Category Archives: B+

At Home in Mitford

Jan Karon 1994

Definitely enjoyable, a quaint view of a preacher’s flock in small-town Mitford, North Carolina.  Unlike some religious books, this story does not drown the reader with passages from the bible, barely masked sermons and declarations of divine faith.  It is an honest and heart-warming easy look at their daily lives.

Father Tim has led his flock in Mitford for over thirty years with nary a vacation– no time for one!  Besides conducting services, visiting parishioners and other regular duties, he suddenly becomes the owner and friend of a large scripture-loving dog, takes in a 11-year old who has had too much to bear, contracts diabetes, and finds stolen jewels in a church closet.

(It has also been made into a musical.)

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Den of the White Fox

Lensey Namioka

From School Library Journal– An intriguing blend of historical fiction and mystery that will be appreciated by fans of either genre. Freelance samurai Matsuzo and Zenta are warned that the valley they are about to enter is an “unwholesome place after dark.” Rumors about a powerful spirit that haunts the area and the more tangible threat of an occupying army fail to dissuade the two, however, and they descend into the valley’s depths. The place is rife with intrigue and the samurai establish an uneasy existence among the locals, ever unsure of who is friend and who is foe. As the plot unfolds, the two warriors attempt to solve the mystery of the White Fox, a shadowy figure who might be the leader of a political rebellion or a supernatural spirit. This extremely well-researched work gives readers a real sense of what life was like in 16th-century Japan. As a mystery, it is methodically planned and resolved with no loose ends. The characters are all well developed and interestingly drawn and YAs will be as unsure as the samurai about whom to trust. The language is challenging and includes some Japanese words. This novel will expose teens to a fascinating period in world history. -Robyn Ryan Vandenbroek, formerly at Otterville Public School, Ontario. Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

This might make more sense if I had started with the first Zenta & Matsuzo book.  I did like the historical aspects and some of the characters, but I don’t know how subtly the “plot unfolding” happened.  Intriguing thoughts presented, switching between characters could be a tad more perceptible?

The Robots of Dawn

Isaac Asimov 1983

Asimov completed this book much later than the first two in the series.  Knowing this, and curious to see if his writing style had changed, I would say that it is more descriptive (the book is indeed much longer) but altogether stays very much true to the voice of the other works.

This book is a triumphant tale for earthmen, the general progress of humanity, and productive compromise.  The murder mystery itself causes much consternation to both Elijah Baley and the reader, but it comes with many discoveries about the case that prevent throwing down the book in disgust.  Baley again delves into a foreign culture, this time with less encouragement and much more pressure, and finds that the Aurorans are not as perfect as they think suppose to be. Continue reading

Troy

Adele Geras

{Summary found on Wikipedia.com} :  The plot focuses on several women of Troy, ranging from powerful rich maidens to the servant girls who live in the town. The women all suffer in emotional ways with the decade long war at the center of their pain. Orphan sisters Xanthe and Marpessa live in Priam’s palace as maids and surrogate daughters to Andromache and Helen, respectively.  Andromache is Hector’s wife and mother to Astynax, whom Xanthe cares for like her own child. Marpessa sees the gods but keeps to herself because she knows that people will label her “disturbed” like Hector’s sister Cassandra.

The story picks up steam when Eros hits Xanthe with a silver-blue arrow, while she is working in the Blood room (where the fallen soldiers are taken to be nursed back to health). Xanthe falls in love with Alastor, who then impregnates Marpessa, a triangle brought about because Aphrodite longs for any entertainment other than the war. Polyxena, a friend of the two sisters, is hopelessly in love with Iason, who loves Xanthe.

Geras fills in the holes between each of the subplots with gossip from the servants of Priam’s palace. They serve as the Greek chorus and converse among themselves with how lazy Helen is or how estranged from her family Andromache is. Eventually the story winds down with the inevitable wooden horse and the sacking of Troy.

Geras shines as a storyteller and multi-subplot manager. She carefully scripts each plot to tell the inner feelings of the Trojan woman. The reader knows how the story ends (the rape and pillage of Troy) but what keeps them reading is the interest in the characters’ dreams and ultimate futures.

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The King’s Daughter

by Suzanne Martel

Wow, exceeded my expectations.  I hated the cover picture but couldn’t pass up a book about Québec for $1, and I was pleased to find that it as a lovely classic look underneath.  My mother also read and enjoyed this novel, which I would recommend to others interested in the frontier of Quebec from a historical fiction perspective.  I think this book also helped me appreciate Le Premier Jardin more.

{From the publisher:  A historical novel that realistically depicts life in 17th-century Quebec from the point of view of a French teenager.  In 1672, eighteen-year-old Jeanne Chatel has just been chosen as a “king’s daughter”, one of the hundreds of young women sent to the wilderness of North America by the French government to become the brides of farmers, soldiers, and trappers.

Jeanne has been raised in a convent. But with her independent spirit, she doesn’t hesitate when she’s given the chance to go to New France. Her vivid imagination conjures up a brilliant new life full of romance and adventure.

Upon arrival, however, Jeanne discovers that she must put aside her romantic dreams.  Her husband is not a dashing young military officer, but a proud, silent trapper who lives with his two small children in a remote cabin.  Jeanne must draw on all her courage and imagination to adjust to this backwoods life and respond to the dangers that surround her.  She learns to paddle a canoe and fire a musket, masquerades as a man to save her husband’s fur-trading permit, and fights off marauding Indians.  By the end of a year, she has won the love of her husband and his family — and at last feels truly at home in her new land.

The King’s Daughter is a classic story of adventure and discovery, a tale for every young reader looking for a plucky heroine or intrigued by our continent’s colonial past.}

Eskimo.com has great commentary and biographical information on Suzanne Martel.

The Artemis Fowl Files

Eoin Colfer

First ‘extras’ or fan-targeted companion book I’ve read, and I felt like it was a nice read, offering a degree of satisfaction, and furthermore I think it’s good to have a format like this where the author can release short stories or snippets that they really like but do not fit into one of their novels.  This allows some just-for-fun stories with the characters you already love, and more great writing from the author you already love.

The short story about the blue diamond that Artemis enlists Mulch Diggums’ help to obtain is just as intriguing and witty as the rest of the series, but touching, and I loved the ending.  The short story about Holly Short joining the LEPrecon is also good to learn more about the feisty heroine.

Talk

by Kathe Koja

Good book!  One day one of our librarians, Lisa, handed this to me and prepared me with the knowledge that this book was written in stream of consciousness style.  I had heard scary things about this mode d’emploi, so I sat down with it, ready for a battle.

Instead I eased into a pleasurable narrative about some teenagers dealing with a controversial school play and the emotions running below the surface.

{From PinkBooks.com: Kit Webster is hiding a secret. Carma, his best friend, has already figured it out, and pushes him to audition for the high school play, Talk. When he’s cast as the male lead, he expects to escape his own life for a while and become a different person. What he gets instead is the role of a lifetime: Kit Webster. In the play, Kit’s thrown together with Lindsay Walsh, the female lead and the school’s teen queen. Lindsay, tired of the shallow and selfish boys from her usual circle of friends, sees something real in Kit – and wants it. But Kit’s attention is focused on Pablo, another boy in school. The play is controversial; the parents put pressure on the school to shut it down. And when Kit and Lindsay rally to save Talk, they find themselves deep into a battle for the truth: onstage, and inside themselves.}

I would recommend this to anyone interested in LGBT or stream-of-consciousness style writing.

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

Excellent!  I first heard of this book from The Bookshelf Collection, and knew I had to get my hands on it.

From discussion on Nerdfighters: “The whole concept of a Hunger Games is exciting. Absolutely terrible and awful but I love it… the beginning was powerful, it drew a dark scene and brought out a heroine we could all love… the beginning was powerful, it drew a dark scene and brought out a heroine we could all love… lolcat blurb: Im in ur gamez messin wit ur kapital”

{Summary from Scholastic, where you can hear an excerpt read by Suzanne Collins herself!:  In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.}

Continue reading

The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart

Young Adult books are gaining esteem for their quality and contribution to great literature.  Juvenile fiction can also be an enriching genre not to be overlooked by those over the age of 15.  (Need I mention Harry Potter?)  The Mysterious Benedict Society is one of the juvenile classification that any adult can still appreciate.

Good read.  The intriguing cover is a good representation of what you’ll find inside.  This book can be separated into two parts, the test/finding of amazing kids, and the battle against the evil mastermind.  I enjoyed both; the first part was so interesting, and will excite anyone who likes puzzles.  The second part was full of interesting twists and turns and makes the reader think.  Stewart has a lot of fresh ideas.

Excellent book.

The Outlaws of Sherwood

Robin McKinley

A good read. I took this novel with me on my trip to France this summer and loved being able to draw it out of my purse for a few minutes while riding the metro and trains etc. Some books are just not conducive to such sporatic perusing, but this one was still very good.

I don’t know if I like Robin’s worrywart persona but I love the descriptions of the forest, the practicalities of living in it, and their smart solutions.  The character of Cecil and her falling in love with Little John reminds me of the quirky relationship between Sleeping Beauty and the blacksmith in Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End.

Here’s a great analysis by Allen W. Wright on a Robin Hood site full of information about the legend:
http://www.boldoutlaw.com/robspot/0902.html

A spot of character description:

“Fortunately, McKinley’s Marian is one of many modern attempts to restore some strength and vitality to the character.  Yes, Marian can easily outshoot Robin (in this book — who can’t?) But again, she’s far more than merely a good huntswoman.  Much of the spirit, the emotional heart, of Robin’s legend (within the book) comes from Marian.  In terms of personality, McKinley’s Marian is as strong as she’s ever been — making great personal sacrifices for the sake of the outlaws and their reputation.”

Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury

This book is ripe for discussion. So many intricate ideas bursting from the pages.  The image of the mechanical Hound was quite frightening to me and well-played by the author.  The aspects of the story that suggest a nihilistic existence, such as nothing to do but watch TV, Montag wandering around with a group of bums, etc., gave me a depressed feeling similar to the futility in other dystopian future books (1984, Brave New World).

I liked this book more after I had read the author’s note.  Ray Bradbury sounds so interesting on a personal level!  Did you know he wrote this story intending to show his great love for books and libraries?  As I read these 50’s and other early books I sometimes struggle to get into the story, they seem fundamentally different somehow.

An interesting historical note from GradeSaver.com:

Developed in the years following World War II, Fahrenheit 451condemns not only the anti-intellectualism of the defeated Nazi party in Germany, but more immediately the intellectually oppressive political climate of the early 1950’s – the heyday of McCarthyism. That such influential fictional social criticisms such as Orwell’s Animal Farm 1984 and Skinner’s Walden Two were published just a few short years prior to Fahrenheit 451 is not coincidental. These works reveal a very real apprehension of the danger of the US evolving into an oppressive, authoritarian society in the post-WWII period.

Stemming from a similar basis of a future literature-less society, The Last Book in the Universe, YA and written in 2000, is another good book to read.

Gregor the Overlander

Gregor the Overlander and Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane

Suzanne Collins

Worth reading. It is for a little bit younger audience but I still enjoyed it very much. The author describes it as her New York version of Alice in Wonderland. She has created a fascinating world full of danger but also hope.

The Host

Stephenie Meyer

Eeep! Just finished it; the ending is like being hurled from a giant catapult, a crazily spinning carousel with the colors brightening each moment. Awesome. Basically, this book is a display of Stephenie Meyer’s love of the Arizona desert. Within this overarching love, the meat of the book is full of the character interactions that readers loved from the Twilight series.

My only, tiny, inconsequential, and petty qualms from the story: First, I liked Melanie’s body better.  Sorry, I can’t help it. I don’t think Meyer was totally enthused about it either; she pointed out quite a bit of difficulties.  But it wasn’t what I imagined in my head for the wonderful Wanderer.  Still, I find that character description intriguing. A small, very small 17-year-old with a silver-ish pallor to her skin, golden specks or freckles, and long golden hair? and I quote Meyer (should be doing this more often) page 603: “The skin on the face had the same silver undertone — silver like moonlight — as the hand did, with another handful of the golden freckles across the bridge of the nose. Wide gray eyes, the silver of the soul shimmering faintly behind the soft color, framed by tangled golden lashes.  Pale behind them.  A dimple in the chin.  And everywhere, everywhere, golden, waving hair that stood away from my face in a bright halo and fell below where the mirror showed.” also page 603, “this half-child with her moonlight face and sunlight hair.”

Some good reviews and other info can be seen on Stephenie’s site:
http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/thehost.html

Discussion of a sequel:
http://albanypubliclibrary.wordpress.com/2008/06/30/a-sequel-to-the-host/

Son of the Mob


Son of the Mob
+ Hollywood Hustle

by Gordon Korman

Loved it. I accidentally read the second one before the first, but it turned out okay, maybe even better for this series.

I was so proud of myself when I guessed almost immediately that Ray was the ‘inside man’. And it was nice how for a change the main character got it, not so much beating around the bush. The resolution was cool, I was freaking out when he pulled the gun on Vince, but then his good character pulled through.

That really stinks how Vince’s problem was so bad that he had to quit the football team.

My favorite parts of this book: when Vince tells his dad at the end that he’s going out with Agent Bite-Me’s daughter, how Kendra and Vince are so perfect for each other, and at the end of the year when Vince knows he’ll get an A in the class, he tells Mr. Mullinicks, “That’s your problem.”

Peaches

Jodi Lynn Anderson

I almost didn’t finish this one. I started reading it then actually got so sick of it I had to forget it for a week or two before I could stomach picking it up again. But then it got really good. Maybe it was me, maybe the beginning just has to be gotten through. A little part of the problem was that I was very confused, with the rapid flashbacks and no prior knowledge to support it, and then the descriptions of people without a background or a setting, my mind just didn’t know where to place the people and events, it really doesn’t like things floating around in ether. (And maybe it was just my speed reading getting away from me. Oftentimes it takes the reins and I fly through about 3 chapters in a beautiful whirlwind that leaves gaping holes in detail.)

After that though things were awesome. I loved the scenery, the camaraderie, the melody. The peach orchard was beautiful, the hot days relished by me reading this in a foot of snow, the coming together (however slowly) of the friends fulfilling.

But one other thing, the whole Rex issue, I never got it. How he meets Murphy and looks at her funny, his face moving weirdly like he can’t put his finger on it, what is that about? Murphy might’ve felt something stirring too, but it wasn’t mentioned in the text, so it was very confusing. Or maybe she was suppressing her feelings for her friend. And then at the end of the book he comes and talks to her, it is all ‘let me be your worshiper I’m blinded by love’ kind of. Eck. I don’t know.

I don’t know if I want to read the sequel or not. Who knows, maybe it will be even better.

Alex Rider Series

Stormbreaker • Point Blanc

by Anthony Horowitz

These books were recommended to me by a friend. I liked them okay, it was a quick read. My problem was they seemed to have a total lack of emotion for the reader. I would read a really exciting part and hardly know what was going on because I wasn’t totally in the story like I can with most books. But, maybe it’s just me.

The author does really know his stuff in some of the technical areas and the plots and settings are interesting. One thing I didn’t like was the ending of Point Blanc where his clone lured him to the school (of all places) and wants to kill him. Ok what ever.

The Arkadians

Lloyd Alexander

from Amazon.com “An expertly developed cast of characters rounds out this witty epic that’s filled with romance and adventure.  Lucian, the archetypal hero, knows more than he should about the king’s nefarious soothsayers and must escape the palace or be killed. He takes with him Fronto, a poet whose folly has turned him into a donkey.  Guided by Joy-in-the-Dance, a pythoness oracle who serves the Lady of Wild Things, they seek the Lady on an Oz-like journey for answers to their problems, joined on the way by Ops, a chief who was cast out of his village.

The travelers do not get what they had hoped for from the Lady, but Lucian does learn why her followers and his Bear Clan are enemies. The seekers are then sent on another journey that completes the heroic cycle. On one level, this is a rousing adventure complete with cliffhangers and do-or-die situations. On another, readers familiar with Greek mythology will find clever hints at the myths’ purpose and genesis.  The Arkadians have experiences and listen to tales that resemble the stories of Narcissus, the Wooden Horse of Troy, Odysseus, and Theseus and the Minotaur, among others. The women are the wise ones in this novel and play their own heroic roles.

On a deeper level, this tale is about love and peace, symbolized by the marriage of Lucian and Joy-in-the-Dance and the subsequent uniting of the Bear Clan and the Followers of the Lady. Thus, Arkadia becomes the mythical Arcadia, which poets lauded as a utopia. The plot has many twists and turns, but is not hard to follow, and Alexander’s style is eminently readable.”

Cheri Estes, Dorchester Road Regional Library, Charleston, SC.  Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

I Was a Non-blonde Cheerleader


Kieran Scott

Loved it! So light and warm-hearted, I like how the characters sortof/mostly come together in the end. I also love Daniel, he’s so cool.

summary, Ilene Cooper: “Sophomore Annisa has moved from New Jersey to Florida, where she gets off on the wrong foot almost immediately, especially with the cheerleading squad. She attracts one girl’s boyfriend, moves into another’s recently vacated home, and hits a third with a door in the nose. So when she makes the squad, the welcome mat is not exactly out.  Her most visible difference is her dark, short hair; even the team’s African American coach is a blonde.  In generalities, the story is predictable.  By the end of the book, Annisa, the narrator, is spouting lines such as, “It didn’t even matter how we did at regionals on Saturday because at that moment we weren’t just a squad. We were friends.” Still, the specifics are fun and definitely au courant, as Annisa discovers love, friendship, and backflips as she deals with prank wars, unsupervised parties, and cheerleading crises. Since there’s a lot about competitive cheerleading, the pom-pom inclined will especially like this.”

Daughter of the Forest


Daughter of the Forest
by: Juliet Marillier

Very good. It reminds me a lot of Marillier’s book Wolfskin, which was also excellent.

At some parts I cursed the characters’ stupidity, and fervently wished that they would breach the gap of hate between the Britons and Sevenwaters, such as the brothers’ constant hostility (except for Finbar), and the awful rumors told by the Britons.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, Son of the Shadows.

Esperanza Rising

Pam Muñoz Ryan

I had heard about this book so much that I just had to read it, even though it is meant for a younger audience. I love the cover art, her rising above her challenges, with the roses of memory.  Esperanza means ‘hope’ in Spanish, a very fitting title for this novel.

Some of my favorite parts:
Anza and her father listening to the earth’s heart beat, then later on Anza and Miguel. Anza had to find her inner peace, and be around those she loved, to be able to hear the heart. Anza giving her doll to Isabel after she was not chosen for the Queen of May. Miguel bringing back Abuelita, a happy ending at last.
This is a true story about the author’s grandmother.

“Esperanza Ortega possesses all the treasures a young girl could want: fancy dresses; a beautiful home filled with servants in the bountiful region of Aguascalientes, Mexico; and the promise of one day rising to Mama’s position and presiding over all of Rancho de las Rosas. But a sudden tragedy shatters that dream, forcing Esperanza and Mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp.  There they confront the challenges of hard work, acceptance by their own people, and economic difficulties brought on by the Great Depression.  When Mama falls ill from Valley Fever and a strike for better working conditions threatens to uproot their new life, Esperanza must relinquish her hold on the past and learn to embrace a future ripe with the riches of family and community. Pam Muñoz Ryan eloquently portrays the Mexican workers’ plight in this abundant and passionate novel that gives voice to those who have historically been denied one.”
~ Scholastic Press

Author’s website

Random House online catalog

Quiver


Stephanie Spinner

The story of the mythological Atalanta, specifically how she gained a husband and their love.  Very quick book, but decent.

The myth of Atalanta & review from Publisher’s Weekly: {Abandoned in the woods as a baby because of her gender, then saved by the goddess Artemis the Huntress, Atalanta grows up to become a talented archer and the “swiftest of mortals”; grateful, she swears her loyalty to the goddess and vows to stay chaste. As the book opens, she is the only female hunting for the Calydonian boar, and the first to draw its blood (though, again due to gender, this feat earns her more trouble than honor). Spinner’s pacing is somewhat awkward (the story takes too long to unfold, and the conclusion seems rushed), and the large cast is hard to keep straight, but Atalanta has depth as a strong, female protagonist who not only defeats men but who also trusts herself. Shortly after the hunt, Atalanta learns that she is the daughter of King Iasus; he is dying, lacking an heir, and demands that she marry and produce one. To adhere to her vows of chastity, she offers the king a compromise: she agrees to marry a suitor who beats her in a race; otherwise, he must be killed. Of course she wasn’t counting on Aphrodite’s meddling, or being shot in the heart by Eros’s love arrow. The narrative may be difficult to enter, but there is enough death, surprise, prophecy and direct intervention from the gods-including interludes of their whimsical dialogue-to keep readers engaged.

{Spinner also resolves one of the more troubling aspects of the original myth — that Hippomenes seems to win the race by cheating: in this version, Atalanta clearly knows what he is doing.} –I did like that assertion.  {from commonsensemedia.org}

I really must read Spinner’s other myth book, Quicksilver, about Hermes.