Thursday, January 27, 2011

(Sort-Of) Classic Lit: Henrietta Sees It Through by Joyce Dennys

Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front, 1942-1945 is the sequel to Henrietta's War. The two novels are compilations of fictional letters, written by Joyce Dennys and published in Sketch magazine during World War Two. These letters are written by the middle-aged, empty-nesting Henrietta to her childhood friend, Robert.

Henrietta is the wife of a small-town doctor. They live in Britain, but their area of the country is relatively unmolested by the Blitz. The only damage German bombs do to the town is to break windows and blow down doors, but that doesn't mean that the people there aren't facing other problems and heartaches because of the war. Henrietta, along with her husband Charles and her friends Lady B, the Conductor, and Faith, make the best of the war. They give up, do without, and maintain patriotic attitudes, usually with a sense of humor.

Henrietta Sees It Through is a delightful read. Dennys has what my English teacher calls "that dry British wit." Most of the letters have humorous or ironic endings. Despite  the comedic slant, however, Henrietta still writes of the hardships and heartbreaks of the war, from going without silk stockings and elastic to dealing with the deaths of neighbors' sons. Along with the trials of war come the trials of being a small-town doctor's wife; Henrietta's little village has some unique - and sometimes irritating - characters. To wrap this up, Henrietta Sees It Through is a wonderful read for anyone interested in British literature, WWII, or just funny novels.

My copy of this book was received through GoodReads' First Look program. A reprint of the original 1986 edition, it was published by Bloomsbury in 2010.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Awesomeness! Number Three

This may be old news to some of you, but I still think it qualifies as Awesomeness! Scholastic has recently re-launched its Dear America series, complete with new covers and - the best part - three brand new additions to the series! They are Piper Davis, Lydia Pierce, and a returning character, Abigail Jane Stewart.

The Dear America series was one of my favorites in elementary and middle school; I read all of the diaries that I could get my hands on, and at one point I had read every single one of the related Royal Diaries. But on to the new books:

The Fences Between Us by Kirby Larson (Sep. 2010)
Piper Davis lives with her father and older sister in Seattle, Washington. Her older brother has recently joined the navy, and he is stationed at Pearl Harbor. It's a perfectly safe place to be, right? But then December 7 comes along, and Piper's world is turned upside down. Adding to the stress of having a brother in the armed forces, her friends and neighbors are being sent to internment camps. See, Piper's father is the minister of a Japanese Baptist church, and the Davis family lives in a Japanese community. Which side is right, the side that says Japanese are the enemies or the side that says they're just like any other Americans?

Like the Willow Tree by Lois Lowry (Jan. 2011)
Personally, this is the one that sounds the most interesting to me. Lydia and Daniel Pierce are siblings who are orphaned by the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. They are sent to a Shaker community, where they must deal with the unfamiliar, and often restrictive, religious and social beliefs of their new home.

Cannons at Dawn by Kristiana Gregory (May 2011)
Abigail Jane Stewart, the diarist of The Winter of Red Snow, returns in this book. When Abigail's father joins the Continental Army, her family becomes camp followers. What trials and hardships await a family following the troops?

The Fences Between Us is the only one of these three new books that I have had the opportunity to read. A review is forthcoming, as well as a giveaway (in the March "Lucky Leprechaun" giveaway hop) of an extra copy that I received.

Friday, January 21, 2011

YA Sci-Fi - Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Across the Universe is a science fiction/mystery/romance book for teens. It takes place on Godspeed, a spaceship that has been hurtling across space for 250 years. The ship carries an untold number of cryogenically-frozen people, most of whom are needed in scientific, medical, or military capacities on the new planet that Godspeed is headed to. Also on the ship are two thousand workers who keep the ship running smoothly or who are agriculturalists. These people are ruled by Eldest and his student, Elder.

Amy is one of the frozen passengers. She's a teenager, and she only went on the journey because her parents did. She's upset about leaving all her friends, particularly her boyfriend, Jason. Things aren't going well for her on the trip - she's homesick and not entirely unconscious while she's frozen. Then she gets woken up early, and things get even worse. Amy's premature defrosting looks like attempted murder, but who on the ship would do such a thing? Most of the workers don't even know about the frozen people, and most don't have access to them...

Besides being homesick and stuck for fifty years without her parents, Amy is seen as a "disturbance" by Eldest. She's different, and on Godspeed, differences are the first cause of discord. Sixteen-year-old Elder, however, isn't really bothered by her presence. He's felt like an outcast all of his life, and Amy seems to be more like him than the other people on the ship are. Maybe that's because she hasn't lived her whole life on Godspeed which, as Amy and Elder gradually find out, is ruled by secrets...

I'd heard really great reviews of Across the Universe, so I expected it to be absolutely, totally spectacular. It didn't completely let down my rather high expectations. For the first 300 pages, however, I was impatient and couldn't see why this book had gotten so much hype. Yeah, the story line was pretty good, but it wasn't absolutely amazing. Plus there's this mating Season thing that really, really bothered me. It seemed like it was ripped straight out of Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley. One description of a human mating season is more than enough for me.

But then at about page 300 the book got absolutely amazing. I couldn't believe how everything came together! (even the Season, which bothered me much less because it was part of a bigger picture) The novel went from being just an interesting story to having a deeper meaning as a description of how a microcosm of a human world could deteriorate into being run by lies and manipulations. I will end this review (which does not do this book justice) here so that I don't give away the astounding conclusion....

Maturity Factor: There's that mating Season thing, which includes lots of sex (though not between the main characters). Personally, I found it disgusting.

I purchased Across the Universe from my local bookstore. It came out earlier this January.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Awesomeness! Numero Deux

Wow, it's already been a week? Today's Awesomeness! is on a website that I found around Christmas:

Random Buzzers is run by Random House. It's a site geared to teens that, while it's basically a marketing device, is still a cool community for young bibliophiles. There's forums, groups, author interviews, book reviews - oh, and the best part is, you get points for participating in most activities and discussions and for writing reviews! What are these points for? Free books, of course! There's about 100 books available for purchase in the Random Buzzers store. All you need to buy a book is 15,000-20,000 points. Besides purchasing books with points, Buzzers can also win ARCs in weekly contests.

I've been a member of Random Buzzers for exactly a month. So far, I've gotten three books, though shipping seems to be slow (I haven't actually received these in the mail yet). Going Bovine and The Maze Runner were purchased with points, The Running Dream is an ARC.

Edit: Make that two ARCs from Random Buzzers. I won a copy of Badd, too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Historical Fiction - The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning

The Rebellion of Jane Clarke is a historical fiction novel aimed at an adult audience, though it is perfectly readable for older teenagers (15, 16+) as well. I just realized that it's actually the second book in Gunning's Satucket series, the first being The Widow's War. That said, it can be read as a stand-alone.

The book is about, well, Jane Clarke. When her story opens in 1769, she is a young woman living in the small town of Satucket, Massachusetts. Her father wants her to marry Phinnie Paine, but independent Jane isn't sure if that's what she really wants. Mr. Clarke doesn't like this independence in a woman, so he sends her packing to her aunt's in Boston. Hopefully living with this "troublesome" old aunt will cure Jane of her willfulness.

Once in Boston, however, Jane meets a new suitor, reads some great books, and gets caught up in the early conflicts between Loyalists and Patriots. The Boston Massacre was in 1770, remember? But the Massacre isn't the main point of the book, despite what the back of the cover says. Most of the plot focuses on the general confusion and turmoil of the buildup to the American Revolution. Jane's family and friends are split on both sides of the conflict, and, while she hears horror stories of how the Redcoats treat the colonists, the soldiers she's met seem to be perfectly nice and polite. Oh - one more thing - just how innocent and absent-minded is this old aunt of hers?

Things I liked about The Rebellion of Jane Clarke:
1. It seemed to be historically accurate.
2. The historical part wasn't just an excuse for a pooly-written romance story. There was some romance, but unlike a lot of historical fiction I've run across, the romance wasn't the main storyline.
3. The story focused on an interesting part of history - the buildup to, not the middle of or a single battle of, the American Revolution. Gunning did a great job of portraying the internal conflicts that a lot of colonists faced during this time as they debated what side of the issue was right, even if half their friends and relatives disagreed with their choice.
4. Jane reads several of the popular novels of her time, like Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. As an 18th-century fiction fan, this means a lot to me. :)
5. The pace of Gunning's writing was leisurely. The plot was relatively slow, but not slow enough to be boring.
6. Jane herself was a great character. Readers can easily identify with her. She's also very independent, especially for a woman of her time, but at the same time her character isn't unrealistic for a woman of the 18th century (cough cough, Abigail Adams and the like).

Maturity Factor: Some of Jane's suitors got a little too touchy-feely, in my opinion. I don't think there was anything that would count as R-rated, though.

The ARC copy of this book was received through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, and I posted a shorter version of this review on LibraryThing back in May, 2010. The book was published by William Morrow (an imprint of HaperCollins) in June, 2010.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I'm going to start these Awesomeness! posts which will hopefully be weekly. They will feature cool, mostly book-related websites, products, publishers, or anything else I think is interesting. So, for the first one:

Nancy Drew Games!

Her Interactive, over a period of several years, has come out with a series of Nancy Drew computer games (and one Hardy Boys game). There is currently a total of 23 games, and more will probably be added. Some of the games (The Secret of the Old Clock, The Secret of Shadow Ranch) are based on the classic books that many of us grew up reading. The oldest ones appear to be based off of the "Nancy Drew Files" series, and the newest ones were made up by the game designers.

I've played nine of these. The oldest ones weren't much fun. Even with walkthroughs, my brother and I could never get very far in the game. The first ones we were able to finish were Treasure in the Royal Tower (#4) and Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake (#7), but for most of those we depended on outside help from walkthroughs. By The Secret of Shadow Ranch (#10), though, the overall design of the game had improved greatly from the initial games. The Curse of Blackmoor Manor (#11) is personally my favorite (werewolves, ghosts, and carnivorous plants, oh my!), and after that is when the games finally get really, really good. They're hard to beat, but my brother and I were able to solve Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon (#13) and The White Wolf of Icicle Creek (#16) mostly on our own. These are the newest ones that I've played, though, because I prefer buying books to spending $20 on a computer game.

Her Interactive charges $20 for each game (if you go to other websites, however, the price may be significantly lower). Their website also has free mini-games, activities, and demos of several of the twenty-three Nancy Drew games.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Classic Lit - Shirley by Charlotte Bronte

Shirley seems to be one of Bronte's lesser-known works. It takes place in 1812, during the Luddite uprisings in Britain. Who were the Luddites? Most were textile workers who had lost their jobs when the Industrial Revolution struck and factories became dependent on machines. The Luddites smashed said machines and even went as far sometimes as burning factories in futile rages against unemployment. (Good thing North Carolina didn't have something like this happen when all the mills moved to China, right?)

But, despite its advertisement of being about the Luddites, Shirley is not. Sure, it features scenes where Robert Moore, one of the main characters, is defending his machines from irate Luddites, but the book mostly focuses on the love circle that includes Shirley Keeldar, Caroline Helstone, and Robert and Louis Moore. Caroline, the orphaned niece of a local curate, is in love with Robert. Shirley, who moves to her family's long-deserted estate at about page 100, is a wealthy, orphaned heiress who's in love with...well, she doesn't say until the end. It could be Robert, it could be Louis, or it could be one of the young idiot curates or the local young idiot nobleman. Robert is a mill owner who's only after money and who lives with his spinster sister, Hortense. Louis is a tutor to Shirley's cousin, the only bearable member of her extended family, who comes for a loooooong visit halfway through the book.

Shirley is slow reading. It's one of those books that you save for the few weeks or a month when you can just sit down for hours and savor Bronte's slow-paced writing. I love Bronte, but if I had read this during school and not during Christmas break, I would have been at it all autumn, not just two weeks. Also, while my reading of Jane Eyre was years ago, Shirley seems different from all of Bronte's other works. The characters seem so different. Shirley is impulsive, nothing like the rational characters of Villette and The Professor. To me, the romances between characters seemed more like something out of Jane Austen's novels than Jane Eyre. The novel features more political notes as well - after all, it's dealing with the Luddite uprisings and the Napoleonic Wars. It had its funny points, though. The scenes with the three young curates of the area were hilarious, and at one point a character discusses his love of Caroline, then tells his friend to hit him over the head and knock him off his horse for such thoughts. So, despite the extreme slowness of the plot, Shirley was a very enjoyable read. Charlotte Bronte, you have not failed me yet!

This Penguin Classics edition of Shirley was given to me for Christmas last year. I didn't read it until this December and was glad that I had waited, because some of the political stuff and little other references to British people, groups, and events made more sense after having gone through AP European History.

I'm not used to reviewing classic literature and I'm not sure how many people are interested in it. If you're into class lit and have made it to the end of this post, please let me know what your thoughts and comments are. Thank you!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

YA Science Fiction/Fantasy - Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

Pathfinder is over 600 pages long, so it's kind of hard to write a good synopsis, but here it goes: The book begins with the story of Rigg, a thirteen-year-old boy in a pre-industrial world who lives with his father in the wilderness of the mountains. They make their living by trapping animals and selling their furs, but Rigg's father is well-educated, and he gives Rigg an excellent education as well, though Rigg doesn't see how he'll ever need most of the stuff he learns. All he needs to know is how to track and trap animals - which is easy for him, since he can see the paths of every living thing, past and present, except his father. But then Father dies in an accident, and Rigg is left alone, with a mission to find a sister who he's never heard about. Before he can even get started on his journey, though, he discovers a new thing he can do with his power to see paths, and he meets up with his old friend, Umbo, who, being kicked out of his home, joins Rigg.

They embark on a months-long journey to the capital city of their Wallfold, Aressa Sessamo. During this journey, they discover that Umbo can speed up people's perspectives of time, and he can also travel through time - with the help of Rigg. After a narrow escape with a bunch of rivermen, the two are rescued by Loaf, a former soldier who runs a tavern with his wife, Leaky. Loaf accompanies Rigg and Umbo to the city of O as protection (after all, they're thirteen), and the story continues from there, with lots of action, some political intrigue, occasional slightly off-color humor, and rather confusing time paradoxes.

Meanwhile, the beginning of each chapter kicks off with the story of Ram. He's the human commander on a spaceship with a huge group of (sleeping) colonists, aiming for a new planet lightyears away so the human race can restart after the disasters they've caused on Earth. When the ship makes a jump into time to speed up the journey, an interesting thing happens - the ship duplicates itself. Nineteen times. 12,000 years in the past. So Ram is charged with the decision of what to do with the ships, especially since the expected help and extra supplies from Earth won't come for thousands of years. But how do Ram's and Rigg's stories go together?

Initially, I was really confused by Pathfinder. Rigg is in a fantasy world, Ram is in a science fiction world - how the heck are these two stories supposed to match up? But they do. Eventually. About page 400, actually. Also, there were some physics and time paradox things that went over my head, but I just quit worrying about them and moved on with the story, which was really good. Despite the 600+ pages of this book, I was never bored, and I could read a 30-page chapter without realizing that much time had passed. It's really nice to be able to lose yourself in a book like that.

Card's writing was good, too. He kept the plot interesting and fast-paced all the time, and he developed the characters' personalities very well. The only other book by Card that I have read is Ender's Game, but I enjoyed Pathfinder much more. There's some violence, but not nearly as much as in Ender's Game, and the main characters were a lot more pleasant to read about because they're not so competitive and violent. I think readers can connect much more to Rigg and his friends than to Ender. The ending of Pathfinder, while it ties up most of the loose ends of the plot, sets itself up for the sequel mentioned by Card, which shall be eagerly anticipated by SusieBookworm.

Book read as an e-book on Simon and Schuster's Pulse It website. Pathfinder was published in November, 2010.

Interesting Little Note...

Skimming through the Sunday paper today (actually, it was conveniently open to this page and lying on the coffee table) I noticed that there was an article on Beth Revis, author of Across the Universe, which is coming out Tuesday. I've been after an ARC of this book forever, on both GoodReads and LibraryThing, and I've entered probably every blog giveaway for it...but I haven't gotten a copy. Yet.

Anyway, reading the paper I found out that Revis lives in my county! Which, it being a rural county that is often derided by its teenage population for its backwardness and utter lack of anything fun to do (our "mall" reminds me of a deserted post-apocalyptic world, and people go on dates to Wal-Mart) kind of surprised me. A famous author living in my county? Impossible! (Actually, the co-owner of the local bookstore is an author, but she's not a YA author.)

So, hopefully, on Tuesday I will head off to Fireside Bookstore ( from 5-7, where Revis will be discussing her debut novel and signing copies!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Mystery - The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect X is a mystery novel aimed at adults, though it is also appropriate for a young adult audience. Readers know the answer to the mystery from the start (or so they think): Yasuko murdered her ex-husband, and her neighbor, Ishigami, helped her cover up the crime. Readers even know how it happened. Yasuko, a former nightclub hostess, is the single mother of a young teenage daughter, Misato. Divorced for years from her second husband, Togashi, a businessman fired (but not charged) for embezzlement, she has found a job working at a lunchbox shop and has put her past marriage behind her. Eventually, however, her ex-husband finds her, asking for a reconciliation...probably just to get more money. The tension between Misato and Yasuko and Togashi escalates until a fight ensues, in which Yasuko kills Togashi.

Ishigami, Yasuko's next-door neighbor, is in love with Yasuko. He's a (complete genius) middle-aged high school mathematics teacher struggling with a mid-life crisis. Ishigami overhears the fight and offers help to Yasuko. He tells her that he will cover up the crime by himself, and he also comes up with good alibis for Yasuko and Misato. Ishigami plans everything out perfectly, thinking of every possible scenario and loophole, and the police are baffled. But he didn't plan on one thing - an old college friend of his, also a genius, is also friends with the lead detective on the case. When this old friend starts figuring out the mystery, can Ishigami keep his plan from unraveling? And how much do Yasuko and Misato (and the readers) actually know about what he did to cover up Ishigami's murder?

After reading this book, I can see how Keigo Higashino has become such a popular mystery writer in Japan! This novel is very exciting, and it's impossible to foresee the conclusion to the story (unfortunately, I can't say much more without giving away the plot!). Higashino has a great writing style, too - all of his characters are well-developed, the storyline flows nicely, and the details and how they fit together to form the conclusion to the mystery are coherent. About halfway through the book I was worried that the plot would disintegrate into a lover's war between Ishigami and Kudo, an old friend of Yasuko's who is also in love with her, but it fortunately did not. The greatest thing about this book, though, is that no matter how much readers think they know, the solution to the mystery is completely different from what everyone believed, with many important details being revealed only in the last few pages.

The only thing that I disliked about The Devotion of Suspect X was the ending, though, under the circumstances of the mystery (which I can't reveal much more of without giving away some of the suspense), the conclusion was probably the most "right."

The ARC of this book was received from the publisher (Minotaur Books) through GoodReads' First Look program. The book goes on sale in Febrary, 2011.