Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What I Read This Weekend

What I Read This Weekend . . .

Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff -- Middle Grades Historical Fiction

Jayna, nicknamed Gingersnap, finally has a home with her beloved older brother now that he's aged out of the foster care system. Jayna loves watching her brother cook and learning to make soup; soon they plan to open a restaurant. First though, Rob has to go off to the Pacific to be a cook on a Navy destroyer. The war (WWII) is still going on and Jayna worries about Rob. She doesn't like living with her fussy neighbor who wants her life back. When a devastating telegram arrives, Jayna aided by a ghostly presence, discovers evidence suggesting she has family in Brooklyn. Taking her beloved turtle Theresa, a suitcase of clothes and a faded old recipe book written in French, Jayna heads off to Brooklyn to find the family she desperately wants and needs. Patricia Reilly Giff has been one of my favorite authors since I was in elementary school  a long long time ago. She has a wonderful ability to write a poignant story with humor and gentleness. Gingersnap is no exception. Jayna is a likeable character. She's tough but not prickly like most preteen protagonists in middle grades fiction these days. She wants to be loved and let people love her. She discovers new things about herself and the meaning of family. The plot moves fairly quickly at first but stalls a bit in the middle. I couldn't put it down until the very end though. The story is sweet and touching. I don't really understand the ghost girl though. The inclusion of her into the plot doesn't make a lot of sense and something that is revealed at the end threw me for a loop. I think readers ages 10+ will enjoy this book and learn a lot about World War II history. Has anyone who read this tried any of the soup recipes? Some of them sound delicious! 

Princess of the Silver Woods (Twelve Dancing Princesses) by Jessica Day George

This thrilling conclusion to the Twelve Dancing Princesses trilogy takes place some nine years after the princesses were rescued from the Kingdom Under Stone. The princesses have been able to put their past behind them and some have found true love. Princess Petunia, the youngest of the sisters, loves gardening like her mother and wants nothing more than to breed a new type of rose. When the Grand Duchess Volenskaya invites Petunia to visit her estate on the outer edge of Westphalia, Petunia hates to disappoint and old friend so she agrees to the visit. Then her carriage is attacked by bandits in wolf masks. Pistol-wielding little Petunia manages to fend them off, but is then abducted by the strange young ring leader. Oliver, an Earl by birthright, lost his father and his home to the Analusian War and now he must resort to thievery to feed his family and their devoted followers. His mother immediately recognizes Petunia as the daughter of her old friend and when she learns where Petunia is headed, she feels uneasy. Oliver is sent off to spy on Petunia and what he discovers frightens him enough to decide to go to the capital and turn himself in so he can inform the palace what has happened. Petunia is plagued by strange nightmares of shadowy figures visiting her in the night. Her strange maid is always underfoot, and though the Grand Duchess and her grandson Grigori are kind, she longs for her sisters. When the sisters are finally reunited, they discover they have fallen for a carefully laid trap and their lives are in danger. Fortunately, the men in their lives are willing to sacrifice everything in order to put an end to the living nightmare. This fairy tale is part Little Red Riding Hood, Part Robin Hood, Part Twelve Dancing Princesses with a bit of Rapunzel thrown in. The story is closer to the first book in the trilogy than the second. It's a little scary but not as bad as the first. The plot moves quickly and I had a hard time putting it down. The epilogue was a bit too rushed and should have focused more on Petunia and Oliver. I liked Petunia a lot. She's plucky, but not as tomboyish as Poppy. She's fearless because she was too young to fully understand what the first King Under Stone had planned for her and her sisters. She has faith that their allies will make everything right. I admire her courage and confidence. Oliver is a good hero. He acts like a foolish boy at times, but he had to grow up fast and is very brave and strong. His scenes with Petunia are funny and sweet. The villains are very transparent. It was obvious what was happening and should have been, if not to Petunia, then to Rose or the Bishop. That is, unless the King Under Stone's magic was at work. I felt a bit sorry for Rionin and his brothers. They're not quite human and have been brought up by their evil sorcerer father to behave a certain way. I wish there had been another way to end the story. Though this book is the third in a trilogy, past events are explained enough so that it could stand on it's own. This story is so different from the usual fairy tale, I think others who like dark stories, gothic stories and fairy tale retellings will like this one too.

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