Monthly Archives: August 2014

24) Poison

By: Bridget Zinn

Date Finished: 08.17.14

by Bridget Zinn

It was the most ridiculous thing in the entire world: Kyra, would-be assassin and master potioner, had resorted to hunting down her prey — her best friend the princess — with a piglet.

The quote above says it all.  Kyra has taken on an impossible task in order to save the kingdom from a danger that only she knows is coming.  The piglet is her only hope of setting things right, but will it be enough?

Oh, I loved this book.  Kyra is a fireball, the princess is unexpected, and the mysterious, handsome guy is both wonderful and hilarious.  It’s a fantasy tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and leaves room for the ridiculous, even in the rush to save the world.  I was enraptured from the first few pages.

Zinn has a delightful way of letting the story unfold, and manages to drop in surprises until the end.  Writing-wise, this book is an excellent example of sneaking backstory into action.  In this case, I want to be hush-hush about the details not because spoilers would ruin the story, but because it would diminish Zinn’s brilliant delivery.

Kyra quickly earned her place among my top-notch heroines.  She has a penchant for making situations way more complicated than they need to be, yet her determination is unwavering.  This is a girl who can admit her mistakes while stubbornly pursing a path that contradicts everyone else, a marvelous jumble of flawed virtues and virtuous flaws.

The biggest problem with this book?  It’s the only one we’ll ever get from Zinn as she passed away before this was published.  Only a few chapters in, I was making plans to drop everything and read everything else she’s written.  In the absence of other books, I found some lovely stories about Zinn online, and will point you to this one in particular at Publisher’s Weekly.

I didn’t know how much I wanted a lighthearted fantasy with a hardcore heroine until I started reading this book.  I am so grateful my sister put this one in my hands because it is oh, so refreshing.

At the end of the day: Really, really for me

23) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

By: Kate DiCamillo

Date Finished: 07.28.14

by Kate DiCamillo

There once was a rabbit who was made almost entirely of china.  He lived on a grand house on Egypt Street with a little girl who loved him very much.  But he was spoiled, selfish, and did not know how to love.  When he became separated from this girl, he lost all his comforts and had to learn painful lessons about love and loss as he went from person to person.

This was my first read, but I was already familiar with the story having worked on a stage production last year.  I thought I’d left enough space between working on the show and reading the book, but I still heard the voices of the actors and the underscoring.  I still recognized when the lines from the book differed from the lines in the play.  But it’s a completely lovely story even with such strong associations.

One of the key elements about this book is that Edward Tulane, the china rabbit, cannot move himself or make himself understood.  We are privy to his thoughts, thanks to an omniscient narrator, but this isn’t a story about toys who come to life when the lights are out.  Edward is at the mercy of whoever has custody of him at the time.  His existence is fragile, and while this knowledge scares him, it also allows him grow.  DiCamillo doesn’t shy away from tough subjects, and Edward isn’t much of a hero at the beginning.  While he does learn how to love, that knowledge is hard-earned.

DiCamillo includes an interesting cast of characters for Edward to interact with – a young rich girl, a fisherman and his wife, a hobo and his dog, and an abused boy and his dying sister.  He becomes a different rabbit for each of them, filling the holes in their lives just by being there.  It’s really quite touching without becoming overly sentimental.

At the end of the day: For me

22) Charlotte’s Web

By: E.B. White

Reread Finished: 06.30.14

by E. B. White

I’ve got a new friend, all right.  But what a gamble friendship is!  Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming, bloodthirsty — everything I don’t like.  How can I learn to like her, even though she is pretty and, of course, clever?

People believe almost anything they see in print.

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both.

This is the classic story of Wilbur the pig who was saved at birth by Fern the human, and ultimately saved from a fate on the dinner table by Charlotte the spider.  It’s a story of friendship and, to a degree, the harsh realities of life – some of which you can change and others which must run their course.

This is one I experienced a few times as a child, reading it on my own and having it read aloud (I vividly remember giggling as a teacher read the gander’s peculiar spelling of “terrific”).  I saw the animated movie at least a couple of times, although all I remember from it is Templeton’s smorgasbord song.  It’s a story I always thought of fondly, but never reread after elementary school.  This summer seemed like the ideal time to revisit the book in anticipation of working on a stage production of Charlotte’s Web.

I like it.  It’s sweet and lovely and made me laugh more than once, but looking at it with adult eyes, I found a few things problematic.  Namely, Fern.  She’s fickle in ways that don’t make sense, even for an eight year old.  Otherwise, it is the charming story I remember.  The friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur is inspiring.  Even Templeton the rat is endearing for all his baser instincts.  White breathes such life into his animal characters, and shows both the practical and idyllic views of farm life.

In discussing design ideas for the stage production, the scenic designer described the tone of the story as a watercolor, and I think it fits perfectly.  Hard truths are slightly muted, and the lines between reality and magic are blurred, yet it still paints a striking picture.  The story has endured for a reason, and has definitely earned its place on the shelves of so many classrooms.  If only Fern wasn’t so inconsistent.

At the end of the day: For my younger self

21) Vampire Academy

By: Richelle Mead

Date Finished: 06.23.14

by Richelle Mead

I didn’t like having reasonable arguments thrown at me.

There are traditional vampires, and then there are Moroi, who are essentially human except they drink blood, practice magic, and don’t do well in sunlight.  Dhampirs are half human/half Moroi, and have a unique set of skills; they don’t drink blood, don’t practice magic, but are supernaturally strong and fast.  As such, they are the perfect bodyguards for their Moroi cousins.  Rose is a hardcore Dhampir and Lissa is a Moroi princess.  They’ve been best friends since they met in kindergarten, and Rose will do anything to protect Lissa, even if the threats are coming from inside the school.

I know, I know, this looks like another trashy vampire book, right?  Well, maybe it is a bit silly, but it’s well crafted.  I watched the movie first, renting it on a whim when Redbox didn’t have what I wanted.  I loved it.  There were a few places where I had to pause the movie so I could laugh properly, and I watched the last scene twice.  The high school presented in this story is in the same vein as 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and Easy A.  There are interesting characters, fun quips, and legitimate surprises along the way.

So, I needed to read the book.

The tongue-in-cheek tone of the movie comes directly from Rose’s sassy narration in the book.  Her self-aware, no prisoners attitude drives the story, and allows the sentimental moments to be even more poignant.  The concept for this book has the potential to be really kitschy, but Mead handles the subject with care.  The world is vivid, the stakes are high, and the characters are flawed, but passionate.  Who could ask for anything more?

What makes the story really work is the friendship between Rose and Lissa.  I mean, this is a Code Name Verity (British spies trapped in Nazi-occupied France) level friendship.  Rose’s impulsive nature is redeemed by her loyalty and devotion to her friend.  Lissa is far less combative, but will get her hands dirty to defend Rose’s honor.  In the midst of all the other drama, their relationship is central.

However, Rose’s romantic angst – which was practically nonexistent in the movie – muddied up the book just a touch too much.  I couldn’t bring myself to dive into the sequel right away because of it, although I do plan to continue the series whenever I need a casual read.

If you’re looking for a good laugh, I highly recommend the movie.  The book is only slightly less good, and definitely worth a read if you like the movie.

At the end of the day: For me

20) We Were Liars

By: E. Lockhart

Date Finished: 06.19.14

by E. Lockhart

He was contemplation and enthusiasm.  Ambition and strong coffee.

If you want to live where people are not afraid of mice, you must give up living in palaces.

Once upon a time there was a wealthy man who owned an island off the coast of Massachusetts.  Each summer, the whole family would gather on the island and enjoy the leisure of their riches.  Cadence is the first grandchild in the mighty Sinclair family, and is enraptured by a forbidden love.  From birth, the Sinclair children are conditioned to bury their flaws and emotions deep inside but Cadence longs to express herself, to feel something real.  She digs for the truth, not realizing how dark the truth is.

This is an impossible book to describe without revealing too much.  I expected the narrator to be unreliable and she was to a degree but for the most part, she told the story as accurately as she could.  The dishonesty lies in the family party line: No one is broken.  No one is hurting.

Style-wise it’s a masterpiece.  The book has a very specific, well, cadence to it.  Occasionally, Lockhart will break up a sentence into lines like poetry.  Most of the sentences are short, utilizing language that packs a punch.  In many ways, it is poetry masquerading as prose.  As the narrator, Cadence often presents vivid metaphors as fact.  There are a few possible metaphors that might have been completely true – even now, I don’t know what to believe.  Also, the timeline is ambiguous, revealing the story inside out almost.  I was swept up away by the style before I realized the depth of the plot.

I am so grateful I read this book, even though it lies far outside my usual choices.  I fear giving things away by saying any more, so I will end here.  Trust me, you want to experience these surprises firsthand.

At the end of the day: Really, really, really for me

19) Cinderella’s Dress

By: Shonna Slayton

Date Finished: 06.08.14

by Shonna Slayton

As cowardly as running away seemed, it might have been the bravest thing she’d ever done.

Kate is caught in a rapidly changing world, navigating high school as the Second World War claims the services of both her father and brother.  Her mother is the ultimate stage mom, pushing auditions and model gigs on her when Kate has no desire to be onstage.  She’s drawn to the elaborate window displays at the department store where her mom works, and longs to help bring them to life.  Unfortunately, that is strictly a man’s work, and Kate must push her way through the smallest opening to participate.  The war also brings relatives from Poland to their door, seeking refuge.  They carry with them the dress belonging to the real Cinderella and need Kate’s help to keep it hidden from the descendants of the wicked stepsisters.

Cinderella’s Dress is the hot chocolate of fairy tale adaptations (or tea, if you’re more Britishly inclined).  It is sweet and soothing, but don’t forget to watch the temperature.  The history of the dress is not entirely peaceful, and a sense of danger permeates.  This adds heat to the lovely coming-of-age story.

I enjoy the time-span of the novel (It can be a little hard to track, but look for the letters – they’ll lead you through the major jumps).  The war is well-established at the time the book begins, and is an offscreen character, ravaging Eurpoe and Japan while Kate is safe in New York.  Even without bombs falling on Kate’s world, the war orchestrates the whole plot.  The Polish relatives only find Kate because they were driven out of their home country.  And with all the men leaving for military service, Kate is able to play a more active role in producing the window displays.  The war isn’t the whole story though, and the book explores the tension of the women having to give up their jobs for the men returning to work.  I would have loved to see even more of this conflict because it is a fascinating conundrum.

I’m also a fan of Kate as a leading lady.  Others push her, sometimes quite adamantly, in many separate directions as she’s trying to find her place in the world.  While she is intrigued by the dresses, he wants to make an informed decision about taking on the responsibility of taking care of it.  But she also makes some pretty poor and rash choices, particularly in things she says, which keeps her human.  I appreciate that aspect as well.

Strictly speaking, the plot is less of a fairy tale adaptation and more an extension of the Cinderella story.  However, there are some delightful hints at original tale in Kate’s life sprinkled throughout.  This is the perfect day-off read, so cozy up, and savor this story.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:

Lately I have noticed a massive increase of typos in books.  With quicker editing processes, I’m afraid pandemic is here to stay.  Most of the typos I’ve seen are in books by established authors, including Stephen King – the Eye of the Dragon was riddled with them.  For the most part, the typos are obvious and don’t inhibit the plot too much – although a mid-chase scene chapter that opens with “Easter!” instead of “Faster!” will definitely take you out of the moment.

I haven’t mentioned this before because, well, I’m sure there are plenty of typos in this blog, and why bother calling attention to them when they’re obviously an oversight?  Unfortunately, Cinderella’s Dress suffers from a typo that doesn’t look like a typo, which is why I bring up the issue.  Slayton weaves Polish words throughout the book and you can tell they’re used deliberately.  Early on, the English word for ‘Cinderella’ is used when the character has only heard the Polish word at that point.  The rest of the book is extremely careful about when each language is used.  It is a mistake, yes, but no more intentional than the Faster/Easter mess up.  So, don’t despair at the typo.  Even Steven King is not immune!

At the end of the day: Really for me