Monday, August 31, 2009

Highland Rebel Judith James

The fiery Catherine Drummond is the Highland rebel of the title - a willful woman who was raised by her father to lead her clan, but now that her father's gone, her worth is still measured by what kind of marriage she can make. Captured in battle, she knows her fate will not be pleasant, until she is rescued by Jamie Sinclair, a man who has no loyalties except to himself. For some reason, unknown to both of them, Jamie decides to save her by marrying her on the spot. His ploy works, until she escapes. Now he must find his inconvenient wife, while trying to keep himself from getting killed by her family. And Catherine must decide if being married in name to an Englishman is really a very bad thing, especially when he's not around to actually be her husband.
This was a very entertaining read, and the historical details are truly excellent. The story definitely feels set in its time, and James even goes so far to add some interesting author's notes at the end of the book. For the historical fiction aspect, this book is a great read. The romance is also good, although Cat and Jamie do a tremendous amount of jumping around in their feelings for each other. And they simply can't seem to figure out how to communicate without ruining their relationship, in whatever stage it's in. However, the romance is very satisfying, nonetheless, just a bit frustrating to read through. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good amount of historical detail in their romance.

Friday, August 28, 2009

To Tempt the Wolf by Terry Spear

Tessa Anderson has always been drawn to wolves, as has her brother Michael, though neither of them can explain why. But when Michael is convicted of a murder he did not commit, Tessa is left alone in their cabin in the woods, and discovers that she is being stalked. When she finds a gorgeous naked man on her beach, her life just gets more complicated. The man is Hunter - he knows that he is a werewolf, and he remembers his first name, but other than that things are a little bit foggy for him. He commits to helping Tessa, both with her stalker, and with her brother's false conviction. But the more he becomes a part of Tessa's life, the more complicated things get.
I enjoyed the werewolf lore that Spear has created for her books. I know that this is not the only one, although I haven't read the others. Her werewolves live in packs, oftentimes related by family, but not always, and the alpha male (Hunter, for example) rules absolutely, along with his mate, if he has one. As with other werewolf romances the werewolves mate for life, which I always find a nice change from many other romances. It was actually kind of amusing how many werewolves kept popping up in this book - not just the main good guys and bad guys, but also nurses at the hospital, cops, judges, you name it. They're everywhere. The romance was good, and overall the book was a good read. The murder mystery was a bit weak, but as that was not the main focus of the story, it didn't necessarily have to be watertight. To Tempt the Wolf was a good introduction to Spear's world of werewolf romance - I'd be interested to see how it works in her other books.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Jabberwocky reimagined and illustrated by Christopher Myers

This is a first for this blog in more ways than one! The first picture book and the first book of poetry. I expect I'll be reviewing more picture books as I begin to gather them to read to the baby, so this definitely won't be the last one. And I have lots of poetry on my to-read list, I just never get around to reading it - so this probably will not be the last review of poetry either.
Christopher Myers' version of the Jabberwocky poem by Lewis Carroll keeps the text the same - it is the illustrations that reimagine what the poem is about. In this tale, the Jabberwocky is a giant, fourteen-fingered, basketball-playing "beast". Our hero is a boy, who decides to play this giant in a game of one-on-one. He wins triumphantly, and the neighborhood celebrates with him.
Jabberwocky is a difficult poem to read, without any sort of context to imagine, because it is full of gibberish words. Myers' version makes it comprehensible to kids who might otherwise get lost in the language. They can envision what the words mean for themselves, and maybe imagine other battles in their lives that this triumphant poem can apply to. This is a fantastic retelling of this classic poem.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix

**In giving my reviews and synopses of these three books, I do give away some spoilers, mainly regarding the second book. So if you are planning on reading the books, don't read my synopsis of the final book, Abhorsen, as that is where the spoilers are.**
The Abhorsen Trilogy begins with Sabriel. In this book we are introduced to the world Nix has created, where the Old Kingdom and Charter Magic are separated from the rest of Ancelstierre by The Wall. Only those who live close to The Wall even believe the tales of magic and the Old Kingdom, but they have good reason for knowing the truth. It has been decades since things were right in the Old Kingdom - the Dead are restless, and it is the Abhorsen's job to make sure they stay dead. Sabriel's father is the Abhorsen, and while she has been living at a school in Ancelstierre, he has begun to train her to follow him. When her father goes missing, she travels beyond the Wall by herself to discover what happened to him. There she meets Mogget - a being in cat form who is a servant to the Abhorsens, and Touchstone - a young man, also trained in Charter Magic, who she frees from imprisonment. Together they must stop the Dead trying to take over the Old Kingdom, and restore it to its former life.
Lirael is the second book of the trilogy, skipping 15 years or so into the future to follow the story of Lirael, a Daughter of the Clayr. Lirael is 14 when the story begins, but she has yet to receive the sight that is the birthright of all the Clayr. She has long felt alone, since her mother's death before her tenth birthday, and as is common among the Clayr, she has no knowledge of who her father is. In order to keep her mind off her anguish at not yet receiving the sight, she begins work in the Clayr's library, as a Third Assistant Librarian. It is in the library that she begins to teach herself the use of Charter Magic, and although she still does not gain the sight, she gains a companion, the Disreputable Dog, and discovers a destiny that will send her into the world, away from the life she has known with the Clayr. In the course of her journey, she discovers not only her true calling, but she becomes involved in a new plot against the Abhorsen Sabriel and the Old Kingdom. In Lirael, we also meet Prince Sameth, the son of Sabriel and Touchstone, who has gotten himself involved in the plot as well. His older sister Ellimere is the heir to the throne, making him the Abhorsen's heir. He too must discover his true calling, and find his destiny alongside Lirael.
Abhorsen is the third book in the trilogy, and it begins right where Lirael left off. We discover at the end of Lirael that Lirael herself is the true Abhorsen-In-Waiting, as she is Sabriel's unknown little sister. Prince Sameth has a calling from the Wallbuilders, something that has not been seen in memory. Together they continue their quest to stop the Necromancer Hedge from raising the Destroyer, and to save Sam's friend Nick, who has been unknowingly swept into Hedge's power. They are helped along the way by Mogget and the Disreputable Dog, and interesting pair, but they will both be crucial to success in the end.
I really loved this series - I recommend it to every fantasy lover that I know, or that needs recommendations at the library. It was published as young adult fantasy, but it is definitely good enough for adult reading. The world that Nix has created is so different from that of most fantasies, and the characters are rich and complex, causing the reader to really become a part of the story while reading. I actually liked the character of Lirael better than Sabriel, alhtough it is difficult to say why. So far there is only a short story following the final book in the trilogy, but I would love to continue reading about the Abhorsen's world. If you haven't read these yet, you should. I hear the audiobook version is excellent as well, with Tim Curry narrating.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dark Highland Fire by Kendra Leigh Castle

The first catch-up post is here! Hooray!
You may recall from my previous posts that I have really enjoyed the two other books I read by Castle - Call of the Highland Moon and Wild Highland Magic. This book comes in between those two, in terms of storyline, although it is perfectly acceptable to read them out of order (I did - I began with the most recent one!).
Dark Highland Fire tells the story of Gabriel MacInnes and his mate Rowan an Morgaine. Reading this one clarified a lot for me, especially about the various races that are present in the realm of Coracin. It was also interesting to read some of the backstory involving Lucien Andrakkar, who appears very prominently in the third book.
Gabriel is second in line to his brother Gideon (whose story we read in Call of the Highland Moon), which means that he has never really felt a whole lot of purpose in his life. He keeps himself entertained by running his pub and having meaningless flings. When Rowan is literally dumped into his arms, by her brother Bastian, his whole life changes. He makes it his duty to guard her, but she herself is the heir to tremendous magical power, and does not feel that she needs protecting. However, Mordred Andrakkar is threatening both the realms of Earth and Coracin with his madness, which involves both the MacInnes werewolves and the Dyadd Morgaine. Gabriel and Rowan must learn to put up with each other in order to save both their families.
As I have mentioned about these books before, I love the romance in them. The world-building is good as well, making it a great read for both fantasy and romance. Castle's characters are three-dimensional, with foibles that make you love them while you grit your teeth at some of their choices. They certainly aren't perfect. The books are also very funny, and this one is no exception. Definitely check this series out if you haven't yet.
Oh yeah, and this is my final book for the Love Bites Reading Challenge. I finished reading the book before the challenge was over, even if I didn't get anything posted about it until now. So I feel like that's one challenge that I completed on time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Blog Updates

Computers can be so frustrating sometimes . . . I just typed this post, and then blogger lost it when I went to publish it, because my computer's connection was being iffy. Ugh . . .
So anyway, I wanted to make my readers aware that soon I will get back to posting reviews more regularly. And I might even be able to do some challenge wrap-up posts, and even talk about another award I received from a fellow blogger. I decided that in order to catch up I will not be reviewing every single book I read this summer (I read stacks and stacks of tween books for a class), but I'll be posting about the ones that I feel like talking about. At some point I may go back to posting about every book that I read, but we'll see when that happens. I will still be posting about every ARC I read, which is another area I am behind on.
So, this catching up will probably begin tomorrow. I'm excited to get back to it. I will only be working for two more weeks, so I should have more time to read as well. Yay!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks is the story of the four Penderwick sisters, Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. Rosalind is the oldest, and at twelve, she has spent the past few years taking care of her younger sisters. Skye and Jane are eleven and ten, respectively, while little Batty is only four. Their mother died soon after Batty's birth, leaving them with their loving botanist father. The book takes place the summer that the Penderwick family, including their dog Hound, take a vacation at Arundel, the estate of the snobby Mrs. Tifton, where they will stay in her back cottage. They are told to stay out of Mrs. Tifton's way, but the girls can't seem to help getting into trouble. Along they way they meet Cagney, Arundel's 18-year-old gardener, his two rabbits, Carla and Yaz, and Mrs. Tifton's son Jeffrey. The girl's have many experiences in their few weeks at Arundel, including facing down a bull, chasing bunnies, developing crushes (Rosalind is just old enough to get her heart stuck on Cagney for a time), and helping Jeffrey stand up to his mother. This is a vacation they will never forget.
The Penderwicks
won the National Book Award for Young People in 2005. It is definitely one of the best tween books I have read, in that it is one that it not only a good story, but deals with issues that tweens deal with without being heavy-handed. It never feels sappy or unrealistic. And although everything turns out happily in the end, it does not feel forced or fake, simply the natural ending of the summer. There has since been another Penderwicks book published – The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (2008) – so it may be developing into a series. These are excellent books to recommend to any tween who enjoys reading contemporary fiction, and although the story seems simplistic, the writing is sophisticated enough to be appreciated by older kids.

I read this book for my 999 Challenge, as it won the National Book Award for Young People in 2005. My whole list can be found here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a fantasy of Chinese folklore blended together to tell the story of Minli, a fearless girl who sets out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon, and change her family's fortune. Minli and her parents live in a village at the foot of Fruitless Mountain, at the edge of the Jade River. The land is difficult to work, and all of the villagers must struggle to grow their rice. The village is colorless, and Minli's main joy comes from listening to her father tell fantastic stories. It is these stories that convince her to find the Old Man in the Moon, to see if he can help her family. On her journey, Minli meets many fascinating people and creatures, and learns even more stories. A dragon becomes her closest friend, and teaches her about friendship, and the true meaning of being fortunate.
This was a very enjoyable book, full of magic and love. With all of the stories, it would be a terrific choice to read aloud, but it would also be loved by older children and tweens, to read on their own.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Strawberry Hill by Mary Ann Hoberman

Strawberry Hill is a sweet story of friendship and family that takes place during the Depression. Allie is a ten-year-old Jewish girl who moves with her family to a house at the very beginning of the book. She is unsure that the move is a good idea, but when her father tells her they will be living on Strawberry Hill, and that she will have her very own room, she gets excited. Things are not what she expected when they arrive, however. She discovers that just because the street is named Strawberry Hill, that doesn't necessarily mean there are any strawberries anywhere. And she is confused by her feelings towards her new friends, the two neighbor girls who do not speak to each other, although each wants to be her friend. Allie must learn that appearances are not the most important part of a person, and that it is what is inside that makes you a good friend.
I enjoyed this story, although sometimes Allie's actions towards her friends, especially Mimi, were frustrating at times. I am sure that a tween would identify more with her choices, and understand her better than I do. Although the story takes place during the Depression, there is not much information about it, mostly because it is not something that affects Allie's life directly, most of the time. She struggles with acceptance and Antisemitism more than with her family's economic situation. This book would be enjoyed by tween girls, especially those who like historical fiction, or it would be a good introduction to the genre.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez

One of the main characters in Confetti Girl are inanimate objects - cascarones, confetti filled eggs that you crack on your friends' heads, spilling confetti everywhere. Lopez even includes a recipe for cascarones in the very beginning of the book. The real main character of the story, Lina, is best friends with Vanessa, whose mother is obsessed with making the confetti eggs. Lina is a very entertaining character, a girl who is crazy about her socks, and organizes them very carefully, she is also a science lover and a volleyball player, though she knows that she's not very good. Her father is a widower, an English teacher who seems to be only interested in his books, or in Lina's English grade at school. As Lina and her father struggle with dealing with her mother's recent death, they also help Vanessa and her mother come to terms with Vanessa's father leaving. In the midst of all of this, Lina and Vanessa are discovering the boys at their school, and understanding the changes that happen to their friendship as a result.
This is a good story about friendship and family struggle, although it is definitely a book that will really only be enjoyed by tweens. It is not one that older teens or adults will find anything in, but for less sophisticated readers, it is a great story of family, friendship, and Latino culture.