Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley
Mystery, Historical Fiction
374 pages
published: 2008
4.5 of 5 stars


It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.
For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”
- from Goodreads


I don't read many mysteries, and must confess that the "mystery" is usually the least interesting part of the story for me, so I was surprised to find myself happily reading Flavia's ruminations. I can attribute this only to the awesomeness that is Flavia de Luce. She is indefatigable. (Ha! Never thought I'd actually use that silly word!) She is refreshing. And precocious is not the right word for her. (But I'll discuss that later.) If it wasn't Flavia solving this mystery, I would have not cared a wit. But it was!

I loved how she tormented her sisters.

Quote alert:  "I found a dead body in the cucumber patch,' I told them.
       How very like you,' Ophelia said, and went on preening her eyebrows."

I loved her drive and curiosity and spunk and chutzpah and independence. I love that she was rarely scared and always had a plan. I love that she named her bike and treated it like a horse. I loved her love of chemistry and poison. I loved her allusions and well-read-ed-ness. She was amusing. She was bubbling under that surface all the time, and yet so very....English on the outside.

Quote....right now: "Anyone who knew the word slattern was worth cultivating as a friend."

I don't have my book on hand to look up other things that tickled my fancy. Dang it. But I loved that she loved herself, even though she thought no one else did. How refreshing among all the characters out there who struggle for any personal sense of worth!

Now, about the writing. Yummy. A winking fest of happy meaning-rich words and allusions. I found I couldn't read it as rapidly as I normally do. I must have been wallowing.

My one caveat? The reason this isn't a glowing 5 star rating? Well, as much as I loved Flavia, she isn't a believable 11 year old. Qualifier: isn't a believable 11 year old all of the time. Sometimes she reeks of eleven-ity. Her response to a dead person, her petty revenge, her occasional naivete, her energy and creativity...all were very 11. But I just couldn't swallow the depth of her chemistry, literature, and music knowledge. But I mentioned I loved it, you squawk?! I did. I do. I forgave her. I moved past it. I don't really care. You might, but I made my peace. Perhaps she is a prodigy. Perhaps she is writing this looking back. Whatev.

I enjoyed nearly every moment of this novel. Highly recommend.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Listful Mondays: Books from Vacation

The Books We Brought Home from Vacation
(or The Books We Bought at my Favorite Used Book Store in my Home Town)
  1. Feed by M. T. Anderson (For my dystopian collection.)
  2. Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (Remembered from childhood - just don't remember anything but the cover.)
  3. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (Replacement for our tattered copy.)
  4. Dragons of Deltora: Shadowgate by Emily Rodda (Book 2)
  5. Dragons of Deltora: Isle of the Dead, Sister of the South (Books 3 & 4)
  6. Deltora Quest: books 5 - 8 (We got confused and thought we found a whole series by one of Jadyn's favorite authors. Not so. There are 3 different related series. Stink.)
  7. Starbridge by A.C. Crispin
  8. Ancestor's World by A. C. Crispin (These are Scott's.)
  9. Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder (This was the one I was missing! Serendipitous!)
  10. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (Never read anything by her, but loved the movie.)
  11. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (The specific printing to match my set from childhood, replacing my spine-broken copy.)
  12. The Seventh Tower: Into Battle (Book 5)
  13. The Seventh Tower: The Violet Keystone (Book 6. We have 1 - 3. Now we just need book 4.)
  14. Whirligig by Paul Fleischman (Replacement for a Loaning Casualty.)
  15. Redwall by Brian Jacques
  16. Mossflower by Brian Jacques
  17. Mattimeo by Brian Jacques
  18. Mariel of Redwall by Brian Jacques
  19. Salamandastrom by Brian Jacques
  20. Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques (We had no Redwall books, but Scott played the audiobook for the older kids and they loved it. I'm sure the store had all the rest of them too, but I had to draw the line somewhere.)
I am home, possibly recovered, and thinking about books and blogging.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: My Double Life by Janette Rallison

My Double Life
by Janette Rallison
YA, contemporary
265 pages
published: 2010
4 of 5 stars


Her whole life, Alexia Garcia has been told that she looks just like pop star Kari Kingsley, and one day when Alexia's photo filters through the Internet, she's offered a job to be Kari's double. This would seem like the opportunity of a lifetime, but Alexia's mother has always warned her against celebrities. Rebelliously, Alexia flies off to L.A. and gets immersed in a celebrity life.  Alexia must stay true to herself, which is hard to do when you are pretending to be somebody else! - from Goodreads 


I love reading Rallison's books because they are fun, easy to like, moral, and uplifting. That isn't to say they don't deal with real issues, but somehow she keeps them from being dark or overbearing. Quite the reverse. This one might well be my second favorite of hers. (My Fair Godmother would be hard to upstage.) 

Things I enjoyed about My Double Life:
  • Alexia was a real girl to me. And not just a real girl, but a girl who wanted to be a good person.
  • The plot, through all it's twists and surprises and even all that seemed unlikely at first, turned out very believable to me.
  • That in the midst of trying to do the best thing, Alexia didn't always do the best thing. Not because she was weak, but because sometimes the questions are hard to answer. Sometimes "right" gets clouded and confused. Sometimes "right" has more than one answer.
  • The adults weren't just stupid and uninvolved. I appreciate when teenage characters comes to realize that their parents/advisers/adults might actually know what they are talking about.
  • The secondary characters were not flat people. They had their own issues and strengths and often surprised me.
  • There was romance, heartbreak, misunderstandings, tantrums, epiphanies and witty conversations. Everything needful for a good time.
Recommended For: I have no compunctions recommending anything Rallison has written to anyone. Her books are clean and fun and real. Go for it!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Listful Mondays: My Favorite Thieves

I'm not sure why, but some of my all-time favorite characters have been thieves. Loving those rascals has become so ingrained that I automatically like a new thieving character, before he or she has had a chance to prove themself, simply because they are a thief. How is this possible? I don't condone dishonesty in real life! Perhaps it has to do with their incorrigible mischievousness. Or maybe their amazing skills at sneaking and slight of hand. Or their personal set of morals that, while twisted slightly, always have a certain value and loyalty. Maybe they are just impressive and fun. They are such expedient people. They get things done. Ingenious. Creative. Daring. I would want those thieves on my side. If I were to be thrown into a fantasy story all my own I would either want to be the thief, or I would love the thief.

So my list today is about those adorable thieves. Surprisingly, when I actually set down to write the list, there were fewer names on it than I had thought there would be. Either my brain is failing me, or these few thieves have all the credit my undying devotion.

My Favorite Thieves:
  1. Gen from The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (The Queen's Thief series)
  2. Tasslehoff Burrfoot from The Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  3. Silk and Velvet from The Belgaraid and the Mallorean by David Eddings
  4. Jimmy the Hand from the Rift War saga by Raymond E. Fiest
  5. George (the King of Thieves) from the Lioness Rampart series by Tamora Pierce

I would like to know who I have missed. Who are you favorite thieves? Do you know any of my favorites? Or do you find me morally corrupt to fancy thieves in the first place?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Review: Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone by Dene Low

Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone
by Dene Low
YA, Historical Fiction
208 pages
Published: 2009
4 of 5 stars


You would think Petronella’s sixteenth birthday would be cause for celebration. After all, fashionable friends are arriving at her country estate near London, teas are being served, and her coming out party promises to be a resplendent affair. Everything is falling nicely into place, until, suddenly—it isn’t. For Petronella discovers that her guardian, Uncle Augustus T. Percival, has developed a most unVictorian compulsion: He must eat bugs. Worse still, because he is her guardian, Uncle Augustus is to attend her soiree and his current state will most definitely be an embarrassment.
During the festivities, when Petronella would much rather be sharing pleasantries with handsome Lord James Sinclair (swoon), important guests are disappearing, kidnapping notes are appearing, many of the clues are insects, and Uncle Augustus is surreptitiously devouring evidence. It’s more than one sixteen-year-old girl should have to deal with. But, truth be told, there is far more yet to come . . .
-from Goodreads


This book is a good time. It is an amusing satire of high society. It is mildly disgusting, and contains much to stretch (even shatter) your belief. But you want to know something? So what! I enjoyed it. One big reason why was the writing. 

This was one of those books that really uses language - uses words that have meaning and connotations, putting "big" words together into sentences that makes you sigh with relief. Like stretching. The ecstasy of using your mind and working your vocabulary! The beauty of words strung together to sound like music! It's like pulling on my favorite pair of pajama pants, or taking a deep breath when I didn't realize I was in a stuffy room. Enough metaphors? All right. But I need a word for this kind of book because I can think of at least one other I will review soon that falls into this category. Ideas? Please... 

So, this book doesn't take itself seriously, and that is refreshing for a book that takes place in this time period. Petronella really wants to do the right thing (and have some adventure) and doesn't want to hurt her uncle, but she still cares about society.... It is a quandary! Her swooning over James is comical in the sense that I felt it was making fun of all the other well-known swooning. 

Only the four main characters have any depth. Every single authority figure is ridiculous. The phrase "bumbling idiots" comes to mind. This was so blatant that it was obviously done on purpose. It created the dynamic, found in so many other YA books, of the children having to solve the problems on their own. It was interesting to see the dynamic used without having unloving, uninvolved guardians, as is the norm. I had the privilege of listening to Dene Low talk about her book, and she mentioned this book was written as an outlet while working on her dissertation. She was frustrated with academia and authority in general, and suddenly Petronella's world made sense to me. 

So. This book is an uplifting, sniggering kind of good time. Have fun!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Read in 2011

  1. The Naming - Alison Croggon
  2. The Riddle - Alison Croggon
  3. The Princetta - Anne-Laure Bondoux
  4. Sea Change - Aimee Friedman
  5. Daring Chloe - Laura Jensen Walker
  6. Tyger Tyger - Kersten Hamilton
  7. The Sugar Queen - Sarah Addison Allen
  8. My Double Life - Janette Rallison
  9. Savvy - Ingrid Law
  10. Magic Study - Maria V. Snyder
  11. Fire Study - Maria V. Snyder
  12. Jane - April Lindner (re-read)
  13. These is My Words - Nancy Turner (re-read)
  14. Restoree - Anne McCaffery (re-read)
  15. Wicked Becomes You - Meredith Durans
  16. Along for the Ride - Sarah Dessen
  17. When You Reach Me - Rebecca Stead
  18. 84, Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff
  19. Snow - Tracy Lynn
  20. Bright Blue Miracle - Becca Wilhite
  21. The Replacement - Brenna Yovanoff
  22. The Ruins of Gorlan - John Flanagan
  23. Mistwood - Leah Cypress
  24. Spindle's End - Robin McKinley
  25. Alanna: the First Adventure - Tamora Pierce
  26. In the Hand of the Goddess - Tamora Pierce
  27. The Woman who Rides like a Man - Tamora Pierce
  28. Lioness Rampart - Tamora Pierce 
  29. The Dark Divine - Bree Despain
  30. Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone - Dene Low
  31. You Bet - Jennifer Crusie (re-read)
  32. By the Light of the Moon - Luanne Rice (re-read)
  33. The Crow - Alison Croggon
  34. The Singing - Alison Croggon
  35. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley
  36. The Last Aprentice: Revenge of the Witch - Joseph Delaney
  37. Poison Study - Maria V. Snyder (re-read)
  38. The Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin

Listful Monday: Why I Really Want to Blog Again

Why I Really Want to Blog Again or Reasons I Miss Book Blogging
(In no particular order)
  1. I miss sharing the books I've read.
  2. I miss reading reviews and getting excited about the new books coming out.
  3. Writing keeps me sane. I am so currently not sane.
  4. I miss comments and community. My world is rather myopic sometimes.
  5. I hate giving up, especially if it's something I don't actually want to give up.
  6. I've been reading awesome stuff.
  7. I actually have things to say and ideas to post about.
  8. I want to take more pictures of my chair and fix up my background.
  9. I love the sound of the keys as my fingers fly across them.
  10. I write reviews in my head while I'm in the shower or driving the car or waiting for kids or cooking dinner. AND REVIEWS ARE MUCH BETTER OUT OF MY HEAD. I need to set them free....
I miss you blogging. Things are a bit smoother here at home and I'm redoubling my efforts. The ice is cracked. I hope I'm back.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Review: Tyger Tyger by Kersten Hamilton

Tyger Tyger
by Kersten Hamilton
YA Fantasy
322 pages
published: 2010
5 of 5 stars 


Teagan Wylltson's best friend, Abby, dreams that horrifying creatures--goblins, shape-shifters, and beings of unearthly beauty but terrible cruelty--are hunting Teagan. Abby is always coming up with crazy stuff, though, so Teagan isn't worried. Her life isn't in danger. In fact, it's perfect. She's on track for a college scholarship. She has a great job. She's focused on school, work, and her future. No boys, no heartaches, no problems.
     Until Finn Mac Cumhaill arrives. Finn's a bit on the unearthly beautiful side himself. He has a killer accent and a knee-weakening smile. And either he's crazy or he's been haunting Abby's dreams, because he's talking about goblins, too . . . and about being The Mac Cumhaill, born to fight all goblin-kind. Finn knows a thing or two about fighting. Which is a very good thing, because this time, Abby's right. The goblins are coming. 
- from Goodreads 


I love the name Finn. It's on my list. And here is another Finn to drool over. You want adjectives? Here you go: brave, strong, self-assured, kind, 'feral,' clever, handsome. But he gets knocked down a peg or two...we wouldn't want anybody too flawless. 

But really, this a book review, not a Finn review. I loved the whole book. I loved all the secondary characters. This book made me laugh out loud. (I'm not really a laugh-out-loud-er. I takes a lot.) The dialogue was so witty and real to me. I would read a scene and then immediately read it again, out loud to whoever would listen. I loved the myths and history. I loved the gruesome and scary. I loved the magic and plot twists. There is heartache. There is romance. There is dumpster diving, goblin maggots, music, darkness, and hope. This book is not a wimp. Like a friend said to me, I'm just mad I'm NOT a goblin. 

Setting fantasy in our world is a hard thing to do right. Sometimes I won't even read a book once I find out it fits into that category. BUT, when it is done right it rocks. Many of my favorites follow this pattern. And for me, Tyger Tyger is done right. I want the next book yesterday.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review: The Naming by Alison Croggon

The Naming
by Alison Croggon
published: 2001
528 pages
4 of 5 stars


Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child when her family is destroyed in war. She doesn't yet know she has inherited a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the noble School of Pellinor and enables her to see the world as no other can. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true identity and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now, she and her mysterious teacher must embark on a treacherous, uncertain journey through a time and place where the forces of darkness wield an otherworldly terror.  - from Goodreads


I loved the ride. It feels like it has been a while since I sank my teeth into a good epic fantasy. There was meat here. I loved the world, the history, the descriptions, and the characters. I've been reading a lot of YA (which is usually sparing on description) and found myself salivating over the passages that fully described a room, a forest, or a fight. I love the paintings the words create in my head. I was submerged in that world. The world building wasn't overdone to me. I was never overly confused, and certainly not bored. I especially loved the relationship of the two main character, the former slave girl and her inadvertent rescuer. They liked each other, usually, trusted each other, but didn't, and loved each other, but refused to show it.

Now, for the record, no one is going to hand you this book and say, "Here! You've never read anything like this!" This book is archetypal fantasy to its core. It's all there: light vs dark, endless journeys, prophesied savior, apprenticeship, magic, hidden kingdoms, ambushes, secret identities.... But it is what I love about epic fantasies. World building. Escapism. Seeing how far you can take a human character. 

I am heading to the library today to pick up the next book. Can't wait.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Review: Voices of Dragons by Carrie Vaughn

Voices of Dragons
by Carrie Vaughn
Fantasy, YA
309 pages
published: 2010
3 of 5 stars


On one side of the border lies the modern world: the internet, homecoming dances, cell phones. On the other side dwell the ancient monsters who spark humanity's deepest fears: dragons.

Seventeen-year-old Kay Wyatt knows she's breaking the law by rock climbing near the border, but she'd rather have an adventure than follow the rules. When the dragon Artegal unexpectedly saves her life, the rules are abruptly shattered, and a secret friendship grows between them.

But suspicion and terror are the legacy of human and dragon inter­actions, and the fragile truce that has maintained peace between the species is unraveling. As tensions mount and battles begin, Kay and Artegal are caught in the middle. Can their friendship change the course of a war?
- from Goodreads


I love dragons. Really I do. Even the bad ones. How could I resist this book? I couldn't. And I enjoyed it just fine. There were dragons, a dragon culture, a dragon history, flying with the dragon...enough to make me want more (as in wish they were more present in the book and to be happy to read further in the series) of Vaughn's dragons. The main human character was likable enough too. I liked her physical prowess at outdoor sports, her guts, and her loyalty to her friend. I also liked that she had two involved parents. I was even intrigued by the 'history' of the world (which is our current world, sorta) and the explanations of how everything got to the point of the story.

I did have some difficulties though. At first I felt the writing and tone suggested a book for a younger audience. It felt simple. I was all prepared to adjust my expectations to a that level, when a preoccupation with sex started to get too much 'screen' time. (Or more accurately, the lack of sex.) So no, there wasn't any 'mature' scenes, but there was discussions and the implication that the main character was weird because she didn't want to join the crowd. There did end up being a slight point to it all, but it was distracting and made the book unfit for youngers. Then I was just confused. What was the book trying to be? 

Thankfully, it hit it's stride about half way through when the conflict and action caught up to the other subject matters. Much better. It redeemed itself and I'm interested in reading the second, which seems like it might not have such a rocky beginning - considering it will have a kick start from the cliff hanger at the end of book one. 

Bottom line: This book is good for older teens who like fantasy, and particularly dragons. I don't think it is enough in itself to start a love of dragons, but that probably isn't anyone's goal. Except maybe mine.