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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Catherine, Called Birdy

Review of Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
Overview from Catherine feels trapped. Her father is determined to marry her off to a rich man--any rich man, no matter how awful.
But by wit, trickery, and luck, Catherine manages to send several would-be husbands packing. Then a shaggy-bearded suitor from the north comes to call--by far the oldest, ugliest, most revolting suitor of them all.
Unfortunately, he is also the richest.
Can a sharp-tongued, high-spirited, clever young maiden with a mind of her own actually lose the battle against an ill-mannered, piglike lord and an unimaginative, greedy toad of a father?
Deus! Not if Catherine has anything to say about it!

My Review:

The story of Catherine, a girl of fourteen who comes from a moderately wealthy family, is told to the reader from the diary she writes in every day. The first entry records the fact that her brother is responsible both for her being able to read and write and for the fact that she is being forced to write her thoughts down. The diary itself takes us through a year of her life.
I got this book out of curiosity after I spied on the website that the library has for those who want to borrow e-books. I never imagined that I would like it so much. I thought of it only as a short book to pass the time until I found another one.
I not only liked it though, I absolutely loved it. I think it has been a while since I read a book that I could honestly say that I loved but this one was great. Not only did I appreciate the author’s attempts to portray the Middle Ages as realistically as possible but I was also surprised by how funny it was. The main character is not type of girl who stays out of trouble and she is not exactly an all-out rebel either but she does get into some scrapes once and while and they are hilarious. Not only that but hearing her thoughts about people and some of the things that she does to show her displeasure with her lot kept made me laugh out loud. And there are very few books that can make me do that.
Here is an example:

“More lady-lessons. It is impossible to do all and be all a lady must be and not tie oneself in a knot…A lady must have six hands! She must not look proud nor yet too humble, least people say she is proud of her humility. She must not talk overmuch yet not be silent, lest people think she does not know how to converse. She must not show anger, nor sulk, nor scold, nor overeat, nor overdrink, nor swear. God’s thumbs! I am going out to the barn to jump, fart, and pick my teeth!”

The main conflict in the story, besides Catherine’s desire to escape being a lady, is her attempt to keep her father from marrying her off to some old weirdo for money. She prefers not to marry at all but if she must marry then she would rather marry someone close to her own age. This is where many of her troubles come from as well as her desire to help others, such as some of the villagers that are under her father’s thumb.

If there is any downside to this story, I can’t see it. I didn’t even find any swear words unless you count Catherine’s own attempts at swearing by saying “God’s thumbs” or “Corpus bones” which just make me laugh. She is one of the most likeable characters I have read about for a long time. I think I will order the e-book version of this so that I can have this one permanently. I think I could read it again and again.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Valkyrie Rising


Review of Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson

Overview from Nothing ever happens in Norway. But at least Ellie knows what to expect when she visits her grandmother: a tranquil fishing village and long, slow summer days. And maybe she'll finally get out from under the shadow of her way-too-perfect big brother, Graham, while she's there.

What Ellie doesn't anticipate is Graham's infuriating best friend, Tuck, tagging along for the trip. Nor did she imagine boys going missing amid rumors of impossible kidnappings. Least of all does she expect that something powerful and ancient will awaken in her and that strange whispers will urge Ellie to claim her place among mythological warriors. Instead of peace and quiet, suddenly there's a lot for a girl from L.A. to handle on a summer sojourn in Norway! And when Graham vanishes, it's up to Ellie—and the ever-sarcastic, if undeniably alluring, Tuck—to uncover the truth about all the disappearances and thwart the nefarious plan behind them.

My Review:

This week’s review is a paranormal Young Adult story. It is called Valkyrie Rising and recounts the story of our main character Ellie.

At the start of the story, Ellie is just another average teenager who feels like she is living in the shadow of her older brother, Graham. He is popular yet overprotective and because of his popularity very few boys her age are willing to cross him by asking Ellie out. The only one who is really even allowed to talk to her much is Tuck, her older brother’s best friend who she has a massive crush on. Tuck is also a major flirt so Ellie never takes anything he says seriously anyway.

Every summer, she and her brother take a trip to Norway to visit their grandmother while their mother is leading some university trip to Italy. (Their father has been dead for some time.) Although Ellie usually finds it somewhat boring she is relieved to be going this year because she senses that it is the only time she will be allowed to get out from underneath her older brother’s shadow since he is not as well-known there as he is at home in Los Angeles.

So off she goes, to be followed later by her brother. But on her first day there she already sees a difference in Skavopoll. The residents are hostile toward her. They tell her that she should never have come there and they seem to believe that her grandmother is somehow at the center of some plot to kidnap the boys of the town. A few of them have already disappeared and when she confronts her grandmother about this with questions, she receives very few answers and most of them are misleading.

Setting out on her own she vows to find the answers for herself before her brother and Tuck are kidnapped as well. (Tuck has decided to tag along on the trip with them this year.) But when no one will tell her anything, she will have to use her own intuition and sleuthing skills to find out what is happening both to the town and to her as she seems to suddenly have hypnotized the people of the town unintentionally. Where is she getting these strange powers? How can she convince people that she is not involved in the kidnappings? And how can she protect those who are left from becoming the next victims?

I liked this one quite a bit though I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I loved it. I learned a lot about Norway and Viking Mythology while feeling highly engrossed in the story. The story threw a few surprises my way both in some things that I expected to happen but didn’t (thank God there was no love triangle) and some twits that did happen yet I never saw them coming. In short, I was not bored. Also the book was not overly long.

The only downside was I thought the swearing was a bit much for a Young Adult novel though I have seen worse. I think perhaps it is best that the readers of this book be older teens and not younger but other than that, I give it an enthusiastic recommendation.

Contains: some swearing, fantasy violence


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Never Say Die

Review of Never Say Die by Will Hobbs
Overview from When the motto of your village is "never say die," you have a lot to live up to. . . .
At home in Canada's Arctic, Nick Thrasher is an accomplished Inuit hunter at fifteen. About to bring home a caribou for his ailing grandfather, Nick loses the meat to a fearsome creature never before seen in the wild. It's half grizzly, half polar bear. Experts will soon be calling it a "grolar bear."
Returning to his village, Nick receives a letter from the half brother he's never met. A former Grand Canyon river guide, Ryan Powers is now a famous wildlife photographer. He'll soon be coming to Nick's part of the world to raft the remote Firth River in search of huge herds of migrating caribou. Ryan also wants to learn what Inuit hunters are saying about climate change in the Arctic. He invites Nick to come along and help him find the caribou.

Barely down the river, disaster strikes. Nick and Ryan are both thrown into the freezing river and find themselves under a ceiling of solid ice. With nothing but the clothes on his back and the knife on his hip, Nick is up against it in a world of wolves, caribou, and grizzlies. All the while, the monstrous grolar bear stalks the land.

My Review:

Though this book was short (about 140 pages on my nook), I read it mostly to fill in the gaps between my usual fare and of course because it was a Free Friday offering. I thought the story line might have some promise but what really sold me was the description of it as being a kind of modern-day version of Call of the Wild by Jack London.

Nick is our half-white, half-Inuit narrator and is approximately fifteen years old if I did my math right when I calculated his age based on the age difference between himself and his half-brother who is also a main character in this story.

His troubles start with the appearance of the so-called grolar bear which is a half-grizzly, half-polar bear combination creature. The bear is ferocious, large, and downright evil and nearly kills him. He pops up a few more times again before the book is over.

Then he gets a letter from Ryan (the half-brother I mentioned earlier) who explains to him that he is taking a trip up to Nick’s neck of the wood to ply his trade. He is a wildlife photographer and writer. He wants to research the rumor that caribou are dying out due to climate change. He is also interested in the grolar bear though it is not the main point of his research. He hoped to convince Nick to tag along on his expedition that will take them to the Firth River and hopefully the caribou.

Nick agrees to go with him despite his misgivings and some of his differences of opinion with his only brother. Only interference from his dying grandfather persuades him in the end.

The trip does end up being wild, wonderful and scary all at the same time but along the way he develops a respect and camaraderie with his brother that along with their discoveries make it a trip of the lifetime.

I am not really sure that it compares all that favorably with the Jack London classic that I mentioned earlier but it was still an interesting read. It was not as one-sided on the issue of climate change as it thought it would be. There is some respect for the Inuit way of life as well as Ryan’s views. Of course I suspect that the author is leaning towards the environmentalist position but at least he doesn’t portray hunters as the menacing evil of the Arctic like I thought he would when I started reading.

This is also appropriate for younger readers though perhaps not too young. There is some wildlife type violence in here after all. I think probably fifth grade or above might enjoy it but I am no expert.

I also enjoyed it though it is not likely to become one of my favorites. Still it was better than what I was initially expecting.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review of Sins of the Father by Angela Benson
Overview from God asked the biblical Abraham to sacrifice his son. But Abraham Martin's only god is money.
Successful media mogul Abraham Martin has great wealth, an elegant wife, Saralyn, and a rebellious son, Isaac. He also has a secret: a second family that no one knows about. Now, after thirty years—driven by the urging of his long dormant conscience—Abraham is determined to do the right thing by finally bringing his illegitimate children into the light...and into the family fold.
But beautiful, manipulative Saralyn will never accept the proof of her husband's indiscretions. Isaac, the heir, shaken by his father's revelations, will fight mercilessly when his world is threatened, and may lose everything that matters as a result. And while Abraham's forgotten daughter, Deborah, is open to the undreamed-of possibilities suddenly awaiting her, his son, Michael, cannot forgive the man who cruelly abandoned them to near poverty. And he's driven by only one desire: revenge!

Angela Benson's Sins of the Father is a powerful story of a house bitterly divided—a rich, multilayered family saga of betrayal and redemption, rage and compassion, faith, forgiveness, and ultimately, of love.

My Review:

Sins of the Father struck me at first as something that might be just a ho-hum read, something I could use to keep my brain occupied while I waited in line at the grocery store or waited outside in my car in the morning before going to work. It was much better than that.

Yes the setting was contemporary but the story it told was not all that conventional. The story starts with a man named Abraham trying to reassert himself into the lives of his illegitimate adult children. Growing up, they were supported by him financially but not in any other way. He never visited them, he never called them, he never even wrote to them. Why? Because they were children that he had with another woman.

He had pushed them both aside till his mother's death changed everything for him. He decided to honor her wishes and do right by them and it started with a small production company that he bought and asked his illegitimate daughter to run for him.

So far so good but then he tried to bring both of the adult children from another woman into his family which was previously just him, his wife and his legitimate son, Isaac. This part was not going to happen. His wife would do everything she could stop it, while the other son, Micheal is just looking for a way to get revenge on his absent father. Granted some of the others involved have doubts about the idea as well but these two are just itching for a fight, in some cases literally.

The story was very obviously a Biblical parallel story. The characters' names alone give that away. Isaac and Rebecca, Abraham and Saralyn, and Leah are all the names of characters in this book that mirror or are similar to the names of Biblical characters. The story of a father with children by two different women also mirrors the story of Abraham and Sarah in the Bible while the illusion to Esau as an example for Saralyn's son Isaac to not follow is also a hint.

The drama underneath it all is modern even if we may not personally know too many people who find themselves in the same situation as this family, we can still relate to their feelings. Too many children today grow up without a father figure in their lives so Deborah and Michael's story is relatable. There are also many children who grow up with high expectations from their parents like Isaac does. And many women have been abandoned when they are no longer deemed useful by their significant others. In that way, this story is timeless.

The best part for me was that not only were the plots and subplots in this book engaging, but the story itself did not have a lot of swear words or other offensive material. Of course sex was a part of the story. How could it not be? But it was not the focal point of the story, the human drama was. I can't be sure but I think this could be classified as Christian fiction but the Christian message contained in here, despite the similarities with the Bible, was not heavy-handed. It seemed to occur naturally within the plot and I like that as well.

There was one thing that struck me as a little bit odd. The author twice mentioned two members of the family having photos of themselves with two different presidents displayed in their offices and both of them were democrats. I am not sure if that was significant or intentional nor do I know if it is supposed to mean anything to the reader but it did get me wondering for a while. Why two democrats? But like I said, it was odd, but not a problem. I am not sure how conservative readers might feel about it. I just chose to say "hmm" and continue reading.

I can't really think of anything bad about to say about it. I liked it a lot though I can't say I loved it. I think you might too.