Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar

You know how I feel about werewolf and vampire books, but, like many other people, I read a bit of praise about this one from Neil Gaiman so I decided to try it. After reading a few chapters, I decided that I’d like the book, and went back to read the blurb on the back cover. I was surprised to find that this is the same guy who wrote The Good Fairies of New York. I tried to read that one earlier this year and could NOT get through it. I found it really, really annoying. I tried fairly hard to stick with it, because there’s something really interesting and refreshing about Millar‘s style, and I really liked the idea. So I’m glad I picked this one up, and got to enjoy Millar’s style.

Kalix hates being a werewolf. She’s the youngest in the royal werewolf family, the most powerful werewolves in Scotland, and she hates them all: her brothers and her father especially. She has run away from home, at 17, and is drowning her sorrows in laudanum (how very Victorian of her). She wants to die, but the strong werewolf inside of her will have none of that. Many want to kill her, both werewolves and humans alike, and since she sold the magical pendant her sister gave her, she’s no longer untraceable. As the book goes on, she is drawn into the battle for the throne that is going on between her two brothers, and makes friends with some unlikely humans.

Lonely Werewolf Girl is a much longer book than what I’ve been reading lately. It’s some 520 pages and there is no messing about in it’s layout: the book starts right at the top of the third page, and there are no page breaks between chapters (all 200+ of them!). Long book,  short chapters? Interesting approach. Anyway, at first I found that while I really liked the story, Millar was quite repetitive. If he’d cut out most of his descriptions of the characters the book could have been 25 pages shorter without losing any meat of the story (we KNOW the colour of all characters’ hair. you told us the first time you introduced them, so you don’t need to tell us every time we get back to that character’s story again! Mental picture does not need to be re-established every second page). Luckily the repetition petered out by about halfway through the book (or else I was just able to tune it out?!) and I really enjoyed it. I liked the sub-plot about her sister Thrix, the werewolf fashion designer.

There’s a sequel to this one, so I’ll probably pick it up and see what happens to Kalix!

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Princess Academy and Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

Can I just say again how glad I am that I discovered Shannon Hale‘s YA fiction. It is so great!

I read Princess Academy last week. I admit it took me a bit to get into it. I wasn’t sold on her world immediately, but once things got rolling I was immersed.

Princess Academy reviewMiri is small for her age, and lives in on Mount Eskel where everyone who can works at the linder quarry: strength is counted a definite asset. Miri’s father has forbidden her from working at the quarry, so she tends to the house and garden for her father and sister. Since everyone her age started workinga t the quarry, Miri feels increasingly isolated. One day, a messenger comes to Mount Eskel to announce that the royal diviners have seen that the next princess will come from Mount Eskel. As a result, all of the girls aged 13 to 17 in the village must attend the newly created princess academy, to prepare themselves for the possibility of marrying the prince in one year. Now Miri has somewhere new to try and fit in, but she also must participate in the fierce competition to be chosen as top of the class.

This was a cute story, and I liked Miri more and more as the book went along. In fact, the more I got to know about the characters, the more I liked all of them: Miri’s quiet father; Katar, the oldest girl and the academy with the strong personality; and Britta, an outsider herself who befriends Miri after the other girls at the academy shun her. Hale has some really unique ideas too, that seem to be a common theme in her YA books (well, the three I’ve read so far); her characters are usually very in tune with the natural environment around them. This really appeals to me. The people of Mount Eskel, for example, have a real connection with linder, the stone they harvest. Hale’s descriptions of this connection, and how Miri and the other characters discover more about it, are fantastic.

Enna Burning is the sequel (ok, they call it a companion novel but I really think it is a sequel. Let’s just call a spade a spade, ok people? Less confusion.) to The Goose Girl. I will say I enjoyed The Goose Girl more, but I loved Enna just as much after reading this book as I loved Isi after reading The Goose Girl.

Enna Burning reviewWhen Enna returns to the forest to care for her sick mother, she stays on after her mother’s death to look after her brother Leifer. One day Leifer comes home with a mysterious piece of vellum, and he seems to be able to create fire out of nothing. He has changed in other ways too, and Enna isn’t sure if this talent with fire is good or bad for him.  Meanwhile, the kingdom of Bayern is going to war with the neighbouring kingdom of Tira. When Enna learns the secret of fire too, she is torn between staying away from creating fire and using it to defend Bayern.

I was saying above that in Hale‘s YA books, the characters have a special connection to nature: in this book, Enna’s connected to fire. [Spoiler alert] She can feel the heat in all living things around her, and draw on it to create fire. This is the same world as The Goose Girl, where people have the talent of speaking with birds or animals, the wind (in Isi’s case), fire (in Enna and Leifer’s cases), and some have the talent of people-speaking (persuading others with their speech).

[Ok, real spoiler alert… for real this time…] The only thing that bothered me about this book was that Enna killed so many people by lighting them on fire, and I thought the horror of it was downplayed a bit too much. I felt like the knowledge of having done this would have driven Enna crazy. I know it’s a YA book, and I know that war is war, but if you’re going to burn people alive in a book (very disturbing!), at least put enough about how terrible that is into the book.  That said, this could just be my Happy Stories Only complex shining through… 😉 And really, this is mostly a happy story with a great ending! I must say, Hale has a knack for good endings.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Oooh, this was so good. I can’t believe I have never read this before! I didn’t even know about it until I saw the BBC series (which I loved).

For those who don’t know the story: Margaret Hale is a young lady who lives in Helstone with her parents. Her father is a Parson and, after a crisis of conscience, leaves the church and moves the family to the northern industrial town of Milton, where Mr. Hale can find work as a private tutor. Mrs. Hale comes from a well-to-do family, and Margaret spends time in London with her aunt and cousins often before going with her parents to Milton. The contrast of the industrial town from their quiet rural living in Helstone is quite abrupt and all three have trouble adjusting to their new town.

Elizabeth Gaskell North and South review

Elizabeth Gaskell

Gaskell is a beautiful writer. (Interestingly enough, the version I read was written by ‘Mrs. Gaskell.’) I was a bit wary, after reading the foreword, which states that the novel was originally published in pieces, in a serial. By the time I got a few chapters in I wasn’t even thinking about that. Gaskell will now be up there with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte for me. She does an amazing job of weaving politics, romance, family, and religion into this book. It has a similar view of pride in love as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice: Margaret and Mr. Thornton get off on just the same wrong foot as Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy do in P&P. Yet in other ways the stories are incredibly different.

I look forward to reading more by Mrs. Gaskell!

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a great YA boarding school book (I’ve always been fascinated by these, never having attended a boarding school myself) and I love almost everything about the main character, Frankie. Plus, it’s got secret societies in it. What’s not to love?

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks reviewAs Frankie transitions from awkward to attractive, she finds herself falling into a new crowd at school: Enter, newfound popularity—complete with gorgeous older boyfriend, Matthew. But Frankie quickly discovers that people don’t see her smarts, just her looks: Matthew most of all. And her family still thinks of her as a geeky kid who needs to be protected. Understandably, this gets under her skin. So Frankie takes matters into her own hands, determined to get the recognition her intelligence deserves.

Frankie is such a great character. She’s badass, but she’s also a teenager who wants desperately to be liked by the boy she likes, and to fit in with the crowd she idolizes. The only thing that bothered me was that Lockhart seems to have written Frankie as a girl who is always attracted to power-hungry males, yet, as intelligent as she is, she doesn’t seem to recognize this in herself. I’m not saying it isn’t a realistic thing — nobody is perfect, and I’m glad Frankie isn’t. It still bothered me though.

I loved that Frankie picked up the habit of creating words from their opposites (e.g. creating dulged from indulged etc.) and thinks it’s so funny she just starts using these words all the time, much to the chagrin of the other characters. This is totally something I would have done in high school (and it would have annoyed my friends too).

I highly recommend this one. 🙂

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

I really liked the idea for this book. There were times when I felt like the writing got in the way of the story, but that may be just because I’m an impatient reader 🙂

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane reviewThis is a story about Connie, a grad student starting work on her PhD in 1991. She’s looking into the Salem witch trials of 1692, and the book jumps back and forth between present day and the time of the witch trials. Connie prides herself on being a researcher, but her mother is a free spirit; needless to say, the two don’t always get along, so when Connie’s mother asks her to clean out her grandmother’s vacant house and ready it for sale, Connie is annoyed. She now has to spend her summer cleaning up someone else’s mess AND nailing down a topic for her thesis. Don’t worry, she runs into an interesting guy along the way.

I didn’t always buy into Howe’s characters, particularly the evil thesis adviser, and I did find that her descriptive passages brought the story to a screeching halt a few times. That said, I liked how Connie’s relationship with her mom developed as Connie learned more about her past while going through her grandmother’s belongings.

It was a relatively fun read, and Howe did a good job of weaving the actual history into the book, but to me it felt a bit amateur.

 

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

But first, a word about the new look of this blog. I was getting tired of the same old same old, so I decided to try on a new theme. Mostly, I love it. The photo I had on there before clashed with the alarmingly lemon-y new sidebar colour, so I had to change it. The only things I don’t love about it are 1) the ridiculous colour of the sidebars — ouch (sadly, I can’t change them), and 2) that the text for the links is purple. Purple? Really? sigh. But these things I can live with.

So about this book. So cute! I loved it. Would have liked it a lot when I was a YA reader, for sure… it reminds me a bit of the old Enid Blyton books (though I confess it has been a long time since I read any of them, so I guess it just reminds me of my memory version of those books).

The four Penderwick sisters and their father have rented a cottage on an estate called Arundel for their summer holiday. Naturally curious, the girls get themselves into all kinds of trouble with the strict owner of Arundel, Mrs. Tifton.

I picked this one up after reading what Aarti had to say about it – the book sounded charming. I was able to get it basically right away from the library, and I was not disappointed! This is a great summer read, for sure. Birdsall does a great job of keeping it lighthearted through the calamities, and I love that Mr. Penderwick is always speaking latin.

Reading this has also got me hoping that the box of my childhood books that I stored in 2009 is still kicking around somewhere. I’d love to reread those Enid Blytons again!

Firelight by Sophie Jordan

I read this one in about two hours. It was a good little read.

Jacinda is a rarity amongst her kind: sure, there are lots of draki, descendants of dragons who can take on a human form, living here and there. But Jacinda is the only fire-breather to be born into her community in recent memory (keeping in mind the lifespan of a draki is abotu 300 years). Jacinda breaks the draki rules, so she and her mom and sister hi-tail it outta the draki community to live with us regular old humans.

I haven’t given a very full description here, but if I do any more describing then you won’t need to read it at all. This wasn’t my favourite teen fantasy book. The writing was so-so, the main character wasn’t as endearing as I wanted her to be (in fact, she seemed a bit whiney and her inner dilemma had me annoyed with her rather than sympathizing). That said, it’s an original idea of Jordan’s. Dragons who can take human form? So cool.

While I enjoyed this one, I feel like it didn’t really live up to it’s potential.

(Saying that makes me feel very Adult, in a goofy way, like a mom or teacher telling a teenager they aren’t living up to their full potential, to which I can picture my teenaged self saying, “What does that even mean?” Reminds me of summer camp when I was 13, and being told that I wasn’t showing enough ‘initiative’ to be recommended for the leadership program for 14-year-olds — one occasion of my teenaged-self thinking “What does that even mean?”).

This kinda reminds me a bit of The Iron King by Julie Kagawa – cool idea, but I really wanted it to be executed better. [Sophie Jordan and Julie Kagawa, please know that I admire you for writing books. 🙂 ]

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

This book was a surprise. It was so good! Like, Robin McKinley good, I thought. Which I found surprising because the first book I read by Hale, Austenland, was entertaining and based on a unique idea, but certainly not as well-crafted nor well-written as this. Hale is in her element here. 

Based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, this book is about Ani, a princess. For the first few years of her life, Ani spends her days with her aunt, who teaches her how to talk to the swans near the palace. When Ani’s aunt leaves, and her mother, the Queen, finds out she can talk to birds, the Queen prevents Ani from having any contact with birds. When Ani turns 16, she learns that her mother has arranged her marriage to a prince of the neighbouring kingdom, Bayern. As she travels with an armed guard and her lady in waiting to Bayern, she realizes that all is not as it seems. Some of her guards attempt to kill her and she narrowly escapes with her life. Now in Bayern, she changes her name to Isi and works as a goose herder to save enough money to get back to her mother the Queen, and tell her what happened.

Lo and behold, after a quick look on Hale’s website, I learned that McKinley‘s Beauty was the inspiration for Hale to write The Goose Girl!  Go figure. Anyway this book was amazing. It had the otherworldly tone that I love so much in a fantasy book, just like McKinelys and like Gaiman’s Stardust. The world-building was really good, and I loved the characters. The evil ones were truly evil (but in a YA way). There were some plot twists that I didn’t see coming (but probably should have!), which is always a nice surprise. I can’t wait to read more of Hale’s YA books!

After poking around on Hale’s blog, I learned that they are currently filming an Austenland movie! Yes!! So excited about this. I think it’s a story that will translate well to film, and could be quite funny. Here’s hoping!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I’m glad I read this one. It’s one of the flavours of the hour, as I like to call them, and I’m always suspicious of these books. I often avoid them because a few have been known to fall short of living up to the hype. Though, admittedly, when I think about it, most of them are popular for a reason — they’re good. My sister recommended this one (and provided it) so I went ahead and read it. Stockett is a great writer, and I enjoyed the book more than I anticipated I would.

It’s the mid-1960s in Mississippi. Skeeter has just graduated from Ole Miss and is now back home living with her parents. She wants to be a writer, or a journalist. When she returns home, she finds that Constantine, the woman who raised her, is gone, and no one will tell her why.  Skeeter decides to try and write a book of interviews that detail the lives of the African American women who work in the homes of the well-to-do in Jackson, her hometown.

Once I got into it, I read this at a mad pace because I was so afraid that Skeeter was going to get caught writing this book of hers and that the women she was writing about were going to get hurt because of it. 

I admire Stockett’s pluck for creating a book about the attitudes in the southern US at the beginning of the civil rights movement that didn’t make me want to crawl under my bed and hide for the rest of my life. Books about what idiots we humans have been in the past, whether they are about damage done to fellow human beings, other species, or the environment in general, are always valuable reminders that we need to learn from our past mistakes. That said, they’re usually pretty depressing too. This is a hopeful book (and if a book can’t be happy, as I’m sure a book about any of humanity’s historical blunders would struggle to be, I appreciate when it is hopeful). That said, not having grown up in the southern US in this time period, I wonder how people who did experience the attitudes of the time feel about the book. I don’t know if the book really addresses the issues so much as just providing caricatures of some of the people who were facing the issues, but I see the merit in drawing attention to an uncomfortable topic nonetheless.

The Exile by Diana Gabaldon, illustrated by Hoang Nguyen

Let me just say that a few weeks ago when I stumbled onto Diana Gabaldon’s blog and read that a) she is working on both an eighth Outlander novel and a prequel, and b) there is already in existence a graphic novel based on the first book, I almost lost the plot.

A long-time fan of these books (I read the first one when I was fifteen and skipped the ‘racy’ parts, as I then called them … yes, I was a young fifteen!), I could hardly believe my luck. New stuff about a story I love! Claire Randall-Beauchamp-Fraser is one of my favourite book characters (ok ok, so is Jamie). I don’t read graphic novels, generally, but I was stoked to read this one. Plus, it promised new insights into the story that aren’t in the original Outlander novel.

So, after getting a Chapters gift card for my birthday last weekend, I promptly went out and bought The Exile. 🙂

For those who don’t know the story, Claire is in her late twenties and vacationing in Scotland with her husband just after WWII when she stumbles through the standing stones and ends up back in 1743. She promptly makes an ememy of the local English captain and is taken in (or taken captive) by a group of Scottish Highlanders. If you haven’t read this novel, get off your butt and go read it. It’s the best historical fiction ever. Seriously.

Now, I didn’t have very high expectations for the graphic novel because I am not a huge fan of the style of drawing in them and I knew it wouldn’t compare to the original novel, since so much of the dialogue and descriptions wouldn’t appear in a graphic novel. So I was pleasantly surprised when I read The Exile. The graphics were engaging and colourful. Of course, neither Claire nor Jamie looked much like I had imagined (is it really necessary to make girls so busty? for reals?) but that is a risk you take with any graphic representation of your favourite book characters, whether in TV, movie, or illustrations. I got to know a lot more about Murtagh as a character, which was cool.

I think if you were not already familiar with Gabaldon’s novels, The Exile mightn’t be your favourite thing. I found that there were lots of huge chunks of the story left out, and I had no trouble connecting the dots because I’d read the novels, but I wonder if people without the background from the novels would be as understanding or willing to believe in the story.

It was exciting to see a new twist on one of my old favourites and I think it’s pretty awesome that Gabaldon gave it a try—can’t be easy adapting something for a very different genre.

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Let me first say I’m proud of myself for getting through this one, because it did not fit The Mandate. This was not happy subject matter. That said, I loved it. Brooks is such an amazing writer (I may have mentioned this once or twice before) and I always enjoy her books even if I’m not crazy about the subject matter (ahem, March).

I waited not-so-patiently on the list for this one through the library, and am glad that I did: so worth it. I read this one at warp speed again, so I’m pretty sure I missed out on some of the subtleties. I am looking forward to reading it again in a year or so. I think this is my second-favourite book of Brooks’, next to The People of the Book. (Though of course I haven’t read Nine Parts of Desire or Foreign Correspondence.)

It starts out on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in the mid-1600s, where Bethia is the daughter of a minister attempting to bring the natives of the island into the folds of Jesus Christ, so to speak. (In watching the trailer for the book, I have just learned that her name is pronounced Beth-EYE-uh, not BETH-ee-uh as I was pronouncing it in my mind as I read the book. Good to know.) She’s smart and eager to learn; not things girls are supposed to be (or be proud of) in 1650. One day, while out collecting things for dinner, she encounters a native american boy. The two become secret friends, teaching each other their languages and cultures. Bethia gives him the English name of Caleb, and he gives her the Wampanoag name of Storm Eyes.

This part of the book I enjoyed a lot. I like Bethia’s spunk, and her thirst for knowledge. I liked their developing friendship. Of course, then many of the Wampanoags (not sure this is the correct plural) get sick, and the happiness factor of the story goes downhill from there. I took a break at this point, to remove myself from the story a bit. I’m not going to lie, I even considered not finishing the book. But I kept thinking about the story and I wanted to know what happened, so I picked it up again.

Caleb goes to live with Bethia’s family, so he can learn latin and greek and get an English education, and then moves on to the mainland to continue with his education alongside Bethia’s brother Makepeace.

I sometimes find it hard to read books about what idiots people were in the past (even though the book is fictional, I’m betting the attitudes of its characters are fairly representative of the time and place), but Bethia is a great narrator and I wanted badly to read that she didn’t end up trodden upon just because she’s a woman.

I also really liked the title of this book. In continuing with this trend of reading about what idiots we all have been in the past, the next book I’ve finished is The Help by Katherine Stockett. After starting this one, and realizing that it was also serious and not-very-happy subject matter, I took a brief break to read… dunh-dunh-dunh…. a graphic novel! Oh yes. My first one ever (since I don’t count the Archie comics I used to read in elementary school).