I've discovered that posting only two times a week (rather than four) means that I don't post very many reviews (like, pretty much none). In a way, I'm okay with that, because who really has time to write all these reviews? But on the other hand, I love having that record of my reading and my opinion to look back on. So I thought I would write a few two sentence reviews of books I've recently read.
The Fifth Avenue Artists Society by Joy Callaway
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Story Thieves by James Riley
Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein
This is the sequel to Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, which is one of my all-time favorite middle grade novels. Kyle Keeley and several of his classmates are locked in the brand-new library for the night, and they have to solve clues to escape. The first one out becomes the new face of the Lemoncello game company. In Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics, other middle school book lovers have demanded a rematch and a chance to participate. There are new characters from across the country, new games and clues to solve, and of course, more utter wackiness from Mr. Lemoncello. It's just as much fun as the first book in the series, as Kyle and his friends race to win the Library Olympics - and to save the library as well.
Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
What if the Great Library of Alexandria never burned down? And what if it now controls the dissemination of information to the entire world? What if real, paper-and-ink books are only found on the black market? Jess' family's business is exactly that - black market trading of books. But his family wants him on the inside, so he is sent to be trained to work for the Library. It turns out working for the Library is a lot more dangerous and full of secrets than you would ever expect. Rachel Caine has created an interesting alternate history, full of mystery and suspense. My only complaint is that it seems too much like a set-up for the rest of the series. It suffers from "second book of a trilogy"-itis, except it's only the first book. Despite this, I was definitely drawn into the world she created, and I'm glad the second book was just published so I can continue to follow Jess' story!
The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch
Have you ever dreamed of owning a bookstore? I most certainly have! So did Wendy Welch and her husband Jack. When they moved to Big Stone Gap, Virginia, they found a beautiful house that would work perfectly for a bookstore, and they dived in with both feet. They soon discovered they were a little in over their heads, but that didn't stop them from giving everything they had to keep their little bookstore going. This is a delightful book. It is chock-full of funny anecdotes and book love and crazy customers. It also is an ode to the power of both books and community, as Jack and Wendy slowly find their place in a small town. Read this book curled up in a comfy chair, sipping a mug of tea, and prepare to fall in love with the little bookstore of Big Stone Gap.
The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander was one of my favorite series as a kid. I read it several times, but that was all long ago. I had never reread it as an adult, so I decided this year to reread one book a month. I was hoping that it would live up to the rosy glow of my childhood view. And it did!
Now I just need to enumerate all of the many reasons why you should read (or reread) it, too.
1. It's an epic fantasy, the ultimate battle between good and evil.
2. As an epic fantasy, it has the great and glorious hero (Prince Gwydion), but he really takes a back seat to the true hero of the books - Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper.
3. If you couldn't tell from a hero like that, these books are funny. Not rolling-on-the-floor, telling-jokes funny. Just humorous in a light-hearted way. And you will definitely laugh out loud.
4. The characters grow throughout the five-book series. Taran has a lot of maturing to do from his beginning as a hapless Assistant Pig-Keeper, and he does it very believably as the series continues.
5. There are creatures of all sorts, from a fortune-telling pig to a giant cat to a hairy creature of undetermined nature (Gurgi. He's one of my favorites.).
6. Prydain is loosely modeled on Wales, and takes some of its inspiration from Welsh folklore. It's just as magical a place to escape into as Narnia or Middle-Earth.
In short, you will enjoy these books if you are a fan of:
Image credit: http://oldkingdom.com.au/author_books.html
This book is a most interesting mix. It is part medieval history, part murder mystery, and part theological debate. William of Baskerville and his young scribe Adso arrive at an abbey in the mountains of Italy. They have two tasks to complete - solve the mystery of a monk who had been murdered (or had he?) the day before their arrival, and mediate a discussion between supporters of the Holy Roman Emperor and supporters of the Avignon Pope. Of course, it doesn't stay that simple for long (as if that were simple) when each progressive day, another monk turns up brutally murdered.
With an increasing number of murders, you would think the theological aspect would get totally swallowed up by the mystery. But that's really not the case. Many pages are devoted to explaining heresies of the day, as well as recording debates between the monks about the nature of God and the devil. These parts of the book can be rather confusing (especially trying to keep track of all the different heretics), but they don't get in the way of the overarching narration. The most annoying thing I found was that the monks kept throwing entire sentences in Latin into their dialogue - with no translation! I understood what was going on anyway, but it got a bit on my nerves by the end.
This was not a short book, but it was a surprisingly fast read. The mystery kept the plot on track, and it was very difficult to put down in the last few chapters. If you get the right edition, there is a postscript from the author at the end explaining some of his thoughts as he wrote this book. In my opinion, here's the best line in the whole book:
"I began writing in March of 1978, prodded by a seminal idea: I felt like poisoning a monk."
I guess the pages of fiction provide the safest way to go about doing that, and it certainly made for an entertaining read!
I'm not even going to try to give this book a typical review. I just finished it this morning, so I haven't had time to process it all. Even with time, I'm not sure I could come up with a coherent opinion. So instead, here are a list of some thoughts I had about this book:
Overall, I really did enjoy this book. I didn't love it, but I did enjoy it. And I respect it for its accurate portrayal of a gritty life in Naples. Was I intrigued enough by Lila and Elena to read the three other books in the series? Someday, for sure. Do I need to run out right now and devour them? No, but I do look forward to entering their world so completely again sometime down the road.
I picked this book up at a used book sale a few years ago. It's about a teacher in Alaska, which intrigued me. I'm a teacher, too, and I've always wanted to visit Alaska. Since then, however, this book has languished on my shelf getting dustier every day. Then it was mentioned in the Reading Together book club, which is focusing on the Arctic in January and February. And I thought it was time to finally give this book a try. I'm very glad I did.
Anne Hobbs is nineteen-years-old when she accepts a job to teach in a rural gold-mining village in Alaska. It's the 1920s, so things are a little different from today. This is obvious not only in the basics of everyday life, but also in the villagers' attitudes and prejudices. In this time period, Native Americans were certainly not accepted as equals. They were looked down upon as lesser people, dirty, uncivilized, with little hope for any improvement. So what does Anne do? She proceeds to fall in love with a "half-breed" and adopt two Indian children when their mother dies. Needless to say, she was not the most popular person in town.
But her struggle to stay true to who she is and what she knows is right is what makes this such a heart-warming tale. She could easily have given into the pressure of the townspeople, but instead she stands up for what she believes in. I'm not sure I could have stayed that strong if I were in her position.
Tisha (which, by the way, is how the Native American children pronounce "teacher") reminded me of two of my favorites - Christy by Catherine Marshall and All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. The struggles, the atmosphere, the spot-on portrayals of people are all things that these three books have in common. Tisha may not be the first book that jumps out at you on a bookshelf, but it is one that is definitely worth reading.
Every January, I like to revisit one of my favorite authors - L.M. Montgomery. This was originally inspired by Reading to Know's L.M. Montgomery Reading Challenge. This year, though, I didn't officially participate because I wasn't sure if I would be able to fit in any Montgomery books. But I'm very pleased to say that I read three! Here are some quick thoughts about my reads:
I have read the Anne of Green Gables series so many times. Now I'm working my way through a reread of them all a little bit slower - one every January. This year, it was the turn of Anne of Windy Poplars. This book follows Anne through three years as a principal at Summerside. She has her challenges and her highlights, but she remains the same Anne through it all. In fact, she often steps aside as the main character to let someone else shine in the spotlight. I guess L.M. Montgomery was so full of these little stories of unique characters that she even had enough to fill an Anne book. As many times as I had read this book, I just learned this year that Anne of Windy Poplars was written nearly 20 years after the other Anne books. That may explain its slightly different style. What matters, though, is the magical atmosphere of Prince Edward Island, and that still abounds in this book.
As much as I love L.M. Montgomery, I had surprisingly never read a biography of her. Maud by Harry Bruce is a great introduction to her life. It's a very fast read, and it focuses mostly on her childhood and early adulthood, up to her marriage to Ewen Macdonald. I loved seeing what she was like as a child, and how many characteristics she shares with the lovable Anne and Emily. Her life was not always easy, but she knew she could find magic in nature and an escape in writing. I'm so glad she combined those passions of hers to produce the many books she did. If you are looking for a quick view of Montgomery's life and the opportunity to get to know her a little bit better, this would be a great book to read.
Akin to Anne is a collection of short stories written by L.M. Montgomery and originally published in several different newspapers. The subtitle is "Tales of Other Orphans" (hence the connection with Anne in the title). Most of the stories were just a few pages long, and while they were all enjoyable, they did get a little repetitive. It may have worked better if these stories were not grouped together, since they all had very similar plots (poor orphan gets miraculously discovered by a relative). Even so, it was fun to read some of Montgomery's short stories, since I hadn't really done that before.
I had such high hopes for this book. I actually set it aside after the first fifty pages because I didn’t want it to go by too quickly. This was a book I wanted to savor.
At least, I thought so.
The Little Book follows Wheeler Burden as he somehow travels from 1988 California to 1897 Vienna. He has to learn how to orient himself and figure out who it is safe to befriend. How involved can he become without changing the course of history? Of course, that question is not easily answered.
It’s also a question that is extremely common if you’re reading a book about time travel. Edwards does handle it well, giving bits and pieces away that only all make sense at the end. But what really sets this book apart is Vienna. The Little Book is an ode to turn-of-the-century Vienna. Selden Edwards clearly loves this city in the time period. There was certainly a lot of research that went into the writing of this book. And that is what drew me in so completely in the first fifty pages.
What lost my interest as the book continued, however, is that not much happened. There was a lot of talking. A love affair. Lots and lots of flashbacks. An occasional plot twist. But really, nothing happened. It turned out to be kind of a boring book. I’m really sorry to say that, because there were pieces of it that were brilliant. And I did love experiencing Vienna in its golden age. But by the end, I didn’t care that much about the characters and I was tired of waiting for something to happen.
I guess this is just one of those books for which I loved the potential, but not the reality.
I usually wait a few days before writing a review of a book. I like to let the dust settle, allow my initial reactions to form themselves into coherent thoughts. But I couldn’t wait that long with this book. It’s been no more than half an hour since I finished reading, but I had to get my feelings out somehow! So the following thoughts may be slightly less than coherent.
Ruin and Rising is the third book of a YA trilogy. I’m not a huge reader of YA novels, mostly because of the angst and drama they usually include. Also because I am sick of the whole dystopian thing. It’s been done. And if you don’t have anything new to add to it, then let’s just leave it alone for awhile. But Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series isn’t really dystopian. It stands apart from a lot of YA out there, mostly because of its Russian-flavored setting. It’s refreshing and different, and gives you a whole new realm of culture and history to explore.
The plot is full of twists I never saw coming. I love it when I think a book is predictable, and then it makes all of my expectations crumble into dust. There are quite a few characters to keep track of, but they are all unique and full of personality. Bardugo includes just the right amount of comic relief, usually in the dialogue between her characters. And the comic relief seems to come naturally from the characters and their interactions, instead of feeling forced into the story. Since this is the third book in a trilogy, a lot is expected of it. And Bardugo most certainly delivers.
When I read the last page of Ruin and Rising, my overwhelming feeling was a desire to start back at book one and read the entire series through again. I reread books I like fairly often, but there are very few series I can think of that have produced such a desire in me. Harry Potter, of course. The Chronicles of Narnia. The Anne of Green Gables books. All of the series, in other words, that I would classify as some of my favorite reads of all time. Now I’m not sure I’m quite willing to add the Grisha series to that category. But I can say with certainty that I will be rereading this series in the future. Maybe even more than once.
(Warning: This review is going to be rather rave-like.)
Everything about this book is amazing. Seriously, everything. I don’t say that often, so you know it’s true.
I do have to temper that, however, by saying that this book may appeal to only a small audience of bibliophile word nerds, like me. So if that description applies to you, then by all means, read this book.
Ella Minnow Pea (say her name out loud, and you’ll get a hint of the wordy wonders to be found in this book) lives on the island of Nollop, off the East Coast. The island was founded by Nevin Nollop, the creator of “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” He’s so looked up to on the island, in fact, that they have created a monument to him and his amazing sentence. And then one day, the Z falls off. The Nollopian High Council declares that the letter Z is henceforth banned from use in speaking or writing. Since the novel is an epistolary novel, you can imagine how that affects the story. And then when you discover that Z is just the first of the letters to fall, you can look forward in delight to the language hijinks that will ensue. And let’s give Mark Dunn all the credit he’s due – this must have been a progressively difficult book to write.
Let me repeat that this book is amazing. Hopefully I’ve convinced you of that. The word geek in me was jumping up and down at each page, and surely I can’t be the only one who was affected by this book in this way.
Word lovers unite, and join Ella Minnow Pea!
My name is Julie, and I own a lot of books. As in, they are stacked on the floor because I've run out of room on the shelves. And those shelves? There are so many books on them that they smile -- not sag; smile. This blog will cover book reviews and all manner of other bookish things.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.