Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ruby in the Smoke

Title: Ruby in the Smoke
Author: Phillip Pullman
Genre: Mystery
Published: 1985
Series: Sally Lockhart Trilogy (Book 1)
Next in Series: Shadow in the North

Puzzled by a mysterious letter after her father’s death, Sally sets out to find out what the Seven Blessings are and how they’re connected to her father’s last days. Little does she realize that she’s tossing herself into two different mysteries. As if that weren’t enough, Sally is troubled by a lifelong nightmare, an old biddy out to kill her, and a lack of money for rent Sally’s days are never free of stress, but she handles it well and finds friends along the way.

Sally Lockhart certainly has her strengths and weaknesses, but does her best to turn everything to her advantage. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Still, I felt like I never really got to know Sally herself: that she didn’t really let her guard down. And that’s how it was for most of the characters. Perhaps that will get better later in the series.

Victorian London in Ruby in the Smoke is not quite what actual Victorian London was. Everyone was far too ok with Sally, a single and unescorted female, roaming around places she shouldn’t have been.

This story is told from third person omniscient point of view.

My Thoughts:
While it is entertaining, I found Ruby in the Smoke a bit historically inaccurate as to how women were expected to act in Victorian England. The characters were a little flat, but that doesn’t detract from the story. It was a worthwhile read overall, and I’m planning on getting the next book soon.

Favorite Scene:
Sally telling off Mrs. Rees was great. Reading about people not taking guff when they don’t deserve it really makes my day.

Who this book is best for:
Middle school kids, boys and girls, who want a fun romp in the past full of intrigue and suspense.

Violence: 3 of 5 for murder and opiate use

Stars: 3 of 5

Monday, December 29, 2008

Good Omens

Title: Good Omens
Author: Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1990

What do you do when you’ve misplaced the Antichrist?! That’s what the demon Crowley and angel Aziraphael are asking themselves as the Apocalypse approaches and he’s nowhere to be found. Well, it turns out the Satanic nuns gave the baby to the wrong family. So little Adam grows up without any divine or hellish influences and is blissfully unaware of his potential. Meanwhile, the Four Horsemen are gathering, the Witch-hunter army is on the prowl, Atlantis rises and confused Tibetans show up in England. But it’s all part of the ineffable plan, so we needn’t worry.

Gaiman and Pratchett weave a delightful tale, the last tale, as it were. But they don’t let that interfere with the humor. You can’t help but love Adam, even if he is going to bring about the end of the world. You love him because he’s a troublemaking eleven-year-old. He loves where he lives, loves his family, and enjoys causing trouble with his gang of friends known of as the “Them”.

The angel and demon who were supposed to be his God-fathers are no less enjoyable. Aziraphael and Crowley have become friends over the last six thousand years, for no other reason, than you get used to the only other face to have been around for that long. Plus, it’s good to know what your adversary is up to. They do their best (or worst, as the case may be) and still muddle things up to the tune of Freddy Mercury.

On the down side, The Four Horsemen are rather boring and archetypical in ways you think the angels (fallen and otherwise) would be but aren’t. Also, I found the whole Witch-Finder army to be quite dull. Perhaps that was the point, though, as there are supposedly far fewer at the end of days.

As for setting, well, it’s earth… it’s a well developed place over all, so not much to worry about there.

This story is told from third person omniscient point of view, which is fitting, since God is supposedly omniscient.

My Thoughts:
This book is hilarious. There are times where you are literally laughing out loud. Not just smiling a little to yourself, but laughing hysterically in public. Gaiman and Pratchett are a devilishly wonderful combination.

Favorite Scene:
This is really hard to choose, since I love to laugh. But this dubious award must go to Adam asking if his gang (the Them) knew about Tibetans. I broke down and read it to my whole family while we were on vacation.

Who this book is best for:
Anyone who has a sense of humor will appreciate this book, although it may not be advisable to people who refuse to let themselves laugh at the end of the world.

Violence: 2 of 5. It may be the end of the world, but we don’t have to be gory about it.

Stars: 4 of 5

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Title: A Great and Terrible Beauty
Author: Libba Bray
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2003
Series: Gemma Doyle Trilogy (Book 1)
Next in Series: Rebel Angels

Right before Gemma’s mother is murdered by a strange shadow in Victorian India, she tosses her daughter a crescent eye necklace. That was her first vision. Now, Gemma is then on her way to a homeland she has never seen to be turned into a lady at a finishing school. To save face, she must say that her mother died of cholera and pretend her father isn’t addicted to opiates. And then there’s the odd young Indian man, Kartik who followed her to England, with dire warnings to end the visions she cannot control. Soon, Gemma is wading her way through the delights of finishing school politics and attempting to take charge of her strange powers. Led by the diary of a girl she believes long dead and with the fickle help of her finishing school chums, Gemma enters a world fraught with trouble.

Gemma is a typical sixteen-year-old in that she has done things she regrets, wants to fit in (even against her better judgment), falls for someone she can never have, can’t always control her temper, and looks up to a teacher who encourages her to think outside the Victorian box. She’s an abnormal teen in that she has odd powers. She’s very well developed as a character and despite her many flaws, you come out loving her.

And it’s not just Gemma who is fully fleshed out. Somehow all the characters seem like real people. Everyone has their secrets, the things they strive to fix or make up for in their lives. Gemma’s friends, her teachers and family are a product of their environment, and either struggle against it or are overwhelmed by it.

The portrayal of Victorian England is very true to what I’ve studied of it, and the finishing school Spence leaps off the page. Its goal is to turn young girls into proper Victorian Ladies, but is defined by its’ past. The fire that killed the school’s founder (and possibly others) is something that Spence is still trying to recover from, to hide the smudge the fire left on Spence’s reputation.

A Great and Terrible Beauty is told from first person present perspective, which is very rare for any book, fiction or non.

My Thoughts:
This is a phenomenal book. I am always overjoyed to find strong female heroines (which is probably obvious in my reviews), but most of them have so few flaws. I adore that Gemma comes across as an actual woman, flaws and all. She makes some colossal mistakes, worries consistently about how to mend them. Her realization that she must learn to accept what she can’t change is a lesson I wish I had learned earlier. Finally, a fantasy novel where the lessons can be applied to real life!

Favorite Scene:
My favorite scene would have to be where Gemma is locked into the chapel. It’s spooky with a touch of romance, Gothic in the extreme. I get happy chills just thinking about it.

Who this book is best for:
Any girl from 14 on up will benefit by reading this. My sister (code name Poppy) said this: "I finished A Great and Terrible Beauty. Woah, that was real good. I'll have to borrow the other ones from you sometime."

Violence: 2 of 5 for murder and death scenes

Adult Content: 2 of 5 for some suggestive scenes

Stars: 5 of 5 (if I could give it more, I would.)

Annie's Adventure

Title: Annie’s Adventure
Author: Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Genre: kid’s mystery
Published: 2008
Series: The Sisters Eight
Next in series: Druinda’s Dangers

Annie and her seven sisters are octuplets. On New Years Eve 2007, their scientist mother (mommy) and model father (daddy) disappear from their house. “The Eight” (as they call themselves) decide not to alert the authorities, fend for themselves, and find their parents. But to do so, they must each discover their hidden talent and their gift. In this installment Annie finds her talent and gift, helps her sisters overcome the first month without any adults and learns to drive.

The Sisters Eight’s life revolves around that number in a way that would seem amusing if it weren’t so overdone. There are eight girls born on the 8th of August. Their last name means eight in French. They have eight cats. It goes on from there. The sisters portray the usual rolls as “first child” being bossy, last child being the baby, the third child nitpicking and being uptight. Since this was Annie’s book, she’s the most developed character in it, and since it’s the first book she’s the most developed in the series.

Their world is that of any eight-year-olds: home and school. From a well off family, the girls live in an almost-castle and go to a private school where they make up eighty percent of the class. And luckily for the Sisters Eight, all of the adults in this world have the brain of an amoeba, which makes their antics doable.

Annie’s Adventure is told from the perspective of one of the Eight, although I never figured out which one it was. So, it’s sort of an odd first person, in that there are a lot of “we”s going on.

My Thoughts:
Honestly, I wasn’t that taken with the first book in this series. It may have had something to do with the fact I was reading it in the airport and my plane was delayed, but frankly I consider every adult in this book to be astoundingly stupid to the point that even children won’t find it believable. It got on my nerves. I won’t be reading the others.

Favorite Scene:
The girls going to the toy store was perhaps the most amusing scene in this book for me. When Annie dresses up as a man and then pretends to be a midget, while unrealistic, made me smile. However, since there were so many more scenes that made me frown, I have to list my least favorite as well. I despised the scene where Annie is handed the bills and runs out in tears, screaming. It was out of character for her, and was just too sudden. It’s never a good idea to have a character step out of the personality you’ve built for them.

Who this book is best for:
This is best for girls who are between seven and nine, who are picking up their first chapter books. Anyone else will be bored.

Violence: 0 of 5

Stars: 2.5 of 5 (honestly, I was very bored with this book. It’s a good thing it was short or it may have been my first “didn’t finish” of Book Dame.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Blue Sword

Title: The Blue Sword
Author: Robin McKinley
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 1982

Harry’s life changes dramatically when her father dies. Her brother is stationed far from Home, in the Darian border town of Istan. He arranges for Harry to be taken in by the local Ambassador and his wife. There, in a place where her countrymen complain of the heat and are deemed “Outlanders”, Harry feels strangely at home. It’s also where she’s kidnapped. Enter Corlath, King of the Damarian hill-folk and Harry’s kidnapper. His magic told him Harry would be essential to his kingdom’s survival. But Corlath doesn’t know why. They must learn to work together to save the country they love.

Damar is a complex country with its own language. The world building is great, although it’s easy to tell that the Homelanders are based off of the English. This is the first book written about Damar, although Hero and the Crown takes place a few hundred years or so before the Blue Sword. Those familiar with the Hero and the Crown will be pleased to run into a familiar character along the way.

Harry is a very loveable character. She’s modest and quiet, but doesn’t back away from doing what she knows to be right. In fact, she doesn’t really have any faults. From learning a new language in a few days to swinging a sword with accuracy, Harry does it all.

Corlath is dark, mysterious and pensive and gifted with magic. Other than being obstinate, he has no flaws, either. His whole country loves him; people who didn’t answer for the king for centuries flock to his banner.

The only other characters the reader gets to learn about in any depth are Mathis and Jack Dedham, although a case could be made for Senay and Terim.

The Blue Sword is told from a third person limited perspective. The only characters whose thoughts the reader sees with any frequency are Harry and Corlath.

My Thoughts:
Again, this has been one of my favorite books for a long time. My first copy came from a library book sale, and I read it until the binding fell apart. (It’s in about seven pieces on my book shelf right now.) No matter how often I go back through it, I seem to find something that I didn’t catch before. Unfortunately, this book may be too idealistic. The characters can be a bit archetypical. It is still worth every second it takes to read, though.

Favorite Scene:
This is one of the best scenes I’ve ever read, and since I can’t do it justice, here it is: “Harry awoke in the dark…as she lay on her back in the blackness, the tears began to leak out of her eyes and roll down her cheeks and wet her hair, and she was too tired to resist them. They came ever faster, till she turned over and buried her face in the scratchy cushions to hide the sobs she could not stop. Corlath was a light sleeper. On the other side of the tent he opened his eyes and rolled up on one elbow and looked blindly towards the dark corner where his Outlander lay. Long after Harry had cried herself to sleep again, the Hill-king lay awake, facing the grief he had caused and could not comfort.”

Who this book is best for:
Women and other people obsessed with horses. My boyfriend (code name Jefferson) read it and said it was alright. I think it’s really a girl’s adventure.

Other books about Damar: The Hero and the Crown

Violence: 2 of 5 for battle scenes

Stars: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Alanna: The First Adventure

So for my first Book Dame Review, I feel it is fitting that I review one of my all-time favorite books.

Title: Alanna: the First Adventure
Author: Tamora Pierce
Series: Song of the Lioness Quartet (Book 1)
Genera: Young Adult/Fantasy
Published: 1983

Alanna of Trebond dreams of being a knight, serving her King and country, and doing great deeds. However, she has a slight problem: girls aren’t allowed to train for their shield. So she does what any determined girl would and cons her twin brother into forging letters saying they’re twin boys. She goes to the royal palace disguised as a boy and begins her training to be a knight; he goes to a far away city and studies sorcery. Once at the palace, Alanna makes friends and faces a number of challenges, from bullies and fencing to puberty.

In her debut novel, Tamora Pierce built a strong and enticing world of magic, mystery and exhilaration. Supplied with its’ own sources of history, mythology and theology the realm of Tortall leaps off the page. Tortall is full of diverse people, and even in this first book that is apparent as the reader meets people whose cultures are as dissimilar as medieval Europeans and the Bedouins.

Alanna is a smart, fiery and feisty heroine. She proves over and over that girls can do anything boys can – and be better at it if they work hard enough. There have been statements saying that she is too perfect a heroine, but I find this to be untrue. Alanna is stubborn to a fault and has a terrible temper which she cannot always control. She isn’t good at math, and has issues with self doubt. Despite all the time given to Alanna’s character, the supporting cast is surprisingly well developed, usually with artfully insightful one-liners to describe their personalities.

The book is told in a third person omniscient perspective, although it is a very limited omniscient, rarely leaving Alanna’s point of view. Occasionally there is a shift and the reader will follow things from another’s perspective. However, this is rare in the first book of the quartet and occurs only a handful of times.

My Thoughts:
I am one of those people who rereads books over and over, but there are very few that I’ve read as many times as Alanna: the First Adventure. I go back through it at least once a year, usually more often. When I first read this book I was 11 and wanted to be just like Alanna. (And I have to admit, I was very disappointed to realize that knighthood wasn’t an option for me outside of Vegas.) The plot was so gripping I couldn’t stop reading. I was enthralled as she hopped from one adventure, task or crisis to the next. It was comforting to know we were going through some of the same trials. Here I am, over 14 years later and I still can’t put the book down.

Favorite Scene:
Alanna’s time at Barony Olau is always a delight for me to read. I love history, and this glimpse into Tortall’s past was exciting and left me craving more.

Who this book is best for:
I recommend this book for young women in or close to middle school. I should add a caveat here, though. I have given this book to women of all ages and everyone has enjoyed it. It’s most influential for young women who are still developing and learning about themselves and provides a very positive role model.

Next book in Series: In the Hand of the Goddess

Violence: 1.5 out of 5 for death due to illness and some magical encounters with evil beings.

Stars: 5 of 5