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.
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 am incredibly ignorant of Asian history. This comes home to me every time I read a book set in the Eastern Hemisphere. I remember taking a class in European History in high school, but I don't think there was even one offered for Asian history. How much we are missing out on.
When My Name Was Keoko takes place in Korea during World War 2. Korea is controlled by Japan at this point in time, and has been since 1910. (Fact # 1 out of many that I learned by reading this book.) In an effort to gain more and more control over the Koreans, Japan decrees that every Korean has to change their name to a Japanese name. Sun-hee (who becomes Keoko) and Tae-yul (who becomes Nobuo) take turns narrating this story.
While the battlefields of World War 2 never come to Korea, that doesn't mean their lives are unaffected. The Japanese take their food and metal for resources, and conscript their young men and women into the work force. And always, they suppress Korea's identity and culture. Sun-hee and Tae-yul are both incredibly brave in their own ways as they seek to stay true to who they are.
This is a very powerful book. Being told from the point of view of children makes it even more so. If you are looking to learn something about Korean history or if you are looking for an entirely different perspective on World War 2, you can't do any better than to read When My Name Was Keoko.
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.
Farmer Boy is the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder's future husband, Almanzo, as a child. It was interesting to see the similarities between the two. There is still a lot of time spent describing the food they ate (it made me hungry), as well as all the work they did to survive. The differences were pretty interesting also. Since Almanzo's family lived near a town, they weren't in pure survival mode. There were stores that were still a bit of a trip away, but decently convenient. And they had neighbors to visit with - even a parlor in which to receive them!
What struck me most, though, was the innocence of Almanzo. He was a nine-year-old boy. I teach fourth grade, so I'm fairly familiar with nine-year-old boys. They're not like that anymore. It was refreshing to see Almanzo treat his parents with such respect and obedience, even when he got up to some boyish shenanigans. I think this is one of the reasons why the Little House books are still so beloved. They not only give us a picture of a lost time; they give us a picture of a lost childhood innocence.
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.
Confession: I am a Jeopardy nerd. I love watching Jeopardy and confidently shouting out the answers before anyone can buzz in. I know for a fact, however, that I will never have the courage to actually try out for the show, let alone go on TV to show all my knowledge that I'm certain will fly right out of my head.
Ken Jennings, on the other hand, not only had the courage to try out for Jeopardy, he succeeded on being on the show for a record-breaking 75 episodes in 2004. Brainiac is the story of his time on Jeopardy. The view of Jeopardy behind-the-scenes is fascinating, as well as everything Jennings did to prepare himself for obscure categories and questions. It was also amusing to read about the elaborate stories he had to concoct to hide his weekly trips to Los Angeles (since no one is supposed to know what happens until the episodes air several months later). What really sold me on this book, though, was Jennings' humility. It would be so easy to brag and boast about your knowledge or skill, but Jennings never once falls into that trap. He is always humble about his abilities and grateful for the experiences he had.
In addition to the story of his time on Jeopardy, Brainiac explores the world of trivia in all of its many forms - from Trivial Pursuit to trivia pub nights. Random, mostly useless, facts hold a surprisingly central part in our culture. Maybe it's just my geekiness, but I loved learning about the history of trivia through Jennings' wry style.
I have read Jennings' two other books (Maphead and Because I Said So!) and thoroughly enjoyed them both. Brainiac is just as educational - and just as extraordinarily enjoyable!
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is one of those books that everyone knows the plot of, whether they've read it or not. Its premise has been recreated in various movies, from A Muppet Christmas Carol to Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. It's so embedded in our popular culture that calling someone a "scrooge" has meaning even if you have no idea that it's referring to a character in a book.
I am one of those people who, until recently, could summarize this book for you without ever having read it. I don't know how I missed reading it when I was younger, but somehow I did. I finally decided to rectify that this Christmas season.
It's strange to read a book for the first time whose story you already know. Nothing was a surprise to me, except some of the details. I enjoyed getting to know more about Scrooge's childhood and why he may have turned out the way he did. I enjoyed the descriptions of Victorian London and the feasts and parties that Scrooge viewed. I even laughed out loud a couple of times, which I honestly didn't expect from Dickens.
This is a sweet little story, with a very important moral - give generously, help and love those around you. But I couldn't help but notice that the motivation for such behaviors was never really mentioned. We should give and help and love others because God first gave and helped and loved us. Living life with the "Christmas spirit" should really be living life filled with the Holy Spirit. I don't know what Charles Dickens' views on religion were, but I feel that this story would have only been made stronger and more powerful if God had been brought into it.
This is a great book to read at this time of year, with a cold wind howling outside and a house full of Christmas decorations. I'm sure I'll revisit it during future Christmases. I just won't let it replace the real Reason for the season.
The Moonstone is a mystery. Depending on who you ask, it's possibly the first detective novel written. The moonstone is a very large diamond stolen from India. It's given to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday, and inexplicably disappears in the middle of the night. Renowned Sergeant Cuff from London is called in to solve the case, but even he runs into dead ends as he attempts to figure out what happened that night.
I love the way this story is told. It is divided into nine sections, each told by a different narrator. Franklin Blake, Rachel's cousin and the deliverer of the moonstone, has asked the major witnesses to record their recollections and experiences involving the diamond. The first large section of the book is told by Gabriel Betteredge, the Verinders' steward. He is a wonderful character to get to know, just the sort of English butler you would suppose - except he finds inspiration and wisdom in Robinson Crusoe. Each new section is told by a character with a distinct voice and personality. The variety of narrators is part of what makes this book so enjoyable.
The mystery will also keep you guessing to the very end. It's very different than today's mystery novels, which often owe more to action and violence than clues and investigative work. This is not an action-packed book. Yet for all that, it is difficult to put down as each narrator adds their piece of the puzzle.
The Moonstone is not a short book, yet it is a surprisingly fast read. The mystery and the characters combine to draw you into the story completely. This is one detective novel that you won't be sorry that you read!
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.