24 September 2010

Anna and the French Kiss; Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French KissAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In some ways, the title could be a double entendre: there's Anna becoming comfortable in Paris, and Anna's first real kiss. This is for the Sarah Dessen crowd, which is nice because fans of this genre are always looking for new authors and romances.

Anna's the child of divorced parents; since the divorce, her father's become what seems to be a Nicholas Sparks-like author and his books not only sell millions of print copies they also sell at the box office. She's about to be a senior in high school, with a crush on Toph and a BFF (Bridge) to enjoy all those senior moments with... until her father decides to pack her off to the School of Americans in Paris (SOAP). Not quiet what Anna had in mind.

She arrives and immediately has problems: she doesn't speak the language, she's lonely, and she misses Bridge and Toph. Lucky for her, she lives next door to Mer, who introduces her to Josh, Rashmi and - most importantly - Etienne St. Cloud. Since SOAP's a small school, they spend a lot of time together and slowly Anna becomes comfortable with French, with life in Paris, and with her life away from her BFF. Even more slowly, she becomes friends with... and then possibly more than friends... with St. Cloud (who, of course, has a girlfriend). It all comes to a head during the Christmas Break, when Anna returns home for the vacation.

While the setting may be exotic, the story of a girl moving away from the things with which she's comfortable and making a new life for herself is a familiar one. The romance feels real, and you can understand Anna's changing feelings and confusion (and frustration) with her friends and St. Cloud.

ARC provided by publisher.

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21 September 2010

The Replacement; Brenna Yovanoff

The ReplacementThe Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not a series! For that alone it deserves five stars... but wait - there's more.

This is a dark story, about the town of Gentry and the, well, I don't know what to call them but they're dead and live underground and Gentry pays tribute to them. The tribute can be in the form of love and devotion, or in the form of sacrifice (and usually little babies, at that).

Mackie is one of the replacement children, a thing left in place of the real Malcolm Doyle. Usually these replacements die relatively soon, but for some reason, Mackie's made it through to high school. He is dying, because he's allergic to iron and blood and a host of other things make him ill, but he's dying a whole lot older than the other replacements. Despite being very different, he has friends and quite possibly a girlfriend.

I liked that he's presented as being as normal as you can be, under the circumstances. He knows he's not really human, but he's going to be human for as long as he can be. His family's complicit in this, helping him find ways to fit in despite the differences. The relationships he has with his friends and with Alice and Tate are presented as real, not as inhuman-posing-as-human.

Then there's the Morrigan, the Lady, the Cutter, the dead ghoul-girls and that whole plot. It's darker than most fantasy books these days, without the flickers of funny that many seem to have (as though to say "see, I'm not that bad!"). Mackie's final choice makes sense, given what he's been through, rather than appearing to be too heroic or predestined.

This isn't an easy fantasy book, or horror book, or whatever genre "they" put it in to. It's dark, and not in a seductive way. I think it will appeal to both male and female readers because of that.

ARC provided by publisher.

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19 September 2010

Jane; April Lindner

JaneJane by April Lindner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I admit I'm not a huge Jane Eyre fan (much prefer Wuthering Heights, and apparently the world is made up of those that like one and don't like the other, so there you have it). But this modernization of the story was really enjoyable, despite being quite predictable.

I have a feeling that people will say "no one could be as naive as Jane", but my cousin is one of those people who has no idea who anyone in Popular Culture is - that part of Jane could have been based on her. The rest of her personality, consistently self-describing herself as drab and incredibly self-effacing might be seen as shy, with a strong dose of 'been put down since childhood'. I don't remember the child the original Jane sat for, and Maddy here is almost a footnote; I kept wanting more of her and Jane, or her and Nico. Nico is stereotypically drawn, but his entourage has some interesting (if fleetingly met) people in it.

Of course, the the book reads like a Harlequin novel (naive nanny falls in love with wild master of the house, things go wrong, she runs away, she comes back having realized she can't live without him) but that's part of the timelessness of the original book: Charlotte Bronte wrote a classic romance.

In the author's notes she says that she hopes this book brings readers back to the original. It should, if it isn't on the curriculum already (it was at my former school).

ARC provided by publisher.

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18 September 2010

Glee: the beginning

The Beginning (Glee, #1)The Beginning by Sophia Lowell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My first tv-novel was a Partridge Family book, so it seems appropriate to be reading one about Glee. The problem is that I'm not a huge Gleek - am I the only one that finds Rachel's facial expression when she sings annoying?

ANYway, this takes us to the start of the year, when Rachel first joins Glee Club; it's only got four members and an absentee advisor/coach, but she's sure she can make something of it. There are predictable run-ins with the Cheerios, and we see the start of her relationship with Finn (not to mention the Quinn/Puck "romance").

Because this is based on the tv series, some of the book seems forced. The descriptions of the characters are a little heavy, probably because you have to be able to really place the person you see on screen into the plot of the book. And, of course, it lacks the musical numbers (they are alluded to), which are the parts that most people like about the show. Will readers respond because of that lack?

Copy provided by publisher.

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Mad World; Paula Byrne

Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of BridesheadMad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by Paula Byrne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not a biography in the sense one might think - it's not about one person, it's about a man's relationship to a family and the book that they inspired him to write. If you watched the original Grenada adaptation of Brideshead Revisited (and please, ignore the more recent movie) and wanted to know how Evelyn Waugh came up with the story, well, this book is for you.

Waugh's background is not Etonian, not artistocratic (although it's certainly more upper middle class than seriously middle class), and there's little in the book about his early years. There is some discussion of his life at home, his distance from his parents and older brother (Alec, the author, for those wondering) and then we're off to the world of public school and Oxford. His background is mostly used to compare it to that of Hugh Lygon, the role model for Sebastian Flyte.

Like Anthony Powell, Waugh seemed to know a great many people from all different walks of life - Randolph Churchill and Nancy Mitford, to name two. His association with the Bright Young Things and the between war eras seems so different from the world we now have, and this book brings that to life rather well.

When the lives of the Lygons and Waugh intersect, at "Mad", the book really comes alive. I found myself being reminded of scenes from Brideshead (both book and adaptation), as well as other depictions of that era in England, like Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time. After Brideshead is published, the book gets a little abrupt: according to the author, Waugh's life changed dramatically after the war. It would have been interesting to read about the Lygon sister's impressions of the adaptation, but I suppose that can be found in their papers (if it's there at all).

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09 September 2010

Provenance; Laney Salisbury

Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern ArtProvenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art by Laney Salisbury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can see why this book was chosen by RUSA as one of the Notable Books of 2009! The story of John Drewe's con game (hiring a painter to forge works by famous painters, and then forging the provenance for those paintings) is fascinating, even if you don't know much about the world of art.

Drewe is clearly a pathological liar, and while it's interesting reading about his scam and his attempts to wiggle out of getting caught, it's the others tangled in his web that make this book so readable. John Myatt's journey from depths of despair to thrill that his work is appreciated to fear of being found out to self-loathing and back to self-respect is so well-portrayed that at times I felt I was taking the journey with him. I felt Lisa Ann Palmer's frustration and concern about the validity and accuracy of the Giacometti archives. And when Daniel Stokes realized how betrayed he'd been by his childhood friend, I felt sorry for him.

Usually I don't have that depth of connection with "characters" in non-fiction, but the author's writing isn't as detached as one usually finds in accounts of real-life crimes.

Copy provided by publisher.

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04 September 2010

The Demon's Parchment; Jeri Westerson

The Demon's Parchment: A Medieval Noir (The Crispin Guest Novels)The Demon's Parchment: A Medieval Noir by Jeri Westerson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical mysteries are always difficult - there's that fine balance between explanation of whatever time period we're in and moving the plot forward. In this case, there's a good balance mainly because there's an author's note at the end, so precious plot time isn't given over to too much "here's who and here's why" stuff.

Crispin's life in the Shambles is rough, but you have to give a former knight credit for his ability to live in such reduced circumstances. He's blessed with a sharp brain, although he often falls back into a rut created by his (former) class and the times in which he lives. The sodomy/murder of several boys truly horrifies him, and he's even willing to risk his life getting into the Palace to hunt for clues and question witnesses.

What we 21st century readers will be struck by is the incredible anti-semitism and talk of the Jew's blood libel. It's casual and pervasive, and not a little shocking. Crispin's realization that the Jews are perhaps not as guilty as they're accused of being, or as devious, comes a bit quickly in the book (but then, lust can change people's minds, can't it?). It's also interesting how accepted the astrologer is, along with the other superstitious beliefs. Additionally, Crispin seems to be an almost modern man, with his acceptance of John Ryneker's lifestyle - it sometimes felt that the author wants readers to feel closer to him than they might if he shared the prejudices of his era.

ARC provided by publisher.

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