Saturday, March 31, 2012

Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan

 Listening for Lions by Gloria Whelan is a lovely book, and a delightful audiobook. I listened to this one at the recommendation of one of my co-workers, and I'm glad I did.

Rachel Sheridan is the daughter of missionaries. She was born in Africa, and she loves it there. When both of her parents die in the 1919 influenza epidemic, Rachel falls into the clutches of a scheming family who have just lost their own daughter. Rachel will take that daughter's place on a voyage to England, to visit the dead girl's grandfather and get into his good graces. Rachel is hesitant to take part in the scheme, but her only other option is being sent to the orphanage her own parents grew up in. Rachel resolves to tell the truth anyway, but then she meets the ailing old gentleman, whose health is so frail that she fears the startling news of his granddaughter's death and his son's duplicity in sending Rachel could have disastrous consequences. As she remains with him, Rachel grows fond of the old gentleman, and begins to love him as she would her own grandfather. Will she ever be able to tell him the truth? And will she ever be able to return to her beloved Africa?

I greatly enjoyed listening to this book. It's well written (my favorite so far of the Gloria Whelan books I have read) and well-narrated by Bianca Amato. I would recommend it to fans of historical fiction and children's classics.

(Reviewed from an audiobook borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie review: The Hunger Games

This weekend everybody and their brother went to see The Hunger Games, based on their record-breaking opening weekend sales.  I joined the crowd, and I thought it was pretty darn good, actually.

Some background: I read The Hunger Games back when it was just starting to be cool, before either of the sequels had been released, and when the whole world was crazy over Twilight.  I liked The Hunger Games better than Twilight -- still do.  It has a little more substance (though both books are basically leisure reads), and the characters are a lot more interesting.  Katniss, in particular, has her flaws, but at least she does stuff.  When I read the books, I thought that they had the potential to be mega-bestsellers, and I'm glad to see that their movies (or at least the first one) are doing them justice.

So, the movie . . .

I thought the casting was excellent.  Usually, when I watch a movie based on a book that I like, there are those moments of disconnect where I think, that's not how that character should look.  I didn't have those moments with The Hunger Games.  Sure, there were small differences -- but I thought that, in general, the casting choices in this movie fit both the descriptions from the books, and the way my own imagination had interperted them.  The tributes, including Katniss and Peeta, but also Thresh, Rue, Cato, and the fox-faced girl all looked just right to me.  Moreover, the acting was superb -- I was particularly impressed with Woody Harrelson as Haymitch,  Lenny Kravitz as Cinna (my favorite character from the books), and Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman. 

With the author on board as one of the screenwriters, the movie was bound to stay close to the book.  I also think that the Hunger Games series was written in a style to make it easily adaptable to the big screen.  There were a few changes, but none that really bothered me.  One fairly large change was the riot in District 11.  In the book, they sent bread to Katniss, but in the book, it was easy to explain how unusual -- actually, unheard-of -- it was for a district to send a gift to another district's tribute.  The riot as a substitute makes sense, but it also makes for a scene that they will have to top in the next book as the political elements heat up.  I'm not sure how much difficulty people who haven't read the book will have in following the film, but it seemed to me that it hit all of the main points.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie, will probably buy it when it comes out on DVD, and I look forward to the release of Catching Fire in November 2013.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a futuristic retelling of Cinderella -- light sci-fi, if you will. In this day of the post-apocalyptic dystopia, it's refreshing to run across a book that isn't really either of those things.

Linh Cinder is one of the most talented mechanics in New Beijing. She's also a cyborg -- socially beyond the pale. Her stepmother tolerates her because of the income Cinder brings in, but she never lets Cinder forget that she was an unwelcome addition to the household. When the prince brings a damaged android to Cinder for repairs, Cinder finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue, and she may play a larger part than anyone could have expected.

I'll state right off that I saw all of the plot twists in this book coming a mile away. However, that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story. Fairy tale retellings are one of my favorite things to read, and I loved how Meyer wove the familiar threads of the Cinderella story into this book, making it much more than the original, but still delightfully recognizable. I certainly recommend it, and will be seeking out future volumes in the series. A word to the wise: the ending of this book is first cousin to a cliffhanger -- not enough of one to cause screams of outrage (at least from me), but enough to leave readers craving the next book, which won't be out for some time yet.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

The Moon Over High Street by Natalie Babbitt

The Moon Over High Street by Natalie Babbitt is about Joe Casimir, who has a big decision to make.

When Joe goes to visit a distant relative for the summer, he anticipates a slightly boring few weeks. However, when a chain of circumstances brings him in contact with the wealthy Mr. Boulderwall, Joe's life could change forever. Mr. Boulderwall is looking for an heir, someone he could train up to be his replacement at the factory he started. Joe, an orphan of Polish descent, reminds Mr. Boulderwall of himself at that age. Why shouldn't he adopt the boy, he wonders, and mold him into the perfect factory manager? It would be a fantastic opportunity for Joe . . . but Joe has plans of his own, dreams that reach as high as the moon.

This is a gentle, almost folksy read. The style is typical of Natalie Babbitt, and similar to that of Patricia MacLachlan. I must admit that I found the story a bit flat. Nothing in the plot, characters, or setting made the book particularly distinctive. It reads like a lazy summer afternoon -- the sort of afternoon that leaves your inner child pacing around moaning "I'm bo-ored!" Babbitt has written some lovely books, but this is not one of her strongest works.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

The (Not Quite) Perfect Boyfriend by Lili Wilkinson

The (Not Quite) Perfect Boyfriend by Lili Wilkinson is chick lit for young teens. Sixteen-year-old Midge, tired of being teased about not having a boyfriend, invents one. And then he shows up.

It's just a coincidence, of course -- the real-life Ben isn't quite the same as the boy Midge made up, but he's pretty close . . . and he's willing to play along with Midge's story. For a price, of course. It turns out that Ben isn't nearly as perfect as Midge had envisioned, and keeping up the lie, while it has its pleasant sides (popularity! kissing!), also makes life a lot more complicated.

This is one of the most innocent teen romances I've read in a long time -- so much so that I think it's most likely to appeal to tweens. Older readers may find it tame and a little predictable, but those making their first painful forays into the world of real-life romance will empathize with Midge's naïve mistakes.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate is many things: a verse novel, a tear-jerker, based on a true story. Ivan is a gorilla who has spent nearly 30 years as the main attraction in a run-down circus-themed shopping mall. He's been alone so long that, for all he knows, he might be the only gorilla left in the world -- despite the fact that, at his age, he should be the head of a gorilla family, resposible for protecting and leading his pack. His best friends are a scrappy homeless dog named Bob, and Stella, the elephant who is the mall's other main attraction. Ivan and Stella are resigned to living life in their small cages, but when the mall's owner Mack brings in Ruby, a baby elephant, Ivan finds that he does have something worth protecting, after all. How can he save Ruby from a lifetime of imprisonment at the shopping mall?

Ivan is a gorilla of great understanding but few words, so the spare format of the verse novel suits this book well. It's written as a middle-grade novel, and though it does contain a few emotionally distressing scenes, there are no overt instances of cruelty such as you might expect in an adult novel. The characters are complex -- even Mack, the owner of the shopping mall, is not simply painted as the Bad Guy. The book tackles a lot of thought-provoking issues about animal rights, without ever becoming too preachy -- and though I shed a few tears in the middle, the ending of the story is ultimately hopeful.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Caddy's World by Hilary McKay

 When Hilary McKay writes a new book about the sparkling, dysfunctional Casson family, I read it as soon as possible -- so I jumped on the recently-released Caddy's World. This book is actually a prequel to the series, but I would recommend reading them in publication order, as this book gives away (or at least strongly hints at) one of the major plot points from Saffy's Angel.

Before Darling Michael, before the hamsters, even before Permanent Rose, there were four friends -- Alison, who hates everyone; Ruby, the clever one; Beth, who is perfect; and Cadmium Gold Casson, bravest of the brave. "You four will be friends," their first primary school teacher instructed . . . and so they were. But now, during Caddy's twelfth summer, her beautiful, unchanging friendship seems to be coming apart. Alison's parents are threatening to sell their house and move their family to Tasmania. Ruby has been offered the chance at a scholarship to a private school. Beth is growing too big for her beloved pony, and Caddy's family is in even more of an uproar than usual because Eve is at the hospital with the new baby, which seems so small that Caddy can't see how it could possibly survive. Will the four friends be torn apart by circumstances, or can they make it through together?

I love the Cassons, and Caddy has always been the most distant one, since she is nearly grown up in the other books. It's lovely to get to know her better here. I don't know if there will be more books in the series (Caddy and Rose have had two books each; I think Saffy and Indigo need more books now), but the epilogue in Caddy's World made me want to pick up Saffy's Angel again and reread the rest of the series.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen

All Men of Genius by Lev Rosen is a brilliant mashup of so many great things -- Steampunk! Shakespeare! Oscar Wilde! Secret scientific societies bent on world domination! Swearing rabbits! -- that I am just left marveling at how much fun it all is.

On the surface, this is a steampunk retelling of Twelfth Night. Violet Adams is one of the finest scientific minds of her time, but she cannot attend Illyria, England's premiere scientific college, because Illyria only admits men. The solution? Violet will masquerade as her twin brother Ashton for a year, to prove to the duke who runs Illyria that women should be admitted to the school. While she is there, she will create some brilliant invention to reveal her genius to the world. Of course, she doesn't factor in the possibility that she might fall in love with the duke. . . .

Naturally, Rosen deviates from Shakespeare's plot and characterization occasionally, but he stays true to the essence of the play. There are also a few phenomenal riffs on The Importance of Being Earnest, including some nearly verbatim lines from my favorite scene in that play (the one where Cecily and Gwendolyn meet for the first time).

This book had me in stitches part of the time, and nearly biting my fingernails during certain other tense or spooky moments. While it's marketed as an adult book, I think older teens would enjoy it as well. I'm not particularly well-versed in steampunk, having only dabbled around the edges as it were, so I'd say this could also serve as a nice introduction to the genre for the curious but inexperienced.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (originally published as Curtain Up) was a pleasant read -- one of those books that I would have loved if I had discovered it when I was about 9. (How did I not discover Streatfeild when I was growing up?)

Siblings Sorrel, Mark, and Holly Forbes lived with their grandfather during most of World War II. Their mother is dead, and their father is away at war. Their lives change completely when their father is presumed "missing" and their grandfather passes away. The Forbes children are sent to live with their grandmother, who disowned their mother for marrying their father. They don't know what to expect at their grandmother's home, but are surprised, when they arrive, to learn that their mother's side of the family is all involved in the theatre in one way or another. The children are sent, not to their familiar boarding schools, but to the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, where their education will be much different than what they have experienced in the past.

As in other Streatfeild novels I have read, there are some minor sibling quarrels, some gentle competition between the students at the school, some issues with genteel poverty (in this case, complicated by rationing and scarcity due to the war), and bright futures all around. The sisters from Ballet Shoes play a minor role in this book, so it might be helpful to read that one first.

I thought there were a few dark undertones in the book -- for instance, Sorrel's character seemed to be developing for the worse in subtle ways. I can see her competing bitterly with her cousin Miranda for the rest of their lives. Despite that, it was still an enjoyable read. I think if I were to read all of Streatfeild's books in a short time, I would find them repetitive -- but at the rate of about one a year, they are charming.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

i heart bloomberg by Melody Carson

I picked up i heart bloomberg by Melody Carlson because it was a Kindle freebie. When I finished my previous read on my Kindle, I just clicked over to the next thing that sounded interesting. The two books are nearly as different as night and day, but sometimes that's a good thing.

In i heart bloomberg, three twenty-something women are looking for better living arrangements. They each respond to an intriguing ad: rooms for rent in a luxurious upscale home located in an ideal location. After agreeing to sign the lease, however, they discover that the ad may not have been entirely truthful -- sure, the location is great, but the house is run down. Moreover, landlady Kendall is a complete basket case: a narcissistic shopaholic with a drinking problem, huge credit card debts, and an equally huge sense of entitlement. The four women have their ups and downs as they adjust to their new situation.

This was a quick and fluffy read -- enjoyable, but without much substance. The writing was okay, but not great. All in all, I don't regret reading it, but I probably won't seek out the rest of the series.

(Reviewed from a free electronic copy.)

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

Crucible of Gold is the most recent addition to the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. This series is one of my recent favorites. The best way to describe it is alternate history -- the Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons. What really stands out for me, though, is the excellent characterization. The dragons are so . . . dragonly (yes, that is totally a word); they have their own morals and personalities. They manage to be both sympathetic and alien -- I never forget, when reading, that Temeraire is not human.

In Crucible of Gold, Laurence and Temeraire travel from Australia to South America, where they discover another entirely different system of government involving humans and dragons . . . as well as another sneaky plot on the part of Napoleon to upset the balance of power in his favor.

I enjoyed this book more than its predecessor, Tongues of Serpents -- it feels like a return to the earlier books. I'm also pleased to note that, while this book doesn't end in a major cliffhanger, it's obvious that there will be more books in the future. I can hardly wait!

If you haven't read the series yet, but are intrigued, the first book is His Majesty's Dragon -- highly recommended to dragon lovers and history buffs alike!

(Reviewed from a personally purchased electronic copy.)

100 Best Picture Books and Chapter Books at Fuse #8

One fantastically brave kid lit blogger is creating lists of the 100 best picture books and 100 best chapter books over at "A Fuse #8 Production" . . . and you can help!  Submit your personal top ten lists of picture books and chapter books -- check out her blog for more information.  Here's the link:

She did this a few years ago, and it was lots of fun.  I can hardly wait to see the results this time . . . but now I have to go make my own lists!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

It's hard to review The Humming Room by Ellen Potter without including something that some might consider a spoiler, so I'll say at the start: if you like juvenile fiction with just a touch of magical realism, with well-developed characters and a little bit of eerie atmosphere, you might want to stop reading this review, and pick up the book, instead. Okay, now for the actual review:

When Roo's parents are killed, she is sent to the home of an uncle she didn't even know she had. The huge, mysterious old house holds many secrets, both inside and out. There's the strange boy who knows more about nature than anyone Roo has ever met, the unwelcoming housekeeper, the garrulous maid, and the strange humming and crying sounds that Roo sometimes hears as she explores the house. Most of all, there's the garden, which has been closed up and left to die. . . .

If this is all sounding way too familiar, there's a reason for that. Potter has taken the basic structure of The Secret Garden and updated it to a modern setting. This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but in this case, it works beautifully. It took me a little while to even realize what was happening, though when I look back, I can see that Roo's story and Mary's march side-by-side from the very beginning. Lots of the small details differ, making the book just different enough from its predecessor that it doesn't feel like a hollow imitation. For instance, Roo's uncle's house is an old children's tuberculosis sanatorium, with all of the creepiness that entails, and it's located on an island, so it feels as remote as a house on the moors of Yorkshire a hundred years ago. There are subtle differences in characterization, too -- Roo is a little more likeable than Mary, Jack is a little more fey than Dickon, Philip is not as much of an invalid as Colin -- but they mesh together nicely. My one complaint was that the book was short, and felt a little rushed toward the end.

In The Humming Room, Potter has done a lovely job of taking on and adapting a children's classic. I would recommend this to fans of the original, as well as those who are looking for a story with a slightly spooky atmosphere and a hint of mystery.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Faking Faith by Josie Bloss

I read Faking Faith by Josie Bloss last night. It's an interesting book, to be sure.

When Dylan becomes a social outcast due to a bad breakup, a viral video, and a sexting scandal, she starts spending a lot of time on the Internet . . . but it's not what you might expect. Dylan becomes obsessed with blogs of homeschooled fundamentalist Christian girls -- the kind who live a quasi-Amish lifestyle, with farms and big families and lots of domestic stories to relate. For months, Dylan reads the blogs . . . then she starts to comment occasionally . . . then she creates her own blogging persona, "Faith." And eventually, Dylan contacts Abigail, one of the most popular bloggers in her new-found community, and arranges for "Faith" to come visit. At Abigail's home, Dylan meets Abigail's family -- a host of cute younger siblings, a homey mother, a controlling father, and Asher, Abigail's handsome, troubled older brother. Abigail's life is pretty much what Dylan had been expecting -- but there are a few dark undertones as well.

The string of bad choices that Dylan makes in the first half of this book is really quite epic -- everything from sending naked pictures to her scummy boyfriend, to lying to her parents and setting up a visit to people she met online.  The author does a good job of making Dylan's character sympathetic in spite of all of this.

I'm a little intrigued by the blogging community that Dylan stumbles across -- a group so conservative, it makes the conservatives that I know seem mainstream. Hopefully, nobody will come away from this book thinking that all conservative Christians share Abigail's family's views! On the other hand, I like the fact that Dylan finds certain things about Abigail's lifestyle appealing -- and I appreciate the fact that Dylan isn't able to swoop in and solve all of the problems she encounters in Abigail's world. From her experience at Abigail's, Dylan takes away a few lessons about the power of forgiveness and the importance of knowing what you believe. There really is a sense that both Dylan and Abigail have grown over the course of the novel, but that they still have some growing left to do, which makes for a nice, realistic ending.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chalice by Robin McKinley

Chalice by Robin McKinley fits the bill for me today -- as a nice, soothing read, it was a good antidote to the violence of my last book. This is my second time reading this book, and I enjoyed it just a much this time as last time. McKinley's writing has its flaws (it tends to wander a bit) but for me, her books stand up well to rereading.

Mirasol is Chalice, a member of the ruling Circle of the Willowlands demesne, second in importance only to the Master. All is not well in her demesne, though -- the previous Master and Chalice died in tragic and somewhat shocking circumstances, so Mirasol never had the chance to apprentice and learn the work of the Chalice. The Master's younger brother has been called home from the Elemental Priesthood to take his place as the new Master of the demesne, but it's rumored that he went so far into the Elemental Priesthood that he is somehow no longer human. Moreover, there are those, both with and outside of the demesne, who would like to see the new Master fail, and Mirasol with him. Can an inexperienced Chalice and Master work together to save the demesne -- or did their respective positions come to them too soon, or too late?

There's not a lot of action in this book, and while there's definitely conflict, it's generally interpersonal and running under the surface. The world-building is really interesting, though it can also be just a little bit confusing at times. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as a point of access to McKinley's works, but for fans of hers, it is certainly a worthwhile read.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott

If I had to use one word to describe The Thirteen Hallows by Michael Scott and Colette Freedman, it would be "squicky." I did read the whole thing . . . but now I kind of want to wash my brain.

To briefly summarize, the Thirteen Hallows are artifacts that were used thousands of years ago to seal demonkind into a prison. The demons have been biding their time, waiting for a human to come along who is brilliant, ambitious, and ruthless, and who will collect and activate the Hallows, releasing the demons. That time has come -- the current Keepers of the Hallows are all growing old, and are unable to protect their artifacts any longer. When one young woman, Sarah Miller, stops what she thinks is a mugging, she is caught up in the danger and horror of what's happening with the Hallows, and her fate becomes inextricably linked with theirs.

First of all, the good: this book is definitely gripping. Even when I halfway wanted to put it down, I kept reading to see what would happen.

But that's about all of the good that I can think of to relate.  The writing, while not cringe-worthy, was nothing out of the common run, and the characters all seemed a little flat to me.  Moreover, I am not a fan of thrillers or horror, and this book contains elements of both. Let me put it this way: a book that uses the word "abattoir" several times to describe various scenes is probably not my thing. Multiple descriptions of gristly murders and kinky rituals had me nearly putting the book down at several different points. So, if your taste is anything like mine, I'm definitely not recommending this book. On the other hand, the reviews I read were generally positive -- so those who enjoy gore-spattered fantasy/horror/thrillers will probably love this book.

I'll leave them to it -- and be a little more selective of my reads in the future.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Beauty by Robin McKinley

I first discovered Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley when I was in seventh grade. Middle school is always a prime example of "man's inhumanity to man," and books were my best means of escape. Beauty quickly became a favorite. I borrowed the battered paperback copy from the school library several times that year, and have reread it more times than I can count in the years since. I've worn out at least two paperback copies of my own, and the hardcover I now own is starting to look a little worn! However, unless my record-keeping is faulty, it's been over four years since I last reread it -- so I guess I was due for a reread.

This is a lovely retelling of the classic fairy tale (specifically, it seems most influenced by the de Beaumont version). It doesn't depart from the original in the big details, but does a beautiful job of fleshing out the story. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys, or thinks they might enjoy, fairy tale retellings. It's also a great starting point if you've never read anything by Robin McKinley.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased copy.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper intrigued me when I first heard about it a few years ago, but I have only just gotten around to reading it.

Sophie FitzOsborne is a princess of a small, impoverished, tumbledown kingdom -- Montmaray, a tiny island in the Bay of Biscay. Hundreds of years ago, her ancestors were cast adrift in a shipwreck and landed on the island, claiming it as their kingdom. The population grew, then dwindled -- by 1936, the island is inhabited by Sophie, her mad uncle the king, her cousin Veronica, her tomboyish sister Henry, their obsessive housekeeper Rebecca, and a handful of villagers. Toby, the crown prince, is in England at school, along with Simon, Rebecca's son. The FitzOsbornes who remain on the island live in somewhat primitive conditions, but Veronica and Henry are perfectly happy pursuing their own interests. Sophie dreams of a proper "coming out" in London, but she feels she can't leave the rest of her family on the island. Then, one day, the Germans arrive on Montmaray . . .

This is an interesting book -- a little difficult to classify. It's historical fiction, but Montmaray is entirely invented. Of course, if the FitzOsbornes had been living in England, whatever estate they lived on would likewise have been invented, so in that respect it's not all that much different from other works of historical fiction. The writing style, diary format, and air of impoverished gentility inevitably draw comparisons to Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. I didn't like A Brief History of Montmaray quite as much as I liked I Capture the Castle, but I do look forward to reading more about the FitzOsbornes in the future.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

Friday, March 2, 2012

The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen is the last of my little stack of current galleys. It comes out next month, so I am actually reviewing it in the time frame that the publisher would most prefer, for once!

The king of Carthya is dead, along with the queen and the crown prince -- but the people of Carthya don't know it yet. Since the king's younger son, Prince Jaron, was lost in a shipwreck and presumed dead several years before, the country is without a ruler, and is therefore undoubtedly on the brink of civil war. The Council of Regents are attempting to decide the fate of the country, but many of its members have plans of their own. Connor, one of the minor regents, is scouring orphanages for likely boys to put in Prince Jaron's place. It's a bold plan, and if it succeeds, Connor will be the power behind the throne. He finds four teens of the right age and appearance, including Sage, a brash young thief.

Sage is actually the narrator and main character of this story. From the first, it's obvious that he's one of those unreliable narrators your mother warned you about. Of the boys recruited by Connor, Sage may be the least likely to succeed at imitating the prince -- but Connor makes it clear from the beginning that the boys who do not succeed are unlikely to live to see their rival on the throne. Can Sage and the other boys learn everything they need to impersonate a prince in the space of just a few weeks? And just what is Sage hiding? He's not the sort to humbly submit to Connor's plan. . . .

This book inevitably reminded me of a certain other book with an unreliable thief as its narrator, though it came up a bit short in comparison. Sage is no Eugenides -- he has all of the attitude, but lacks some of the charm. I also guessed Sage's secret about halfway through the book -- not that that's a problem, really, as I still enjoyed reading about how it all played out. I did think the ending felt a bit rushed. Also, there were some hints of romance that never played out, though since this is the first book of a trilogy, I imagine those will be more fully explored in the coming volumes. I didn't love this book, but I liked it enough that I will probably read the rest of the series when it is available.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.) 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer

I like to keep a few light reads loaded on my Kindle, that I can pick up when I am waiting somewhere or have a few minutes to fill. The Regency romance Friday's Child by Georgette Heyer was just such a book.

When Lord Sherringham (Sherry, to his friends) proposes to and is rejected by an Incomparable, he goes out and marries the next woman he sees -- a girl he has known since childhood, and who has adored him for most of her life. Hero (dubbed "Kitten" by Sherry) has spent her girlhood as a poor relation, and is about to be packed off to be a governess when Sherry makes his proposal. Of course, it will only be a marriage of convenience -- Sherry must be married before he can have control of his inheritance. Sherry has no plans to change his way of life at all, despite being married. Of course, he means to give Kitten every luxury, since he's always been quite fond of her. When he finds himself rescuing his naive wife from scrape after scrape, usually because she was imitating some action of his, he starts to realize that marriage is a more serious proposition than he had at first suspected. The big question, though, is what will it take for Sherry to actually fall in love with his wife?

This is just as delightful as any Georgette Heyer I've read. I particularly liked seeing Sherry's character development -- unusual, in the hero of a Regency romance. If you haven't read any Georgette Heyer and are interested in giving her a try, this would be a pleasant place to start.

(Reviewed from my personally purchased electronic copy.)

Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones

Earwig and the Witch is the last book from Diana Wynne Jones, one of my all-time favorite authors. It's always hard for me to pick up and read a "last book" (I still haven't read the final Madeleine L'Engle that's been sitting on my shelf since just after she passed away), but this time, I managed it.

Earwig loves life at St. Morwald's Home for Children. She has everyone, from the matron to the cook to the youngest orphan, under her thumb. She has no intention of being adopted -- until Bella Yaga and the Mandrake show up. Bella Yaga proves to have an even stronger personality than Earwig . . . or does she? Bella Yaga and the Mandrake take Earwig home with them despite her objections. Though Earwig is homesick for the orphanage, she is hopeful that Bella Yaga will teach her some magic. Bella Yaga, however, is only looking for "another pair of hands" -- someone to chop ingredients and stir cauldrons and clean the workroom. What follows is an epic battle of wills. Will Earwig convince Bella Yaga to teach her magic, or has the determined young girl finally met her match?

This book is so typically Diana Wynne Jones -- quirky and funny and delightful. It skews a little younger than many of Jones' other books, so will serve as a great introduction for young readers. Earwig doesn't seem a sympathetic character at first, but by the end of the book, readers will be firmly under her spell.

Goodbye, Diana -- you are missed already.

(Reviewed from an advance copy, courtesy of the publisher.)