Category Archives: Fiction

The Doll People (Ann M. Martin) – Review

The doll peopleThe Doll People by Ann M. Martin & Laura Goodwin
Illustrated by Brian Selznick
Age: 9+
Genre: Fiction
Source: Library
Publisher: Hyperion, 2000
ISBN 9780786803613 / 256 pages
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Forty-five years ago, the Doll family lost their beloved Aunt Sarah from their humble dollhouse home. After finding her Aunt Sarah’s journal stashed in the library bookshelves, Annabelle Doll takes it upon herself to venture out of the house and look for her aunt. On one of her explorations, she meets a new set of dolls and befriend Tiffany. With a new friend and a new burst of courage, Annabelle and Tiffany venture into the world of the living humans to look for their missing relative.

There are number of elements in this book that make it fantastic.

1. Illustrations by Brian Selznick. The author and illustrator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret does a fantastic job bringing the doll families to life in this book. He pencil illustrations are amazing, depicting the smallest flecks of emotion in the doll’s faces.

2. Ann M. Martin. The author of the Babysitter’s Club teams up with author Laura Goodwin to write the first in a trilogy about the Doll family. This book is imaginative, funny and well paced. Annabelle’s family is from the Victorian era, made of porcelain and passed down from generation to generation. Tiffany’s family is new, plastic and perfect for the rough hands of a playful 5-year-old younger sister. The contrast between old and new, traditional v. modern is well examined through the friendship of Annabelle and Tiffany.

3. Living Dolls. Lives in Dollhouses. I LOVE, LOVE this genre in children’s fiction. This book is a perfect for fans of the following:

  • The Indian in the Cupboard series (Lynne Reid Banks)
  • The Castle in the Attic  (Elizabeth Winthrop)
  • Toy Story (the movies)
  • Time Windows (Kathryn Reiss)

The storyline is simple to follow, adventurous and the conversations feel true to the ages of the characters. Parents can enjoy this book and also use it as an opportunity to share stories from their childhood, or pass along toys from their childhood. 

Adverbs (Daniel Handler) – Review

AdverbsAdverbs by Daniel Handler
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2006
ISBN: 9780060724429 / 272 pages

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This book is nearly impossible to summarize, but I’m going to try:

A bunch of people talk about love and birds, specifically magpies, and act like real selfish idiots trying to figure out what love really is.

Well…its not a perfect summary, but its the best that I can do. I was really disappointed with this collection by Daniel Handler. I love The Series of Unfortunate Events and The Basic Eight, but this book just seemed to lack the je ne se quoi  of the previous works. This is definitely not a cohesive novel. There is no intro, conflict, climax, resolution. Its more like a collection of vignettes with overlapping characters and themes.  Although I never grew attached or liked any of the characters so I didn’t recognize them when they popped up 3 stories down the line.

Quirks:

  • Handler doesn’t actually use many adverbs in the book except for the chapter titles & for one character towards the end.
  • 36 mentions of Magpies + 67 mentions of birds + 13 mentions of misc birds =  136 mentions of aviary creatures in 17 chapters. I should have kept a count of how many times love and the volcano beneath San Francisco were also mentioned because those were the four frequent concepts in all of the stories.

Handler’s writing is somewhat disjointed. It’s very “hip” and somewhat pretentious. I think I actually reacted to this book the same way I reacted to Franny and Zooey (which was not a good reaction). The writing felt smug, it didn’t feel forced, but it didn’t feel natural either. There was just something off about this novel. Its like there was a volcano underneath this novel causing a sense of urgency where there shouldn’t be one.

I did grow to enjoy the book towards the middle. Some of the chapters I really enjoyed were: Immediately, Frigidly, and Naturally. When I finished, I felt unsatisfied. I feel like this book deserves a re-read in the hopes that I may like it more not expecting a typical story progression.

Eight Keys (Suzanne LaFleur) – Review

Eight keysEight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Age: Tween (9 and up)
Genre: Realistic Fiction, school drama
Source: Library
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books, 2011
ISBN: 9780385740302
216 pages

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Elise’s mother died when Elise was born during a complicated pregnancy. Elise’s father died shortly afterwards after a fight with cancer. Up until her 12th birthday, Elise had received a letter each year on her birthday that her father had written before his death.  When entering into 6th grade, Elise hits a rough patch.  She’s constantly behind in school, her locker partner is mean to her everyday, and Elise’s relationship with her best friend from childhood is on thin ice. Throughout the course of the first term of school, Elise stumbles upon eight keys left for her by her deceased father. Each key unlocks rooms and family histories that she had nearly forgotten.

The whole letters-from-beyond really seems to be a theme in books. There was PS I Love You by Cecila Ahern that may have started the whole thing. I know 13 Letters follows the same concept. This book though, is a little different.

The story is really sweet and I think girls entering the dreaded tween years will really relate to Elise. I like how delicately Lafleur touches on the bullying issue in the book. It’s very subtle, but also says a lot about the culture clashes in schools that most adults just don’t see. Every morning, Amanda smashes Elise’s lunch under a pile of textbooks. Amanda calls Elise names, and even once smashed the locker door on Elise’s fingers. Trying to cope with the large amount of school work, and Amanda’s bullying is a lot for Elise to handle. She takes out her frustration on her friendship with Franklin, putting a strain on their friendship for the first 3 months of the school year.

The messages and the rooms in the attic left by Elise’s dad are very sweet concepts. I won’t disclose the contents, but each room was just the thing Elise needed to help her figure out who is she, and what she wants to be. Each inspirational message left behind from her dad related to one of Elise’s problems in school, and helped guide her towards the right, although sometimes wrong, way of handling the situations.

I liked the supporting characters in the book as well. Although Franklin just seemed really young for his character. He acted more like a little kid constantly craving sweets that his mother won’t allow. Caroline is a great character too, very much a role model and support system that Elise needed to get through school.

I also really like that Elise isn’t the shy bookworm getting picked on at school. That seems too easy sometimes. Elise doesn’t read for fun, isn’t good at school, and just doesn’t know what to do with herself. She’s at a cross-roads for the majority of the book in terms of her interests and hobbies. I think it makes her much more approachable to reluctant readers.

The Mother-Daughter Book Club (Heather Vogel Frederick) – Review

The Mother-Daughter Book ClubThe Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick
Age: tween (9-12)
Genre: Fiction / realistic drama
Source: Library
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2007
ISBN 9780689864124 / 245 pages

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Four girls with seemingly nothing in common are drafted to join a mother-daughter book club in their small community in Concord, Mass. Spanning the course of a year, the girls read Little Women because the author was born and raised in their hometown. Along the way, the girls forge new friendships, rekindle old, forgotten friendships, and learn to live a little more bravely each day.

Each chapter is told through the perspective of one of the four girls: Emma (the librarian’s overweight daughter), Jess (Emma’s best friend, shy, but musically talented), Megan (formerly best friends with Emma, left to join the popular girls at school) and Cassidy (the tomboy daughter of a formerly famous supermodel).

Although many of the experiences the girls face are realistic, in regards to bullying, crushes, and body image issues, etc. I did find it sort of unrealistic that one mothers is a former world-famous supermodel, while the other is now a famous celebrity on a soap opera, Heartbeats. It felt like there were too many big personalities for such a small town. 

I also thought the end was really sugary-sweet with the happy endings. Cavity inducing sugary-sweet. To be fair, only the last couple chapters of the book were that sweet. The girls, their experiences, and the parental interactions all felt very realistic, and approachable.

The writing style reminded me a lot of the Babysitter’s Club and Ann M. Martin’s creation of a small town in New England. There are currently four books in the Mother-Daughter Book Club series, each book focusing on a different classic. The sequel to this one has the girls reading Anne of Green Gables.

I think this book is a great vehicle for steering young readers towards the classics. In this book, each of the four girls could see themselves as one of the March girls, and would implement the personalities of the March sisters into their everyday lives. Jo was the biggest source of inspiration for all the girls. 

I can see a lot of potential for a book like this. This can be read alongside the classics it discusses and parents can start their own mother-daughter book clubs or reading clubs.

Death by Cashmere (Sally Goldenbaum) – Review

Death by cashmere : a seaside knitters mysteryDeath by Cashmere (A Seaside Knitters Mystery) by Sally Goldenbaum
Age: Adult
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Obsidian, 2008
ISBN: 9780451224712
297 pages
Source – Library
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Izzy, a young woman who owns the knitting shop in the New England coastal town of Sea Harbor is shaken by the death of Angie, the young woman renting the upstairs apartment. Izzy and her close friends, the knitting circle, put their heads together to figure out who killed Angie and why.  They get more than they bargained for as the story progresses.

As far cosy/themed mysteries go, this one was pretty decent. I love Goldenbaum’s descriptions of the town, I could almost smell the ocean air. Also, the author’s love for knitting and needles crafts is evident as it was weaved throughout the novel. 

The story itself was interesting. Somewhere in the middle it just stalled,  like when the battery of your car dies and you can’t start the car. Scenes, descriptions and the people felt repetitive and the purple prose was a little on the heavy side. There wasn’t much character development, and most of the characters fell into the typical character stereotypes: The dashing young man; the dashing young man with anger management issues; the feisty older women; the feisty young women; the conservative ball-busting women climbing to the top of the political ladder; and the town cuckoo.

There were plenty of plot twists, and all my predictions of who the murderer was were wrong. All the clues were there in the book to piece it together though. It was a little awkward in how the sleuthing worked in this book. There wasn’t a single designated character who tried to solve the mystery. I think that helped create more of a “who did it” atmosphere, especially towards the end.

This book isn’t as formulaic as the typical cosy mysteries, and I might eventually read the other books in the Seaside Knitters Mysteries. If anything, it did make me wish I had my own weekly knitting group, and all the paragraphs on yarn did finally get me to start knitting again this winter.

In Search of Mockingbird (Loretta Ellsworth) – Review

In search of MockingbirdIn Search of Mockingbird by Loretta Ellsworth
Age: 11 – 14
Genre: Fiction / Coming of Age
Publisher: Henry Holt, 2007
ISBN 9780805072365
181 pages
Find this book at your local library 
 
 

On the eve of her 16th birthday, Erin has to deal with some serious changes in her life. Although her mother died when she was just two, Erin’s dad is finally ready to settle down and marry his girlfriend of three years. Despite Erin’s frustration with this news, she receives from her dad a worn copy of her mother’s diary. With only a lightly packed backpack, her mother’s diary and well-worn and loved copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, Erin sets off from Minnesota to Monroeville, Alabama with the hopes of meeting the reclusive author of the book that so strongly connects Erin to her mother, Harper Lee.

As a book for tweens/early teens, I really enjoyed this book. I think the cover will probably scare off potential readers, but hopefully they’ll be able to get past that. Erin does not fit in with her family. She has two athletic older brothers and her dad is dating a volleyball coach. All Erin wants to do is cuddle up somewhere cozy to read and write stories.

With a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird as her only link to her deceased mother, Erin is determined to meet Harper Lee, no matter what it takes. Along the way, Erin meets a series of characters that help her turn the long bus ride into  more of an internal and emotional journey.

Despite the neatly wrapped up ending, I think this is a great book for kids, as well as fans of To Kill A Mockingbird. There are many references made to the book and its characters. Erin is often comparing herself to Scout and trying to decide how Scout would handle a situation. I think teachers could push this title as a great supplemental read when reading Harper Lee’s classic.

The book is short, only a light 181 pages, so it doesn’t require much committment. Its set in the 80s, and Ellsworth did a great job of keeping the historical references accurate. The book focuses a lot on loss and forgiveness, with fellow passengers sharing their stories and experiences with Erin. Most of the book takes place on the bus from Minnesota to Alabama. Ellsworth did a fantastic job of describing the dull, depressing atmosphere of bus depots as well as the exhaustion from travelling for 12+ hours.

Reading this book really just made me want to reread To Kill A Mockingbird. I haven’t read that book in well over a dozen years, and I think I saw the movie farther back than I read the book. It is a story I always think about though. Atticus Finch is the personification of honesty, integrity and dignity in my mind.

The Apothecary (Maile Meloy) – Review

The apothecaryThe Apothecary by Maile Meloy
Age: 12 & Up
Genre: Historical Fantasy-Fiction
Publisher: GP Putnam & Sons, 2011
ISBN 9780399256271
353 pages

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A mysterious apothecary. A magic book. A missing scientist. An impossible plan.

So begins the hook that first put this book on my radar. The Apothecary is about a Janie Scott, a typical 14-year-old girl living in Los Angeles with parents that work for Hollywood in 1952. After being followed home by federal agents one day, Janie’s parents decide that its time for the family to pick up their bags and move to London to further evade government suspicions. Once there, Janie befriends Benjamin Burrows, the son of the local apothecary, and soon the pair go on a wild adventure to look for Benjamin’s missing father, putting together the pieces of a puzzle that spans the globe.

There are a number of elements in this book that will be attractive to the young readers. I’d say the age span of this book would be for kids 12 and up. There are a number of historical references in this book, the vocabulary and plot are complex, but not overly so. Its well-balanced between action, historical accuracy, and teen romance. Janie is the perfect heroine. She’s not perfect, she’s flawed, she’s gutsy, she’s shy, but she’s willing to leave anything open to possibilities.

I love the name Benjamin Burrows. If that’s not a secret agent type of name, I don’t know what is. Benjamin and Janie befriend Pip during a stint in juvenile prison. Pip is the pick-pocketing kid from your typical Dicken’s novel. He’s clever, he’s quirky and he makes for a fun and humorous counterpart to Ben and Janie’s seriousness.

I love that this book is set during the Cold War of the 1950s. That’s an era that isn’t much written about in children’s historical novels. Meloy did a fantastic job creating a setting that is dark and eerie, in a world that is full of suspicions and paranoia.

There were a few elements that I found lacking, but I’m wondering if it’s because  I read this book as an adult. I found the ending to be a little disappointing, particularly how things were left with Janie and her parents. I found that entire element to be unnecessary. I also felt that the bad guys were not evil enough. They just seemed so tame and reserved. The ultimate villain in any children’s book is Count Olaf, and author Lemony Snicket did set a rather high bar for adult cruelty in The Series of Unfortunate Events.

The Apothecary is Maile Meloy’s first novel for young readers, so I can only see her work for this age group improving. Her brother is Colin Meloy, author of Wildwood, which is also his first novel for young readers. I wonder how much the two collaborated and shared notes working on these two novels? I really enjoyed Wildwood, and had high hopes for The Apothecary.

Aftertaste (Meredith Mileti) – Review

Aftertaste : a novel in five coursesAftertaste: A Novel in 5 Courses by Meredith Mileti 
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction / Chick-lit
Publisher: Kensington
ISBN: 9780758259912
373 pages
Source: Publisher / LibraryThing Early Readers

Find this book at your local library 

Mira Rinaldi had it all as co-owner of the popular New York restaurant Grappa,  a spacious apartment, and brand new baby. In one night, she lost everything when she caught her husband having an affair with one of their employees. Between the anger management classes and divorce proceedings, Mira’s emotional outbursts set in motion her loss of her restaurant and her New York lifestyle. Somehow, Mira is left to pick up the pieces and find a new outlet for her passion for cooking and create a new life for herself outside of New York.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved the passages on food, and I thought Mira’s character was full of intricacies and emotional issues that didn’t make her just the victim or just the victor. The supporting staff of characters, although somewhat cliché and predictable, did a good job of balancing the crazy that engulfed Mira’s life after she found her husband cheating on her.

The book is divided into 5 sections, each named after an Italian course. One thing I noticed, and I actually sort of want to go back and do an actual count, is that it seemed like there was wine being drunk like it was water. I found it particularly odd that Mira consumed so much wine as she was still nursing baby Chloe. It felt the characters were drinking wine in nearly every chapter, whether with lunch, dinner, or a mid-night snack.

While I don’t think Mira made the best choices in the beginning of the novel, she does take accountability for her decisions and realizes the consequences of her actions. After moving back home to live with her dad, she is aware of how her behavior is hurting those around her, but is unable to stop it because she is so frustrated with her life.

The story is paced very well, its conversational, not rushed but didn’t drag either. This really gave the reader a chance to get to know the characters and see the character development in Mira. An added perk is that Mileti included a number of the recipes mentioned throughout the book.

This book would be a great read for book clubs because of the content, the recipes and the included discussion questions in the back of the book.

  Book 7

Falling Together (Marisa de los Santos) – Review

Falling togetherFalling Together by Marisa de los Santos
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Publisher
ISBN: 9780061670879
360 pages

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Pen, Cat and Will met on the first day of college and soon became an inseparable trio. Best friends through thick and thin through college. After parting ways in the aftermath of a major fight, Pen and Will each receive an uncharacteristically bland e-mail from Cat asking them to come to the college reunion. When Pen and Will arrive, they find out that there is more to Cat’s e-mail than they thought. Sent by Cat’s husband in hopes of finding out where Cat is, the three unlikely partners set off to find their best friend/wife all while working through the issues of the demise of their friendship.

The book is told mostly through flashbacks with Pen as the dominant focal point. Although I like the use of flashbacks to fill in gaps, I felt that this book was filled to the brim with them. The reasons that the three friends broke-up felt weak, nothing that should have sustained 6 years of silence between the three. I also felt that Pen was very emotionally unstable, but in a way easy to relate to. Having to learn to deal with the grief of her father passing away expectantly, I could readily relate to her. Granted, she is no Cornelia Brown. Maris de los Santos did a good job of creating characters that could be easily approachable by any reader. From emotional Pen, to free-wheeling Cat, and frat boy Jason. I’m not sure what 1-word descriptor to use for Will…any suggestions?

I read the book in one day, I wanted to know what was going to happen next. What was the next clue to finding Cat, would they find her, and where would they find her?

The romance set up in the beginning of the novel between two of the characters was pretty predictable, but in no way less enjoyable to see unfold. I did find that the progression of Pen and Will’s relationship to heavily mirror that of Cornelia Brown and Teo Sandoval from Love Walked In.  I found the ending of the book to be somewhat disappointing though. Mostly in regards to Cat’s character. So much of what we know about her is told through flashbacks, and nostalgic reminiscences for about 90% of the novel. Cat is made to seem larger than life (despite her physically small size). This fell flat for me towards the end of the novel. It felt as if the characters were too reliant on their own views of Cat to really see her for what she is.

There are elements in this book that make it a good read, but there are also elements of the book that make it frustrating and disappointing. Fans of Marisa de los Santos’ previous works, Love Walked In & Belong to Me, will appreciate her unique and wonderful writing style. The plot of the story was what bugged me the most, even though I kept reading to see what would happen next. The story felt unbelievable, although the characters felt real, if that makes any sense.

 

Uncommon Criminals (Ally Carter) – Review

Uncommon criminalsUncommon Criminals by Ally Carter
Age: YA
Genre: Heist / Fiction
Format: Audio CD
Brilliance Audio, 6 discs (6 hours: 47 minutes)
Hyperion, 2011

Find this book at your local library 

Fifteen year old Katerina Bishop and her crew are back in another high stakes heist adventure in this sequel to Heist Society. This time, its Katerina who has been conned into stealing a precious and rare gem, the reputed cursed Cleopatra emerald. Now, it’s up to Kat and her friends follow the Cleopatra gem around the world, and create a new set of rules in order to get the gem back to its rightful owner.

The sequel to the fantastically amusing Heist Society did not disappoint. This book maintained the same level of witty word-play and globe-trotting luxury, in a world where money is no object and high stake risks are a natural part of life. In this book, we see a lot of character development in Kat. The remaining colorful cast of characters are stationary, static in their same personas as the first novel. Its only in Kat where we really see a change of character. Kat is still clueless about boys, more focused on getting the job done, than about comforting friends and family. She is focused, naive, and highly innovative all at the same time. We see her let down her guard and really start to open up to her family and the idea of having a group of friends that she can trust.

I loved the story progression of this novel more than Heist Society. The twists and turns were equally unexpected, but much more intricate in this book. In this world. Kat and her crew got to invent their own rules, while breaking others, in order to get to the Cleopatra emerald. This book takes place not too long after Heist Society ended, so the characters are still the same ages. This series is fun, and witty. I enjoyed listening to it on audio, all because of Angela Dawe’s fantastic narration. Her accents are flawless, the characters are full of life. It really felt like I was listening to a movie in another room.

Again, I would recommend this for a family road trip, its age appropriate for pretty much all members of the family, although there is more development between the romance of Kat and Hale, but I would still give this book a G-rating.

Book 57 of 2011

READ-A-LIKES

Books like the Heist Society series:

book jacket book jacket book jacket book jacket

  1. The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
  2. The White Cat by Holly Black
  3. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
  4. Black Taxi by James Maloney

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