Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Bad Queen by Carolyn Meyers

Grade: High A


Synopsis:

Marie-Antoinette is given endless instructions before she leaves Austria at the age of fourteen to marry the dauphin of France. In her new home at the grand palace of Versailles, her every move is scrutinized by the cruel and gossipy members of the French court. Marie-Antoinette tries to adhere to their stifling rules of etiquette, but sometimes, this fun-loving young woman can't help but indulge herself with scandalous fashions, taboo recreations, elaborate parties--even a forbidden romance.

Most damaging to her reputation is that after years of marriage, Marie-Antoinette has not fulfilled the most important requirement: to produce an heir to the throne. Sadness and frustration lead the young queen to become even more recklessly extravagant in her ways, much to the outrage of the poor and suffering common people of France.

When angry revolutionaries arrive at Versailles to take her and the king the Paris, Marie-Antoinette has no idea what horrors are in store. The luxurious life she led, and the monarchy she spent her entire life serving, are about to come crashing down. Though she would be remembered by the revolutionaries as an obscene spendthrift, perhaps Marie-Antoinette had more in common with them than they thought--for she too was a rebel who lived by her own rules.

Rating:

Character Development: 6/10
Originality: 7/10
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 8/10
Voice: 8/10
Plot: 10/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 57/70

Obtained: Library. :)


Age Appropriate? R

Cursing: Some, but limited. And you must remember the time period.
Drugs, Alcohol, etc: Some drinking and drunkenness.
Sexual Content: It is a major theme of the book, but is tread around lightly considering the age.
Disturbing Images/Content: Much much MUCH violence (come on, it's Marie Antoinette, the French Revolution) and disturbing images of disembowling and beheading (ich!).

Review:

I don't usually enjoy Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals books. I find them dry and uninteresting with no real life. This one, however, was wonderfully different from its sisters. The writing was vivid and captivating, and the setting was just so colorful! Everyone's heard the story of Marie Antoinette, but I've never thought much beyond what the movie version could tell me. This version humanized her, showed the reader what her motives were, what the circumstances were, and how, really, she did not deserve her death.

My only complaint with this book is that the queen herself, though the narrator of the story, was rather inconsistent as a character. On one hand, she was very dimensional in her narration, but her personality there did not add up with her personality in action. We watch her grow up from an uncomfortable young Austrian princess and become this mighty young queen, yet her selfishness and her thoughtlessness do not grow up with her--they appear out of nowhere about halfway through the book. I felt like even though she intimated her thoughts in the narration, we as readers never got to truly know this woman or her heart.

However, I felt that Meyers took a unique approach to this tale. She did not immediately condemn Antoinette, nor did she glorify her. Her sole goal was to portray the queen in her natural habitat, as she (probably) really was, and leave judging her character up to the reader. 

LINKS:

Carolyn Meyers

Marie Antoinette

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cate of the Lost Colony by Lisa Klein

This book will be available this month. 

Grade: A+


Synopsis:

Note: If I were you, I would read the book before the synopsis. This will make it far more interesting.

Lady Catherine is one of Queen Elizabeth's favorite court maidens--until her forbidden romance with Sir Walter Ralegh is discovered. In a bitter twist of irony, the jealous queen banishes Cate to Ralegh's colony of Roanoke, in the New World. Ralegh pledges to come for Cate when he sails for the settlement with supplies, but as the months stretch out, Cate begins to doubt his promise and his love. Instead it is Manteo, a Croatoan Indian, whom the colonists--and Cate--increasingly turn to. Yet even as Cate's longings for England and Ralegh begin to fade and she discovers a new loe in Manteo, Ralegh will finally set sail for the New World...


Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originality: 9/10
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 10/10
Voice: 8/10
Plot: 10/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 65/70

Obtained: Free ARC provided by publisher.

Age Appropriate? PG-13

Cursing: None, if any.
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: None
Sexual Content: Mild references only, some infidelity in minor/background characters
Disturbing Images/Violence: Some graphic violence, starvation, and poverty.

Review: 

In the typical style of the talented Lisa Klein, Cate of the Lost Colony is a highly adventurous, exciting work of historical fiction. She makes a story we all learn in American History -- the story of Roanoke, the lost colony of legend -- five times as interesting and a lot more meaningful. She effortlessly brings to life the contrast between the dramatic and luxurious English court under Queen Elizabeth I and the harsh, wild, uncivilized Americas on the brink of colonization.

This was an incredibly original tale. Though occasionally tedious, the narration was smooth and the action constant. I particularly loved the integration of historical documents like letters and diary entries that assisted in telling the tale. On a more literary note, I found it refreshing that our heroine, the spunky and passionate Lady Cate, is not part of a typical "love triangle". That is, she is not the object of two equally dashing young men's affections, but is instead a corner in a love square that is as full of confusion, doubt, and human error as any real-life relationship.

This novel really opened my eyes to the struggles of the earliest Americans in a way that no history teacher could ever accomplish, but that is really a side note to the real drama playing out: one of love, betrayal, banishment, and survival. Klein's characters are complex and human, each a delicate mixture of flaws and strengths that added infinite dimension to the story. The plot continues effortlessly, with every chapter bringing more trials and more triumphs for our heroine and her companions. Lisa Klein is a gifted writer, and this book, more than perhaps any of her others, truly embodies what a historical fiction novel can--and should--be.


LINKS: 


Lisa Klein
A Picture Slideshow Relevant to the Novel
Lady Macbeth's Daughter by Lisa Klein (review)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Runaways: A Novel of Jonkanoo COMPLETE!

If you haven't read Lisa Jensen's thrilling pirate adventure/romance, The Witch from the Sea, you definitely should. See our A+ review here.


And if you have read Witch, you'll be delighted to know that the sequel is now available online in full at
http://runaways-jonkanoo.blogspot.com/

Read the continuing story of Jack and Tory, along with exclusive material such as illustrations, historical information, and extras that go hand-in-hand with the book. It's all quite exciting. 

Thanks Lisa!

Friday, October 15, 2010

I read banned books.


The wise words of author John Green:




The intriguing paintings of Dana Ellyn, a Washington D.C. artist, on book banning:

"Savior"
Inspired by Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

For more of her paintings reflecting book banning, visit Dana Ellyn's site.

We have voices for a reason...
To be heard.
Freedom of the press is freedom of the mind.

Check back for more posts concerning banned books.
Happy reading!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Inspire


I have been messing around with http://mrdoob.com/projects/harmony/. Yes that's how this wonderful creation has come to life...

And here is another one...
Because coffee is delicious and it's quite a wonderful thing to have in my hand when I'm curled up reading on a chilly fall day...

But on a more bookish (though still random) note, and for your viewing pleasure...
Luke Conard and Ryan Seiler
singing Our Town (a Ministry of Magic song)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Guest Blog With Stephen Cushman

STEVE CUSHMAN's newest novel, Heart with Joy, will be out this Fall.


ABOUT THE BOOK:
In Heart With Joy, fifteen year old Julian Hale’s life is turned upside down when his mother suddenly moves from North Carolina to Florida under the pretense of running her parents’ motel and finishing the novel she has been writing for years. While Julian has always been closer to his mother and wants to go with her, she tells him he has to stay with his father until the end of the school year.

Six weeks after his mother leaves, Julian’s father decides to run a marathon. Once Julian agrees to help him train, the two develop the sort of close relationship they’ve never had before. Also, with the help of an elderly neighbor, who loves to spend her days bird-watching, Julian learns that the most important thing in life is to follow your heart. And Julian’s heart leads him to a passion for cooking and a young cashier at the local grocery store even as his own parents drift apart. By the end of the novel, Julian is forced to choose between staying with his father and going to live with his mother.

Heart With Joy is an uplifting coming of age novel about the importance of following your heart and trusting that it will take you where you need to go.

How I Wrote My Novel or Why Writing Takes Patience, Faith and Hard-headedness
by Steve Cushman

My novel, Heart With Joy, was recently published, but I started writing it almost 8 years ago now. Heart With Joy is about bird watching and cooking and falling in love but it's also about finding your passion in life and pursuing it. That's what I say it is about now, but back in 2002, when I took my first stab at this story, all I knew was that I had a family where the mother ups and leaves. Her husband and son are stunned and faced with the reality that they are somehow going to have to learn to live without her. I didn't have much else to start with, but I had that kernel of a story and conflict.

Over the next six years, I tried a variety of different things--I changed the point of view of the novel from first to third to first again. I added and took out characters. I tried to insert pieces of the novel into another novel only to take them out again. It wasn't until I discovered that Julian was going to spend time with an elderly lady and help her care for the birds in her backyard that things started rolling. And then Julian and his father had to eat, so Julian started to cook and through cooking he met a young girl he liked. Then at some point along the way, Julian's father decided to run a marathon, so that gave Julian and his father something to do together. Julian would ride his bike beside his father while he trained for a marathon.

So what I'm saying here is that when I started this novel, I didn't know where it was going. I just had this father and son and this not so great relationship. But over time, and much hard work, new details emerged--some I came up with and others seemed to magically appear. For me, this willingness to put in the work and trust that something will come out of it is one of the things I like best about writing.

I believe this translates to anything you really want to do--get into college, play tennis, write poems, be a computer programmer--it all takes patience and a good bit of hardheadedness to ignore the people who tell you you can't do something.

Someone once described writing a novel as like driving down a dark street with your lights on. You can only see a little bit ahead of you, but you have to trust that if you keep driving more of the road will be revealed. I think this is a great analogy for writing, because to me writing is an act of faith--the faith that if you put the time in and you keep working good things will come, good things like being lucky enough to have your novel published. Thank You.

LINKS:

Friday, October 8, 2010

So. Amazing.

My most recent internet discovery is pretty freakishly awesome and superbly nerdy in the best possible way.

I present to you...

An a Capella tribute medley to
STAR WARS


So. Amazing.

(Sorry for the delay...)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hush by Eishes Chayil

Grade: A+


Synopsis:

Inside the closed community of Borough Park, home to many Chassidic groups, the rules of life are very clear, determined to the last detail by an ancient script written thousands of years before--and abuse has never been a part of it. But when young Gittel witnesses the abuse her best friend Devory has been suffering at the hands of Devory's own family member, the adults in the community try to persuade Gittel, and themselves, that nothing happened. And even when the fallout reveals an unimaginable horror, the community continues forward as if it had never occurred. Now a teenager, Gittel's guilt over her silence forces her to question her own innocence, her memories of the pas, and everything she was raised to believe.

Rating:

Character Development: 10/10
Originality: 10/10 (it is mostly a true story...)
Overall Enjoyment: 8/10
Ending: 9/10
Voice: 10/10
Plot: 9/10
Setting: 10/10
Total Score: 66/70

Obtained: Free ARC provided by publisher (WALKER)

Age Appropriate? R (Spoilers!)

Cursing: Very, very little (if any)
Alcohol, Drugs, etc: None, really.
Sexual Content: Yes. Vivid, if detached and unemotional,scenes, but with very little description.
Disturbing Images/Violence: Incestual rape of a child, graphic child suicide, depression. Some stuff of a sensitive religious nature (arranged marriage, radical beliefs, etc) which are integral to the story.

Review:

A great deal of the story is true. It's true, and that's what makes it so terrifying. It's a hard book to read, both powerful and disturbing, but also enlightening. This is the story of a girl whose lifestyle is so completely different from ours (or most of ours, I assume) yet she lives right in the heart of modern culture in New York City. She's so detached, so innocent, so naive, and just so lovable. Gittel captures the true essence of childhood--she's adventurous, stubborn, blindly accepts what her society feeds her, but at the same time quite the little rebel, and just so pure.

That is, until she witnesses something so horrifying, so unsettling, so uncomfortable that poor sheltered Gittel doesn't even understand. But we do. And that makes difficult to continue reading. But continue we must, because we can't just leave the story like that, can't just exit the scene at this integral, most tumultuous moment.

I wish I knew more about the Chassidic community. Even though this book taught me much about it (and not all bad, mind you) I still feel like having an understanding before delving into this story would have strengthened my understanding at the beginning, and added to the story. Eishes Chayil shows us her community as it is--no sugar-coating and without judgment on the religious customs. It's not a story about how wrong this ultra-Orthodox environment is. It makes no religious statements. It's simply a story about waking up to the faults within that environment and working to set them right, despite the risk. It's inspirational, something we can all learn from.

LINKS: 


Jewish America: Chassidic Jewry
Hasidic Judaism - Wikipedia (maybe not the best source for information)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Low Red Moon by Ivy Devlin

It's October, month of the supernatural and spooky, crawling with monsters, mayhem, and magic.
And today... werewolves.

A Guest Review by NINJA READER.

Synopsis:
Her parents are dead. She can't remember what happened. And now she's in love with the most dangerous creature in the forest.

The only thing Avery Hood can remember about the night her parents died is that she saw silver-- deadly silver, moving inhumanly fast. As much as she wants to remember who killed them, she can't, and there's nothing left to do but try to piece her life back together.

Then Avery meets the new boy in school-- Ben, mysterious and beautiful, with whom she feels a connection like nothing she's ever experienced. Ben is a werewolf, but Avery trusts him-- at first. Then she sees that sometimes his eyes flash an inhuman silver. And she learns that she's not the only one who can't remember the night her parents died.

The Mini Review:
by Ninja Reader

Overall, this book was very entertaining. The murder mystery aspect was intriguing and surprising. The author captured the small town atmosphere very well, and the way the characters and situations meshed with the setting was great. The characters were authentic and real... but then the werewolf showed up, and the book turned into the same thing we've read millions of times. In this case, the story would have been the better without the clich├ęd supernatural problems distracting from a well written small town murder mystery. It's a short and sweet book, thrilling, supernatural and romantic, despite some overplayed scenarios.

LINKS:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Interview with Lauren Baratz-Logsted


Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of many adult, children and YA books...
The most exciting of which is her newest book for teens, The Twin's Daughter (read review here)!
To learn more about Lauren and her wonderful books, visit her website.

Why should the world read The Twin's Daughter?
Because it’s fresh and different – hopefully! – being the only YA novel I know of with a main character who’s the daughter of an identical twin.

What has most influenced your writing in your life?
My ten-year-old daughter. She’s always been proud of what I do and when she grows up, I hope she’s still proud of it.

Is there a certain atmosphere that inspires you to write?
No. I’m something of a workhorse. Honestly, my office – aka my basement cave – is the opposite of what most people would call inspiring.

What are you passionate about?
See answer above about my daughter. Also “General Hospital”, shooting pool, and eating shrimp.

Of everywhere you've ever lived or traveled, where was your very favorite place?
Where I’ve lived: where I live now because I believe it’s important to be happy with where a person is. Where I’ve traveled: Kinloch Rannoch in Scotland.

Describe one powerful memory you recall from that place.
In Kinlock Rannoch we climbed a mountain. It was supposed to take two hours but for a variety of reasons took eight. Now that was memorable.