Monthly Archives: May 2014

Anna and the French Kiss

anna and the french kiss

I feel like Anna and the French Kissby Stephanie Perkins is one of those books which has been on my to-read list for ages, mostly because it shows up as “recommended” by various sources.  I wasn’t terribly interested initially, but figured I’d give it a go.

Anna has been shipped off to Paris, to spend her senior year in an American School in France.  This means leaving Atlanta, her home, and all she holds dear – her best friend, her crush, her mom and her little brother.  Sure, boarding school in Paris sounds like a dream come true for some, but Anna is reluctant (at least initially).  Then she meets some friends, including the handsome and charming Étienne St. Clair.  Too bad for Anna, Étienne already has a girlfriend.

What follows is a very teenage drama, filled with angst and too much crying. The book is mostly about navigating relationships (friends, crushes, and a little bit of family).  Coming from an adult perspective, I felt like the drama was over-exaggerated and much of it seemed silly and over-done.  Maybe it was less relatable for me because of my age, or maybe it was the buckets of tears (and the fact that I’ve never really been a fan of teen drama, even when I was a teen with drama).  I felt like the annoying romantic relationships overshadowed the friendships, particularly the friendships between the girls.  Since I’m a fan of strong female characters and role-models, this bothered me.  I just wanted to shake Anna and tell her that life does NOT revolve around boys.

On the plus side, I did love the descriptions of Paris, and it totally sparked my desire to head back over to France (especially since my one visit there was extremely brief and part of a tour).

Also on the plus side, although I felt there were a lot of failings (including my failure to resonate with this book), it wasn’t awful. I wouldn’t re-read it by any means, but if teen romance drama is what you’re looking for, this would be a sure bet.

3/5

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Princess of the Midnight Ball Series

I have been waiting and waiting to read this series by Jessica Day George and finally the books became available through the library.  The series consists of three books, and I will review all three in this post.  A caveat – I actually read the second and third book before I got to the first, since those were the order my holds came through, but since the first book (Princess of the Midnight Ball) is based on the Story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, it really wasn’t a mystery what had happened.

To the reviews!

First, Princess of the Midnight Ball.  This I read last but it goes first in the series so I will start with it.

Princess of the Midnight ball

This is the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, doomed to dance by the King Under Stone.  The twelve princesses are each named after flowers, and Rose is the oldest.  She must take on the mantle of responsibility, for their mother is long dead and the Princesses are cursed.  Every third night, the Princesses must descend through a magic door into the realm of King Under Stone and dance.  They dance through illness, exhaustion, and pain, for the deal their mother made with King Under Stone is binding and there are years of debt to repay. It soon becomes clear, however, that King Under Stone has plans for the girls, and hopes to trap them there forever.

Galen is a young soldier returning from the long and expensive war that killed his parents and his only sister.  He returns to the only family he has – an aunt and uncle in the city.  His uncle, who is the head gardener for the king, takes him on.  Working in the royal garden, Galen has a chance to meet the infamous princesses.  Despite his rough past, he has a kind heart and gentle soul and it pains him to see the girls (and Rose in particular) suffering.

After the king decrees a contest to see who can solve the mystery, Galen waits as princes come and go, unable to solve the curse.  He decides to break the curse, once and for all.  With the help of some common herbs, a mysterious invisibility cloak, and some wool, Galen may finally be able to free the princesses.

I have to say, this was my favourite of the three.  I had great respect for Galen, a soldier who did not let war coarsen his manners or his heart.  He was kind to strangers, listened to his elders, and felt no shame in knitting. I really enjoyed the manly knitting, actually, and thought it was a clever addition to the story.  He obviously liked Rose from the start, but his attempts to woo were subtle and sweet.

I loved Rose for her sense of duty.  She was in a tough spot, torn between responsibility, trying to protect her sisters, and a secret affection for a mere gardener.

It was a very traditional retelling of the tale, with only a few tweaks.  I really enjoyed the added background and context, including the difficulties with the church (who believed witchcraft was afoot) and politics (including the relations between neighboring countries, which became increasingly delicate as time passed).

I appreciate a tale that applauds characters who are clever and polite!

Princess of the Midnight Ball  = 4/5

On to number two: Princess of Glass

Continue reading

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Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty

curse of the thirteenth fey

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey: The True Tale of Sleeping Beauty, by Jane Yolen

Gorse is the thirteenth fey in her family, with twelve elder brother and sisters.  Her mother, the seventh of seven, and her aunts all expect great things from Gorse.  They think that she is the One from a prophesy.

Gorse is not what you’d expect for the “evil” fairy from the Sleeping Beauty tale.  In this twisted fairy tale, she is the heroine and Sleeping Beauty is the daughter of a petty, greedy king.  A girl who is selfish and unkind, and who represents the descent of the royal line into selfish and weak rulers.  Worse, the Family is bound to the land and must do the Bidding of the royal family.

The Family are Shouting Fey, and Gorse has never been formally trained.  At thirteen, the family is called to a royal Bidding, to bless the new princess.  Unfortunately for Gorse, things go wrong along the way.  At risk of bursting into a thousand stars for oath breaking, Gorse must find a way to escape her unexpected detour and make it to the royal Bidding on time and with the right gift. She meets some interesting characters along the way, and might just help out the Family after all.

I felt like this story started off quite strong, and I really liked Gorse and her family.  It was easy to picture the bickering and opinionated Aunts, and the rowdy bunch of cousins all playing together.

Unfortunately, I felt like the plot line fizzled out prematurely.  The story kind of tripped and fell flat on it’s face. The explanation of what Gorse DID exactly, and HOW left me skeptical.  That skepticism extended to the final lines … which I shall not discuss because spoilers (but suffice it to say, I was not entirely convinced).

3/5

 

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Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2)

Hollow City

Book number Two!  Hollow City by Ransom Riggs follows after Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  I usually try to re-read the first in a series before seeking out the sequel just to refresh the story in my mind, but I didn’t want to commit myself to purchasing either (since I didn’t LOVE the first) and both of course had long wait-lists at the library.  Luckily, it was pretty easy to pick up and remember what had happened in the first book – or at least get the important bits early on.

So Jacob Portman, who traveled to Wales in the first book in order to solve a family mystery, finds himself now in a race against time.  He and his peculiar friends must make it to London in order to save their beloved Miss Peregrine before it’s too late.  There are many obstacles and perils along the way, and the children must rely on their peculiar strengths along with a lot of luck in order to stay alive and fulfill their quest.  It’s still 1940’s Britain, and there is as much to fear from air-raids and bombs as there is from wights and hollowgast.

One of my complaints about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Childrenwas the lack of character development overall.  Hollow Citydoes a better job of bringing out Jacob and Emma and rounding them out more, but most of the other characters don’t show much growth or background.  Instead they seem to solidify in their archetypes.  Bronwyn is ever the strong girl, who protects the small and weak. Millard is the scholar, who provides a teaching voice and a source for background knowledge. Horace is the cowardly fortune-teller who is obsessed with his clothes. Olive is a light-headed little girl. Enoch is the sarcastic and seldom helpful boy who can re-animate the dead. Emma is the hot-tempered, assertive love interest.  As an aside, Emma is too fiery for me (excuse the pun) and her alarmingly quick temper isn’t endearing but annoying (in my opinion).  You meet a host of other characters, and the action sweeps the story up so quickly that there really isn’t much time for character development.

On the plus side, I think I liked Jacob more than I had previously – he is a great character and did change and grow and realize things about himself.  I also appreciated that he doesn’t see the world as black or white.  On the minus side, the romance plot line was pretty thin and not super believable.  I definitely got the sense that Jacob’s feeling’s for Emma’s were not reciprocated evenly.

I felt that there was much better integration of the random vintage photographs into the story, and they weaved more into the plot line.

The story is fast-paced and carries along with a lot of improbable coincidences, but it’s interesting overall.  If you’re looking for dimensional characters and personal growth, look elsewhere.  If you want lots of running and being chased, this would be a good book for you.  Overall, it was better than the first, and earns a 3.5/5 in my opinion.  Still not worth purchasing, but I don’t regret the read.

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Beyond Snapshots

Happy Victoria Day!  Because it’s the long weekend and I am just so excited about this book, you get a bonus post!  It’s definitely off my beaten path.  A non-fiction book? What??

I recently bought a DSLR – by far the fanciest camera I have ever owned.  I’ve always been interested in improving my photography / camera skills, but none of the terms or technical aspects have stuck in my head – until now.  Since purchasing my camera, I’ve taken out a bunch of photography books from the library and found them dry and unhelpful.  Then I stumbled across Beyond Snapshots by Rachel Devin & Peta Mazey (which I was drawn to by the cover) and I felt like a ray of enlightenment illuminated my life.

Beyond Snapshots

I loved this for many reasons, but primarily because it was very readable and it made sense.  Woo hoo!  I actually read through the whole thing (in previous guides I’ve tried, my eyes would glaze over after half a page and I would just flip through looking at the pictures and captions. Heh. Maybe that’s why I didn’t learn much from them).

This felt like a real-life guide, with helpful tips, easy-to-understand explanations and analogies, and lots of stunning pictures that are just the kind I want to be able to take myself.

5/5 for this guide!

Update:  You can also find these two through their website and blog: http://www.beyond-snapshots.com

I promptly called up a friend and we headed over to High Park to practice.  Unfortunately it ended up raining, so our session was cut short by the downpour. It was worth the straggly hair and wet arms (we shared an umbrella which clearly wasn’t big enough for two people haha).  After stopping off for snacks and drinks, the sun came out again!

Here are some unedited snapshots from our walk!

It's finally spring!

It’s finally spring!

I know it's overexposed, but I really like the airy effect

I know it’s overexposed, but I really like the airy effect

I love those reeds in the background!

I love those reeds in the background!

Cherry Blossoms - so pretty!

Cherry Blossoms – so pretty!

Lovely yellow bush

Lovely yellow bush

Lovely stone wall

Lovely stone wall

More cherry blossoms!

More cherry blossoms!

I LOVE David's Tea.  I am so addicted to "Pink Lemonade" - it's my current favourite!

I LOVE David’s Tea. I am so addicted to “Pink Lemonade” – it’s my current favourite!

It's Nancy Drew! You have no idea how excited I was about this sign haha

It’s Nancy Drew! You have no idea how excited I was about this sign haha

I love flowers. Can you tell?

I love flowers. Can you tell?

Trees in the sun

Trees in the sun

Sunny

Sunny

That’s all the patience I have for uploading photos for right now!

I welcome comments/critiques/suggestions for improvement!

Cheers!

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The Grand Sophy

The Grand Sophy

The Grand Sophy by Gorgette Heyer is not my usual Young Adult fiction read. I had a hankering for a humorous historical recency romance and that is exactly what I got!

When her father, Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy, travels to Brazil, Sophy invades her aunt’s house at Berkeley Square. Fresh from the Continent and an unusual upbringing, Miss Sophy seems cheerfully determined to set the somber Omsersley household – and the secret power behind it, Charles Rivenhall (the heir) – on it’s head.

The Ombersley family is in desperate need of Sophy’s intervention.  Lord Ombersley is useless, Charles is becoming tyrannical and is engaged to a grim and uptight fiancee, Cecelia is smitten with an unsuitable poet, and Hubert is stuck in dire financial straights. Who better to help than their dear cousin?

Sophy proves to have her father’s hand for diplomacy, a vibrant and cheerful disposition, and a knack for match-making and scheming.  Unconventional and blunt, Sophy is determined to set things right in the house in a manner only she is capable of. Socially savvy and smart, Sophy is a witty, charming heroine and I couldn’t help but cheer at her exploits and adventures.

This story fulfills my desires for a fun, clever female lead who knows how to tweak convention in the best ways.  I had two complaints.  One was an awful stereotypical description of a filthy criminal Jewish moneylender. (I got over that by pretending omitting the Jewish part in my head).  Two was the fact the cousin thing. (I got over that by accepting that inbreeding was a thing back then, as gross as that is).  Aside from that, I loved Sophy – she is so fun, lively, and full of mischief!  I love how she unabashedly takes the house by storm.

I also LOVE happy, feel-good endings.  Plus, the book is funny! I would very much recommend this book if you’re in the mood for a witty historical tale, vaguely reminiscent of  Pride and Prejudice (maybe just in era alone, as this has MUCH more fun and fluff and less social commentary).

5/5

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School of Charm

School of charm

I totally was drawn in to read this book by the cover – isn’t it just charming?  It looks so cozy and magical!  Lisa-Ann Scott has written a charming middle-grade tale of personal growth.

It’s 1977 and Chip (aka Brenda) has just moved to South Carolina with her Mama and two sisters, Charlene and Ruthie. They’re all moving in with their Grandma, after Chip’s daddy died in an accident.  Chip has always been a tomboy – someone who loves climbing trees, catching fish, and walking in the woods.  She was daddy’s girl, and misses him tremendously.  Things seem different in the South, as Mama and Chip’s sisters are caught up in preparing for a Beauty Pageant.  Chip doesn’t quite fit in – for one, she looks like her Daddy with his blonde hair and strong legs.  For another, she hates dresses and dolls and doesn’t have a talent.  But once she discovers Miss Vernie’s School of Charm, Chip decides that entering the pageant might be the key to fitting in and fixing her heart.

I love:

  • that Miss Vernie’s best advice is to be true to yourself, and that this also means discovering yourself.
  • that the other participants of Miss Vernie’s School of Charm are good reflections of other struggles (like Karen’s struggle with her weight, and Dana’s struggle to be proud of herself).
  • that the characters have depth and background – they are rounded.  Even Grandma, who at first seems all prickles and sour faces.
  • that the book promotes paying attention – and learning from the lessons life hands us!

This is a sweet story, and I totally felt for Chip and her struggles to find a place in her family and to reconcile the “new Brenda” with the “old Chip”.  I loved that the story was wrapped up with some follow-up, and that nothing was black and white.  I was the teensiest bit disappointed it wasn’t a school of magic (the word “charm” sure had my hopes up) – but in a way, I liked the way it revealed the magic of believing in yourself!

I would totally recommend this – even though it’s for younger audiences.   5/5

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Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

Pika (meaning girl), or “lass” (as she is known to her family), is the youngest of nine.  Her mother, who has no use for girls, didn’t bother to name her.  This, and a talent for understanding animals, sets Lass apart.

One day, an Isbjørn (ice bear – i.e. polar bear) seeks her out.  Assured by promises that she will not be harmed, and that her family will become rich if she agrees, the Lass consents to accompanying the bear to his castle, to live there for a year.  All she has to do is wait.

But the lass is a curious girl, and she is determined to find out what enchantments bind Isbjørn and his mysterious ice castle filled with strange servants and rooms of everyday objects.  Slowly she tries to decipher the strange symbols carved onto the pillars and doorways, and to unravel the mysteries of the palace and it’s inhabitants.

When her curiosity goes too far, the lass must undertake a lengthy journey to find the palace East of the sun and west of the moon.  There, she must find a way to free her prince before he is forced to marry the Troll princess and is lost to her forever.

Brilliant!! Jessica Day George keeps proving to me that she’s a fantastic teller of tales!  I loved this book – I loved it’s references to the tale of Cupid and Psyche (and it’s relations to “Beauty and the Beast”).   This book is apparently based on the Nordic legend East of the Sun, West of the Moon.  Although I hadn’t actually read or heard that legend before, it binds together many elements of tales that I am familiar with.

The lass is a strong female character. Her curiosity is totally understandable and justifiable.  Who wouldn’t be curious?  I like that she’s not passive or biddable.  I love that she can speak with animals, and has a kind heart. I would be just as curious if it was me!

I appreciated the secondary love story – that of Hans-Peter (elder brother to the lass) and his lost love, Tova.

I loved that the lass has a good, kind father who loves all his children

I also loved the descriptions of the Trolls, and their desire to be like humans (which was ultimately their downfall).

This was a clever book, neatly written and full of good feelings!

5/5

 

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The Clockwork Scarab (Stoker & Holmes #1)

The clockwork Scarab

Colleen Gleason has written a lovely late-Victorian era steampunk tale of mystery and adventure!

Mina Holmes, niece to the famous Sherlock Holmes, and Evaline Stoker, sister of Bram Stoker and descendant of a long line of vampire hunters, are both eager to live up to their respective family legacies.  Mina has inherited her uncle’s keen powers of observation and deduction, while Evaline has the supernatural strength, speed, and rapid healing ability bestowed by her Vampire-Hunting ancestry. When two society girls go missing, Evaline and Mina are called in to help investigate by Irene Adler, representing the crown.

Though Mina and Evaline don’t exactly hit it off, they must find a way to work together to solve both murder and mystery, starting with a strange clockwork scarab as the first clue.  The stakes are high and they are not the only ones following the trail.  The ladies must also deal with the strange and “foreign” Dylan Eckster, the intelligent and logical Inspector Grayling, and the mysterious and mischievous Pix. Can they solve the mystery and find the nefarious person behind it all – before it is too late?

I highly enjoyed this tale of 1889 London – a steam-powered place where electricity is outlawed and “sky-hooks” secure the towering buildings.

Mina is intelligent, logical, and secretly lacks confidence.  Since the departure of her mother, Mina has been largely unsupervised by her parents, which means few social functions and a lack of experience with both young men and parties. She’s tall but clumsy, and although she puts on a brave face, she hides behind her wit and intelligence.

Evaline took me longer to like.  Fierce and strong, she too is plagued by dwindling confidence and an inability to see blood without freezing up. She also puts up a brave front – it’s no wonder she and Mina don’t hit it off.  Beautiful and certainly no stranger to society, Evaline is more interested in dodging potential suitors and hunting the Undead during the night than in enjoying the company of the upper-crust.

Irene is working for the British Museum and apparently the Princess of Wales, and although she pushes the young heroines into action, she herself remains mostly in the background.  I, for one, have a few suspicions about her.

Then the young men!  First there is Dylan, who clearly comes from the future, however improbable that sounds. He’s a little ignorant of the expectations for gentlemen in London 1889, and mostly just wants to go home.  That won’t stop him from getting involved in solving the mystery or causing Mina to blush a lot.

Inspector Grayling is tall, Scottish, and rides around town on a brilliantly fast steam-powered contraption.  Investigating the deaths of several young women on behalf of Scotland Yard, Grayling is keenly intelligent and seems an excellent match for Mina’s mind. Grayling and his partner are not too pleased with Mina and Evaline barging in on the investigations.

Pix keeps running into Evaline – in all sorts of unlikely places. He seems to be able to fit in to all sorts of unexpected roles, much like a chameleon. With a cockney accent and a lot of swagger, he seems forward, frustrating, and unexpectedly chivalrous.

Solidly young-adult, this is a charming steampunk tale.  Better yet, it’s the first of a series!  The second book, The Spiritglass Charade, appears to be coming out … sometime this year?

4 / 5

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Keeping the Castle

Keeping the Castle

Althea Crawley is seventeen and determined to marry well.  She must, as she is the sole supporter of her entire family (i.e. her mother and brother; she has two step-sisters but they have their own fortunes which they will not share).  Althea, her family, and her step-sisters reside in a worn-down castle (built by their impulsive Grandfather) that is plagued by rickety furniture, rust, a leaking roof, and a host of other repairs. Perched on the edge of a cliff, it looks as if the whole thing could come tumbling down at any moment. Unfortunately, as Althea lives in out-of-the-way north England, there are few wealthy suitors to be found.  Nevertheless, she has her beauty as an advantage and her frank tongue as a deterrent.

Young, attractive, and to all appearances very rich Lord Boring arrives and opens up the playing field. Althea sets him in her sights – in fierce competition with her step-sisters, Charity and Prudence. Lord Boring brings with him a host of characters, including his cousin and friend Mr. Frederick, both their mothers, and a Marquis (who is a family friend as well).  The party is later joined by the Vincy family, where Miss Vincy is added to the playing field.

It’s a story of determined plans, match-making, and determination.

I did enjoy this book.  It nods to Pride and Prejudice in lively Althea and the whole marriage-hunting business (which is pretty much the whole plot).  It’s a shiny surface kind of book – one without layers or great feeling. Althea is clever in some ways, but extremely blind in others. If it wasn’t short, I think I would find the intrigues a little dull, or perhaps worn.

A tiny bit of spoilers:

okay ready?

It found it pretty predictable that Lord Boring was in fact pretty destitute and in need of a wealthy bride himself. Of course Mr. Frederick, who came over very disagreeable to start, would turn out to be not only extremely wealthy but also possessing of a fine character.  That plot thread was a parody of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, and unfortunately it was not as well executed.  You could believe that Althea and Mr. Frederick were falling for each other – mostly – but it was a scratchy kind of romance.

The only surprise was Miss Vincy, to be honest.

I’m painting a poor picture of the book, because even despite it’s faults I did enjoy it and would probably even read it again in the future. Which is why I’ll give it a 3.5/5 (which is bordering on a 4/5 when you consider rounding anyway).

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