Friday, January 27, 2012


This was another young adult (I'd place this in the 9-13 year old age range) title that made its way into my review pile.  Something about its description, and yes, its cover, kept tempting me.  

It centers around a group of young teens who are assigned to do a historical art project.  Two of the class pick the same Renaissance artist, il Corvo,  and are studying his work at Blackhope Tower when the adventure begins.  The heroine's step-brother accidentally finds the secret to the labyrinth mosaic and ends up inside the painting.  Sunni goes in after him, along with her classmate, followed closely by an art historian.  The group encounters enchanted mazes, hidden layers, puzzles, maps and coded languages.  They must find a way out of the painting, and protect il Corvo's secret.  

It's fairly adventurous, with plenty of captures and escapes.  But there is no gore or intense violence so it is still age appropriate.  The characters learn and discuss a great deal about art and therefore impart a great deal on to the reader.  One will learn about underpainting, sketches, murals, chiaroscuro, and other techniques. 

On the other hand, some of the "intrigue" is a bit convoluted.  Crosses, double-crossed, disappearances, etc. almost need a scorecard to keep track of, and some don't have a clear motive.  I wondered if it might be difficult for a young person to follow. 

It's certainly a much better book for young people to read than most of the vampire tripe out there.  At least with this title they can see characters which determination, spunk and intelligence. 

 Many thanks to the folks at Candlewick Press for the review copy.
ISBN-10 / ISBN-13: 0763656941 / 9780763656942
on sale date: 08/2011
type/format: Hard Cover
# of pages/size: 304 / 5 1/8" x 7 5/8"

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


I must say, I prefer biographies of this sort.  It's far too arrogant for a biographer to think they can just begin at the beginning and go from there.  Bakewell instead takes a more meaningful approach to a thinker, philosopher, and writer four-hundred years and a language removed.  She drops in, like a neighbor stops in for a chat.  Each chapter approaches the question (his won quest), "How to Live?"  with an answer buried in Montaigne's own writing.  Bakewell then expands up this idea by highlighting a trait or era in Montaigne's life.  

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne was born in 1533.  In 1570, he "dies" when thrown from a horse -- or so was thought.  He pulls through and the experience changes him forever.  He begins to look at life from outside of himself, and thus understand himself better.  His stream of consciousness essays are the earliest of their kind.  In French, the word essayer means "to try."  In each of his essays, Montaigne tried out different ideas, trains of thought.  

Montaigne's Chateau
Of course, it may not seem that difficult to be introspective with a house like that and an entire tower as a library.  But Montaigne was also a public servant and a working landowner.  It seems, based on his papers, he took his position in society very seriously and subscribed to noblese oblige.

This book is an excellent introduction to Montaigne, especially since his writings can be a bit overwhelming at first.  It should also be a boon for Monataigne enthusiasts.  Bakewell sheds light on this influential thinker, places him among the ranks of Aristotle, and Descartes, while at the same time humanizing him.  With this book, she proves that philosophy doesn't have to be boring, dusty or out of reach. 

Many thanks to the folks at Other Press for the review copy.

Released October 19, 2010 | Hardcover | 400 pages | ISBN: 978-1-59051-425-2

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

REVIEW: THE DOLL by Daphne du Maurier

The Lost Short Stories

These tales written very early in her career (1926-1932), long before Rebecca.  Some were published much later, some not at all.  It's fascinating to see the writer she would become taking shape in these early stories.  Sometimes they style is slightly more simplistic as though they were first drafts or rough sketches.  What always comes through, however, is her exploration of the human psyche -- both of her characters and the reader.  She reveals only just so much, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks.  But rest assured, we land just where du Maurier leads us.  Somehow we now the darkened path, the frightening staircase will lead us down but we can't stop reading.

du Maurier on the stairs of her beloved home, Menabilly
Another theme that du Maurier employs in her stories that transfers to the reader is a sense of emptiness. The Doll tracks the slow descent to madness through "found" pages of a diary.  A man chases an elusive woman, named Rebecca (naturally).  She is described as cold, heartless vacant.  To the narrator she is a doll.  Perfection is in construction but absent of feeling or soul.  But Rebecca's fickle nature drives the narrator mad.  And Now To God The Father displays her distinct distrust of organized religion.  Frustration reads like a novice's attempt at an O. Henry ironic fable.  Tame Cat is entirely unsettling just like we expect du Maurier should be.  By writing from the point-of-view of an incredibly naive narrator, the reader is able to withhold judgement until the awful truth cannot be denied.  Nothing Hurts For Long are the interior thoughts of a two-faced, fair weather "friend."  Weekend is bitingly realistic and darkly funny.  Within a few short pages, she has traced the evolution of a relationship, albeit cynically.

All of the stories poke at our idea of normal, challenging what is comfortable.  This is unsurprising, knowing the little we do about her unconventional upbringing.  Her grandfather was George du Maurier, author of the wildly popular Trilby.  Daphne was also cousin to the Llewelyn Davies boys, who ultimately inspired J. M. Barrie to write Peter Pan.  Psychologically unnerving and yet somehow of a parallel universe, The Doll will resonate with fans of Jamaica Inn, Don't Look Now (aka Not After Midnight), Rebecca, and The Scapegoat.  

Also read a great article in The Telegraph.

Many thanks to the folks at William Morrow / HarperCollins for the review copy.

ISBN: 9780062080349
Imprint: William Morrow Paperbacks
On Sale: 11/22/2011
Format: Trade PB
Trimsize: 5 5/16 x 8
Pages: 224; $14.99
Ages: 18 and Up

Friday, January 6, 2012


Set in 1950s rural Indiana, this debut novel is told from the first-person by Callie Anne, primarily in flash back.  Now an adult, she is drawn back to the summer she turned 11.  Her memories are recalled in the mindset of a child who now has an adult perspective.  

Her father is the manager and projectionist at the drive-in theatre -- king of his small, dusty domain.  Her mother is a agoraphobic, but determined homemaker.  Their predictable if dreary lives are turned upside down when Memphis is hired to help at the theatre.  Officially, he is there to do odd jobs like repair the concessions stand and repaint outbuildings.  Unofficially, he befriends Callie and her mother.  It quickly becomes clear to him that their living situation is an abusive and repressive one and he vows to help them escape.  

One thing Reynolds is very adept at conveying is a complicated relationship.  Callie Anne, still a young girl, looks up to her father, despite his temper.  The two spend hours in the projection booth, watching reels and reciting lines from their favorite movies.  Yet she finds his tyranny stifling.  Callie Anne is as much of a parent to her mother as her mother is to her.  She keeps a lid on things, for the most part, and does all the things in the outside world that her mother can't.  Memphis complicates this balance, but there is no going back once he and her mother fall in love. And despite his horrid actions, the reader can't help but feel sympathetic towards Callie Anne's father.  He is losing his family.

At the outset, the story reminded me a bit of To Kill A Mockingbird.  A youthful narrator making observations on her own past from a more mature perspective.  A rural setting.  Complicated families.   But about halfway in, it devolved into a soap opera.  Situations become repetitive, until all that's left is "will they or won't they?".  Those who like coming-of-age stories with a gossipy edge should read The Starlite Drive-In.

Many thanks to the folks at HarperCollins for the review copy.
ISBN: 9780062092649; ISBN10: 0062092642; Imprint: William Morrow Paperbacks ; On Sale: 11/22/2011; Format: Trade PB; Trimsize: 5 5/16 x 8; Pages: 336; $14.99; Ages: 18 and Up; BISAC1:FIC000000; BISAC2:FIC022000

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


With illustrations by Ian Schoenherr

Normally I don't read young adult books for review.  I think this is due mostly to the fact that I never really read them when I was a young adult.  I sort of skipped that and went straight on to adult titles (The most notable exception being the wonderful stories of John Bellairs). That, and I suppose I am so buried under books written for adults that to expand genres would only complicate matters.  But something about the descriptions drew me to The Apothecary and I wasn't disappointed.  

The young heroine is a smart and insightful, but terribly self-conscious fourteen year-old girl.  Already struggling (like anyone) to make the awkward transition from kid to teenager in a sunshiny, idyllic Los Angeles of the early 1950s, she is forced to uproot and move to London.  Her parents, successful television writers in Hollywood, are under surveillance by HUAC.  Rather than  fight a losing battle against unfounded suspicion, they decide to take jobs writing for the BBC.  

Just one of the gorgeous illustrations by Ian Schoenherr

Dropped in the midst of postwar London, without a friend or a clue, Janie Scott becomes immersed in a strange and magical world.  She befriends the son of the local apothecary (the pharmacist, in American) and discovers that the shop dispenses more than the usual remedies.  They are charged with keeping safe an ancient book with recipes and must keep it from falling into the wrong hands. 

Janie's adventure is great fun.  And like any true young adult book ought, not everything turns out perfectly.  Having just been to London myself this past summer, I especially enjoyed seeing the city through the eyes of another who also felt wonder and overwhelmed at every turn.  

I was incredibly thrilled that the Chelsea Physic Garden figures into the story.  It might have been my favorite stop in London; I didn't want to leave.  It's truly an oasis in the middle of the city, and  is a very impressive garden in its own right.  

One of my MANY photos from the Chelsea Physic Garden
All to often books talk down to young readers.  Not so here.  The book is well written and moves right along.  It's adventurous and imaginative.  Despite its young tone, I was never bored.  I can highly recommend it for young ladies with a particularly precocious spirit.  

A great many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.  

ISBN 9780399256271 | 368 pages | 04 Oct 2011
Putnam Juvenile | 9.25 x 6.25in | 10 - AND UP years

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Last year, the only challenge I entered myself in was a goal of 50 books, tracked by Goodreads. I hit my goal, but this year I wanted to mix things up a little and give some props to other book bloggers.  I found a great list of options at Novel Challenges. It's searchable by keyword and by year. 

Clocks, Cogs and Mechanisms Reading Challenge 2012

Focusing on Steampunk titles, including classics like HG Wells as well as newer graphic novels.  Levels are cleverly named Brass Gears, Flight goggles, Button-up boots and Clockwork Corset.

Merely Mystery Reading Challenge 2012
This challenge breaks down mysteries into sub-genres and the readers are encouraged to choose titles from the various types.  Choose from The Whodunit, Locked Room Mystery, Cozy, Hard-Boiled/Noir, The Inverted Detective Story, The Historical Whodunnit, The Police Procedural, The Professional Thriller, The Spy Novel, Caper Stories, The Psychological Suspense, Spoofs and Parodies.  And this one has a prize!

Victorian Challenge 2012
So this might not be much of a challenge since I read a great deal of Victorian literature already, but it will help me focus on some authors and works I have yet to delve into.  This one works more like a book club, setting authors in advance. January: The Bronte Sisters, February: Charles Dickens, March: Robert Louis Stevenson, April: Emily Dickinson, May: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, June: George Eliot, July: Oscar Wilde, August: Anthony Trollope, September: Elizabeth Gaskell, October: Mark Twain, November: Lewis Carroll, December: Louisa May Alcott.

Tea & Books Reading Challenge
From the site: This challenge was inspired by C.S. Lewis' famous words, "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."  You better settle in with a large cup of tea, because in this challenge you will only get to read books with more than 700 pages.
I've only committed to two, making me a "Chamomile Lover."

What will you read this year?

Happy New Year!

Wishing you mischief and merriment as you ring in the new year.
May 2012 be filled with literary wonder and delight!