Friday, October 7, 2011

Ella Minnow Pea

Ella Minnow Pea is a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was named after Nevin Nollop, author of the immortal pangram,* “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.

*pangram: a sentence or phrase that includes all the letters of the alphabet

~~complete bliss *sigh* utter contentment~~

That would be my inner word nerd talking. Go ahead, word nerd. Don't be shy. Say hello.


Looks like my inner word nerd has had her say. But if you listen closely, you just might hear purring.

This book made me happy. Hap - hap - happy. I loved everything about it. It is so entertaining and so funny and so ridiculously clever. I wish I could have given it 6 stars on goodreads. It is just my kind of book. But then, I'm obsessed with words. You almost need to read this book with a dictionary and a thesaurus handy. I learned probably 20 new words in the first 2 pages. 

I was thoroughly entertained by both the plot and characters. The whole book is told in letters, which just adds to the hilarity, especially as more and more letters became illegal in Nollop. I've never given any thought to what I would do if I couldn't use a letter of the alphabet. Honestly, Mark Dunn is a genius. It must have taken him forever to write this and get it perfect. As more letters disappeared, grammar became atrocious, new words had to be invented (the new days of the week cracked me up), more random synonyms had to be used, and I just can't tell you anymore without spoiling things. Be prepared, though, to read sections aloud to whoever might be close by as you're reading. And as more letters get dropped off, you almost have to read certain sections aloud to understand them (phonetic spellings abound - particularly in the last fifth or so of the book).

Just know this: if you love words, witty characters, a powerful message against totalitarianism and censure (with plenty of humor to soften the blow), and a delightfully surprising ending, you must read Ella Minnow Pea.

I almost couldn't take it back to the library.

And it's now in the top five of my Christmas book list.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship Of Her Own Making

Summary from goodreads:
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.  With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. 

I wanted to be swept away by the magic and the whimsy of this novel but I had a hard time getting into it. I started it before my vacation. Gave up and read something else. And then I tried to read it after my vacation. I gave up and read something else. And then I got even farther into the book (about 80 pages) and gave up again. I came back to it and the rest managed to fly by, but it was hard to become comfortable with this writing style for me.

I think you can already tell how the book is going to go, just by reading the title. Every sentence is wordy and complex. All the descriptions are way over the top. It feels very Alice in Wonderland-ish, but it's just so very long.... For me, it was just too much, but I've read tons of reviews that absolutely rave about this book.

And I can see why, because holy cow was the plot good. 

It was a brilliant weaving of events, places, objects, characters. It felt Newbery-ish in that way and I've been hearing buzz that it's high in contention for the Newbery. I'd be surprised, though - Newbery hasn't picked many fantasy books recently. 

Anyway, by the end I was completely in love with the characters and even a little misty-eyed at one point. The villain is a fantastic, complex creation. And September is very likable. Nay, lovable. And my favorite character was half dragon (ok, technically half Wyvern) and half library. What's not to love? This book came really close, but I just don't feel like I can give it a completely glowing review because the language and story-telling style were hard for me to get into.

P.S. And I have to mention that part of the reason I picked this up in the first place is because September is from Omaha! Since I lived there for three years I thought it was fun to have it mentioned so often, even if the Green Wind never mentioned Omaha without insulting it. :D

The Medusa Plot


Thirteen-year-old Dan Cahill and his older sister, Amy, thought they belonged to the world's most powerful family. They thought the hunt for 39 Clues leading to the source of that power was over. They even thought they'd won. But Amy and Dan were wrong.

One by one, distress calls start coming in from around the globe. Cahills are being kidnapped by a shadowy group known only as the Vespers. Now Amy and Dan have only days to fulfill a bizarre ransom request or their captured friends will start dying. Amy and Dan don't know what the Vespers want or how to stop them. Only one thing is clear. The Vespers are playing to win, and if they get their hands on the Clues . . . the world will be their next hostage.

Such an amazing book. There's a reason that this is the only book (aside from Ella Minnow Pea) that I've given five stars to from my most recent batch of books. It's brilliant and intense. I love these characters, but then, I got to know them so well in the 39 Clues series. Amy and Dan are older too, and as they are aging they're changing and maturing, making this book even more enjoyable for adult readers like me. This is the first book in the Cahills vs. Vespers series and I can't wait to read the rest. Oh, and a lot of it takes place in Florence and Rome. Visiting places I've been. Definitely helped me love this installment even more. But then, this series always has been awesome for its travel and adventure. I highly recommend it and only wish I was completely rolling in money so I could buy every single book. There are way too many!

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew

Goodreads says:
This fascinating, lively guide clarifies the sometimes bizarre maze of rules, regulations, and customs that governed everyday life in Victorian England. Author Daniel Pool provides countless intriguing details (did you know that the "plums" in Christmas plum pudding were actually raisins?) on the Church of England, sex, Parliament, dinner parties, country house visiting, and a host of other aspects of nineneenth-century English life - both "upstairs" and "downstairs."

An illuminating glossary gives at a glance the meaning and significance of terms ranging from "ague" to "wainscoting," the specifics of the currency system, and a lively host of other details and curiosities of the day.

I bought this to read on my cruise, but ending up not getting to it. I picked it up after we got home and ended up reading it compulsively. I bought it, so could have put it aside for my other, more urgent, library books, but I couldn't stop reading it, even when I got to the glossary (which is the last third or so of the book). I loved this!!! But then, I love Victorian literature. I learned a ton of new facts and have probably been annoying my husband by spouting off a new one every time one pops into my head. This book is neither dry nor boring. It has lots of short, interesting chapters and covers a huge range of subjects. It's a great companion to all the Victorian books on my shelf. My favorite part about this book is the fact that Daniel Pool uses lots of examples from literature in this book. He's constantly referencing the works of Austen (who is technically pre-Victorian), Dickens, Hardy, Eliot, Thackeray, Trollope, Bronte, etc... to illustrate points and facts. I found this fascinating and am so glad I own it. It's a new favorite reference work and I've put it in a very accessible spot on my bookshelves.

The Eyre Affair

Goodreads summary:
Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality, (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë's novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

This was the only book I ended up reading on my cruise - and most of it I read on the airplane home from NY. It's not that I didn't have time to read, but every time I tried I ended up falling asleep. Blame it on being medicated for seasickness.

I enjoyed this. Such a clever premise and so fun for book/literature lovers. I can't say that I'd want to live in Jasper Fforde's world, but it would be fun if more people were obsessed with literature. It felt a bit slow, though, which might just be my perception because it took me a whole week of reading a page here and there to finish it. It seemed like it took forever for Jane to get stolen from the novel - the thing I was expecting because it's right there in the summary. But, I thought this novel was very funny at times and ridiculously clever on occasion. There was a lot of language, though. Just putting that warning out there for those of you who may be sensitive to that (lots of "F" words). There are six novels in the Thursday series so far, and I have the second one on hold at the library now. I'm in no rush to buy it, which shows that I liked this book, but I'm not desperate to continue the series quickly. Plus, the first one wraps the plot up very neat and tidy-like. It was a fun read and I definitely recommend it to fans of classic literature. Especially fans of Jane Eyre.


Goodreads summary:
One hour to rewrite the past . . .
For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn’t there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents’ death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She’s tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.

So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson’s willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.

Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he’s around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?

Full of atmosphere, mystery, and romance, Hourglass merges the very best of the paranormal and science-fiction genres in a seductive, remarkable young adult debut.

I planned on avoiding this one; I really did. I read a lot of reviews talking about paranormal romance and cheesy love triangles, but I gave in. I blame it on the time travel plot.

Which is hands down the best part of this book.

Oooh I so loved the time travel and the plot. It was a great convoluted mess that made perfect sense in the end. Myra McEntire's plot was intense and mysterious and fascinating - a completely new twist on time travel that I've never read before. Her language and descriptions were also beautifully done. And I loved Emerson as a main character. Strong and intelligent and brave.

But... (you knew that "but" was coming, didn't you?) it's true: the romance is annoying and the love triangle is unnecessary. I liked the second boy better than the main boy too, which was enough to make things really irritating. The romance is too sudden, too "electrical" (gag me), too predictable. But I have to give credit to Myra McEntire's overall plot, because while I thought the romance happened way to fast, she eventually shows that there was actually a reason for it. A reason that made perfect sense. A reason that made me think, "Ok... that was kind of brilliant." Which was how I felt about the book as a whole because as things went on they got better and better and by the time I closed the book I thought, "Ok... that was really brilliant."

I enjoyed this book, but I know a lot of people didn't (and won't). Hopefully I've given you enough information on it so you'll know whether or not it's a book that you will like. :D

Prom and Prejudice

Goodreads summary:
After winter break, the girls at the very prestigious Longbourn Academy become obsessed with the prom. Lizzie Bennet, who attends Longbourn on a scholarship, isn’t interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be — especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London.

Lizzie is happy about her friend’s burgeoning romance but less than impressed by Charles’s friend, Will Darcy, who’s snobby and pretentious. Darcy doesn’t seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it’s because her family doesn’t have money. Clearly, Will Darcy is a pompous jerk — so why does Lizzie find herself drawn to him anyway?

Will Lizzie’s pride and Will’s prejudice keep them apart? Or are they a prom couple in the making? Whatever the result, Elizabeth Eulberg, author of The Lonely Hearts Club, has concocted a very funny, completely stylish delight for any season — prom or otherwise.

Sounds a little cheesy but kind of fun, right? I kept seeing this title on YA book blogs, and I am such a P&P fan that I was worried this book would ruin the story, but curious at the same time just to see how it turned out.

There were lots of things that I liked and one major thing that I didn't.

First off, it was a cleverly realized setting. The major plot points from Pride and Prejudice and major characters transferred over to contemporary times surprisingly well. I particularly loved that Elizabeth was a professional concert pianist in the making. Music plays a big part in the plot and some of my favorite piano pieces (hello Rachmaninoff - love everything by him) were mentioned in detail. So, my inner music nerd was very happy about that. And it was just fun reading this, anticipating my favorite moments from the original and seeing them reinterpreted.

But my big problem (and the thing that kept me from really loving this) was the dialogue.

Elizabeth Eulberg attempted the impossible. She tried to take Austen's witty and clever dialogue and turn it into something modern. She failed miserably, and mostly because she tried to take exact sentences from the original and rework them by changing just a word here or there. She kept the sentence structure and a lot of the original wording, but would throw in random things like "cellphone" "jerk" "BFF" or "email". It was a colossal flop, in my opinion. The end result was waaayyyyy overly formal sounding. Not in the least bit natural or casual. Ugh. It was so hard to read the dialogue that it really ruined the book for me. I wish that Elizabeth Eulberg had just done her own interpretation of the dialogue, instead of trying to keep it so close to the original.

And the other issue I just can't get over is that an inconsequential thing like prom is never going to create the same compelling emotions as marriage and true love.

So, fun - but nowhere close.

The Lost Hero

I don't think I need to do any more gushing about Rick Riordan on this blog. But in case you've never heard me rave about his books before....


I love them. Every single one. The Lost Hero is the first book in Riordan's "Heroes of Olympus" series - the series that comes after the Percy Jackson books. I reread it because Son of Neptune, its sequel, was just released yesterday and I'm dying to get it in my hands (except we're a bit poor to be buying books at the moment so I'm going to have to wait). I love these books - the adventure, the magic, the mythology, the humor, the bits of romance, the plots... everything about Rick Riordan's writing is fantastic. There's something for anyone to enjoy out of these books.

And I'm so excited because he just announced that after Heroes of Olympus and his Egyptian series, he'll be publishing a series based on Norse mythology!!

So, if you haven't read this book, pick it up. But read the Percy Jackson series first (which you won't regret). But don't watch the movie. And be glad that you won't have to wait long to read the sequel to The Lost Hero, especially because of its last sentence. I have never read a last sentence that made me more desperate to read a sequel than the last sentence in The Lost Hero.