Posts Tagged: Book Reviews

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

April 3, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 9 ★★★★★

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne JonesHowl's Moving Castle
by Diana Wynne Jones
Series: Howl's Moving Castle #1
Published by Greenwillow Books
on January 1st 1986
Genres: Classic, Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 340
Format: eBook
Source: Library
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Buy the Book
five-stars
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl's castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there's far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the ey

“In the land of Ingary where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.”

I swore this month that I would make friends with Diana Wynne Jones if it killed me (gross over-exaggeration, but typical of me as you know). I’m happy, so happy, to report that after 3 years of trying, I have found a Diana Wynne Jones’s book I like, nay, love. I LOVE IT.

A few things about it:

  • Who is the main character? That would be Sophie, the eldest of three daughters and destined to fail. Why is she destined to fail? Because everyone knows the oldest will fail! She hides in her widowed step-mother’s hat shop, making hats all day, talking to them (as in the hats), and generally being a bit of a mouse. She has some magical abilities but doesn’t really seem to realize it.
  • Who is Howl? Howl is a wizard! And something of a dandy. Okay, more than something of a dandy, he is QUITE the dandy. And rumored to eat the hearts of all the girls who fall in love with him or something like that. There are a LOT of rumors about Howl.
  • What final gets Sophie out of the hat shop? The Witch of the Waste! Sophie somehow caught the ire of the Witch (that magical ability that Sophie doesn’t seem to know about no doubt) and she comes along and ages Sophie about 70 years completely out of spite.
  • How does Sophie deal with that? By running away and going to live with Howl in his magical walking castle of course! There she meets Calcifer; a fire demon who lives in Howl’s fireplace. They make a deal; if she will help Calcifer break the curse on him, he will help her break the curse on her. She hires herself as Howl’s cleaning lady and moves on in.
  • Also along for the ride? Michael, who is Howl’s apprentice; a scarecrow; Sophie’s two sisters; various spiders; a man-dog; and, of course, the house. Plus various other minor characters.

Oh, I love so many things about what Diana Wynne Jones did with this story. The sheer fun of it was a delight. It was just a joy to read. And I feel like I haven’t read enough books this year that were just plain old fun, joyful reads. I need more of these reads in my life.

I loved the main character of Sophie. She starts the book as such a mousy person, but becoming “old” set her free in so many ways. She started saying the things she thought, she started doing the things she wanted to do…she just became so much less inhibited. As I have aged, I have noticed that I too have started doing and saying things I want and think more often and can only assume that Wynne Jones was showing that getting old can do that to a person. I hope it continues for me! I love that she takes her destiny into her own hands, rather than staying on the path to failure as she believes because of her birth. And I loved how Sophie ended up, but of course, I can’t tell you exactly how she ends up. You’ll have to read the book for yourself.

I was surprised at how much I liked Howl. He is a different kind of immature than Sophie. Sophie’s immaturity is based on a sheltered homelife and a timid personality. Howl is a spoiled brat. When he doesn’t get his way, he throws temper-tantrums. His room is a disaster. He trolls from woman to woman, loving them until they love him back then he’s off on the next conquest. Yet, as Wynne Jones paints this picture of him, I couldn’t help but start to understand him and as I understood him, to like him.

And then, there’s Calcifer. You can’t have Howl without Calcifer. He’s described in the book as a fire demon and he lives in Howl’s fireplace. His magic and Howl’s are so intertwined, it is put forth that one cannot live without the other. The two have made a mysterious bargain. Calcifer is the one who decides to let Sophie in and in return for letting her stay, they will help each other break their respective curses. Calcifer is by far my favorite character in the whole book. He’s so grumpy and crabby and powerful and can be a bit mean. By the end of the book, Calcifer’s life is just as intertwined with Sophie’s as with Howl’s, in a sense making a family.

The main antagonist, The Witch of the Waste, is the most powerful magician around and she has her sights set on Howl, since he spited her. Howl therefore does everything he can to avoid her. I think a lot of her power comes from her broken heart and I appreciated how Wynne Jones shows how that power can be used for ill. By the end, despite all the things she has done, I was merely left feeling sorry for her.

As for Wynne Jones’s writing, it’s equal parts clever, hilarious, moving, and just plain ole fun. I love how she shows age doesn’t necessarily mean life is over, and that anyone can be family. I love that she took a dandy (Howl) and turned him into something more. And I loved how she took this timid mouse of a girl and turned her into something amazing. Gosh, I just loved this book so much. I hope it’s obvious. And I hope you’ll read it. I have left out so much! Howl’s Moving Castle is a book rich in story, characters, personality, and, like I said, fun.

Quotes:

“Yes, you are nosy. You’re a dreadfully nosy, horribly bossy, appallingly clean old woman. Control yourself. You’re victimizing us all.”

“More about Howl? Sophie thought desperately. I have to blacken his name! Her mind was such a blank that for a second it actually seemed to her that Howl had no faults at all. How stupid! ‘Well, he’s fickle, careless, selfish, and hysterical,’ she said. ‘Half the time I think he doesn’t care what happens to anyone as long as he’s alright–but then I find out how awfully kind he’s been to someone. Then I think he’s kind just when it suits him–only then I find out he undercharges poor people. I don’t know, Your Majesty. He’s a mess.”

“Really, these wizards! You’d think no one had ever had a cold before! Well, what is it?” she asked, hobbling through the bedroom door onto the filthy carpet.

“I’m dying of boredom,” Howl said pathetically. “Or maybe just dying.”

“So you were going to rescue the Prince! Why did you pretend to run away? To deceive the Witch?”

“Not likely! I’m a coward. Only way I can do something this frightening is to tell myself I’m not doing it!”

Affiliates disclosure: if you buy a book through my affiliate link, I will get 4%.

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Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

December 20, 2013 Books 7 ★★★★

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara AltebrandoRoomies
by Sara Zarr, Tara Altebrando
(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers
on December 24, 2013
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 224
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
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four-stars
It's time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl's summer -- and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they've never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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Reading this book made me realize something. I missed out in college.

My first two years of college were spent at the local community college, which is less that 5 miles from my childhood home. Then I transferred to the local University and commuted. So I never left home, I never had a roommate, and I never had that unique freedom of being by myself in a new city. Not that regret my path, not really, but I do find myself wondering what that would have been like.

Roomies gave me a picture of what it would have been like. Of course, the title is a misnomer really…the two girls in this book are not roomies, yet. They are just going to be roomies once the school year starts.

Anywho.

The dual narration was interesting. Having never read either author before, I’m not sure who wrote what and honestly, it felt pretty seamless to me. With both girls coming from very different parts of the country, different types of families, and different world views, the dual authorship made each girl feel very separate and complete in themselves. In other words, it worked. The girls have never met, but after finding out they will be roommates in their first year of college, they start emailing each other to start the process of getting to know each other a little early. Their differences immediately start coming out. One is an only child and happy to have a roommate. The other is the oldest of 5 and wanted a single room. In typical fashion, an email note meant in jest is taken the wrong way. Yet they begin sharing things with each other they haven’t shared with anyone. One has a gay father who abandoned her as a baby. One is striking up something interesting with a black friend and she worries about what others will think. They become close confidants. But then something happens, a trust is broken, and they go to wondering if they can even live together.

I really appreciated how both authors used their characters to illustrate real world problems and would think many a soon-to-be freshman could appreciate what these two girls go through. I know it is one I would like my own children to read someday for real guidance on what it’s like to be not only embarking on college life, but to be embarking on Real Life itself. This is the first book I’ve read by both Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando and look forward to exploring their works further.

About Sara Zarr

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Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of four novels for young adults: Story of a Girl (National Book Award Finalist), Sweethearts (Cybil Award Finalist), Once Was Lost (a Kirkus Best Book of 2009) and How to Save a Life. Her short fiction and essays have also appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain, and several anthologies.

About Tara Altebrando

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Tara is the author of THE BEST NIGHT OF YOUR (PATHETIC) LIFE, and three previous books for Young Adults, including DREAMLAND SOCIAL CLUB, which was a Kirkus Reviews Best Books for Teens of 2011, THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS and WHAT HAPPENS HERE.

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Reboot by Amy Tintera

July 19, 2013 Books 4

13517455Y’all. I did something the other day I haven’t done in…oh…ages. If ever. I bought, and read, a book…in one day. In one day people. Can you believe that? I surely can’t. And it was this book, Reboot, by Amy Tintera.

Reboot is a zombie book. The word “zombie” is never used in the book, but it is a zombie book, just not in the traditional sense. The zombies in this book are exactly the way they were in life; except better. Stronger, faster, smarter, they don’t get sick, they don’t decay – they are like the ultimate soldier. And, like most YA dystopian books, it is a fast read. Obviously, since I read it in one day! The description from the book summary sums it up neatly; “…this fast-paced dystopian thrill ride…” Yet, I feel that Reboot is more than your typical YA dystopian thrill ride.

Wren Connolly died five years ago. She was dead, from three gunshot wounds to the chest. After 178 minutes, she woke up. Since Wren was dead so long before she came back, she is stronger, less emotional, and heals almost instantly, in a word, she is one of the deadliest Reboots HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation) has ever had. Her job? Capturing the sick, the Rebooted, and the criminal from the slums of the Republic of Texas.

Callum, dead 22 minutes, is just the opposite. Having been dead for such a short time left him with more humanity than the desirable, violent, and controllabe, reboots. And all his attention seems to be on Wren. Wren, confused by all this unwanted attention, is caught off guard. In a strange turn of events (for her) she takes him on as his trainer. And what starts as a challenge for both of them, becomes more than either ever dreamed. And I’m not just talking romance here, people.

Wren goes through quite a metamorphosis in this book and really presents Tintera’s skill. Before Callum, Wren is hard as nails, by the book, complete and Total Reboot. After Callum, well…Lenore (from her review at Presenting Lenore) called this the “second rebooting of Wren” which I think is the perfect description for what happens here. Wren learns, or relearns, things long forgotten about herself and, quite possibly, begins to redefine what being a Reboot is. Like most typical YA, there is a central romance, and yes, I was pulling for the couple, but I found Tintera’s play with her characters far more interesting, especially Wren; a delightfully conflicted character. Tintera’s commentary on humanity and what it means to be human, not to mention our treatment of each other, was fascinating. Plus, the romance isn’t all saccharine sweetness. Tintera did a good job of balancing the “hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but gosh I think I love you” chemistry with all the lovely conflict, without making it too angsty.

In short, I really enjoyed this novel and look forward to the next in the series. Yes, you know it. It’s a series!

Reboot by Amy Tintera
ISBN-13: 9780062217073
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 5/7/2013
Pages: 365
Rating: 4/5

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The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

June 6, 2013 Book Reviews, Books, eBooks 10

13326831Remember how I said a few weeks ago that book comparisons make me nervous?

Well, I’m about to make one. And yes, this makes me nervous.

The Testing seems to be the latest dystopian YA “IT” novel, heir-apparent to The Hunger Games. Cia Vale lives with her family in the Five Lakes Colony, one of the few colonies left in what was America after the Seven Stages War. The Seven Stages War left the country is ruins, the land almost completely barren, and the water mostly undrinkable. The few who remain struggle to get the things they need from the ravaged land. Cia’s father and brothers are some of the citizens who work with the land, developing new crops that can flourish and sustain their colony.

Cia, who is graduating from high school, seems to be living her life to go to university, so that she can be like her father. To go to university, however, one must go through a process called Testing. It has been 15 years since anyone from Five Lakes Colony has been picked for testing. She’s hoping this year will be different.

At first, it appears it’s not.

But later, she finds out she has been picked. I’m not going into the politics of what happens with that, as it would be giving away tooooooo much. Let’s just say she gets picked. She goes to Testing.

All of this, before the shift to the Testing, was fascinating to me. I loved the world building, the way the colony worked, the interaction between Cia and her family. It was just too brief. Because this is YA dystopia, and YA dystopia doesn’t take long to GET TO THE POINT.

The point is to get to the Testing. Once there, the book begins to feel suspiciously familiar.

The Testing consists of 4 parts. The first three test basic skills. The fourth. Well. The fourth is where things begin to feel very, very familiar.

Spoiler alert:

It felt like a complete rip off of The Hunger Games. Except with a gun instead of arrows.

Spoiler over.

There is a lot of politics, and of course the environmental message (which actually didn’t bother me), and OF COURSE the romance between the two hometown friends. Which felt very forced and unnecessary to me. Actually, most of it felt forced to me. And derivative. The beginning was so good, I was so into it and all, and then it just went down hill. But, that is too me. I think I’ve read too much YA lately.  But, let me be blunt. If you are looking for another Hunger Games, as much as it makes me nervous to say it, this book is for you. If you’re tired of the formula, but think it sounds good, give it a try! You’ll probably like it (I did LIKE some of it, I’m just disappointed I didn’t LOVE it). If you are really tired of the formula, I’d keep on moving. To me, the book had a lot of potential it just didn’t live up to. I may read the next in the series (because of course, it’s a trilogy). I’m going to wait to read the description before I decide though.

The Testing
By Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (June 4, 2013)
336 pages (hardcover)
Acquired from NetGalley
Rated 3/5

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Splintered by A. G. Howard

June 5, 2013 Books, eBooks 5

9781419704284_p0_v1_s600 Before I get into my thoughts on this book, let me just say, I think it’s very ballsy to put “Welcome to the real Wonderland” on the cover of this book, as if the Wonderland Lewis Carroll created wasn’t the real one. Really ballsy. Especially when you’re taking a classic, beloved by many book, and, well, making it your own.

Lucky for Amulet Books and Ms. Howard, I loved the book. With a few reservations. Number one: That Cover. I mean, really.

Anyhoo.

Alyssa Gardner hears things. Not just any things, but voices. The voices of bugs and plants. It’s the family disease. A descendant of Alice Liddell, THE Alice Liddell of Alice in Wonderland fame, all the women of her line have heard voices. Her mother is in an institution. Her grandmother leapt from a window shortly after Alyssa’s mother was born, believing she could fly. Alyssa lives in the shadow of these events and dreads her own future. But when her mother takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that it may not actually be a disease. It may actually be a curse.

Okay, so you probably all know by now that I love it when authors take classic stories and turn them on their ear, at least when the do it well. Howard, in this case, does it pretty well. I loved this premise. And I loved, loved, LOVED the way she took it and made it darker. More sinister. And infinitely more twisted that Carroll ever did. And I loved Alyssa’s journey through Wonderland, undoing all the “mistakes” Alice made originally. The cast of characters was great. Alyssa was great. I love a flawed protagonist in a coming-of-age story. You could say I’m a sucker for them.

My few reservations. Mostly, YET ANOTHER LOVE TRIANGLE. And yet another perfect perfect boy who loves the girl. From Edward Cullen on down, I am sick of the beautiful perfect boys. And of COURSE, to balance him out, the other guy is the dark, mysterious, slightly dangerous type. OF COURSE. And damn it, I still like it. It’s a love/hate relationship; me and these characters. Always has been, always will be.

Bits I liked:

“Tearing down the rest of the world won’t make you happy. Look inside yourself. Because finding who you were meant to be? What you were put into this world to do? That’s what fills the emptiness. It’s the only things that can.”

“Do you really think these are Alice’s tears?” I ask. “That I’m supposed to make them go away somehow?”

“I’m the wrong guy to ask. I just saw a skeleton with antlers and a forest of aphid-noshing flower zombies.” (Me: I don’t know why, but this just struck me as hilarious.)

“No one knows what he or she is capable of until things are at their darkest.”

Splintered
by A. G. Howard
Amulet Books
January 1, 2013
384 Pages
ISBN-13: 9781419704284
Got it from: NetGalley
Rated: 4/5

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Anna Dressed in Blood

November 6, 2012 Book Reviews, Books, eBooks 6

Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Author: Kendare Blake
Published: Publish mm/yyyy
ISBN:
Rating: 4 out of 5 bloody stars
Acquired: from Barnes & Noble

Introduction:

Cas Lowood kills the dead. Like his father before him, he follows stories, urban legends, folk tales, to their source and deals with the ghost, the murderous dead, and sends them where they belong.

Plot:

Cas, and his kitchen-witch mother, have moved to a new town. They came after hearing the story of a terrible ghost called Anna Dressed in Blood. The story goes that any person who enters the house where she was killed is never seen again. Because she kills them!

Cas doesn’t expect to find anything unusual. He comes in like he usually does. He enrolls in the local high school and gets himself invited to party. What better place to find out the local ghost stories than at a high school kegger? He out what he wants. Anna was murdered in 1958. In the house she haunts, in a white dress, that now drips with her blood. Anyone who crosses her threshold is brutal murdered. No one has been there in years. Until now. The local jocks, jerks, take it upon themselves to give Cas a proper introduction. They knock him out and toss him in with Anna Dressed in Blood. Who is definitely NOT at all what he expected. And who does something completely unexpected.

She spares Cas.

Characters:

The characters are great. I can’t help but love Cas. Like any typical teenager, he’s struggling to find his place in life. He takes up the mantel discarded by his father (since he was murdered doing his work, which was also killing ghosts remember) and, while he’s good at it, you can tell he has an underlying need to prove himself plus he also has this slight confidence problem, which I found endearing and completely understandable. I mean, he’s taken over the “family business” at 17 and the family business is killing ghosts? That seems a hard thing to take over at any age! I thought Blake did a great job of portraying the bravado a 17 year old boy would have, you know, around others (like his mom!), but also giving him this vulnerability and confusion. It really made me fall for Cas quite a bit! Plus, watching Cas make friends for the first time in his life was just priceless.

Anna is, just, wow. What an awesome character. One I feel I can’t say much about, I don’t want to spoil the surprise of her. Cursed in death to kill whomever crosses her threshold; how many characters can you say that about? From her first step onto the pages, Anna is such a lovely conflicted character. She can’t help doing what she’s doing, she’s been doing it for around 50 years, and you can immediately tell what it’s doing to her soul. Of course Cas falls for her. I don’t really think that’s a spoiler either; this IS a YA book. It’s what happens after that event that keeps you reading. Cas is meant to kill her. Will he?

Strengths:

  • The plot was great, very original for the genre I thought
  • The writing was great, very gripping. This book was hard to put down!
  • Strong, well written, and well rounded characters
  • Highlights are/is the blood-thirsty ghost?

Weaknesses:

  • You may not like this if you don’t like gory violence.

Conclusion: 

I was so very surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I haven’t read much in the paranormal YA genre for awhile, because it felt like it was getting so formulaic and predictable. Anna Dressed in Blood was very much not what I was expecting. Engaging characters, excellent twist…I couldn’t help but immediately download the sequel as soon as I finish. (One thing never changes. Cliffhangers.) If you’ve been looking for something new, with excellent writing, interesting premise, and fantastic characters, look no further!

Favorite Bits:

I’ve seen most of what there is to be afraid of in this world, and to tell you the truth, the worst of them are the ones that make you afraid in the light. The things that your eyes see plainly and can’t forget are worse than huddled black figures left to the imagination. Imagination has a poor memory; it slinks away and goes blurry. Eyes remember for much longer.

I can feel that photo of Anna staring at me from sixty years ago, and I can’t help myself from wanting to protect her, wanting to save her from becoming what she already is.

Over the course of my life I’ve been to lots of places. Shadowed places where things have gone wrong. Sinister places where things still are. I always hate the sunlit towns, full of newly built developments with double-car garages in shades of pale eggshell, surrounded by green lawns and dotted with laughing children. Those towns aren’t any less haunted than the others. They’re just better liars.

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Every Day by David Levithan

October 2, 2012 Books 13

Every Day
by David Levithan
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Published: August 28, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-307-93188-7
Pages: 336
Ages: 12 & up

Every once in awhile, a novel comes along that defies expectation. I have never read a book by David Levithan. I’ve heard of it. Friends have recommended him. Yet, I remained stubborn (why? I don’t know!) and didn’t read anything by him. Even after he wrote a book with one of my favorite writers; Will Grayson & Will Grayson with John Green.

I am such a fool.

I happened to see Every Day on NetGalley. The premise sounded so unique, so different, and so hard to pull off. A person waking up, every day, in a different body? Irregardless of sex, race, only age? I had to see if he pulled it off.

A, our main character’s name is A, has no one. No friends, no family, nobody. He wakes up every day in a different 16-year-old body and wears it for the day. A different house, a different body, different friends, schools, lives. Every morning he is someone else. Male, female, white, black, Latino, rich, poor, smart, stupid, hooked on drugs, ready to kill themselves. It’s always different. A is used to this, A gets along fine, breezing through different lives, trying not to make too much of an impact, A doesn’t want anyone to notice. No one does notice.

But then A meets a girl.

A’s life will never be the same. It takes less than a day for A to fall in love with Rhiannon. For the first time, A wants to see someone again. A wants to talk to someone again. A wants to be with someone again. A can’t stop thinking about her, can’t stop wanting to see her again, and can’t stop wanting to talk to her again.

Does A find a way? It feels like an impossible situation. How does A convince this girl, every day, that even though the shell is different, A is the same underneath. How does A convince her to take a chance? How do you talk about A without using pronouns?

It’s a mystery, best found out by reading the book.

As I was saying, I was a fool. In the wrong hands, this book could have been a hot mess. But David Levithan obviously knows what he’s doing. There are so many things Levithan deals with in this novel; sex, race, attraction, how you can’t pick who you love, living, dying, hate, love…. This story. It is ambitious. This book made me think, it made me feel, it made me shake my head in wonder. Levithan not only pulls it off, he pulls it off so beautifully. His writing is gorgeous! And addictive. I think I’ll go out and buy everything he’s ever written now and I will never doubt him again.

Favorite bits:

I want to give her a good day. Just one good day. I have wandered for so long without any sense of purpose, and now this ephemeral purpose has been give to me-it feels like it was been give to me. I only have a day to give-so why can’t it be a good one? Why can’t it be a shared one? Why can’t I take the music of the moment and see how long it can last? The rules are erasable. I can’t take this. I can give this.

and

There is a part of childhood that is childish, and a part that is sacred. Suddenly we are touching the sacred part-running to the shoreline, feeling the first cold burst of water on our ankles, reaching into the tide to catch at shells before they ebb away from our fingers. We have returned to a world that is capable of glistening, and we are  wading deeper within it. We stretch our arms wide, as if we are embracing the wind. She splashes me mischievously and I mount a counterattack. Our pants, our shirts get wet, but we don’t care. We are carefree.

also

What is it about the moment you call in love? How can such a small measure of time contain such enormity? I suddenly realize why people believe in deja vu, why people believe they’ve lived past lives, because there is no way the years I’ve spent on this earth could possibly encapsulate what I’m feeling. The moment you fall in love feels like it has centuries behind it, generations-all of them rearranging themselves so that this precise, remarkable intersection could happen. In your heart, in your bones, no matter how silly you know it is, you feel that everything has been leading to this, all the secret arrows were pointing here, the universe and time itself have crafted this long ago, and you are just now realizing it, you are just now arriving at the place you were always meant to be.

I love that last one. I have so many more that I could share. I don’t think I’ve marked up a book like this in a long time. Such a beautiful book. In so many ways. I hope you’ll read it.

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The Robber Bridgegroom by Eudora Welty

July 31, 2012 Book Reviews, Books, eBooks 11

Oh Eudora, you rascally old broad. You were rewriting fairytales before it was cool, weren’t you. You savvy trendsetter!

I don’t know where to start. Do I tell you about the genius that was Eudora Welty? Do I explain to you the unfamiliar fairytale, The Robber Bridegroom? Or do I just drive right into telling you about this book and hope I intrigue you enough that you will go look up Welty and the fairytale on your own?

Decisions, decisions….

Okay, I figure at this point, you are well acquainted with my tendency to ramble, so I’m going to try to briefly (that made me giggle a bit) touch on Welty and the fairytale, then dive into the book. Is that okay? If not, skim folks.

So, Eudora Welty. Queen of Southern Literature, in my oh so humble opinion, was a downright brilliant author. And what I find the most fascinating about her, is how long she lived. She was born in 1909 and she died in 2001. I kid you not. Think of all the things she saw. She won the Pulitzer (for The Optimists Daughter). She lectured at Harvard. She sat on the New York Times Book Review. Received a Guggenheim Fellowship. And I’m pretty sure you cannot get out of school in the South without reading something written by her. For me, it was her short story A Worn Path and excerpts from her novel Delta Wedding. I don’t remember much about Delta Wedding, probably because we didn’t read the whole thing, but her story A Worn Path stays with me to this day. In reading about her, I’ve found she loved fairytales. A woman after my own heart! Why it took so long, somehow, despite always meaning to read more of her work, it took me 12 years out of college to finally read her again, I’ll never know. Let’s just say I was stupid. Let’s just ask the question, what took me so damn. long? I won’t take me that long again.

The Robber Bridegroom (the fairytale) has several incarnations. I’m going to give you a shortened Grimm version. There was this miller, once upon a time, who had a daughter. When she comes of age, of course he wants to get her married. At least he wants to get her a respectable husband. Wants to. He just doesn’t try very hard. The first man who pops up is by all appearances very rich and finding no fault with him (there is no mention as to how hard he tried, I’m betting not very hard) the father promises his daughter to him. Time passes, and the daughter never visits her intended (do you blame her??). You see, she didn’t like the look of him, didn’t trust him, and the very thought of him, “she felt within her heart a sense of horror.”

Take about gut instinct.

Her intended calls her out on it and she replies that she doesn’t know where he lives. He tells her it is in the dark woods and she returns basically with the reply that there is no way on God’s green Earth that she’s going out there. Undeterred, he tells her to come on Sunday, he’s already invited guests and he will leave a trail of ashes for her to find her way. Ashes. Invokes a wee be of unease, yes? She goes, leaving a trail for herself of peas and lentils and finds her way to his house. His empty house. Empty except for a black bird that tells her “Turn back, turn back, you young bride. You are in a murderer’s house.” Have I got your attention now?

Up to this point, Eudora follows the story mostly. She changes the father, his story is much more, well, more and the groom has a name and an occupation. He’s a handsome scoundrel. The daughter is an idiot, in my opinion, because she acts like a complete airhead. And she has a wicked stepmother now! After she finds the house, things change. In the fairytale, she finds an old woman who hides her from the men who would murder and eat her (yes, eat her) and helps her escape. In Eudora’s story, she does something completely different.

No, I’m not going to tell you what. Although, if you look at the cover verrrry closely, you may get an idea.

In the fairytale, the old woman and the young bride escape and expose the bridegroom at the wedding. He and all his cohorts are put to death for their crimes. In the book, well, again, it’s very different. Again, not going to tell you how. You have to read it people.

And read it you should. I love love love Welty’s way with words. The way she takes the South, the Deep South, and mythologizes just sends me to the moon with love for this book. She takes this fairytale and mixes it with the South and creates something new, something slightly crazy, something slightly manic, something completely fascinating. The only thing I didn’t like was the attitude towards blacks and Indians, which, knowing the time period the story is set… well, I know it’s the way it was, but it doesn’t make it easier. At least I know Phoenix from A Worn Path is out there in Welty’s canon. If you haven’t tried Welty’s work, what are you waiting on? I’m definitely going to be reading more, very soon.

I bought this from Barnes & Noble as an ebook. If I was you, I would avoid this ebook at all costs. It looks like a 3rd grader typed it.

This counts for the Classics Club challenge and also my personal challenge of reading more classics in July.

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Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – Audiobook Review

June 29, 2012 Books 3

In honor of audiobook week, I’m rerunning my reviews of some of my favorite audiobooks. Lonesome Dove holds a special place in my heart, as you’ll see below.


  

If there is one story I have grown up with, besides Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, and Narnia, it is Lonesome Dove.  Which probably sounds strange, to lump Lonesome Dove in with those beloved children’s books, since admittedly it is far from a children’s classic, but it is a classic and a product of my youth, so there it is.  My uncle absolutely loves, no adores, no… something stronger than that… I don’t know how to describe it.  He can quote the movie from beginning to end.  I think he secretly wishes he had been a cowboy.  And he reveres Gus.  So, it goes without saying that I grew up listening to the vast wisdom and wit of Captain Augustus Mcrae, one of the immortal cowboys of Lonesome Dove.  

When I was about 14, and prone to reading long, epic novels of vast scope and ideal, (I’m trying to be witty myself here, can ya tell?), I decided I would read Lonesome Dove.  Get all the details of the story, so to speak, so I could give my uncle all the little details he didn’t get from the movie.  I don’t think I had even watched the movie, I knew most of the story because of my uncle.   I got my hands on a copy and I started the trip.  And my, my, what a trip this book is.  I raced through the book, like 14 years are able to do, and went on to read the rest of the series as it came out.  

Lonesome Dove is about so much. It is more than a western, more than a work of historical fiction, more than romance, more than an epic road trip, more than an adventure.  It comes down to two men and their strange friendship, for two men are less alike than Gus and Call.  The book starts in the dusty little down of Lonesome Dove, Texas down near the borderlands and moves steadily north through prairie, desert, Indian infested land, snakes, buffalo and takes you all up to the wilds of Montana on a cattle drive.  The characters in this novel are unforgettable.  I can rave about Gus all day (and I’m sure any woman who has ever read this book came away a little bit in love with him) but there are other amazing characters living in these pages.  Heroes.  Outlaws.  Indians.  Whores.  Ladies.  Settlers.  This book is the story of the Wild Wild West and is beautifully written, dramatic and unforgettable.  I dare you to read this book and not laugh, cry, and fall in love.  

I just can’t get enough of Gus and Call and all the boys (and girls!) of Lonesome Dove.  

And I still can’t.  When Amy (of My Friend fame) challenged her readers to join in a readalong of Lonesome Dove, I knew I had to join in.  I have since seen the movie, several times, and this story remains near and dear to my heart.  I worried about exactly how I would do it, with RIP going on, and all the other review books that are stacked on my desk (cringe), but then I remembered.  One of the first audiobooks I ever got from Audible was Lonesome Dove!  And I had never listened to it.  Problem solved!  So I decided to listen to the audio, read by actor and western novelist himself, Lee Horsley.  

And what a fantastic journey it was, all over again.  It was even more, for me, reading it again almost 18 years later.   The things that jumped out at me!  The treatment and lives of the women of the old west were especially interesting.  There is so much to this story, I know there is no way I can hit on it all.  You become invested in these characters along their journey.  Gus and Call and all the boys came alive in Lee Horsley’s voice.  Now, this isn’t the best audio production I’ve ever heard.  It was the first time I heard background noise in any audiobook I have ever listened to.  I didn’t care.  Mr. Horsley made these characters live.  And breathe.  And love and hate and kill and walk and talk and more.   I’m sure I have no adequately described this book, but I know I have described how it makes me feel.  Lonesome Dove is on my all time favorites list, will you add it to yours?  As USA Today says:  

“If you read only one western novel in your life, read Lonesome Dove.”  

*Note: Amazingly enough, I cannot find an audio CD of Lonesome Dove anywhere, they only have *gasp* cassette tapes.  I downloaded my copy from Audible.  Either way you read it, I still highly recommend it.  The copy I link to here is a new edition that came out in June of this year.  The edition in my upper picture is from 2000.  The one below is the new edition.  Isn’t the new cover gorgeous?  It looks like all of McMurtry’s books got a similar treatment and I find myself wishing I didn’t own my copies, so I could get the new ones!  Silly me….  

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The School of Essential Ingredients by Erika Bauermeister – Audiobook Review

June 27, 2012 Audio Books, Books 7

In honor of audiobook week, I’m rerunning my reviews of some of my favorite audiobooks. The School of Essential Ingredients was the first time I heard the magic that is Cassandra Campbell’s voice. This magical book held me captivated to the very end.


I downloaded this from the library on a whim.  I knew it was a food book, which I knew I normally love, but I only kind of knew what it was about.  I’d seen reviews on blogs, but I pretty much just skimmed them (thinking I wanted to read it and didn’t want to ruin anything!) but didn’t retain much of anything about what the book was about.  I knew I liked the cover and I thought “what the heck” and “I need something to listen to” and “well, all the books I really want to listen to are checked out” so “I’ll get this one.”

Let me tell you.  It was the BEST book decision I had made in quite awhile and I think of the main ingredients in pulling me out of my slump.  Pun fully intended.

The first impression I had, as I started up the book on my iPod, was Oh My Goodness where has this narrator been all my life?  Cassandra Campbell has an amazing voice and was perfect for this book.  I would (seriously) put her up there with Neil Gaiman, who I have always said I would gladly love to listen to him read the phone book.  Her voice is wonderful.   But I instantly fell in love with this book because of the story.  Or stories, rather, for The School of Essential Ingredients is, essentially, a collection of stories about a group of people who attend a cooking class in Lillian’s Restaurant, every Monday night.

These people are all searching for something.  The first of these students, Claire, is a young mother searching for the self she lost when her children were born.  Antonia, a beautiful, young Italian woman is searching for away to adapt to life in America.  Tom is a lonely widower, just looking to learn how to survive without the love of his life, his wife, who he lost to breast cancer.  Carl and Helen are looking for each other in the storm-tossed sea of their marriage.  Chloe who is just looking to belong and Ian, looking for love.  Each character’s story is as beautiful and touching as the first one, about Lillian herself and her search for the mother who is there, but not.

And then, there’s the food.  If you can pick up this book and not come away hungry, I’m afraid there is something wrong with you.  The flavors, the aromas, and the textures are all lovingly detailed and mouthwatering.  Each meal sounds sumptuous and delicious; the characters tales the fine wine holding it all together.  I hate that I waited so long to read this book.

And, as I said, Cassandra Campbell’s reading is perfect for this book.  If you love food books, audiobooks, or marvelous character studies, you can’t go wrong with The School of Essential Ingredients.

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