Monday, October 15, 2018

Winter by Marissa Meyer

By Marissa Meyer 
YA Fantasy
*Last in the Lunar Chronicles Series 

"Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

"Winter despises her stepmother and knows Levana won't approve of her feelings for her childhood friend, the handsome palace guard Jacin. But Winter isn't as weak as Levana believes her to be, and she's been undermining her stepmother's wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that's been raging for far too long." 

Welcome to the final installment of the magnificent Lunar Chronicles! This novel is worth its place as the final book of the series. 

Winter, bless her heart, is a bit crazy, but the reason why softened my heart so that her madness didn't throw up a wall between us. Although she's broken (who isn't?), she possesses a courage and strength that the other characters don't. I do wish I could've spent more time with her; the reader is thrown around into so many heads because there a mountain-load of events happening all the time.

However, I did enjoy watching the other characters grow more in this novel, especially Cress, who I believe matured the most. Cinder didn't seem to change much over the course of the series, which was a bit disappointing since she's the main character. 

Meyer continued to enthrall me in this novel with her world-building prowess of the eerily majestic Luna, the fast-paced events that hint at the Hunger Games, the variety of the characters, and the satisfying conclusion (don't worry, I won't spoil anything!). 

The main thing that niggled at me throughout the novel was that the fairy-tale surrounding Winter, that of Snow White, was more difficult to follow than in the other books. This could just be due to the fact that I'm not as familiar with this fairy-tale as I am with Cinderella and Red Riding Hood. But I still wish it could've been as straightforward and obvious as it was with the other characters. 

Still, Winter deserves a 4 out of 4 like the rest of her comrades, and I recommend it for 15 year olds and up. 

*What I learned: There are different kinds of crazy, and being so doesn't mean you're not smart, brave, or capable. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Year in Provenance by Peter Mayle

A Year in Provence 
by Peter Mayle
Adult Non-Fiction

"Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Luberon with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January's frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhone Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine." 

This book was an all-expenses-paid vacation to Provence, France, without the annoyance of standing through security, enduring a long, claustrophobic plane ride, and memorizing how to say the 'lady's room' from a tiny French guidebook. The best way to travel, in my opinion. And what a trip it was. 

We get to see the back-roads, forests, and restaurants of France that a normal tourist wouldn't know existed. But it's really the characters and the narrator who are the heartbeat of this novel. In his witty, warm way, Mayle introduces us to his lecture-loving, humorous plumber, the inexperienced hunters who dress like they're experienced, and the various aspects of truffle-hunting. 

Mayle has an entertaining way of sharing an anecdote about something that seems like an ordinary event, like a celebratory dinner, and shaping it with humor until it settles on your mind like a cozy blanket that you don't want to take off because it feels so good. 

The author gives us a rich and real picture of Provence without dipping into criticism or dull facts. He takes you, month by month, through the year in this perplexing, wonderful place until you feel like it's your home as well. 

The only aspect in this book that I had a hard time with was the usage of French words. I didn't have a problem with him sprinkling them in, since he is in France, after all, but several times he didn't mention the meaning of a particular word, leaving me in the dark about the point he was trying to tell. This did not occur often, however, so I still award this novel a 5 out of 5 stars. I recommend it for 16 year olds and up.

Also, bring an empty stomach to A Year in Provence, because many of his anecdotes revolve around food!

*Mayle has also written a novel titled, My Twenty-Five Years in Provence, which I will definitely find and proceed to devour. Another cheap (if not free) trip to France! 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Scarlet and Cress by Marissa Meyer

By Marissa Meyer 
YA Fantasy
#2 in the Lunar Chronicles Series

I'm not going to type out the synopsis on the back of Scarlet, as I typically do, so as not to spoil anything in case you haven't read the first book in the series, Cinder, yet. But if you have read that novel, then there's no doubt you're reading or have read Scarlet. One bleeds into the next like watercolor, all vivid and thrilling. I've found this to be true with each book in this delightful series. 

Scarlet is the story of Red-Riding Hood, but more than that, it's the story of Scarlet, a stubborn, strong-willed young lady and her love for her grandmother. When her grandmother goes missing, and a suspicious, yet handsome wolfish man appears who claims he can help Scarlet find her, Scarlet jumps into an adventure that will bring her in close contact with Cinder and her dangerous reputation. 

I love how Meyer introduces the reader to new characters while continuing to develop those in former novels. This requires true talent. 

The first time I read this book, my heart galloped in fear and pleasure at Wolf's and Scarlet's interactions. Their relationship spun out differently than I anticipated, and they both changed for the good at the end. I also enjoyed the French culture tossed into the book and into Scarlet's character; it was light enough to be charming. 

Although I thoroughly devoured this novel, I gobbled up the next one in the series much quicker. 

By Marissa Meyer 
YA Fantasy 
#3 in the Lunar Chronicles Series

This novel explores the fairy tale of Rapunzel. Cress has been imprisoned in a satellite by a wicked Lunar to spy on Earthens. Until one man shows up and hurtles her into Cinder's and Scarlet's plot to save their world. 

Every chapter of this book was a feast! So much happens on every single page, that I definitely extended my lunch hour to longer than an hour just to get to the end of a climax. But then another one would begin, and my eyes kept swinging across the pages. 

Also, I love Cress. I love her more than any other character (so far). This is probably due in part to her utter innocence and how pitiable her position is at the beginning of the story. But more than that, I love her because she is so like me: enthusiastic and passionate, imaginative, and yes, because she loves to sing out loud (and in the shower). 

This book devotes more time to the other characters (due to there being more characters around), and Cinder and her friends are (finally) sharpening their plans and plots to protect their planet(s). Things are happening, and Meyer yanks you through the story with all of her plot twists, but it's so exhilarating that you just feel as if you're soaring through the action. It would be worthwhile to read the other two novels just to read Cress. 

The problem of the various languages spoken throughout the novel did niggle at me, and Meyer's quick explanation didn't tie it up neatly enough for me. Also, my husband, being the engineer/logic-brained one, questioned the anti-gravity on the ship, but those were our only obstacles. 

Both Scarlet and Cress deserve four gold stars. I recommend them for 15 year-olds and up. 

What I learned: People are more than their appearances, and a beautiful face does not equate to a beautiful heart. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity 
By Elizabeth Wein 
YA Historical Fiction 

"On October 11th, 1943, a British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. But just one of the girls has a chance at survival. Arrested by the Gestapo, "Verity" is given a choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution. They'll get the truth out of her. Only, it won't be what they expect." 

This book is a masterpiece. It's also a tear-jerker, so have a box of Kleenexes ready if you're one of those readers who melt into tears when something somber occurs. 

But veritably, Wein did an amazing job sculpting the world and characters of England and France in the 1900s. I can't fathom how much research she did, but it is (as much as I am aware of, which isn't much), spot on. Everything, from the airplanes to the scarves 'Verity' wears seems current to the time period. Her characters also make references to books and other media in thise time period. This was fascinating and definitely helped push the reader thoroughly into the characters' world, but it also sometimes was over my head, since I obviously didn't live in this era, and it frustrated me at times. 

Overall, though, this novel and the other Wein book I've read has caused my expectations of historical fiction to rise to Mt. Everest heights. Sorry, future historical fiction books I will read and historical fiction books I long to write; you just won't measure up. 

'Verity's' and Maddie's best-friend love for each other are as real and apparent as my husband's love for me. I can't believe they're not real! The characters charmed me with their British and Scottish slang, the way they played make-believe to incite their courage, and the way they fought through all the trials that confronted them. 

It did take a while for me to get used the narration style. The narrator is unreliable for an exceptionally good reason, but it did throw up barriers between her and myself. I also didn't relate to her personality as much as most characters in previous novels I've read; she's just wild. I much preferred the narration and personality of the other main character, Maddie. Too bad she didn't have much talking time! However, she features in the book, Rose Under Fire, so I'm quite excited to enter that story once I can get my hands on it. 

For all the above reasons, I give this novel a 4 out of 5. It would have been a 5 if I had not felt so left out of 'Verity's' mind. Again, it was for a good reason, but I do not enjoy the experience, nor am I used to it. 

What I learned: Writing historical fiction requires too much research! But in all seriousness, life is fleeting and short; it can leave us as easily and quickly as blowing out a candle. So what am I doing with mine? 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hanging out with Harper Lee

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee
By Marja Mills
Non-Fiction Memoir 

"To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best loved novels of the twentieth century. In 2004, with Alice and Harper Lee's blessing, Mills moved into the house next door to the sisters. She spent the next eighteen months there, sharing coffee at MacDonald's and trips to the laundromat with Nelle (aka Harper Lee), feeding the ducks and going out for catfish suppers with the sisters, and exploring all over lower Alabama with the Lees and their inner circle of friends. 

"Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the Southern way of life with Mills, as well as her keen sense of how journalism should be practiced. As the sisters decided to let Mills tell their stories, Nelle helped make sure she was getting that-and the South-right. Alice, the keeper of the Lee family history, shared the stories of their family." 

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I checked this book out of the library, as I've never read a book about living next door to a famous author. Mills opened up a window into these sweet women's lives, who were graciously willing to allow her and us, the readers, into them. It was mind-boggling how simple their lives truly are (except for, perhaps, that Alice still practices law at age 90). Why wouldn't they be? But we, at least I, expect people who write great things to live great lives. Not that simple living isn't great, but it just wasn't what I had in mind. It was refreshing, though, to relax and just enjoy the simple pleasures in life that the Lee's explore on a day-to-day basis. 

There is some background information about the making of the various movies, the Lee's family, and Harper Lee's fears, which help put flesh on this mysterious woman, and I found fascinating. 

I enjoyed traveling with Mills through the back roads of Alabama with these wise, yet fun-loving, sisters and their friends. I loved seeing how their Alabama, the Alabama of To Kill a Mockingbird, once existed, and how, sadly, it is fading away like a cicada's song at the end of summer. At the end of the book, I felt like I had become good friends with all three, a part of their intimate, book-loving, adventure-hunting trio. It was sad to say good-bye on the last page. 

I do wish I had re-read the novel before I read this book, as characters and places from the book are mentioned in this memoir, and they're bit foggy in my memory. You don't have to re-read the classic tale before you read this book, but I do suggest it so you can reap even more gold from Mill's laid-back telling. I also wish she had mentioned something about the second novel Lee wrote, Go Set a Watchmen, since she discusses almost everything, but perhaps she left before then or didn't have permission. 

I give this novel a 4 out of 5 and recommend it for anyone (older than a child) who adores To Kill a Mockingbird. 

What I learned: Beauty can be appreciated without the need to possess it. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Happy Birthday, Harry!

In lieu of Harry Potter's birthday today, I've decided to compile a list of some of my personal favorite stories featuring magic, some nonsensical, some more serious, some just fun, to overflow your days with delight. Of course they can't compete with Harry Potter, but they are still fantastic and worth a read! So go grab a mug of Butterbeer and pull out your to-read list. 

1. The Two Sisters of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine 
I adore this book! It's the tale of two girls, one of whom must fight her fears, specters, and dragons to save her sister's life. Magical gadgets and creatures dot this story, but the real magic is the sisters' love for each other.  

2. Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George 
This is a lighthearted, whimsical story of a girl who's captured by a dragon. She eventually becomes friends with another dragon as she's on her way to the city to find a job as a seamstress. There's not much magic in this book but the dragons and the slippers, but it's a lively read! The adventure continues in Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear, both equally entertaining and rife with action. 

3. Stardust by Neil Gaiman 
I read this book this year for the first time, and loved it. I enjoyed it more than Neverwhere by him, which was a lot stranger and creepier. The magic in Stardust rotates around the world of fairy and the boy who travels through it looking for the fallen star to give to his girlfriend. This world is definitely worth getting lost in. 

4. Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
This is not my favorite magical book or series (yes, it's one of those), due to an under-developed plot or something else; I'm not quite sure. However, it is a magical tale that takes place in Victorian England, so I give it points for that unique twist. It's also an epistolary novel, written as letters between two friends. So, if you're longing to read something in a different format, this novel's for your eyes. 

5. All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater 
This novel will have a place on my bookshelf as long as I have one (so, forever). It's full of magical realism, a magic that takes the contemporary world and turns it upside down so you, the reader can find your own miracle. See my full review here

6. The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker 
This is another jocund tale that I loved (and probably would still love if I re-read it) when I was a child. Instead of turning a frog back into a prince when she kisses it, the main character changes into a frog herself! This is a great twist on the fairy tale and riveting as the frustrated frogs venture to find the witch who cast this curse in order to break it. There are also many books in the same series, all easy reads. 

7. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin 
If you need a taste of more serious magic, you might find it in Wizard of Earthsea. It follows a young wizard who is being chased by something sinister and evil. This book chased me too, to lunchtime, to my bed, as the events became more thrilling and dangerous. 

8. The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time series) by Robert Jordan 
I'm not sure yet if this series is one of my favorite magical books. I haven't finished it yet, and I've been listening to it for two years. In my defense, I only listen to it when I wash the dishes, and the series is looong: fourteen novels, dicken-sized (each one). So beware before diving into this monstrosity. Despite some irritating characters and mountains of detail, the series is well-written with a very believable magic system and well-built world. 

9. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson 
Sanderson is the king of magical systems; each one in his novels are well-defined with specific rules and consequences. The one in the Mistborn series focuses on people with the ability to perform magical feats based off of burning different metals. It's a unique concept, and well-done. 

10. Eragon by Christopher Paolini 
More dragons! I appreciate and applaud Paolini for his dragons more than probably any other author who has written about them. His are the most detailed, the most wise and powerful. Their relationship with each other and humans is fascinating and complex. If you love the fire-breathing species, you can't read any other book about them until you read this one!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Cyborg Cinderella

By Marissa Meyer
#1 in the Lunar Chronicles 
YA Fantasy 

"Sixteen-year-old Cinder is considered a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother. Being cyborg does have its benefits, though: Cinder's brain interface has given her an uncanny ability to fix things (robots, hovers, her own malfunctioning parts), making her the best mechanic in New Beijing. This reputation brings Prince Kai himself to her weekly market booth, needing her to repair a broken android before the annual ball. He jokingly calls it 'a matter of national security,' but Cinder suspects it's more serious than he's letting on. 

"Although eager to impress the prince, Cinder's intentions are derailed when her younger step-sister, and only human friend, is infected with the fatal plague that's been devastating Earth for a decade. Blaming Cinder for her daughter's illness, Cinder's stepmother volunteers her body for plague research, an 'honor' that no one has survived. 

"But it doesn't take long for the scientists to discover something unusual about their new guinea pig. Something others would kill for." 

There are enough fairy-tale retellings nowadays to fill a ballroom. This one, though, is worth the trip to the library or bookstore. The fact that Cinder is a cyborg hooked me right away. Meyer does a great job, even though she's probably not a mechanic herself, of making Cinder's mechanical parts, their unique functions, and even her job as a mechanic, believable. Cinder is also a spunky, sarcastic, yet tender underdog-type character whom it's hard not to root for. Or possibly even shed some tears on behalf of. 

Kai is also a sweetheart, yet strong, and difficult not to like. This was my second reading of the book (yes, it's that good!), and I did notice this time around that there wasn't much foundation to the couple's feelings. I didn't quite understand why he liked her so much, and vice versa, so perhaps Meyer could have dived deeper into those reasons. But it obviously wasn't something that turned me off from the story. 

Also, who ever heard of a fairy-tale taking place in Asia, and a futuristic Asia, at that? The setting is fascinating and although not crafted in as many details as the world of Harry Potter (which book is?), it's still a place steeped in character. But the characters and the world-changing decisions facing them are what pulled me deep into every page and line. You might grow dizzy with all the plot twists and turns, but hang in there! The battle for this country and its people is worth fighting for alongside the characters. 

This is the first in a series, so you might want to have the second one, Scarlet-which follows another fairy-tale character, but in the same world-handy so you can dash right into it. Be on the lookout for a review of the sequel in the upcoming weeks. 

This novel deserves a shining four out of five stars, and I recommend it for 15 year olds and up. 

What I learned: First impressions are not typically true. It takes time and initiative to learn the depths of a person's soul.