Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Fangirl" by Rainbow Rowell

I might be a little late to the Rainbow Rowell fan club, but I've got to say that I'm absolutely hooked after reading Fangirl.  I gave serious consideration to immediately re-reading the book once I finished it, but my pile of "books to be read" is just so huge at this point that I was forced to move on.

Meet Cath, an 18 year old starting her freshman year of college.  Her twin sister has abandoned her to meet new people, her roommate is less than polite and has an overly friendly boyfriend, her dad isn't coping well with the whole "empty nest" thing, and her fiction writing professor constantly expects more from her.  All Cath really wants to do is disappear into the world of fanfiction where she's most comfortable.  She's already gained a little bit of fame on the Simon Snow (world-wide literary phenomenon--picture Harry Potter) forums.  Fanfiction is what helped her cope with her mother leaving, created a stronger sisterly bond with her twin, and provided the inspiration for her chosen field of study.  Faced with a new life outside of her comfort zone, Cath will have to choose between moving forward in the real world or continuing to hide in the fanfiction world.

Rowell has a real talent for creating characters so life-like that you almost believe they are people you know.  The dialogue that flies back and forth between certain characters is so realistic and true to the college experience (or at least my college experience) that I was constantly telling people, "Here, just listen to this, I have to read it to you."  Perhaps most impressive was the amount of work and planning that evidently went into setting up a fictional Harry Potter-esque franchise as part of the backdrop for this book.  "Excerpts" and plot points from the Simon Snow series are sprinkled throughout which further sucks the reader into the book.  I actually did a web search to see if Simon Snow was a real series just to make sure I wasn't missing something.  I also appreciated the fact that this is a true young adult novel.  While I do enjoy a good teeny-bopper book, Fangirl  is definitely written for a slightly more mature audience (I'd probably recommend to ages 16+) and I found that really refreshing.

Grace gives this book 5 out of 5 carrots!

Friday, June 7, 2013

"The Diviners" by Libba Bray

When looking for a good book to kick off my summer reading, I searched through my "Books to Read" list (an Excel spreadsheet on my laptop complete with the title, author, date I heard about it, and whether or not I already own it, I kid you not) and decided it was time to give The Diviners a try.  I'd read several of Bray's other books before and loved them, so I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed the book.  I was shocked however by how quickly I was hooked and deeply I was engaged by the end of the first chapter.

It's 1926 and Evie O'Neill, the very definition of a flapper girl, has been exiled from her hometown in Ohio to the bustling streets of New York City (poor thing!) after making an enemy of the town's golden boy while drunk at a party.  She is sent to live with her Uncle Will, a curator for the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult, who has been asked to give the police an assist in solving a string of grisly murders.  Evie convinces her uncle to let her use her ability to read people's pasts while holding an object of their possession to help him in the investigations.  Bray creates a fantastic company of characters to support Evie in her quest for answers, including a mysterious assistant at the museum, a numbers runner in Harlem who dreams of becoming famous through his poetry, a Ziegfield Follies girl on the run from her past, a rakish pickpocket, and Evie's more traditional best friend, Mabel. Now Evie and the rest of the cast must solve the mystery behind the murders before the killer has a chance to unleash some real evil into this world.

What impressed me the most about this book is the way Bray is able to seamlessly weave together multiple points of view from the different characters to create a narrative that is both snappy with that Roaring 20s vibe and hauntingly suspenseful.  There were times where I was compelled to read far later than originally intended because I had  to know what happened next.  Bray also does a fantastic job of bringing her diverse cast of characters to life.  There are only a few books that I have read where I have felt as though I truly know a character from their motivations to their mannerisms, and this is one of those books.  While this book is not for the faint of heart, I would recommend The Diviners to teen readers and those who enjoy being completely engrossed in a fantastic story.

Grace gives this book five out of five carrots!

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Friday, March 29, 2013

"Inside Out & Back Again" by Thanhha Lai

There is nothing better than falling in love with an assigned reading for one of your college courses which is exactly what happened to me when I was "forced" to read Inside Out and Back Again for my Children's Literature course.  This 2012 Newbery Honor book is actually a collection of poems (à la Love that Dog by Sharon Creech) and follows the story of 10-year-old Hà and her family as they flee from Saigon to Alabama when the city falls to the North Vietnamese.  Hà loves her native Saigon from the sweet snacks and smells found in the market to the papaya tree she grows in her backyard.  She lives with her three older brothers and her mother; her father was taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese several years ago and is classified as MIA.  When Saigon does fall to the North, Hà and her family escape the city by ship and immigrate to Alabama where they must learn a new language and new customs.

I think what I loved most about this book was Hà's poetic style.  Many of her poems were witty and clever with a strong and natural 10-year-old voice, and some of them were truly heartbreaking.  As the book is based off of real events from the author's (Thannha Lai) life, it is no surprise that he is able to capture the images and emotions that come with being forced to flee one's homeland with truthful clarity.  I have always been interested in the Vietnam War era, but had only really read accounts from United States citizens.  This novel brought a whole new perspective to that time period for me.  I would recommend this quick read for ages nine and up, especially those readers who are historical fiction fans or have a particular affinity for the Vietnam War era.

Grace gives this book five out of five carrots!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

"The Legend of L'Esprit" by Doris Greenberg and Pandré Shandley

As the resident dancer here at The Velveteen Rabbit, I was so excited to have The Legend of L'Esprit fall into my lap this summer.  It was the perfect summer read for someone who spent 14 years of her life in a dance studio, but I think the plot line will appeal to those who have never stepped foot in a dance class as well.

Libby Nobleton and her family have recently moved to Chicago and she is looking for a new dance studio to call home.  When she auditions for the premier studio, L'Esprit, she knows she's found her place.  But there's more to this dance studio than ballet barres and full-length mirrors; rumor has it that L'Esprit is haunted by the spirit of the prima ballerina who originally founded the school.  Now Libby and her new friends have to uncover the truth about what happened on the most tragic night of L'Esprit's history to help more than one soul find its peace.

What I found so refreshing about this first novel in the Dance Legacy series was its spot-on blend of the day-to-day life of a young dancer along with the mystery and intrigue of the paranormal phenomena at the dance studio.  I also appreciated the fact that Libby was not involved in a torrid love triangle; she's got a straight head on her shoulders and is an excellent role model both for young dancers, as well as young women in general.  That's not to say that this book is not without its romance!  There's just enough of it to keep the reader satisfied and it's handled in a way that makes it seem realistic, rather than totally unattainable. 

One of the unique features of this book was the dance glossary located in the back.  After having been taught dance by hearing the terms rather than reading them, it was fun to see them actually spelled out and say, "So that's how that's written!"  Each chapter features a different dance term as well, so you don't have to keep paging to the back of the book to look them up.  This is a must-read for those reading dancers out there, as well as those readers just looking for a good book.

Grace gives it 5 out of 5 carrots!

Click here to order your copy at The Velveteen Rabbit Bookshop and Guest House!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

"The Secret History of the Pink Carnation" by Lauren Willig


This book is not technically a recent read for me as I finished it this past spring, but we've been pretty busy at The Velveteen Rabbit and haven't had much of a chance to blog about what we're reading.  Now that I finally have a chance to sit down and type out my thoughts, I'd like to first give credit to Beth for recommending this fantastic series to me.  It'd been one of her staff picks for awhile and now I can see why!  My only disappointment in this series is that it isn't a true story, which just goes to show how wonderful Willig's narrative really is!

The novel is a story within a story.  The reader follows Eloise Kelly, a smart but slightly fumbling American grad student as she works to uncover the secret identity of the Pink Carnation, the most elusive English spy during the Napoleonic wars for her dissertation.  Her search leads her to some of the descendents of the Purple Gentian, another famous spy whose identity was revealed and therefore was forced to retire.  One such descendent, a Mr. Colin Selwick, is a little more than irate to find that his great-aunt has let a perfect stranger look at their family papers and it's hate at first sight.  Of course, hate has always been rumored to be far closer to love than most would think.....

As I've already mentioned, I was more than a little disappointed that the majority of the espionage and intrigue in this novel was all fiction.  I so desperately wanted there to really be a Pink Carnation and a Purple Gentian, but that just shows how totally engrossing Willig's novel is.  It sucked me right in and didn't even let me go when I finished the book.  I had to immediately purchase the next book in the series (and the next after that and the next after that.........you get the idea).  Now, at the halfway point in the series, I'm taking a small moment to recommend this novel to readers in search of a great escape from reality.  Then I'm heading back to England with Eloise and the Pink Carnation!

Grace gives this book 5 out of 5 carrots!

Click here to purchase your copy at The Velveteen Rabbit Bookshop and Guest House!

Monday, January 9, 2012

"Persuasion" by Jane Austen

Jane Austen's last novel, though overshadowed by her other wonderful classics, is fully worthy of the highest praise. Anne Elliot is the unmarried heroine of the story, having been persuaded to deny her love her hand in marriage, due to class distinctions. Now a handsome naval officer, a resentful Captain Wentworth and Anne are brought back into the same social circle. Various love interests and crises spice the pages, which go by altogether too quickly.

Unique charaters make this novel the intriguing satire that it is. Proud Sir Walter Elliot, conniving Mrs. Clay and fickle Mary Musgrove are a few who make their appearances. Anne Elliot herself is described by her creater as "almost too good for me", according to every description of the book that I've read. The plot jaunts across England, from Lyme to Bath, and the latest news is never far behind. An intelligent commentary on England's gentry, it is moreover an artfully scripted lesson in love and true character.

Kerry gives it five out of five carrots!

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot


I love reading about women who were erased by time. The magnitude of Henrietta Lacks--her life, her death, her cells--has impacted almost every facet of genetic science since the 1950's. She has opened the doors for a crop of new cures, allowed new and exciting research to be done, and caused a generation of people to question the ethical practices in modern medicine. Perhaps most impressive, Henrietta Lacks did all this after she died--and without her knowledge or permission.

Henrietta suffered through a rare and extremely volatile case of cervical cancer. While being treated, doctors collected samples of her tissue for medical tests. They never asked permission; they never informed her family. Little did they know her cells were capable of reproducing indefinitely, becoming the first "immortal" cell. These "HeLa" cells (taken from the first two letters of Henrietta's first and last names) were soon distributed world-wide for use by scientists. Skloot not only unearths the lost story of Henrietta's life--for years, scientists believed the source of their cells was a "Helen Lane"--she also delves deeply into the impoverished, superstitious, and often-jilted Lacks family. A heartfelt story of a family's struggle to understand their mother and her impressive legacy is woven into Skloot's impeccable journalism and scientific descriptions.

Beth gives this book five out of five carrots!

Click here to purchase your copy of "Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" at The Velveteen Rabbit Bookshop!