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I’ve been flying through books recently, thanks to some Christmas gifts and car trips (the perfect time for hours of reading). Here’s what I’ve read in January:
Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant: I had previously read the first two books in this trilogy, but since I received them all for Christmas, I decided to re-read them. These books are the story of Tris, a 16-year old girl living in dystopian Chicago. In Tris’ society, there are factions, the Dauntless, the Erudite, the Abnegation, the Candor, and the Amnity. At 16, Tris has to choose which faction she will pledge to join for the rest of her life. There’s a great mix of mystery, love, friendship, and general coming of age in each of these books. My favorite part about Allegiant was that Veronica Roth develops her all of her characters, even secondary ones, fully and makes them stay true to the character we have seen, even when many readers weren’t so happy with the outcome. Re-reading the first two books was like visiting old friends. I highly recommend this series!
Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse, Farewell to the East End: I read Call the Midwife originally years ago (pre-children!) and enjoyed it. Then, the PBS program of the same name came out, and I was hooked. I’d been wanting to re-read the book and the two that accompany it, but my library system only had one. Hooray for Christmas presents! Jennifer Worth’s writing style is personal and engaging and I highly enjoyed these books because of it. I found it was wonderful to read these after watching the show, because I could hear the different characters’ voices, and made reading these stories much more real. I do find the show quite stressful, and the books, thankfully, aren’t nearly as stressful. However, many of the stories in the book that are also in the show are sadder, especially in the second two books. Still, I think these are a wonderful read, particularly if you are interested in midwifery, women’s health, history, or just realizing what a blessing modern medicine is to our society.
Mr. Churchill’s Secretary: A Maggie Hope Mystery: This novel, by Susan Ella McNeil, is set in early 1940’s London. There is war between England and Germany, but the bombings of the Blitz have just begun. Maggie Hope, a highly gifted mathematician, raised in American but British by birth, finds herself working as one of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s secretaries after the mysterious murder of her predecessor. Also tied up in the mystery of the book is a secret from her own past. While you have to suspend some sense of realism for the mystery, I found myself really enjoying the characters, particularly Maggie, but the various mysteries she uncovers. And seriously, this book has everything. Spies! Codes! Codebrakers! Rapists! Murders! The IRA! Ballet! Rationing! Bombings! It’s impossible not to get caught up in the action. And, I found the mysteries to be pleasantly not-obvious but still believable; there was one particular revelation that made me gasp audibly. The novel is peppered with complex characters and relationships, which make it all the more engaging. If you like historical, face-paced novels, you are sure to enjoy this one!
Cinder: This novel, the first of four from Marissa Meyer, is a little hard to explain. Its sort of like a futuristic re-telling of Cinderella, but sort of not. Here’s what the publisher says: “Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . . Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.” Yet another book I really enjoyed, though parts are strange. Moon people? Ooookay. But there’s a nice feeling of history meets future meets strange new world that is strangely appealing. This is due to the phenomenal world-building Meyer does. These worlds are built mostly through showing, not telling, and there are hints of a rich history in both earth and Luna that give them a sense of realism. While the love-interest take a leading role in this story, I like that its a-typical in that Cinder quickly realizes that she does have feelings for Kai she works very hard to pretend she doesn’t. I feel like most YA novels of this type are either instant love between both parties, or unrequited love, so this was a nice change of pace. There’s also an element of mystery here, but once the facts are presented, it is very easy for the reader to figure out. All-in-all, I really enjoyed this book, though I think the characters are a little more one-dimensional than some of the other books I’ve read lately. I am excited to read the next book though and see how/if the characters develop more and what happens with the story-line. I recommend this if you like YA dystopian and/or fantasy, but if you don’t, it might not be for you.
What about you? Read anything wonderful lately?
From the back of the book: “Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend the court as ambassadors and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reasons to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a memeber of the royal family is murdered in a suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift — one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.”
I stumbled on this book when I was browsing Barnes and Noble; it sounded incredibly interesting, and I immediately logged on to my library’s website and requested it.
And it was soo good.
I’m a fan of YA books, complex characters, fantasy, coming-of-age, and world-building stories. This novel has all of these elements, and is not missing the most important: gorgeous writing.
Seraphina’s character was wonderfully written and developed. She is sixteen, but her voice is strong, rich, complex and lacks the teenage angst and “woe is me” feel so many teenagers in YA books can have, at least at points. There’s one particular scene where Seraphina’s disgust of who she is has overwhelmed her; while she is angry, her ability to work through her emotions and come to a semblance of self-acceptance in the scene is wonderfully touching. There were many times throughout the novel that I forgot she was sixteen; this maturity I think will make the novel appeal to people who aren’t typically YA fans.
So much of what makes this book wonderful is the writing. Every character we meet is well written and fleshed out; you can feel that each person has a back-story and opinions of their own. Rachel Hartman does a wonderful job at world building; there is a rich and bloody history between humans and dragons, and she captured all of the nuances of what life is like for both dragons and humans in this world. Best of all, she doesn’t spend time explaining the minutia of these worlds, but allows us to experience first-hand what life is like for both humans and dragons, which I think shows much more than mere description would.
Is the plot pretty predictable? Yes. I’d say I easily figured out 98% of what was going to happen. But the book was so wonderfully written I really didn’t care. I found myself identifying with Seraphina, caring for her, and also loving those who were dear to her.
All-in-all, I would recommend this as a solid, fun, and touching read.
This weekend, I read Her Fearful Symmetry, but Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife. I haven’t read The Time Traveler’s Wife, and wasn’t intending to read Her Fearful Symmetry, but I heard so many rave reviews, I decided to add it to my requests list at my local library, expecting to have to wait months; instead, I picked the book up two days after it had been released.
Here’s how the Publisher’s Website described the novel:
Julia and Valentina Poole are semi-normal American twenty-year-olds with seemingly little interest in college or finding jobs. Their attachment to one another is intense. One morning the mailman delivers a thick envelope to their house in the suburbs of Chicago. From a London solicitor, the enclosed letter informs Valentina and Julia that their English aunt Elspeth Noblin, whom they never knew, has died of cancer and left them her London apartment. There are two conditions to this inheritance: that they live in it for a year before they sell it and that their parents not enter it. Julia and Valentina are twins. So were the estranged Elspeth and Edie, their mother.
The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders the vast and ornate Highgate Cemetery, where Christina Rossetti, George Eliot, Radclyffe Hall, Stella Gibbons and Karl Marx are buried. Julia and Valentina come to know the living residents of their building. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword-puzzle setter suffering from crippling obsessive compulsive disorder; Marijke, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including — perhaps — their aunt.
After completing Her Fearful Symmetry, I will definitely be reading The Time Traveler’s Wife. Her Fearful Symmetrywas fabulous, wonderful, lyrical, and I cannot say how much I loved it. The lyrical prose exceeded my expectations. So did the idea of the ghost story, which I feel Niffenegger really reinterpreted and took in an entirely new direction than what has been seen before. The plot could have been predictable, but it was delightfully fresh, and one of the twists made my eyes bug out.
Entwined with the story of Julia and Valentina were the stories of the other occupants of their flat building — Robert, Martin and his wife Marijke. We got to hear parts of the story in each of their voices. What Niffenegger accomplished so well in the case of each of her characters was to make the reader care about them and what happened with them. Each of the characters seemed completely real, and even if I didn’t identify with or even like a character, Niffenegger’s skill with character development made me care about their fates.
This novel also delves into what it is like being a twin, and the issues embodied in that. As the granddaughter and great-niece of identical twins, I found this aspect of the novel fascinating. I have lots of questions to ask them now!
This is not a particularly face-paced novel, but its the perfect “get cozy and read” novel. Read it. You will be glued to the edge of your seat and awed by Niffenegger’s prose. I completely, whole-heartedly recommend this one!
Its a two-for-one book review today!
I picked up these two Young Adult Fantasy/Sci-Fi books by Suzanne Collins from my local library after hearing great things about them on a couple of different book blogs. I LOVE THEM! These are the type of books you sit down to read, and then what feels like 15 minutes later is really an hour and you’ve read 100 pages. They just draw you in and you cannot. stop. reading. I read both of these over two days; I finished one and jumped right into the next one!
Catching Fire is the sequal to The Hunger Games, and I don’t want to give anything away about that plot, but the basic idea in both novels is that in the future, after the United State has been distroyed, there are 12 “districts” across the country ruled by a “Capitol”. To control the districts, the capitol hosts a yearly Hunger Games, where a boy and a girl from each district must come and fight to the death (24 children, ages 12 to 18 in all). The last person left alive wins a year’s supply of food for everyone in their distric and a lifetime of luxery. Enter our heroine Katniss, who, to protect her sister, finds herself volunteering for the games, and somewhat unwilling allied with the boy chosen from her district against the other competetors in the Hunger Games.
Yes, the plot of The Hunger Games reminds me of other stories I’ve read before, but I loved the element of romance, and Katniss’s quest to figure out who she is and who she wants to be. Plus, even though the general premise of the book was one I was familiar with, they way events unfolded was not something I could predict! I love being on the edge of my seat, and both of these books did that!
There is also a charming innocence about these books. Yes, Katniss’s life is hard, and the life of a competitor in the Hunger Games is a desperate, bloody one, but Katniss charmed me. Her efforts to remain true to who she was no matter what happened during the games spoke to her depth of character, and I also identified with her turmoil over who to trust, or really, if she could trust anyone. There was just something about this combo that gave this book a lovely feeling.
Suzanne Collins has a third novel in the works, and I would recommend you run to your local library to grab these, fall in love, and then settle in to wait for the next book. I really, really highly recomend these!
I recently finished Brisingr, the third book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, which includes Eragon and Eldest. To be honest, I thought this was the last book in the series, but it evidently is not. That said, the events of this book are very much setting up what is to come. Reflecting back on what important things occurred, I could only think of a few events or things we learned about Eragon, but they were mostly all discoveries that were left open-ended. That in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but reading 700+ pages of setting up future events seems funny to me, in retrospect.
The second book, Eldest, allowed Eragon’s cousin Roran to narrate some chapters, and Paolini continued with Roran’s narration in Brisingr. I’ve read some reviews where reader’s didn’t care for Roran’s narration, but I found I didn’t mind it at all. Mostly he narrated a few short chapters here and there, and the majority of those focused on Roran’s perception of Eragon, with a few battles thrown in for good measure.
Paolini seems to have become less grandiose and verbose, which I greatly appreciated. However, his tendency to over-describe remains. This bothered me a bit, not because Paolini’s descriptions aren’t vivid, but because every-other paragraph seems to be a detailed description of something. I think less descriptions in certain places would make the descriptions of events Paolini wanted to particularly highlight stand out more. I found myself skimming more heavily than usual in many places, and when we got to battle scenes that I would normally want lots of details in, I found myself thinking, “not more descriptions!”
Paolini does remind readers what some specific things are, like an energy restoring drink Eragon’s mentor gave him, which means that skimming some descriptive passages wasn’t a detriment to knowing what was going on, and also reminded me of things that happened in the previous two novels. I also appreciated that this novel didn’t introduce many new characters, but focused more on characters we already knew.
After finishing this novel, I’m ready to read the next installment, and find out what happens next in Eragon’s quest to defeat Gallbatorix! I have a feeling Roran will have a big role to play before the end, and that Paolini has a few more plot twists up his sleeves. While this book wasn’t perfect (to me), it was a solid, enjoyable read.
Locked Rooms is the eighth book in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, and is probably my favorite so far. This novel focuses primarily on Mary’s early years living in San Francisco during the 1906 earthquake with her family, before the car accident that takes her parents’ and brother’s lives. On their way to San Francisco, and upon their arrival, Mary suffers nightmares that soon make Holmes wonder – was her family’s death an accident?
One of the things that makes the novel my favorite thus far in the series are the third-person narrated chapters from Holmes’ perspective. To be honest, I had some misgivings about Holmes’ narration, specifically his view of Mary’s behavior, to be somewhat disconcerting in the beginning. However, as his narration continued, I realized not only was his view justified, but it was necessary for us to see it. For Mary, the events of this novel are so emotionally charged, that she is far from her normal, rational self, though her narration continues to justify and rationalize her thoughts and actions. Holmes’ narration really put into perspective her emotional change. It was this emotional charge that helped pull me into the story and really want to know what happened to Mary’s family.
San Francisco’s most famous detective, Dashiell Hammett, makes an appearance as well, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Hammett was a detective novelist, and his friendship with Holmes, who rages against Doyle at least once in each of King’s books, was a fun and funny side-note.
While this novel is richer if you’ve read the seven previous novels, it does work as its own stand-alone novel. If you’ve ready any of the other Russell-Holmes novels, you’re be sure to love this one!
Over the last month and a half, I have been absorbed in the world of Tally, a teenage girl living in the future. Scott Westerfeld’s series, “Uglies,” “Pretties,” “Specials” and “Extras,” focus on Tally and her friends and she navigates a world where, at age 16, everyone receives an operation to make them beautiful, and the same, as everyone else.
I read about these on a book blog, and thought they sounded like a Twlight Zone rip-off. But, I picked up “Uglies” on a whim one day at the library, and I’m glad I did; I couldn’t have been more wrong! These books immediately pulled me into Tally’s life and society — I wanted to know more about this society; how did our society evolve into theirs? Westerfeld answered all these questions, but wove them into the story, which I thought was perfect, especially for the young adult audience.
Westerfeld also created some futuristic teenage slang, which made the futuristic setting more believable. The imagery in each of these novels was beautiful and vivid, and one haunting scene from “Specials” stands out as a particularly good example of this. The plot in each of the books is fairly straightforward, if you know the name of the next book, you can probably guess where the plot will end up, but its the getting there that’s interesting. Likewise, the “message” of each book is straightforward, but they are none the less an easy, entertaining read.
Of the three, my favorite was probably “Pretties,” as that’s where we see most of Tally’s personal development, not just the personality that is more or less forced on her. Overall, I would give these books a 4 out of 5, and recommend them to someone who is looking for a fun, lighter science-fiction read.
A Monstrous Regiment of Women is the second in Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. I’ve since read A Letter of Mary, the third in that series, so I think my review of this book will be slightly colored by having read that already. Here’s a brief synopsis from Amazon:
…[I]n A Monstrous Regiment of Women, Mary Russell’s adventures as a student of the famous detective continue. A series of murders claims members of a strange suffrage organization’s wealthy young female volunteers, and Mary, with Holmes in the background, investigates, little knowing what danger she personally faces.
While I did enjoy this book, it was my least favorite of the three I’ve read so far. The novel focused mostly on Mary, and her thoughts and feelings about her relationship with Holmes. While the mystery was intriguing, I felt it took a backseat to the relationship and character development, and thus wasn’t resolved quite as believably as I would have liked. Also, the ending of mystery came quite quickly, and seemed slightly hurried.
That being said, I loved the language and writing style of this book. In fact, one of the ending passages is probably my favorite of all that I’ve read in King’s books so far. I loved reading Russell’s thoughts and actions in parallel, and read that portion a few additional times. There’s also a character who is described as very persuasive and a powerful speaker. I thought King did a great job with her dialogue; many times her speeches began moving me to action!
The major “hook” of this novel, for me, occurred at the novel’s conclusion. The unexpected event grabbed me, and made me want to immediately grab the next novel to see how it played out. In a lot of ways, this makes me feel like A Monstrous Regiment of Women is setting up the rest of King’s series; it’s not something to scream over, but its not something to lament either. If you loved The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, this novel is worth the read.
* Photo from The Baker Street Challenge