Playing catch-up…

Well, there are quite a few books I’ve read over the past two months that I haven’t yet written about here. I’m going to say something about a few of them here since most of them have been out for awhile and I don’t have anything earth-shattering to say (as opposed to my usual posts, ha ha).

Book of a Thousand Days reviewI picked up another one by Shannon Hale, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite YA authors. Book of A Thousand Days is about Dashti, maid to Lady Saren. The two are shut up in a tower for seven years after Saren refuses to marry the man her father chose for her. The books details their seven years in the tower, and what happens after the girls leave the tower. Apparently this is based on one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. This wasn’t my favourite book of Hale’s (I found Saren to be pretty annoying, and Dashti seemed limited by Saren’s troubles in comparison to the strong female lead characters in Hale’s other books) but I still enjoyed it.

I ripped through True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks (actually for a course I just finished). This Canadian book won the Governor General’s literary award in 2002 and is about Noreen, a teenaged girl whose life seems to be a pattern of mistakes until she winds up in the small town of Pembina Lake.  Here, she’s forced to confront her choices and think about what she wants. I really enjoyed this one.

Across the Great Barrier reviewI picked up another on of Patricia C. Wrede‘s most recent books (I enjoyed the Magician’s Ward so much!). Across the Great Barrier tells the story of Eff, a young girl living in the borderlands of an alternate wild west. While her best friend and her brother head East to go to prestigious schools, Eff is asked to accompany a professor who is surveying the wildlife in the wild settlement territory, west of the great barrier (a strong magical spell cast to keep out dangerous beasts). I guess this is a sequel to Thirteenth Child, which I have not read. I enjoyed this book but it was a bit slow and I found that Wrede’s world seemed to need a lot of explaining… the characters were great, though.

Next I picked up A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett. I loved Tiffany Aching when I read the Wee Free Men and was glad I found out where her story continues. In this book, Tiffany begins her apprenticeship in magic with an unlikely mentor. When danger searches her out, neither the Nac MacFeegles nor the most powerful witch, Mistress Weatherwax, can protect her. This was a great read. I think the next one about Tiffany is called Wintersmith so I will be on the lookout for that. Pratchett’s voice is great and Tiffany is so easy to love!

I also read a few free e-books, which were atrociously edited but I enjoyed them nonetheless.. The Mating, The Keeping, and The Finding by Nicky Charles were not great literature by any means but they kept me entertained during some very tedious afternoons where I thought boredom was going to steal my sanity. They are romance novels about werewolves. The first two were short and cute, with some juicy (if extremely far-fetched) romance scenes, but the last one was far too long and the plot was a tad ridiculous (even for the romance genre, and that’s saying something) for my taste. I would recommend these to you if you are stuck on a bus or in an airport and don’t want to spend money but need something to fill time. 🙂 (not the most glowing recommendation but there you have it).

Crystal Line reviewLast but not least, I just finished the Crystal Line by Anne McCaffrey. I love this series so wasn’t too surprised that I enjoyed this one. It wraps up Killashandra‘s story and I found that the plot was not predictable – refreshing. The cover is pretty awesome, too. Loving the pink Descente-esque one piece. I was sad to hear that McCaffrey recently passed away. What a legacy of writing to have left behind, though.

Up next, I am very close to abandoning Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I picked it up when I heard, through the recent hype of the last book in the series, that he originally self-published this book, was subsequently picked up by a publisher and has now made some ridiculous amount of money. I am about half way through this and I don’t know if I can do it…  the only reason I haven’t already abandoned it is because I am holding out hope that the next few books will be better, since they will have had the input of an editor (one more impartial than the author’s parents) prior to publication. Anyone with reasons that I should continue, speak up. I’d love to hear ’em.   I also grabbed the second book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, The Subtle Knife, for a dollar. The first few pages had me interested so I may make better progress with this one. I remember liking The Golden Compass but I think it took me awhile to get through that one.

Now we’re all caught up! Aren’t you relieved?

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Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn

I read about this somewhere that I now can’t remember, but their description drew me in: A fantasy/sci-fi re-telling of Jane Eyre. Obviously, I was hooked then and there.

I got this one out from the library last week and naturally devoured it. So good! You all know the story of Jane Eyre, I assume, so I won’t get into a detailed plot summary of this one…

Jenna Starborn reviewJenna is born in an artificial womb, commissioned by a wealthy woman who believes she cannot conceive. A few years later, she bears a son and Jenna falls into the shadows. She lives with her ‘aunt’ until the age of 10, when her neglect and mistreatment comes to the attention of medical practitioners. She is given the choice to attend a scientific boarding school on another planet, and jumps at the chance. She goes to school here and gives herself the last name Starborn, as many who were born in artificial environments do. She then works as a teacher at the institution for a few years until she becomes restless. She begins looking around for suitable positions and finds a job on yet another planet as a nuclear technician, responsible for the maintenance and repair of a generator for a private estate. Here she meets and falls in love with Everett Ravenbeck, owner of the estate. But Everett is hiding something… and the rest of the plot you’ll recognize from Jane Eyre.

I thought this was a really unique book, and Shinn tailored Bronte’s classic story to fit Jenna and her world very well. I loved that Jenna played a unique role in the Ravenbeck household (not that of tutor to a child), and yet was still an integral part of the household. Ravenbeck’s ward, Ameletta, has a tutor named Janet who, in a very Austen-esque turn of events, runs off with a wealthy man and ‘ruins her reputation’ so to speak. I thought that part of the plot was an odd inclusion but after thinking about it I realize that it did serve a purpose. I love how Shinn incorporated movement between planets, and the time it took to make those trips — it was a good parallel to the original story. There were a few parts of the book that I felt really dragged, because they were almost following Bronte’s plot by rote (it seemed to me), but they didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the book. I really enjoyed this both as a sci-fi novel and as  Bronte para-literature.

I was amazed to discover that Shinn has written many books, and does her writing evenings and weekends because she holds down a full-time job! Whooee, that is amazing.

I haven’t been doing that well at keeping up with things here (as you may have noticed). I have read quite a few books over the past few months that I haven’t yet written about. Right now, I’m reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini and I gotta tell ya, I’m struggling to get through it. I wanted to see what all the hype is about but I don’t know if I will make it through this  book, let alone the entire series.

I also read Griffin’s Shadow by Leslie Ann Moore, sequel to Griffin’s Daughter. It was pretty good. I will probably read the third one in this series too, at some point.

So there you have it. We are getting closer to being caught up!

Gifts by Ursula K Le Guin

I found this on the teen shelf of my local library branch. I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it before. Not that I am a vigilant follower of Le Guin or anything — I don’t know all of the titles she has published (by far! there are so many)  — but I have been poking around the teen fantasy section a lot this year so I was surprised that I haven’t come across this one earlier. There was a list of some other Le Guin titles in the first few pages and it didn’t include The Left Hand of Darkness, which I consider to be one of her most popular books. Odd, no? I think the titles included in that list were intended to be those appropriate for teens, but really. It was not exhaustive. Though I guess (and probably the most logical answer) these could be just the titles put out by that publisher. Oh, book world, why do you do these confusing things?

Back to the topic at hand. Ahem.

Gifts book reviewGifts is about Orrec, a boy living in the Uplands, where people fear their neighbours because each family has a Gift. Orrec’s family has the gift of unmaking (for the sake of description it could be called the gift of destroying). Orrec is coached from a young age by his father in how to control this gift that will appear for Orrec when he reaches puberty. But as Orrec grows and his gift doesn’t manifest, tension begins to build. Who will protect the farm, the land, if Orrec is known to be without the gift? One day, Orrec’s father asks him to try, to concentrate, and use his gift. When the consequences prove disastrous, Orrec decides that his father must blindfold him to prevent any further destruction. Orrec must now rely on others and come to terms with living as a blind man.

I didn’t love this book, though it was well written. I found that there was an overly ominous suspenseful tone to it, as if something truly terrible were about to happen (more terrible than the disturbing things that do happen in the story). So. As you know, not really my thing. But then the ending was a relatively happy one, which kinda confused me after the ominous tone throughout the rest of the book. Not my favourite Le Guin, but still a good book. I did really like the character of Gry, Orrec’s best friend, and I really liked the size of the book. Easy to hold up and read in bed 🙂

Anyway this book is part of a series (the other titles are Voices and Powers). Not sure if I will be reading the others.

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a non-fiction book so much. Non-fiction isn’t always my thing, and I often find autobiographical-type books either pretentious or boring (or both) but this one was neither. Imagine my surprise!

Naturally, I was drawn in by a book about pianos — one about a second-hand piano shop in a city as big and as globally central as Paris. Some neat pianos could go through a place like that!

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank book reviewCarhart tells the story of how, after living in Paris with his family for a few years and walking by the same piano shop (atelier) many times a week, he plucked up the courage to go inside.  As a reader, we then get to follow Carhart’s journey as he buys a piano and wedges it into his family’s tiny Paris apartment, rediscovers playing, and makes new friends through the piano shop.

It still took me two library renews to get through this (have I mentioned that I struggle with non-fiction?) but I enjoyed having this around to pick up in between my fiction books. It was a nice, real-world balance to the teen fantasy I’m so fond of, and it’s nice to read about regular folks (non-professional musicians) who love music, too. Carhart is a talented writer and does a good job of keeping the reader interested. There was one point in the book where he started to talk about the history of how a piano came to be what it is (how it’s made), which I found a tad boring… it kind-of stalled the personal narrative momentum he had going. But that’s ok, it picked up again.

The wonderful thing about library books is that you occasionally get to know something about the others who have read the copy of the book before you. In this one, Carhart is at one point discussing the more technical aspects of music theory  — something about diminished 5ths or 7ths and minor keys  — and there were pencilled-in margin notes, very neat, by someone who said something like, “There’s no such thing as a diminished 7th but we forgive you because you’re such a good writer.” Cute!! (As I’m sure you can tell, if you know music theory, my knowledge in this area is seriously limited so please understand that this is something *like* what the note said. Don’t ask me if a diminished 7th exists. I have no idea.)

Anyways, I highly recommend this one to those who might find the topic of pianos, or rediscovering a love of playing and learning as an adult, interesting.