Sunday, January 26, 2014

Wildwood Dancing

By Juliet Marillier

High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.
But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girl survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has  fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom---and impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.
When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine—tests of trust, strength, and true love.

I have heard a lot of love for this book and was just waiting for the right time and mood to read it. I was not disappointed. IT was a sort of mix of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and The Frog Prince, except it was so originally done, you can only catch a passing resemblance to this stories. It was great story-telling. The choice of setting the story in Romania was awesome, though I was miffed with the names and even with the pronunciation guide, I still had difficulty and found it halted the flow of the story. Other than that the girls, of which there are only 5, are well fleshed out and individual, which is rare to find outside of the heroine of the story. The fairy realm is beautiful and the dwarves and other creatures were just as mystical. I was reminded of all the images that stuck in my mind as a child about fae creatures and was transported there with them. There is much about love and sacrifice, honor and choice. It’s got some great gems in it about where our choices lead us, and the love story was not straight-forward and predictable. That was my favorite part. I got a bout of dread when vampires showed up—but no worries. They are not even named as vampires, but “night people” (though they totally were vampires) and they are as nightmarish and eerie as they should be. No sparkles! It was a wonderful story full of magic and a little mayhem, and mostly a test of courage and ingenuity for the characters. Highly recommend this, not only to people who like re-tellings, but people who enjoy a good fantasy.

I give it a 4.25 out of 5

Fortunately, The Milk

By Neil Gaiman

“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: Thum thum. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”
“Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”
Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

I have decided that aside from being crazy in a fantastic way, Neil Gaiman should write more short stories. This was fabulous. I was smiling and laughing at the premise, and at the fantastically expressive illustrations by Skottie Young. I’d love to have this ‘big fish’ story on my personal bookshelf. It’s on my list. If you’ve got half an hour, pick this up and read it, and remember all those whoppers you, or your family have told in your life.

I give it a 4.5 out of 5

Palace of Stone

By Shannon Hale

Coming down from the mountain to a new life in the city seems a thrill beyond imagining. When Miri and her friends from Mount Eskel set off to help the future princess Britta prepare for her royal wedding, she is happy about her chance to attend school in the capital city. There, Miri befriends students who seems so sophisticated and exciting…until she learns that they have some frightening plans. They think that Miri will help them, that she should help them. Soon Miri fiinds herself torn between loyalty to the princess and her new friends’ ideas, between an old love and a new crush,k and between her small mountain home and the bustling city.

I meant to read this when it first came out but couldn’t really get in the mood. Even when I did read it it took forever for me to really get into the story, which is abnormal for me with a book by Shannon Hale, who is fantastic. Needless to say, I liked the original MUCH better. Miri irritated me because, once more, she has Peder there and is crushing on a stranger and doubting Peder’s affection. The actual political shenanigans and plot line was good. Typical of Shannon Hale to have it perfectly hashed out and wrap it up in a bow. Love that, also the fact that I am never quite sure how it’s going to work out is a plus.

I give it a 3 out of 5

Among the Hidden

By Margaret Peterson Haddix

Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend. Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.
Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows—does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford not to?

Well, this book has been out a while and it’s one of those I kept meaning to read. I found that it is very much in the Dystopian style that is now prevalent everywhere (and frankly I’m starting to tire of) but this is geared toward younger kids, with the short span of the book. But don’t let that fool you, this book is written in top-form, it’s not only good for younger kids, I was engrossed and I’m in college. It’s a great premise. Nobody is allowed to have more than 2 kids, and yet there is an underground group of children who are all the 3rd child, or shadow children who have to decide if they stay in the shadows or come out into the light. It’s great in a terrible way. The writing reminded me a lot of Lois Lowry’s The Giver. It had the same sort of feel to it, just a little dimmed down because it is meant for a little lower reading level.

I give it a 4 out of 5

Sense and Sensibility

By Jane Austen

The Dashwoods have just lost their beloved husband and father, have been forced to move away from their beautiful home, and have little to recommend themselves to men for their future comfort besides their beauty and personality. Marianne is the romantic, untempered, unfettered. Eleanor is ever practical and reserved. When they both gain and lose love, will they find it again? Can this new life of theirs be endured?

Finally. I have wanted to read this for years. I’m in love with the movie with Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon and have been dying to read the novel. As with all of Jane Austen’s novels, the heroine’s win the day at the end and while they wade through pain and despair, everything turns out great. I was a bit disappointed in Edward’s character. He seemed kinda…whiney. Oh well, my favorite character was good. I feel a little ashamed to admit this though, I don’t think I’ll ever read it again. I like the movie and TV versions better! There I said it. Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice are top notch books though. Even though Colin Firth is awesome as Mr. Darcy, you can’t beat reading the book.

I give it a 3 out of 5

Adventurers Wanted 4: The Sands of Nezza

By M. L. Forman

After hundreds of years without a true king, the desert land of Nezza is in danger of falling under the rule of a ruthless lord advised by an evil wizard with dark intentions. A desperate cry for help brings Alexander Taylor to this perilous land and sets events in motion that will require him to rescue an old friend from an impenetrable dungeon. Once in Nezza, Alex meets a new band of adventurers and joins them in their quest to find young Prince Rallian—the man destined to become the rightful king of Nezza.
In their path lies a deadly sand monster, a wise and insightful oracle, a massive army of illusions, and a host of lords and leaders ready to fight for—and against—the king of their land.
But a dark shadow threatens Alex’s every step. And in Nezza, a land where magic is feared and wizards are held in suspicion, Alex will have to be more wise and cunning than ever before if he and his friends are to succeed—or even survive.

So, I don’t know why I love these books. The writing isn’t the best, the characters can be stereotypical, and the plot is often rehashed from the popular fantasy novels of years past. I guess the reason I love this series is that it’s light and fun, the people are all about honor, and the place is magic. It just makes me happy to go into the world Forman creates, I love going there and feeling happy knowing that everything will work out for the best. Perhaps it’s because Mr. Forman takes familiar archetypes and puts them in a format we all recognize, and while predictable at times, we still love reading them! I love that for the most part everyone is good, with irritating qualities, but good and evil is pretty easily spotted.  I can’t really say too much about the book without giving it away, just that Alex is getting better and better at being a magician, and we finally get the answers to a few mysteries in the first few books.

I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

By Betty McDonald

Everyone loves Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. She lives in an upside-down house and smells like cookies. She was even married to a pirate once. Most of all, she knows everything about children. She can cure them of any ailment. Patsy hates baths. Robert never puts anything away. Allen eats v-e-r-y slowly. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle has a treatment for all of them.

I loved Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle as a kid. I found it hilarious to read about all these ill-behaved children and the ingenious cures that this little old lady came up with for bewildered parents. The book is cleverly written, and read more as a series of short stories containing different little children in each chapter with a different problem. I still like to read them and am happy to say there a quite a few Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books to read, this being the first. I was reading these along with Junie B. Jones when I was in elementary.

I give it a 4 out of 5