades of Gray all rolled into one compulsively readable book"). Bettina is similarly damaged and disaffected. She is incapable of forming real relationships and seeks out punishment (which is where the 50 Shades of Gray comparison comes in) through a pretty messed up relationship to a boy in her school. At Cardiss, she also comes into contact with someone connected to Mack, who she continued to be obsessed with over the years.

Part III takes Bettina back to Chicago and back under Babs' roof. There the story takes an emotional turn as Bettina tries to figure out how to live her life with or without her mother's approval.

I liked the novel a lot. Bettina is a bit of a frustrating character because she's so awful in so many ways, but it's clear that this personality was the result of being raised by Babs and therefore isn't really her fault. It's hard to sympathize with either woman, but like many scandalous stories, it's the drama that pulls you in, not sympathy towards the protagonists. I'd say this is a good summer read.

Review: "The Chocolate Money is anything but sugary"

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Fort Review

This, my friends, was a really good one. I noticed The Fort on a banner on my amazon page and since it was free to borrow for Prime members, I grabbed it. The novel takes place during a summer in the early 1980's in the suburbs. The Vietnam War is still an intense memory for a lot of people and has become the focus of three young boys' summer games. Tim, Scott and Luke built a tree fort in the woods and spend their days playing soldier, using air rifles to shoot at targets on the ground.

Meanwhile, a local detective detective named Van Endel is investigating the ongoing murders of prostitutes, whose bodies are found at a local park. The plot picks up when Tim's older sister Becca comes home from the movies with a ripped shirt and an explanation that rings false. The next day, her friend Molly is reported missing. The kidnapper is revealed early on (the book is told through various character perspectives, which the kidnapper being one of them). He has his own demons as a war vet and preys on women who resemble his sister who disappeared long ago.

The boys are in the fort one day when they witness Molly, who managed to briefly escape from the kidnapper, being led at gunpoint back to his house. They manage to shoot him (with a real rifle borrowed from Scott's stepdad) in the leg, which sets up many of the issues for the kidnapper later in the book and contact the police. However, when another badly burned body shows up near the drive in where Molly supposedly disappeared, the cops believe the boys are lying to them. Their parents are furious and forbid the boys from spending any more time together. This of course only makes them more determined to prove their innocence and save Molly before she comes to any serious harm.

The Fort is a great coming of age novel along with a thriller about a serial killer. The story flies by and left me wanting to read Aric Davis' other books (randomly I bought A Good and Useful Hurt back in April so I'm looking forward to reading that), which are all really inexpensive on amazon (all under $5 or can be read for free through Prime). I don't know if he is a self-published author, but he definitely has talent. Even Gillian Flynn, author of last summer's amazing read Gone Girl, agrees, saying: “Every so often you come across a book with a voice like a blast of pure oxygen. Aric Davis has that kind of voice: crackling, assured, energized.” 

Do yourselves a favor and pick up The Fort. It's a great summer read.

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Review

I've been super behind on writing. We moved out of our NYC apartment on June 15th and relocated to a beautiful big apartment in Philly, so it took a while to get settled. And I took a little break from novels to read a bunch of graphic novels but I finally got back to Neil Gaiman's newest book. My husband has been harassing me to write this review since he's also a huge Gaiman fan and gave me orders to write a non-spoilery review.

So here goes... the unnamed narrator of The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at his father's funeral, feeling a bit lost and he ends up driving to his old house, and then part it to the rambling old farmhouse at the end of the lane to visit a family that he once knew. He asks an old woman there if he can sit out by the pond in the back, the pond that his old friend Lettie Hempstock once claimed was the ocean. She agrees and he goes to sit, only to be flooded with memories of an incident that took place when he was seven.

He lived with his sister and parents who, when faced with financial difficulties, took in boarders. One of these, an opal miner from South Africa, ended up stealing the family car and killing himself in it. This death led the narrator to spend some time at the Hempstock farm where he met Lettie, who was 11, her mother, Ginny and grandmother, known only as Old Mrs. Hempstock. The Hempstocks are definitely magical somehow, although their role in the world is never fully defined. They determine that the death and other strange occurrences are due to an evil presence lurking somewhere on the Hempstock property (sort of). Lettie takes the boy with her to bind the presence, but in doing so, there is a moment where the boy's guard is down and that opens him up to be a door between worlds, and a means for the creature to access his life and the lives of those around him.

Gaiman is adept at creating creep characters and disturbing scenes. The children's new governess, Ursula, certainly seems like the other mother in Coraline. She has the same sort of malevolence that children can see, but adults ignore. The presence of the governess kicks off the real adventure. How can the boy seek help from the Hempstocks and how can they save him from his predicament? I'm not going into tons of detail here as per my husband's request, but the main theme of the novel is sacrifice. Is a great sacrifice worth it?

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short little book, which is a bit disappointing given how infrequently Gaiman publishes anything these days. However, it is filled with lovely (and sometimes disturbing) imagery. The story isn't really a new one but despite its familiarity, it still feels interesting and unique. The Hempstocks are mysterious figures that like many Gaiman creations are just fleshed out enough to make them interesting but not so fully explained to make them fully understood, if that makes sense.

The end was sad and sweet and made me want to pick up one of his other novels again. Gaiman is really one of our most gifted writers and I definitely wish he wrote and published more often.

NY Times Review
The Guardian Review

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Fifth Wave Review

The review by Justin Cronin below starts with this line: "In a post-Potter, post-Katniss era, the line between young adult and mainstream fiction often blurs." This is very true, especially for me as I tend to read a lot of YA books. I've written about this before but it remains true that there are some young adult books that are just as entertaining and well written as adult literature. And sometimes more exciting and universally appealing.

Thus is the case with The 5th Wave. Unlike typical dystopian novels, The 5th Wave takes place in the midst of a disaster brought on by the arrival of an alien mothership, which appeared suddenly in the sky. And then did nothing. At least at first. But then come four waves of death and destruction, aimed at wiping out the human race. Here's a description of the waves from an article in Rapid City Journal (whatever that may be):

"In the first wave, all technology is made useless when the power grid is knocked out, causing widespread chaos. In the second wave, tsunamis wipe out coastal cities and their inhabitants. The third wave continues the killing, this time via a deadly plague spread by birds.
Then comes the fourth wave, involving "Silencers," humans who were implanted years ago with an "alien" gene while still in their mothers' wombs. These Silencers look and seem human, yet are actually programmed to kill any remaining humans. Because it's impossible to tell who is really human and who is a Silencer, the basic rule for everyone has become: Trust no one.
As the book opens, it's time for the fifth wave, which is supposed to empty Earth of all humans so the Others can take over a planet free of what they clearly believe is a lower intelligence."
Okay, so that's the basic idea. The story itself is told in a couple different voices. Cassie, a sixteen year old survivor, is living by herself in the woods, a few months after the first wave (although initially it seemed to me at least that she had been alone much longer). Through Cassie's memories, the reader understands the different waves and what happened to Cassie's family. Both of her parents are dead when the book opens, but she has a much younger brother named Sam who was taken by soldiers into a refugee camp. She promised to join him when he was taken (she wasn't allowed to join him) but is having trouble keeping that promise since she is afraid to wander too far from her camp because of the Silencers. Cassie is a realist but still clings to the memories of her past life - her family and her unrequited crush on Ben Parrish. 

Cassie finally decides to go after Ben, but on the way, she is shot in the leg by an unseen Silencer. She tries to flee from a car under which she has taken refuge, but ends up passing out in a snowstorm. That isn't her end though. She is found by Evan Walker, a slightly older farm boy who nurses her back to health and teaches her how to use a gun. She isn't without her suspicions of Evan, though, whose story doesn't quite add up even though he seems to have developed real feelings for her. 

Meanwhile, another young man nicknamed Zombie ends up at the same "refugee" camp as Sammy (nicknamed Nugget). Turns out children are being trained to fight the Silencers. However,  as Zombie trains and deploys on his first mission, he learns that the army he is fighting with may not be exactly what he thought they were. 

The Fifth Wave is a well written, gripping novel with well-written characters who don't fall into the typical cliches of YA dystopia. Even the love story angle works well, although I think it could have used more buildup. The end is definitely exciting and sets the story up nicely for a sequel. I haven't read about one yet, but I'm sure it's coming. And the movie rights were bought before the book was even released. The Fifth Wave is getting a lot of buzz out there and it's definitely worth reading, especially during all the intense summer storms we've been having!


NY Times Review (written by Justin Cronin!)

The Next Hunger Games?

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Revenge Wears Prada Review

Oh man... this book. I first read The Devil Wears Prada after college when I was working at Soap Opera Digest. I couldn't quite relate to Andy even though I was working at a magazine. We certainly had pages of the magazine go around that was like "the book" from the novel but my boss, who granted a bit high strung, was mostly fine - nothing like Miranda Priestly. I remember reading The Devil Wears Prada and being vaguely entertained but frankly I remember the movie more than the novel and even that I haven't seen in a super long time. But still, I wanted to read this and thought it would be an easy read while I was going through the craziness of the end of the year and packing up my apartment to move to Philadelphia.

Ok, beware, SPOILERS to follow - including about the end of the book so read at your own risk.

Revenge Wears Prada picks up ten years after The Devil Wears Prada ended. Andy is successful both personally and professionally. As the novel opens, she is preparing to marry the very wealthy Max Harrison, scion of a wealthy NYC society family. During the wedding day preparations, she flashes back to her life since leaving Runway. Her parents got divorced, Lily (her college best friend/alcoholic) moved out to Colorado where she married a yoga teacher and had a baby and Alex (her boyfriend) did Teach for America and now apparently has a serious girlfriend. Oddly enough, Andy and Emily (Miranda's senior assistant at Runway) now are best friends after bonding at a cooking class a year or so after Andy screamed at Miranda in Paris and quit the magazine. Emily ended up being fired right before she was due to be promoted. Both women still worked in the industry, more or less. Andy wrote for a wedding blog, while Emily worked at Harper's Bazaar, until Emily had the idea that they should launch a high end wedding magazine together. Andy resisted at first but they ended up being able to get funding (mostly due to Max Harrison's money. Andy and Max first met at a party Emily threw to attract financiers) and launched the magazine, which three years later was doing quite well as the story opens.

Andy get married, with a bit of trepidation, after finding a note from her mother-in-law before the ceremony pleading with her son not to marry his fiance. The note also mentions that Max ran into his ex at his bachelor's party in Bermuda. Of course Andy doesn't confront Max with any of this for weeks. She also is feeling miserably sick. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Andy accidentally got pregnant a bit before the wedding. The story moves fairly quickly through a year, during which time Andy has a daughter (Clementine) and continues to work on her magazine.

The magazine, The Plunge, is doing well enough that it has attracted the interest of Elias-Clarke, the publishing company that owns Runway. This bring Miranda Priestly back onto the scene, which of course freaks Andy out. Miranda begins seriously courting Emily and Andy. The girls had agreed not to sell for five full years but the money that they would get for selling would be substantial and they would only have to stay on the staff for a full year. However, of course, that was the deal in the first novel - work at Runway for a year and Miranda would help you transition into any magazine you wished. But Andy already couldn't hack a year under Miranda and definitely knew she would not be able to attempt another try. Emily, however, is chomping at the bit, as is Max, whose own company is struggling financially.

Andy manages to delay the decision throughout her pregnancy and maternity leave. Miranda randomly is obsessed with babies and gives her a decadent gift. And then behind Andy's back, Emily and Max sign over the magazine to Elias-Clarke (Max owned 18% of The Plunge so he was able to sign along with Emily). Andy, of course, is furious and kicks Max out of their apartment and refuses to talk to Emily. This is basically the end of the book, except for a coda that takes place a year and a half later. Randomly in the novel, Andy runs into Alex, her ex, and sparks fly. But of course she is married and newly a mother. She goes to this new mommies group where she meets a young woman, the aunt to one of the babies, who has an affair with a young photography student, cheating on her boyfriend, Xander. Before the magazine sale debacle, Andy learns that Xander is actually Alex. So a year and a half later, Andy is doing some free lance writing and Alex shows up and they kiss and decide to move forward with their own relationship.

So basically everyone ends up where they started. Emily was fired not long after the sale of The Plunge, Andy divorced her husband and Miranda got the magazine. I guess that was the revenge of the title. Miranda constantly treated Andy as if she didn't know her although at one moment she looked at her with extreme hatred, so I guess that meant that Miranda wanted revenge from when Andy screamed at her in Paris ten years ago. Or something. Honestly, I'm unclear. Miranda really wasn't in the book that much and it focused just as much on Andy's personal life as the magazine. Actually, I think there was more about her personal life than there was about her career. First off, she was stupid for denying the obvious signs of her pregnancy, then I'm not really sure why she married Max and all of a sudden Alex shows up out of nowhere and is her soulmate?

Whatever. This book was annoying. I guess if you loved the first one, you'll enjoy this. I wasn't impressed. That's all.

Interview with the author

Washington Post Review

11 Most Cringeworthy Moments

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Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Ashford Affair Review

I had a REALLY hard time picking a new book before starting this one. I tried to get into Mark Helprin's In Sunlight and in Shadow, which sounded awesome, but I couldn't get through the overly descriptive sample. Turns out the book was 700+ pages. I would have drowned in words! Every description I read just didn't pull me in, but I finally went back to my sample of The Ashford Affair, which ended up completely sucking me in. This is a definite recommendation for fans of Kate Morton's novels.

The Ashford Affair follows Addie, a young girl in the early twentieth century whose parents died, leaving her to be raised by her aristocratic aunt and uncle. Her slightly older cousin, Bea, is her one comfort. The two girls are raised together and both cross paths with a man named Frederick in different ways. Addie's story goes from the country estate of Ashford in English to Kenya in the mid-1920's to New York City in the '90s.

By the 1990s, Addie is quite infirmed but beloved by her family and friends. Her 34 year old granddaughter, Clementine, is a lawyer who works ridiculous hours trying to become partner. She has just ended an engagement and feels quite alone as she learns that her grandmother, who helped raise her, is quite ill. Clemmie slowly learns the truth about Addie's past throughout the novel, which also flashes back to Addie's storyline in England, Africa and finally western America.

The story is rich and intriguing. As I said earlier, it's very much in the vein of Kate Morton - a sprawling multi-generational novel with a secret that is only revealed towards the end of the book. Clemmie is sort of your typical overachieving lawyer type who can't see her soulmate under her nose, while the mystery of how Addie ended up married and raising the children she raised definitely pulls the reader in. The ending wasn't entirely surprising, but was definitely satisfying. I've never read the author's Pink Carnation series but they sound interesting although there are so many of them that I don't know if I have the energy to start the books at this point. Overall, I really liked this novel and hope she writes more standalone stories!

Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The School of Good and Evil Review

Entertainment Weekly just wrote a review of The School of Good and Evil (linked below) and raved about the book even for adults. It's the first of a trilogy, with books two and three coming out in 2014 and 2015 (all summer releases). Universal also just picked up the rights to develop movies out of the plot (see article below).

Anyway, this novel is seriously adorable in a Harry Potter meets Once Upon a Time kind of way. The story is a bit predictable, but it has a good message.

The School of Good and Evil tells the story of Sophie and Agatha, two girls from a small village on the edge of the woods who are complete opposites. Sophie is the classic fairy tale princess, the daughter of a widower, beautiful, blonde, good singing voice, who spends all her time doing good deeds. Her best friend, Agatha, on the other hand, lives in a cemetery and resembles an evil witch: lank, greasy hair, bulging eyes, bad manners. She's like Snape as a girl.

Sophie initially befriended Agatha as a Good Deed, but the girls grew on one another so that they are friends when the novel opens. In the village, every four years a mysterious being called the School Master arrives and steals two children, one good, one evil, for a school hidden somewhere in the woods. These children never return. But periodically new story books are brought to the village and the illustrations in them sometimes resemble the missing children from the last two hundred years. No one knows where these stories come from or if the school is real but the adults freak out every four years and try to protect their children from the School Master.

Sophie, of course, is dying to go to the school to achieve her true destiny as a fairy tale princess. Agatha, on the other hand, doesn't believe in the school, but wants to protect her best friend. The girls' true colors are hinted at quite early on. Sophie is selfish and her Good Deeds are really quite ridiculous (like making face cream for orphans), whereas Agatha is truly good and will put herself in danger to save her friend. When the School Master shows up to take Sophie away, Agatha gets herself taken too and the two girls are off to The School of Good and Evil... where everything goes terribly wrong.

The girls are dropped off at the "wrong" castles: Agatha to Good with a myriad of vapid princesses and muscled princes while Sophie is stuck in a dank tower with horribly evil children. Of course all she wants to do is get to Good, while all Agatha wants is for the two of them to go home.

Neither girl will get what she wants and along the way, they both discover that it's not what is on the outside that counts; what's inside is more important. Agatha and Sophie take fascinating journeys in the book as they discover their inner good and evil sides. The story itself is a bit Harry Potter light. While Harry Potter never skimps on details (well most details. How many damn kids go to Hogwarts?! Who are Hermoine's other two mystery roommates?), The School of Good and Evil is a bit vague in terms of the actual school The teachers are barely fully formed presences (no McGonagall or Flitwick here) and the buildings themselves aren't very well described. However, the overall message is a good one. And the story is entertaining. The ending left a lot of places for the author to go. Will the next book follow Agatha and Sophie? Or two other children from their village? Or some of their classmates? It's a mystery, but one I will definitely check out next summer!

Book website

Book trailer

Entertainment Weekly Review

Article about the movie

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Monday, May 27, 2013

The Position Review

Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings is one of the hot releases of the spring (along with Reconstructing Amelia and The Woman Upstairs). I've been seeing it everywhere and started looking into Wolitzer's other books. Three of them were available for the kindle for under $4 and since all the plots sounded interesting, I grabbed all three. Wolitzer, like Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides, writes literature, although as a woman she sometimes get unfairly categorized as a "chick lit" writer when her focus is on sprawling family epics much like Franzen and Eugenides.

This also means that the writing can be a bit heavy handed. Sometimes I think "literary" authors lose the joy in their writing for the sake of crafting a novel that gets glowing reviews. If the author is trying too hard to make an impression, I lose interest in the story, which is why I often find YA books more entertaining (less of a challenge to read but infinitely more fun). I remember slogging through The Marriage Plot - finding it a bit boring in all honesty. And frankly, I could tell from the first chapter of The Position that I might have the same reaction.

The basic plot concerns the four Mellow children - Holly, Michael, Dashiell and Claudia - and their discovery of Pleasuring, a sex book that their parents Paul and Roz wrote. After Michael's initial reveal of the book to his siblings, the book moves forward to the now adult children and how their lives were impacted from the book.

Michael works for a computer company and is involved in an relationship with an actress but struggles with depression, which effects his sex life. Holly has completely removed herself from the family, living across the country with her husband and infant son. Dashiell is a gay Republican working for the campaign of a senator with his long term boyfriend. Claudia, the youngest, is adrift at 34, with no real career or long lasting relationship.

Turns out that not long after Pleasuring came out, the Mellow parents separated. The reason why is filled in during flashbacks told from Roz's perspective. Not much happens in this novel, really, although the action is driven behind a proposed thirtieth anniversary release of Pleasuring, which Roz really wants and Paul does not. Each chapter is narrated from a different member of the family. During those chapters we learn more about each child's youth and how they grew up to be the person they are during the present time. We also learn about how Paul and Roz first met and how they decided to write their book.

And really, despite me saying that not much happens, at the end of the novel when all of the characters (except one) are in one place, there is definite growth. Wolitzer pulled me along through the book and without even realizing it, I became invested in the characters and where they would end up. The ending is bittersweet but really well written, which reflects the novel as a whole.

This is literature at its finest. While I don't think I'll dive into the other Wolitzer books I bought right away, I'm glad I have them. She's a talented writer who definitely deserves a spot among the best novelists out there now. Even though The Position isn't her newest book, I do recommend it.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I watched the movie Hugo a few months ago and enjoyed it so much that I immediately went to find the book only to learn that it wasn't available on the kindle. I posted something about that on facebook and a lot of people told me that the book was so special because it is mostly illustrated so I had to get a hard copy. Luckily one of my students was able to lend it to me. It's a super quick read since it is mostly illustrations but the book is pretty thick so I waited until I was home last week on bed rest for a couple days at which point I tore through it super quickly.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is the story of a young boy who lives within the walls of a train station in Paris. His uncle, who has disappeared, was the keeper of the clocks in the station who was in charge of cleaning, winding and maintaining all of the timepieces. Hugo's father (another clock maker) died in a fire at a museum, leaving behind only one automaton that they had found in the attic of the museum. Hugo wants to repair the old automaton with the skills he learned from his father but he also has to spend every day caring for the clocks and avoiding the station master. He also needs to survive. While he tries not to steal, he does need to eat and has to take some food from the different vendors in the station to live.

Eventually, he is caught stealing a small wind up mouse from a man named Georges who runs a small toy shop in the station, which brings Hugo into the larger story. What is Georges' past? Why does his goddaughter, Isabella, wear a key around her neck that looks like it would wind up the automaton? What will the automaton write when it comes to life? How does the magic of the early film industry fit into any of this?

Do yourself a favor and read this magical book, even if you don't have a child to read it to. It's a lovely story, which actually includes pictures from early filmmakers like Georges Melies. And as I said earlier, it's a very quick read - perfect for a rainy day. I really loved it!

Book website

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review

The Perks of Being a Wallflower came out when I was a senior in college so it wasn't on my radar for a long time. I don't know when I started to hear about it but it seemed to be one of those seminal coming of age books that people love. It wasn't until I started seeing movie reviews that I even really thought about it. And then over mini-term, I bonded with two of my eighth graders who both love reading and who now spend tons of time at my desk having our own little book club. Both girls recommended that I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower (and a couple other recommendations as well).

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an epistolary novel. The main character, Charlie, writes to an anonymous person he refers to only as "Dear Friend". Charlie is a freshmen in high school, still coping with the death of his Aunt Helen at the age of 7 and the suicide of his friend Michael which happened a year or so beforehand. Since their deaths, Charlie has felt very alone. He is incredibly smart but does not have friends. Early in the book, in shop class, he meets Patrick and later Patrick's stepsister, Sam, who Charlie is immediately drawn to. Both are seniors but they take Charlie under their wing and give him a group to belong to.

Charlie, the titular wallflower, lives a very internal life. He just wants friends and he wants those friends to be happy. He is the youngest child of a family is clearly loves him but is not very demonstrative. He is highly sensitive and cries frequently but for the most part he is deeply invested in feeling and observing. One of his teachers tells him to participate in life, which he starts to do with Sam and Patrick's group. Sam dates an older boy, who is out of high school, while Patrick is in a closeted relationship with the quarterback of the school's football team, Brad.

Throughout the year, Charlie experiences more and more things. He drinks and begins smoking both pot and cigarettes. He spends almost every Friday night watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which his friends act in. Along the way, he meditates about family, novels (his English teacher keeps giving him books to read outside of the normal curriculum from The Catcher in the Rye to The Fountainhead) and his friends. He  deals with abortion, his first girlfriend, school dances, lunchroom fights, detention and all of his friends graduating from high school). Along the way he learns a lot about himself. At the end of the novel, Sam tells him that he needs to be less passive. He needs to stop being the wallflower and learn how to engage with people in a meaningful way instead of letting them do whatever they want in order to be happy even if it doesn't make him happy. Eventually he comes to terms with trauma in his own past and in acknowledging that, it seems that he will hopefully have a happier, more participatory future.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is completely beloved and also spent about ten years on the American Library Association's list of 100 most banned books. It's probably still on the list in fact. A lot of people have compared the novel to The Catcher in the Rye, which I personally did not like when I had to read it in 9th grade (I didn't like whiny teenagers when I was a whiny teenager), but I did like this novel. Interestingly, Charlie's narrative voice reminded me a lot of Pat Peeples' voice in The Silver Linings Playbook. Both are epistolary novels featuring damaged and depressed characters trying to find some semblance of normality in a chaotic world. And I think both are certainly worth reading.

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Never Coming Back Review

Never Coming Back is another Swedish thriller export just like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The novel opens with a seemingly unconnected murder of a man and then switches to a wealthy tycoon who is obsessed with his childhood tormentors who he refers to as the Gang of Four. All of this appears unrelated to the main story, which follows Mike, his wife Ylva and their daughter Sanna. Mike and Ylva are recovering from an affair that she had a year ago so there is still some suspicion on Mike's part when Ylva goes out with friends on evening and does not come home.

Mike does not want to appear needy but eventually he calls her friends and finally the police, who definitely start eyeing him with suspicion. For many months he is the subject of scrutiny as he tries to pick up the pieces of his life and raise his young daughter as they both reel from the disappearance of Ylva.

Meanwhile, the reader knows exactly what happens to her. In the beginning, she decides to head home instead of getting a drink with friends. On her way to the bus station, she is approached by an older couple who she recognizes (although how is not revealed yet) who offer her a life. She really doesn't want to take it but winds up getting in the car with them. Turns out they just moved in across the street from her home. And they've built a sound proof music studio in the basement. But when the husband tasers Ylva, she realizes that she is in serious trouble as they lock her in the soundproof room of the basement (not quite a music room after all) where she is expected to service the husband and do chores in retribution for an unexplained crime.

There are hints throughout the book as to what the couple are seeking revenge for but it isn't until the final chapter that the full story is revealed. Poor Ylva, resourceful though she is, has to spend almost two years in that basement, where a video feed shows her what is happening at home with her husband and child as they try to move on without her. The tycoon from the beginning and his friend, a journalist, start to put the pieces together about how the Gang of Four relates to a series of death and disappearances. But the question is, will they figure out what's going on and convince someone to listen to them before it's too late?

The story was definitely thrilling and very fast paced. There's something stilted about reading translated novels but the plot here was so engaging that it was easy to move past that. Anyone who likes thrillers, especially those of you who enjoyed The Millennium Trilogy, will also like this!

The Independent Review

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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wedding Night Review

When I finished this book today, my husband asked if I was going to describe it as breezy. I told him it was the literary equivalent to a mojito: delicious and light. And then he mocked me. Which I probably deserve.

I've mentioned before that I don't really go for these cheesy chick lit titles but I do love Sophie Kinsella. Wedding Night was ridiculous and entertainment, just like all of her novels.

Wedding Night is the story of Lottie, who is convinced that her boyfriend Richard is about to propose to her. When he doesn't, she ends up getting back in touch with her gap year flame, Ben, who is going through a lot of his own issues. When he spontaneously proposes to her, she jumps headfirst into a horrible decision. She does decide to hold off on sex until their wedding night, which they intend to have on the Greek island where they first met.

The chapters alternate between Lottie's perspective and her older sister, Fliss's. Fliss (Felicity) works for a magazine that reviews hotels. She is horrified by another one of Lottie's post-break up impulsive decisions. But she is also reeling from her own painful divorce that continues to wreak havoc on her life. Early on in the book she meets Lorcan, Ben's colleague, and they jump onto a one night stand, after bonding over Ben and Lottie's terrible decision.

Fliss then decides to sabotage the honeymoon. She bribes one of the hotel managers to do everything they can to prevent Lottie and Ben from consummating the marriage, because she worries Lottie might get pregnant, regret her spontaneity and then have to deal with a messy divorce. At least if there isn't sex, she can get an annulment. Meanwhile, Fliss, her son Noah, Lorcan and Richard (who quickly regrets losing Lottie), travel to Ikonos, hitting a few bumps on the journey (like a medical emergency that forces their plane to land in Bulgaria). Lottie and Ben are constantly frustrated by their honeymoon from hell. Their fabulous suite has two single beds, Ben gets drunks, she has an allergic reaction to massage oil. They are so desperate to get it on that they have a hard time seeing clearly. It soon becomes obvious that Ben isn't such a great guy. Richard, on the other hand, is desperate to get Lottie back. It doesn't take a genius to realize how the story will end. And how Fliss will get her own happy ending as well, given her chemistry with Lorcan.

If you've liked other Sophie Kinsella books, you'll like this one too. Read it in a hammock when the weather gets nicer. Or on a beach somewhere. It's totally a beach book: light, easy and fun. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fearless Review

Oops, I guess I published this without writing it. Sorry!

But honestly, you didn't miss much by my lack of a review. I struggled through Fearless; it took me forever and really wasn't very good, which is too bad because I've really loved some of Cornelia Funke's other novels like The Thief Lord and Inkheart. I should have known this wouldn't be that good when I could barely recall any details from the previous book, Reckless. The premise of the Mirrorworld series is that Jacob Reckless, a normal boy from New York, stumbled on a mirror that took him to another world as a teenager. Over a decade later, he still lives in that world as a famous treasure hunter while occasionally returning to his home with his brother, Will. Jacob and Will are based on the Grimm brothers and encounter of the similar German based fairy tale tropes that the Grimms did. Feel free to skim the synopsis of Reckless that I linked to above. I had to in order to remember most of this. The Mirrorworld resembles a late nineteenth century Europe, where the magic of the old world is being replaced by the science and industry of the new world.

Fearless is mostly a standalone novel. The events of the last book set the action but Will and Clara aren't in this one at all. At the end of the last book, the Red Fairy, whom Jacob had previously had a relationship with punished him for leaving her by making her sister enact a punishment that will end with Jacob's death. Or something like that. The point is that the whole book, Jacob is seeking a way to prevent his death. He scours the Mirrorworld for magical items to save himself and eventually ends up on a quest with Fox, his loyal companion and shapeshifter, to locate three body parts of a dead emperor which will help them find a magical crossbow. Apparently when the crossbow is shot by someone who loves the person the bow is aiming for, that person will be healed of whatever plagues them.

Jacob's nemesis is a Goyl (a stone man) who wants the crossbow for his own reasons. However, he is stuck traveling with a spoiled prince, a bodyguard and a tutor. There are a few side stories too - Jacob's search for his father, who is is convinced disappeared into Mirrorworld but is still alive, and Fox's side trip to meet up with her mother and stepfather, who drove her out of their home at a young age because they feared her ability to shapeshift. Jacob and Fox (and the Goyl) search for the three pieces of a dead emperor while fighting each other along the way.

I really wanted to like this series. It's apparent at the end that there will be a third book but frankly, I don't think I'll buy it. I basically forgot that the first one wasn't so great, which is how I ended up with book two. Hopefully this blog will remind me not to buy the third one. Cornelia Funke really is a good writer, but this just isn't my favorite. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of her older books. The Mirrorworld novels just aren't worth it.

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