Friday, October 22, 2010

Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Jane Austen

Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Jane Austen by Carol J. Adams, Kelly Gesch, and Douglas Buchanan

This little book is packed with facts on Jane Austen, her writings, her life and times and the various movie adaptations and homages. The book also contains some literary criticism, interviews with Austenesque authors, essays by Austen's characters. "Why I Married Her" by Mr. Bennet is particularly amusing and enlightening though it makes Mr. Bennet seem foolish. A crossword puzzle and lengthy quiz provide some lighthearted fun. Both games had many questions which had little to do with Jane Austen and some of the quiz questions are extremely difficult, even for a dedicated Janeite. Perhaps the answers can be found within the book, but I didn't take the time to look. I especially liked the chart documenting the number of times each book has been made into a movie or an homage to Austen. I've missed a few so I'll have to check into seeing them. What I didn't like about this book is how it is organized. It's all over the place with serious criticism followed by quirky essays about some random topic. The literary criticism topics were too critical in my opinion and didn't really belong in a book that seems to be aimed at the casual Austen fan. I wouldn't recommend buying it to add to your Austen library but some parts are worth looking at if you can find the book at a library.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

The Princess and the Snowbird by Mette Ivie Harrison -- Young Adult Fairy Tale/Fantasy
This is the third book in a trilogy that begins with The Princess and the Hound. This is the story of a Snowbird who is the last of his kind, of Liva, the daughter of the hound and the bear and Jens, a human boy born without magic. Choosing to remain in animal form, Liva's parents have given her most of their magic, retaining enough to survive and enough for the bear to help those who are being persecuted for having the aur-magic. Liva has more aur-magic than anyone. She can feel it all around her and inside of her. It's who she is and part of her destiny. She's one with the animals and the forest and thinks little about humans until a chance encounter with a human boy causes a connection she hadn't thought possible. Jens lives in a village where tehr-magic is prized and aur-magic is hated. Humans claim to have conquered animals and the forest and by their superiority will prevail over the wild, untamed world. Most men of the village use their magic to torture and kill animals, but Jens, born without any kind of magic at all, can't understand why this behavior is so appealing. When he first sees Liva in animal form, he senses her kindness and warmth and feels connected to her. When Liva and Jens next encounter each other they are a little older and Liva is searching for her missing father while Jens is struggling to become a man. The connection between the boy with no magic and the girl with so much remains strong. Each has a unique gift which will help them save the world they both love. The young adults must fight the evil that threatens to destroy the magic in the land and determine their own identities as adults. This is a wonderfully written coming-of-age story set in the world begun in the Princess and the Hound. The first half of the book slowly sets the story that forms the connection between Liva and Jens. It's a little slow without much plot but readers of The Princess and the Bear will like reading about what happened to them. The second half of the book deals with the plot to rid the world of magic. It's very fast-paced but just right for the story. I especially liked the ending because it wasn't rushed and it was very appropriate for the target age group and for the story. The romance is stronger in this book than the previous too and so sweet it will make you say "aww!" I love the way the characters grow up and come into their own and how they deal with the gifts they've been given or not given. If you choose to take away a message in the story, it's very timely and relevant, but subtle and not heavy handed in any way. The title is a bit misleading because it doesn't match the plot in the way that the previous two books did. I really liked this book and love the trilogy as a whole and would definitely recommend them to young adults and adults both.

The Queen's Daughter by Susan Coventry -- YA Historical Fiction
In 12th century Normandy (now part of France), Joan is the youngest daughter of King Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. At nearly 7 years old, Joan loves her parents and adores her older brothers but hates the rivalry between them. When a handsome young knight rescues Joan and her doll from bullies, she develops a crush on the young Lord Raymond. Lord Raymond's father, the Duke of Toulouse is an enemy who seeks to further drive apart the already estranged Eleanor and Henry. Joan then becomes caught in the middle of a war between family members and feels torn in her loyalties. By the age of ten, she has become a pawn in her parents' struggle over land and power which results in her marriage to King William of Sicily. Life in Sicily is vastly different from the Norman customs Joan is used to. Her status of queen is jeopardized by a jealous rival and her ability to bear an heir for Sicily. William is an indifferent husband and in Joan's eyes, a weak ruler. Joan grows up in the midst of tumultuous world politics and again becomes a political pawn. This time she is determined to save her home in her own way. Joan also comes to realize that her parents made mistakes and those mistakes have colored her view of personal relationships and she can not be truly fulfilled until she realizes her own feelings. This fictionalized biography covers Joan's life from the age of six until her mid-20s and summarizes the political situation of Joan's home and adopted country as well as describing the Crusades. Much of the action is summarized and told directly to the reader rather than having the reader be a part of the action, which bored me. I skipped over most of the war parts because I wanted to know more about Joan and what she was thinking and feeling. Joan is a sympathetic character and struggles to live her own life, free of the men who control her. She seems more believable as a young adult than as a child. Her childhood dialogue sounds too much like an adult. As she grows older, she is more sympathetic and I wanted her to be happy but wasn't satisfied with the choice she was given. Not one of the other characters were likable. They are all ambitious, greedy and the men all enjoy making war and carousing, which I suppose is what men did back then but I didn't like it. This book is not for young children or the faint of heart. The descriptions aren't too graphic and the emphasis is mostly on Joan's thoughts, feelings and actions. I don't know much about this time period so I can't evaluate the accuracy of the story. It seems believable enough. It reminds me a lot of Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals series. I didn't really care for this story. I found it boring in many points and had a hard time finishing it. I would recommend it only to the most ardent history buffs of the period ages 13 and up.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What I've Read This Week

What I've Read This Week . . .

Everlasting by Angie Frazier -- Young Adult Historical Fantasy
In 1855 San Francisco seventeen-year-old Camille Rowen is engaged to the prominent and wealthy Randall Jackson. He is kind and attentive, but she doesn't feel anything for him. Worst of all, he doesn't share her love of the sea or understand why she wants to go on "one last" voyage with her sea captain father on a two month voyage across the Pacific Ocean. Camille wants to sail with her father forever but he insists she grow up and marry and Randall is a good catch, especially since he is keeping the family business afloat with his investments. Captain Rowen tries to protect Camille from disagreeable things, such as the unsuitable rough men on board the ship, but Camille finds herself drawn to Oscar, the First Mate. They have a blossoming friendship, yet there may be more beneath the surface they haven't dared to explore. Then Camille discovers that her father has been keeping secrets from her. First he wants to sail on for two more months to Australia where he claims he has to pick something up for someone. Then Camille discovers that the mother she believed to be dead has been living in Australia these last sixteen years, is dying and wants to see Camille. Camille's mother holds a mysterious map to somewhere or something unknown to Camille and her father will not tell her the truth. Then strange things begin to happen and her father is lost at sea when their ship is wrecked. Camille and Oscar are two of the three survivors, left with nothing but each other. Camille is determined to find her mother and this mysterious map. She learns that the map leads to a magical stone which can bring back the dead. Accompanied by Oscar and a charming, crooked companion, Camille embarks on a danger-filled quest to avoid her enemies and find the stone to bring back the one she loves most of all. The first 2/3 of the book are historical fiction, filled with great period details about life on board a sailing ship and in early Australia. The last 2/3 are a magical fantasy that takes the reader on a frantic adventure. The ending leaves room for a sequel. I could have done without the fantasy. I like Camille and her struggle to figure out what she wants out of life and her determination to live her life on her own terms. I also give kudos to the author for making Randall kind and sympathetic, though possibly more sinister than he appears to be. Oscar is a wonderful and flawed hero. I like the chemistry between Camille and Oscar and the way the romance plays out. The secondary characters are pretty stereotypical but there are twists and turns in the plot that make the store above average. The plot is well-written and fast paced. It's a quick read that I would recommend mostly to girls 12+. I liked this book but didn't love it. I would have preferred a straight historical novel instead.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hattie Big Sky

Hattie Big Sky
by Kirby Larson

I was lucky enough to win an autographed copy of Kirby Larson's Newbury Honor book Hattie Big Sky from Damsels in Regress. I read this book once before and really liked it but didn't remember much about it other than I really liked it. So, without further ado, here is my review:

Sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks has been an orphan nearly her whole life. She thinks of herself as "Hattie Here-and-There" because she hasn't had a proper home since she can remember. Currently, in the winter of 1917, living with a distant cousin and his wife in Arlington, Iowa, Hattie enjoys learning and dreams of a home of her own. When her Aunt Ivy decides Hattie's future is to be a servant in a boarding house, Uncle Holt steps in and hands Hattie a letter she received that very day from Montana. Hattie's Uncle Chester has died and left her his homestead claim. Hattie jumps at the chance to leave the drudgery of Iowa and have a place to belong. Homesteading in Montana, Hattie discovers, is not as easy as it sounds. For starters, she has only ten months to prove up on her claim in order to officially own it. Then she learns that the claim is in the middle of nowhere, the land is poor, there's hardly any shelter and her uncle barely even started on the requirements for homesteading. Hattie is determined though, to prove up on her claim. With the help of the kind Mueller family, she soon becomes used to farming and living on the Montana frontier. Her nearest neighbor, the handsome Traft Martin wants to make Hattie an offer on her land, but she stubbornly refuses to give in, especially once she learns that Traft is the head of a so-called Council of Defense so determined to keep loyal citizens safe from enemy "aliens" and "unpatriotic" people that they turn into cruel bullies in the name of safety. Hattie is conflicted, feeling that Americans on the homefront must make sacrifices like the brave soldiers, but understanding that her neighbor Karl Mueller, though born in Germany, is a true friend and wonderful neighbor. Hattie writes out her feelings on homesteading and about the war to her good friend Charlie, a soldier fighting somewhere in France. Charlie responds with his experiences and feelings about the war which provide Hattie with more food for thought. As the months go by and her deadline looms closer, Hattie must summon all the determination and courage she has to survive in Montana. She learns the value of true friendship, experiences love and loss and learns to be true to herself.

This is a wonderful novel about a young woman's determination to do something that not many women did at that time. It's a coming-of-age story that resembles the later Little House books, but set against the backdrop of WWI. The incredible detailed descriptions of Montana combine with the first person narrative make me feel like I am Hattie, working hard and trying to make a home for myself. I can feel everything Hattie is feeling and experience her joys and sorrows tight along with her. The characters are all very realistic and appealing, even the "villain" has more depth than a typical stock villain who comes along to shake things up. Even the Mueller children capture my heart with their innocence and loyalty. Hattie is an incredibly strong and determined young woman who has my utmost admiration, especially as she is based on a real person. I'm not sure if I would have had Hattie's courage in her shoes. This is a wonderful story perfect for fans who grew up with Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series. It's a great story of the true pioneer spirit of courage and determination against all odds combined with the coming-of-age of a young woman. I highly recommend this book to readers ages 12 and up (or mature 10 and up). I can't wait to send it to my honorary nieces for Christmas and see what they think of it!