In My Mailbox (3)

In My Maibox (or IMM) is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. It enables bloggers to mention the books they have acquired during the week. Read more about it HERE.

This week I received three digital ARC copies from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing through netgalley.com. Thank you to the publishers!

Digital ARC:

  • Lost Voices, by Sarah Porter (coming out July 2011)
  • The Betrayal of Maggie Blair, by Elizabeth Laird (coming out April 2011)
  • Always a Witch (Witch #2), by Carolyn MacCullough (coming out August 2011)
(look at these covers! It's all about blue this week)


Quick Review: The Mysterious Howling, by Maryrose Wood

The Mysterious Howling, the first book in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series is a fun little book, a delightful mix of Jane Eyre, Mary Poppins and Lemony Snicket.

Penelope Lemley, 15 years old and recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, has been assigned to Ashton Place, a grand house in the countryside, where she is to take care of three children as their governess. These siblings, two boys and one girl, are not in fact ordinary children. Found in the woods by Lord Ashton, they were, it seems, raised by wolves. Named Alexander, Beowulf and Casseopeia they hardly know a word of English, like to walk on all fours, howl as loud as they can, and get really excited if any squirrels come near them. Miss Lumley, aid by her knowledge and love of animals, set immmediately to teach them all she can. Until the Mistress of the house announces that the children shoul be ready to be presented at the grand Christmas party she is organizing, and Penelope fears that catastrophe will ensue.

The book is a quick and engaging read. Told by an omniscient narrator that talks directly to the reader, it recalls the work of Lemony Snicket, although less dark and more light-hearted. Penelope is an engaging character in all of her love of poetry, animals and good manners. Strong-willed and quite inventive she quickly gains the children to her side. The children themselves become fast likable and sweet, with all their howling, special language and love of storytelling. I especially like certain scenes during the Christmas party, that made me laugh. There seem to be more than one mystery surrounding Ashton Place, the children and Penelope herself that are only hinted at in this first book. There is also several commentaries on writing, social manners and expectation versus reality. I will definitely read the sequel, coming out next week on March 1st calle The Hidden Gallery.


Review: Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell

I had loved Karen Russell's collection of short stories (published in 2006) called St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, and had been waiting for something new from her since then. You can imagine my joy when I learned that she had a novel coming out this February (finally!) based on one of the stories in her collection called "Ava Wrestles the Alligator".  I must admit that I was a bit dissapointed because would have prefered she had based her novel on the title story of her collection, as it was my favourite. Nevertheless, the world of "Ava Wrestles the Alligator" seemed to hold much promises with its swampy Florida setting, alligator-wrestling family and ghost-dating sister. Ava sounded like a young little heroine that I would be glad to know more about and learned to love.

Swamplandia! tells the story of an alligator-wrestling family, the Bigtrees, living in a swamp on an island by teh coast of Florida. It follows the decline of their park as suddenly things start to fall apart and the world that they know does not make sense anymore. It especially focuses on the three children: Kiwi, Ossie and Ava. Kiwi, the oldest, decides to leave for the mainland. Bright and sharp, he dreams of one day going to university, but first he must learn to navigate the world he was never a part of, learn to fit in. Angry at his father he also has to figure out what he wants and what he loves and how to keep these things to drift apart in opposite directions. Ossie deals with loss and change much differently. Having read a book on spiritualism, she starts casting spells and communicating with ghosts, leaving on "dates" during the night, meeting boyfriends. As the days pass, she finds herself more and more involve with her ghostly boyfriend, until the day she decides to elope to the underworld. Ava is the alligator-wrestler of the three siblings, and the narrator. She holds fast to the knowledge passed down to her by her mother. She finds herself flundering, grasping at the remains of what her life used to be, dreaming of restoring the glory of their park Swamplandia!, hoping that things could be normal again, but knowing that they seem to be irrevocably changed. Until the dreadful day where her sister leaves, and she decides to go after her, to rescue her from the underworld and the ghosts that haunts her.

I liked Swamplandia! a lot. Karen Russell's prose is amazing, full of details and imageries that made the world of the novel sharp in its clarity. I thought it was a bit too long, though. I felt that, in parts, it was heavy and harder to get through. Like dredging through the swamps the characters inhabit.
I was also a bit dissapointed in the way it was told. One of the thing I had loved about Karen Russell's stories was that they had an aura of mystery. A dreamy-like substance, that even in the most banal and reality-bound passages, made the edges of the worlds they depicted blurry and enchanting. They let you sometimes unsure if things were dreams or reality or a mix of both. On the other hand, Swamplandia!, maybe because of its lenght, is stark, and real. Too real sometimes. It is full of pain and loss and hope and strenght, but it somehow never gave me that feeling of otherworldliness that I was expecting. In fact, it sometimes grabbed me by the throat with its clear edges and sharpness. Not to say it is a bad thing, on the contrary it was often so so beautiful, not just what I was expecting.

Kiwi was my favourite character. This seventeen years old boy, caught between being a boy and a man, between the life he wanted on the mainland and the life and people he loved he had left behind. A boy who learns new words everyday, but never really pronunces them correctly, who builds bridges made of pastas to accompany a three paragraphs essay homework. And also Ava, brave, strong, little Ava, who did wrestle an alligator, but not the kind I, or she, was expecting. I think this story will stay with me for a while, even if I was dissapointed and it was a bit too long and too sharp. There was a truth there that appealed to me even then.


Monday 10: Of Young Adult Dystopia

Monday 10 is a weekly post where I share a list of 10 bookish items based on a theme, subject, idea, fancy, etc.
Every reader and blogger is also invited to participate and make their own list. It doesn't have to have the same theme, it just needs to pertain to books!
If you do make your own list and post it to your blog, share the link in the comments. Or if you prefer write your own list in the comments!
Note: I put 3 asterisks beside the titles I have read and recommnend. Ihave not read all of the books I put in these lists, so be sure to check them all out!

Having just written the review for Bithmarked, I thought I would share other YA distopian books.

* 10 YA dystopian books or series (part 1) *
Happy Monday!

Review: Bithmarked, by Caragh M. O'Brien

I quite enjoy the afflux of distopian novels in young adult literature that has been happening these past few years and I've been trying to read as many as I can, or at least read about such novels, as there is something quite fascinating in the high interest and growing following these books garner within the teen community (as well as others, like me, who enjoy young adult literature). The first book I read in 2011 was such book: Birthmarked, by Caragh M. O'Brien.

Far in the furture, after extreme climate changes, society is now divided between those who live inside the wall, a rich, abundant and luxuriant city, and those who live outside the wall, like our heroine Gaia Stone, poor, often malnourish but hard working people. Gaia is a sixteen years old midwife, who has learned everything she knows from her mother. Every month she needs to "advanced" a quota of babies, to be taken into the Enclave (inside the wall) to be raised there by new parents. Things go well for Gaia, until one night where she witnesses the agonizing pain of a mother who refuses to let go of her baby, and where her parents are taken prisoners into the Enclave. Now alone, Gaia is determined to find her parents, and in the process is herself arrested and imprisoned. Gaia is then faced with difficult moral choices, and the even more difficult task of unraveling the layers of secrets of this cruel, well-organized society she inhabits.

The world of Bithmarked, with, at its core, problems and issues of fertility and genetics can easily remind the reader of such book as The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood or Children of Men, by P. D. James, but it also has its own  mythology, its own flavor that makes it different. Gaia, who was badly scarred on one side of her face in her childhood, is a strong-willed and stubborn heroine. She does not hesitate to take risks for what she thinks is the right things to do, no matter the consequences. She has complete faith in her ideals. Her scars prevents her from ever being "advanced", from being able to one day live in the Enclave, so she is totally devoted to her life and her people outside the wall, but even more to her work as a midwife. These scars also afford her a certain vulnerability, of feeling ugly or undesirable that teenage girls, especially, are able to identify with. Nevertheless, I feel it was never taken too far as to be self-pity or over dramatized. Gaia has also learned to live with these scars.

There is a love story in this book, as it seems is de rigueur for any YA book these days, and I must admit I am quite picky about those. I am very difficult to please in this matter, and more often than not, romantic relationships in YA novels make me want to roll my eyes, if not abandon a book althogether. I was then, pleasantly surprised to not have been bothered by the romance in Bithmarked so much. I even quite enjoyed it in parts. While I felt that the male character was interested in Gaia a bit too fast, and maybe a bit too conveniently as it was quite pivotal for the story later on, and that the romance teetered on overtaking the third part of the novel, it never quite did so. More importantly, it never took over Gaia. Too often in YA novels, our strong-willed, determined and independent heroines get taken over by the romance (or by quite creepy male love interests) and loose all of their interesting flavor. Not so in this book. I always felt that Gaia knew what she had to do and kept her eyes and mind focused on her goals even as her heart might have wanted to lead her astray. Her love interest also had a position of power over her, but she never quite let him overpower her as well, which made me want to cheer her on. So while some things bothered me about this aspect of the novel, I was quite pleased in how Caragh M. O'Brien handled this stapled of YA plot and storytelling.

Bithmarked was a quick read, often exciting and riveting to me, a great way to start the year. I am looking forward to its sequel Prized due out in November of this year.


In My Mailbox (2)

In My Maibox (or IMM) is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. It enables bloggers to mention the books they have acquired during the week. Read more about it HERE.

Here are some books I've bought from the local used book store in the last few weeks, but hadn't shared yet. I haven't read any of the yet either, but I just like having them around. It's comforting.

Bought (used):

  • A Room of One's Own, by Virginia Woolf
  • The Waves, by Virginia Woolf
  • Peaches, by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  • Black Thorn, White Rose, ed. by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
  • Snow White & Rose Red, by Patricia C. Wrede
  • Bluebeard's Egg, by Margaret Atwood
Bought (new):

  • The Girl With Glass Feet, by Ali shaw
  • Playing With the Grown-ups, by Sophie Dahl


Quick Review: Sirena, by Donna Jo Napoli

Another book inspired by Greek mythology. I just can't resist! This is the second book I read by Donna Jo Napoli, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In Napoli's novel, mermaids are not cruel creatures who take joy in leading sailors to their death with their enchanting and mesmerizing voices, but desperate creatures in need of being loved by a human. Sirena, the protagonist, and her sisters sing in hope that one day a man will love them and therefore make them as immortal as their cousins the nymphs. But when tragedy strikes, Sirena leaves her sister and decides to live on her own around the island of Lemnos, where she meets Philolectes, love and possibly happiness. That is until the prospect of the Trojan war falls upon them and threatens to ruined everything.

Sirena is a sweet love story. Written in a sparse and simple, often beautiful, prose it wraps several myths together to create a story of love and loss, but also of self-integrety. Sirena, contrary to Andersen's Little Mermaid, or Disney's Ariel, does not desire to be what she is not. She does not want to change, does not want to give parts of herself away in the hope that a human will love her. She wants to be loved exactly for who she is, and even when she has doubts and fears she always try to stay true to herself and what she believes in. She does not desire to be human, only to be loved by one. This aspect, more than anything else in the story, made me appreciate, and enjoy, Napoli's novel.


Review: The Iron Witch, by Kate Mahoney

When I first read the summary for The Iron Witch, I thought it sounded interesting and was intrigued by its promise of a mix between dark woodland fairies and alchemy. Then I read that the author actually got inspired by an article written by author Midori Snyder at the Endicott's Journal of Mythic Art about the fairytale "The Armless Maiden" and its different narratives called "The Armless Maiden and the Hero's Journey". That really got me excited. Anyone who knows, or refers to, the Endicott's Journal of Mythic Art deserves extra points for awesomeness in my book. Unfortunately, I must say, the awesomeness stopped there.

At age seven, Donna Underwood went through a nightmarish attack from the dark elves that killed her father and left her mother mad. It also left her almost fatally injured. Her survival was only due to the alchemical arts possessed by The Order of the Dragon's members to whom her parents belonged, which gave her iron and silver tattoos on her hands and arms. Now living with her aunt and ostracized from school the only thing helping Donna get through her days is her best friend Navin. But the dark elves are coming back into the city and are looking for something that she might possess ,and when they kidnap Navin, Donna will risk everything to get him back.

I am going to be honest here and say that I generally do not quite like YA paranormal books, with some exceptions, as I find that they often lack characterization, engaging writing (to me), and are too cliché when it comes to dealing with love stories and love triangles. I was hoping for this book to be different, but it wasn't. Not enough for me anyway.
Let me first start with what I like. I was genuinely intrigued by the world in The Iron Witch. I thought that the darker elves and the complex and mysterious (maybe even too mysterious as so many things are left open, probably to be revealed in the sequels) Order of the Dragon and its alchemical secrets, were a brilliant idea. That was for me the only thing that kept me reading.

The character of Donna had so much promise. She was strong-willed and loyal, and generally bright, but somehow fell flat. There were glimpses of her independent nature, especially in one of her journal entries, scattered through the book, where she rants about the patriarchal nature of The Order, and talks about wanting to study English and loving Daphne Du Maurier. I so wanted to know that girl, but instead I got a strong-willed girl who could never avoid blushing when her love interest brushed her waist with his arm, or was close to her in any way. Sure she felt silly, but seriously, nobody would blush and be embarrassed by these things when they are busy trying not to get killed. Speaking of love interests, the author gave us Xan. He is a nice older boy, who has secrets of his own (of course) but seems to care for Donna and at least doesn't feel the need to assert his masculinity over her. Unfortunately, he felt quite bland to me. While I am grateful that he is not one of those tortured, mysterious, dark but sensitive boys you sometimes (too often) see in those novels, he definitely lacked personality. But of course he is still gorgeous, with bright green eyes and nice abs. Donna and he liked each other way too fast, way too early in the book and I couldn't believe in them. At all. I caught myself rolling my eyes too often to ignore that fact. Navin was probably one of the most interesting characters in the book. While still possessing some sidekick clichéd characteristics, he at least was funny, loyal and more engaging than Xan and Donna. And bonus points for being a character of color. The three together are definitely reminiscent of the main characters in the John Hughes' movie Pretty in Pink. There could be a love triangle in the sequels. If that's the case, I hope Donna ends up with her best friend, even if he's not squared-jawed gorgeous.
There were other things that annoyed me like Donna taking three years to tell her secrets to her best friend, supposedly to protect him, then taking too many pages to tell him everything, and spilling the beans to Xan after only knowing him for two days. I couldn't wrap my head around it.

The plot was fast-paced and the book easy to read, but it was not redeemable for me. Donna's voice was not new or engaging, and the lack of characterization overshadowed the most interesting parts of the book that could have held my attention, and the love story took over any world-building elements that could have made me love this book.  For me anyway. If on the other hand you are a fan of these books in general, I believe you will like this one, as I think the premise is at least a bit new.


Monday 10: Of Cinderella

Monday 10 is a weekly post where I share a list of 10 bookish items based on a theme, subject, idea, fancy, etc.
Every reader and blogger is also invited to participate and make their own list. It doesn't have to have the same theme, it just needs to pertain to books!
If you do make your own list and post it to your blog, share the link in the comments. Or if you prefer write your own list in the comments!

Since I reviewed Ella Enchanted this week I thought I would make a list of other Cinderella retellings.

* 10 Retellings of Cinderella *

Happy Monday!


      In My Mailbox (1)

      In My Maibox (or IMM) is a weekly meme hosted by Kristi at The Story Siren. It enables bloggers to mention the books they have acquired during the week. Read more about it HERE.

      From the library:

      • River Secrets, by Shannon Hale
      • The Mysterious Howling, by Maryrose Wood
      • Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson
      • The Unusual Suspects (Sisters Grimm #2), by Michael Buckley
      • The Lost Garden, Helen Humphrey
      • The Year of Secret Assignments, Jaclyn Moriarty

      • Swamplandia!, by Karen Russell
      • The Iron Witch, by Karen Mahoney (Debut Novel)
      • The False Princess, by Eilis O'Neal (Debut Novel)

      Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

      I wanted to read this book from the moment I saw it on the shelves of the bookstore I worked at. With it's yellow cover and enticing black design, its promise of a tale about a non-corforming young girl at the turn of the (last) century, it had so many things to entice me. But like an idiot, I waited too long to buy it, then I spent a year overseas, and when I came back I couldn't find it at the bookstore. Fortunately, I read that the paperback was coming in January and as soon as it did, I grabbed a copy. I was not dissapointed.

      It is the summer of 1899 in the American south, and it is the summer that will change everything. Eleven years old Calpurnia Tate is the only girl in a family of six brothers, and generally left to her own device. When she observes, one bright day, that some grasshoppers are green and some yellow, she becomes intrigue and goes to her grandfather, a man that the siblings all generally avoid due to his sullenness and general lack of interest for anything outside of his studies of nature, and finds herself a young naturalist in the making. Calpurnia takes pleasure in spending her days observing the natural world around her and spending time with her grandfather, who seems more than willing now to share his knowledge with her. But it is also time, thinks her mother, for her to learn how to become a proper lady, a girl who, in a few years, will be introduce to society as a debutante. A girl who will marry and become a good wife. But Calpurnia doubts this is what she wants, even if she knows this is what is expected, this is what, more likely than not, will happen. What then of her dreams that she just only discovered she had?

      The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a wonderful book. Calpurnia is a spunky and curious and bright young heroine. Because her grandfather never treats her differently due to her gender, she has the chance to indulge in her curiosity, to grow as herself. The book is not only an exploration of the evolution of a young girl at the turn of the century, it is also a portrait of family life and expectations. It would be easy to think of Calpurnia's mother as a villain who doesn't care about her daughter's desires, but instead the family situations and the expectations of the time are carefully laid out and understood by Calpurnia even if she wants to rebel against them. There is strong love in the family. There are several comical, touching, heart-warming moments in this book, and each characters from the parents to the six brothers to the town photograph come easily to life. They feel real and it is easy to get attached to them.

      This book, even in its simplicity, really touched me. There was something in the plight of Calpurnia, in her keen-observant mind and quick tongue, in the love she has for her family and friends, in the friendship she has with her grandfather, and in her slow desperation at seeing herself trapped into roles she doesn't think she might be able to escape, that rang true to me. Maybe it's something that girls and women can understand, even if in this day in age we are less restricted than in 1899. There is this knowledge that it wasn't always so, that there are thousands of girls and women before us who didn't have this chance, just because they were of a different gender. And I found myself rooting for this girl, this strong little girl, that she might be one of the few to be able to elevate herself above these restrictions. There is something absolutely satisfying to me from reading stories like that, and Jacqueline Kelly painted an enticing portrait of a girl, a place and a time that resonated in me long after I turned the last page.


      Review: Prophecy of the Sisters, by Michelle Zink

      I was a bit reluctant to start this book as I was afraid it would be another YA paranormal book full of swooning heroines and love triangles (not my cup of tea), but it ended up not being exactly that.

      Prophecy of the Sisters is the first book in a trilogy of the same name (the second one, Guardian of the Gate is already out and the third one, Circle of Fire, is coming out this August). While it definitely had the making of a paranormal story, it is more a Gothic tale of Good versus Evil. Lia and Alice are twin sisters who are part of a prophecy as old as time. One is The Guardian, bound to keep the Lost Souls from crossing through our realm. One is The Gate, the one who will open the way for the Lost Souls, the demons, and eventually Samael, The Beast, who will bring forth the Apocalypse in its most Biblical grandeur. The two sisters will have to fight each other to finally end the prophecy once and for all, for Good or Evil. For that they need the Keys, and time is running short.

      I must say the book was rather slow, not really boring, but definitely not one that can stand on its own without its sequels. It clearly establishes everything, which is fascinating. There were lots of details and lots of layers to the prophecy whom the narrator, Lia, had to uncover. And we, as readers, were as ignorant as her. Her slow process was realistic, but could also drag a little, nevertheless I was fascinated. What can I say, I am a sucker for dark mythology and end-of-the-world prophecies. I found myself annoyed at times, mostly when the characters were trying to figure out the nature and place of the mystical Keys. It was obvious to me where and what they were and I grew a bit impatient with them, though it wasn't the characters' fault, it was a knowledge only acquired through reading too many fantasy books. Like the knowledge my mom has after reading and re-reading all of Agatha Christie's books and knowing who the murderer is before the end. If I were to read one (and when I do read one) I am lost until the end when everything is revealed. It would have been quite unrealistic for the characters to jump to the same conclusion as me so fast, but still I waited with impatience for them to realize what seemed to me to be obvious.

      Lia was a good character, although a bit soft and weak willed at first, but she slowly grew into her power which made her more interesting. I presume I will like her much more in the sequels. My favorite characters were her friends Luisa and Sonia, who were much more vivacious and energetic. Oh, and to be spared a mushy love story or love triangle! Bliss! Although I am sure one or the other or both will crop up in the sequels as they always do in YA novel with female protagonists, it was a breath of fresh air to not have it thrown at me from the start.

      Overall, I thought it was a great start, albeit a bit slow and dragging in places, but I expect that this is the kind of trilogy where things and events build slowly upon each other until the inevitable explosive finale. Although it may seem boring for some, I was still fascinated by the world of the Prophecy and will surely read the sequels.


      Quick Review: The Crow-Girl, by Bodil Bredsdorff

      I was scanning the children section at my local library and came upon this book. First the titled intrigued me, and than I picked it up solely based on the cover. All those soft tones, that slight breeze that seems to be coming gently from the sea, through the grass, and that lonely girl just staring at the horizon. It made me think that this story would be soft like a whisper, like feathers against my skin.And I wasn't completely wrong.

      The Crow-Girl is popular Danish children novelist Bodil Bredsdorff's first book to be translated in English. It tells the story of a small girl who lives in a small cottage by the sea with her aging, and dying, grandmother. She keeps the fire in the hearth going, she picks up driftwood and snails and kelp and mussels for their dinner. She takes care of things. When her grandmother dies, she sets out from the cottage to see what's beyond it, to meet people. 

      The Crow-Girl is a tale, told in a sparse prose, about family, the ones we are born in and and the ones we make for ourselves. That people can be hurt, or they can be hurtful, or both at the same time. But mostly it teaches us that joy can spring out of sorry and pain. It's a quick sweet read. I was left with small images of white cottages with smoking chimneys and sheep and the ocean coming and going, coming and going. It made me smile.


      Review: Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta

      I do not read a lot of YA contemporary. I’m not sure exactly why. I think it has to do with the fact that I just prefers fantasy books, or at least a little bit of magical in my stories. And I must admit that I probably have preconceived ideas about the genre (or maybe I was just unlucky), but it just always seemed to me that these books either contained way too much teenage romance, or way too much teenage angst for my taste.
      Fortunately, I sometimes make exceptions  and I’m sure glad I did for this book. Jellicoe Road, by Australian author Melina Marchetta, took me by surprise and, yes, occasionally took my breath away. Funny thing is that I actually had another of Marchetta’s book on my to-read list, a fantasy novel called Finnikin of the Rock, but I went for the contemporary novel first (mostly after reading Angie's - of Angieville - glowing review at the end of 2010). And I sure do not regret that decision.

      Jellicoe Road is mostly the story of Taylor Markham. At age eleven, Taylor was abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road. Now, a few years later, Taylor attends the Jellicoe boarding school in the Australian outback and is the reluctant leader of her House and of her school against the Cadets and the Townies, who spends every Fall trying to claim as much territory as they can.

      More importantly though, Taylor has Hannah. Hannah, who takes care of her since the day her mother left her, and when Hannah disappears, Taylor feels it’s time to unravels the past and find answers to the questions that inhabits her life. Interwoven with Taylors’s story is the story of five friends, linked together by love, tragedy and dreams.

      Jellicoe Road is first and foremost a book about friendship and the families we build for ourselves, not necessarily bound by blood, but bound by love and life. Taylor’s story takes us on a journey through pain and joy and forgiveness. It is full of longing. There are moments of pure happiness that made me laugh out loud and smile from ear to ear in my room, while others brought tears in my eyes and twisted my heart in my chest. Melina Marchetta’s prose is beautiful, but never overbearing, flowing from events to events. Her characters are well-rounded and I found that I could love all of them because they were strong and fragile and true and decidedly human. It would be a disservice to give too much away, but I highly recommend this book and I will definitely look up Marchetta’s other novels.


      Quick Review: Ella Enchanted & The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine

      I had never read any of Gail Carson Levine’s books until this January and I felt it was about time I did, seeing as I kept seeing her books, especially Ella Enchanted, cropping up in every lists pertaining to fairytales and fairytales retellings. 

      The only thing I knew about Ella enchanted was from the movie (of which I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I actually like in all its cheesiness and campiness). I had no idea the book would be so different, or I should say, that the movie was so different from its original source

      Cursed with the gift of obedience at birth by a quite stubborn and clueless fairy, Ella had always coped with her curse, until the day she found herself with two mean step-sisters and ordered to do something she could not bring herself to do. Fleeing, Ella embarks on a quest to find the fairy that bestowed her the “gift” of obedience to ask her to take it away. In the process she finds friends and a strength she didn’t know she had.
      Ella was a great heroine. Blessed with a knack for languages, she untangles herself from perilous situations with grace, wit and strength. I thought Ella Enchanted was a nice story, a great retelling of, probably, the most retold fairytale of all time. I read it in one evening and was delighted and amused.

      The Two Princesses of Bamarre tells the story of two sisters who are different in all aspects except for the undying love the hold for one another. Princess Meryl is bold and strong, she dreams of glory and adventures. Princess Addie is shy and fearful, only dreams of staying safe in the castle. When a terrible disease, the Grey Death, that nobody can survive claims her sister, Addie suddenly has to find the strength within herself to save her sister. Armed only with a spyglass, seven-league boots, her sister’s sword (that she doesn’t know how to wield), and her love for Meryl, Addie sets out to find a cure to the disease that has plagued her country, and threatens to kill her beloved sister.

      I loved the twist that it was the shy and fearful girl that had to set out on an adventure. Addie was the kind of character that we usually dismiss in fantasy novels, the girls and women that only like housework and embroidery, preferring the bold and brave girls that want more of life, that wields swords, or perform magic, that are only scared of being confine to a life they cannot bear. But then Gail Carson Levine, made her an heroine we could care about and root for. The character of Addie is saying not to dismiss girls like her, that there can be Bravery in the most shy and quiet creatures. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I love the songs and poems woven through the story, and the unexpected ending did take me a bit by surprise and made me smile. Most of all, though, I love tales that are not just about romantic love, but the love we have for sisters and brothers, friends and family

      I like Levine's simple, but engaging  prose, and her stories while giving an air of lightness and fun also contained deep and thoughtful moments without ever being too dramatic. I am now curious to see if her other novels will please me as Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre did.

      Monday 10: Of Greek Mythology

      Monday 10 is a weekly post where I share a list of 10 bookish items based on a theme, subject, idea, fancy, etc.
      Every reader and blogger is also invited to participate and make their own list. It doesn't have to have the same theme, it just needs to pertain to books!
      If you do make your own list and post it to your blog, share the link in the comments. Or if you prefer write your own list in the comments!
      Note: I put 3 asterisks beside the titles I have read and recommnend. Ihave not read all of the books I put in these lists, so be sure to check them all out!

      The previous review of Quiver, by Stephanie Spinner, gave me the idea of making the first Monday 10 about Greek mythology.

      * 10 Books Inspired by Greek Mythology *

      Happy Monday!

      Review: Quiver, by Stephanie Spinner

      I love retellings. Of myths, of fairytales, of classics novels. Any retellings of any kind. I am fascinated by them, I enjoy wondering and discovering how an author will re-invent an old, often well known, tale. I am endlessly surprised and amazed at the seemingly endless ways a story can be approached and retold without ever getting boring.

      This is why Quiver, by Stephanie Spinner, has been sitting in my to-read list for nearly two years, until, finally, I got my hands on it last week. In her debut novel, Spinner tackles a Greek myth. And let me tell you, I love Greek mythology, from Homer to Xena: Warrior Princess, I rarely get tired of it. And I am even more excited if the retelling tells the story of a little known myth, or mythical figure, and I become intrigued and fascinated if said figure is a girl or a women, as their voices are so often forgotten, stifled or ignored. More often than not, in fact, they do not have a voice, or I should say, are not given one.

      In Quiver, Spinner gives a voice to Arcadian princess Atalanta, the swiftest human in Greece, and one of its best hunters too. Abandoned by her father at birth, because she was not a boy, the myth says that Artemis, chaste Goddess of the Moon and the hunt, sent a bear to rescue baby Atalanta. The girl then, while growing up learning to hunt, and shoot and run, dedicated herself to the Goddess, promising to stay chaste always. It is then in her girlhood, that her father recalls her to him and intends to marry her off so she can produce an heir. In her desperation to stay true to the Goddess, Atalanta makes a deal with her father saying that she would only marry the man who can outrun her in a race. All who fail must die.

      Spinner stays true to the myth, not diverging from the events or settings that form Atalanta’s plight and fate, and the book might suffer a bit from it. In the end it’s not so much a retelling as an account of the myth from its main protagonist’s point of view. Quiver is more interested in looking at the reasons behind the events. What were the thoughts and motivations behind such seemingly cruel acts? Why did Atalanta do what she did? There are no innovations or surprises beyond the new voice in which it is told, especially if one knows how the myth goes.

      Quiver is a small and quick read, easy to go through in a couple of hours or so, and while most people might not get attached to Atalanta as a character, I didn’t think the point was to make her likeable. It was to make her heard. I kept wanting things to go differently, I kept hoping she would do things differently, but all I could do was watch the events unfold to their inevitable conclusion.

      I am still glad I read it. Glad it was written. Glad a voice was given to an almost unknown heroine, even if it’s not the voice I would I’ve liked to hear. Now if only there were more books doing the same things. I would read stories upon stories about such women as Ariadne, Medea, Andromache and countless others who are lost among the Achilles, Jason, Theseus and Hercules of history.


      Review: Across the Universe, by Beth Revis

      I picked up Across the Universe, Beth Revis’ debut novel, partly because I had gleaned bits and pieces of positive reviews here and there and partly because I had to fill 5 hours at the bookstore waiting for my boyfriend. Oh, and the cover. And the possibility of a young adult sci-fi novel excited me. Young adult literature really needs more sci-fi, now that it has fully picked up on the paranormal and the dystopian genre. In the end, Across the Universe ended up being a science fiction novel and a dystopian novel, with a bit of mystery thrown in for good measure. I must say that Revis juggled those three genres beautifully, building a world that was believable, claustrophobic and, at times, horrific.

      Amy and her parents, as well as 97 other passengers, have been cryogenically frozen in preparation for a 300 year trip to a new planet, Centuri-Earth. But 50 years before the scheduled date of arrival of their ship, Godspeed, Amy is awakened. Knowing nothing of how or why, she can think of only one thing: someone tried to kill her. Her doubts are suddenly confirmed as more frozen people are awakened and, not as lucky as her, found dead in their thawed chambers. Elder is part of the crew that has been running Godspeed since the beginning of its journey. Generations upon generations of his people have worked and lived within the confines of the ships metal walls, each generation lead by one leader, Eldest, and Elder is the next leader in training. Once Amy awakens, Elder is fascinated by her, by her pale skin, red hair and green eyes, but most of all by all her ideas, her knowledge, her way of seeing things coming from a world that he has never known.

      Together, and with the help of Elder’s friend Harley, they try to unravel the mystery of the people dying, while at the same time Amy tries to: understand a society that makes no sense to her, that feels wrong and controlling and full of lies; find a murderer; and cope with the fact that the next time she will see her parents she’ll be about 70 years old. And Elder starts to realize that everything he knows might be a lie, not knowing what is true, what is fabricated, what is wrong and what is right.

      Across the Universe felt both slow-paced and fast-paced to me. I would come up for air, realize that I was half-way done with the book, but at the same time, wondering why not much had happened. It is because Revis trickles her clues and mysteries slowly through her story, little by little, not holding anything back, but not given away too much too fast until the very end of the book. Most of all though, it is the ship that retained my attention, the ship and the world that lives within it, this somewhat wrong and definitely dystopian world, completely cut off from anything else. The characters themselves were alright. I was not as attached to them as I would have liked, although I suspect that is just a personal taste, not a fault of the novel. I cared about them, but I cared more about seeing their world put right. The villain itself was a bit more one-dimensional, and slightly less believable, but nevertheless it did not distract me too much from the plot. Revis alternates between Amy’s and Elder’s first point-of-view and I thought it was done well, and it did not confuse me at all.

      Overall I really enjoyed it, I am looking forward to the sequel (although, do not worry, it does not end on a cliffhanger) and, most of all, I hope that its success will bring more science fiction to the world of young adult literature.

      EDIT: I feel that I must add a trigger warning. In the book there is a sexual assault/attempted rape scene. It is not a long scene and the effects of it are dealt with and are not ignored. I felt I had to mention it, as it could be triggering to victims of sexual assault and rape and the people who love them.

      Welcome to the Woodland Library!

      Hello and welcome to my little corner of the book blogging world.
      As you can see this blog is brand new and, I might say, quite empty, but I hope to change that soon and swiftly in the next few weeks.
      There is not a lot of things that I like more than stories and books and talking about them. When I am not reading I like browsing books, and reading about books and making lists of books. It seemed like a good idea to share this passion with other people, and this is why I built this blog.

      In here you will find reviews of books, some new, some old. With time I hope to introduce discussion posts as well.
      Every Monday, I will post a list (who doesn't like lists?) of 10 books (or authors, characters, ...) pertaining to a subject, or theme, or idea, etc that I have read, hope to read, or seem interesting somehow. Everybody will be invited to join in the fun and make their own list if they want to.

      I mostly just want to have fun sharing and talking about bookish things. This is an open space for anyone who wants to do so as well, and everyone is invited to participate as long as the discourse remains civil and respectful.

      If you have any questions or comments that you want to ask me personally, do not hesitate to email me.

      Let's have a grand time, shall we?