Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Hero and the Crown

What can I say? I loved it. After I finished it, I was completely unable to close it. I had to fight the urge to flip back to page one and start it all over again. Although I finished it several days ago, I keep sneaking it out of my library book basket to reread some of my favorite parts. It's also caused me to reread large chunks of The Blue Sword, searching for any mention of Aerin, Tor, and Luthe.

This is a brilliant book! Since it's a prequel to The Blue Sword and details Aerin's story (which is mentioned often in The Blue Sword), I thought I had some idea of what was going to happen and how it would end, but I was surprised over and over again. The execution is flawless and the plot is character-driven. I felt like I really knew Aerin and identified with her. I loved Harry of course, and I think that The Blue Sword is the best give-a-girl-a-sword book I've ever read, but Hero and the Crown held more emotional depth for me. Aerin is a little more vulnerable and uncertain of herself than Harry ever was, and as much as I'd like to be like Harry, I'm really more like Aerin. I can't believe I have never read this book before! I'm in mourning right now for all 28 of the past years I've lived without having read this book. It is, in my opinion, Robin McKinley's magnum opus.

If you're looking for adventure, magic, coming-of-age, an awesome female protagonist, romance (although I'm warning you now that there are some unexpected twists and turns in this department - some of which had me tearing up and/or slamming the book shut in frustration), lyrical writing, and overall brilliant fantasy, The Hero and the Crown is a must-read.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Blue Sword

I've always loved Robin McKinley's Beauty, and in the last couple of years I've read other books by her that I enjoyed (Spindle's End and Chalice), so why is it that I've never read her Newbery winning The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown??? I don't know, but now that I've read The Blue Sword, I am a serious fan. This book has so much going for it! Awesome story, amazing detail, beautiful descriptions, well-realized fantasy, great romance, and one very cool heroine. I always love a strong female protagonist who doesn't always rely on everyone else to do things for her, but instead goes out and makes her own destiny. Harry (yes, her name really is Harry) is everything I love in a main character.

There are two questions I have about this book. One, why is it labeled as science fiction? I'm not seeing it. I'd say it's clearly fantasy. The other question I have is, why is this considered a children's book?? I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult, and none of the main (or even minor) characters are children. If there's one thing that's made clear in this book, it is this one fact: Harry is a woman. :D That was a fun sentence to write. Anyway, Harry never acts juvenile, although her tale is sort of a coming of age story, except I see it more as a finding-yourself-and-your-place-in-the-world plot.

Whatever this book is, it's wonderful. It is now high on my list of books I intend to buy and recommend to others. I just started The Hero and the Crown this morning (it's a prequel to The Blue Sword) and I'll let you know how it goes!


I always feel like giving myself a nice round of applause and a hearty pat on the back when I complete an 800+ page Victorian era British novel. I enjoy them, but they are a piece of work to read sometimes. Middlemarch is one of the more complex novels I've ever read. There are several plots going on at once, and it took a while to get into it and figure things out. There were also a few ultra long (and boring) descriptions on politics that I found myself slogging through, and I'll admit that I glanced ahead to see when things would get good again a few times and speed read through the worst parts.

But it was all worth it! This book is descriptive and emotional. By the time I got into it I was hooked. I was so personally invested in the characters' lives and stories that I had a hard time dragging myself away for such menial tasks as feeding children. I was so attached to one story in particular that I cried a couple of times (am I allowed to admit that on this blog?) and even *gasp* dogeared a couple of pages that I found particularly heartwrenching so I could go back and read them again later.

Like Dickens, George Eliot (who is a woman, by the way) captures the lives of people from a wide range of backgrounds. No one in the small town of Middlemarch is exempt from being affected by the main characters or affecting them in turn. The plot is woven together seamlessly. I have serious admiration for any author who can write like this.

There is a Middlemarch movie, made in 1994, which is waiting for me at the library. I'll let you know what I think. Even better, though, they are making a brand new Middlemarch which should make an appearance on Masterpiece in a year or two. Andrew Davies is doing the screenplay (1995 Pride & Prejudice, 1996 Emma, 1999 Wives & Daughters, 2005 Bleak House, 2008 Sense and Sensibility, 2008 Little Dorrit), so you can imagine that I'm very excited to see the results of that!

The Reluctant Heiress

My first two experiences with an Eva Ibbotson novel were very positive; I liked A Company of Swans and I really liked A Countess Below Stairs. After reading The Reluctant Heiress I have to say that I enjoyed it, but that I'm a little bored with the plot. It seems to be a pretty close duplicate of A Countess Below Stairs's plot, with the unfortunate problem of not being quite as good. That said, the setting was fabulous! I loved the descriptions of Vienna and the countryside in Austria. The protagonist of this book is a penniless princess who works in an opera company. I happen to love opera, and really enjoyed the descriptions of the various operas that played key moments in the plot, as well as the fun backstage look into opera productions. There were so many things going for this book... if only it had been a little more original!!! All the same, this book is a good clean romance and was a nice way to spend a couple of afternoons.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Charlie Bone... Take 8

Finally! The last Charlie Bone book!!! It's been out for a while, but there were so many holds on it at the library that I had to wait until now (particularly because I don't intend to buy it; not the biggest Charlie fan). I have such mixed feelings about this whole series. I felt like it had such potential. The plot does have interesting twists and turns. I think all the references to Welsh and African culture/mythology are very cool. Each book has ended on enough of a cliffhanger that I've felt compelled to read the next. And that's about the end of the positives.

Jenny Nimmo's writing drives me crazy. She's constantly introducing new complications to the plot and half the time she leaves them unresolved. And when she does resolve things, it feels hurried and sudden. She never spends time on what I want to read more about. I've always felt like she was in a hurry to just produce another book. Another point I take issue with is her character development. After 8 books you'd think the main characters would mature or gain some sort of depth... but they don't. They remain the same as they were in the first book. Irritating.

At least there are no more books coming out in this series. :D I know she's planning on writing another based on the same world, but I think I'll skip them.


Ah, Frankenstein. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading this. Truly. I'm not much for horror, but this book is so great. I'm not saying that everyone will enjoy it, simply that I did. This book was the final thing I read for my British Lit class last semester and in a way it was a great accumulation of everything I'd studied over the semester. There were so many references to Mary Shelley's contemporary authors and their works in this book, that I'm sure if I'd read it before taking my Lit class I would have been thoroughly confused. Instead, I understood exactly what Mary Shelley meant in the plot when she referenced Percy Shelley's poems, Wordsworth's poems, Byron's life, Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther.

All that aside, this book has some good universally enjoyable qualities. It's really quite surprising. The plot is not what Hollywood would want you to believe. There's no gory horror. I found that the same thing is true with this book as it was with Robert Louis Stevenson's Jekyll and Hyde: the plot is simple, symbolic, gripping, and open to interpretation. Thus, the many different variations on it by popular media.

This book carries some interesting and unexpected themes, such as how what you read affects you (the monster - who is unnamed, by the way... Frankenstein is the doctor protagonist - reads three books after being shunned by his creator and they each have a profoud effect on what he later becomes), the responsibilities of parenthood, the possibility that society creates its own criminals, the inner workings of outcasts, promethean science (do men go too far into that realm that belongs only to God?), and the fact that the monster is what any human could be if he or she let his or her emotions run wild.

After reading this book I couldn't stop thinking about it. There was so much to learn and digest from it that I still occasionally come back to it in my thoughts during those rare still moments. I characterize books like this as uplifting, a word I would never have thought I'd use to describe Frankenstein before reading it.


This is the fourth and final book in The Luxe series. Thank heaven for that! I am now convinced that the only one of these books worth reading is the first. I really enjoyed the first, but my reactions to the other three have ranged from mediocre acceptance to sheer hatred. Splendor, unfortunately, falls into the latter category. I was really irritated by this book. After so much build-up and so many loose plot holes, THIS is how it chose to end???? Awful! It really has a horrible ending, but the funny thing is, the ending is consistent with the characters' true personalities, which is proof that some of the characters in these books are of the lowest quality of human being that exists. Ok, maybe that's a little over-strong. Maybe I'm just angry that I wasted any time reading this series. To sum up, if you read the first book, imagine a nice happy ending for everyone and don't be tempted to go on.