Tag Archives: childrens

#25: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, Illustrated by Ana Juan

This book was delightful!

Folklore is my favorite genre because it can be super small and specific to one group, or huge and universal.  I love fairy tales, both new and retold.  When a talented writer works with the motifs to create something new, I’m always thrilled that they’ve made it comfortable and familiar without writing a cliché.  I’ve talked about this in other reviews, and it’s a thrill to see it done.  Sometimes you get a book that follows the path and there’s no surprises.  It might be a nice journey, but it doesn’t really impress you.  Sometimes you get a book that tries something new and fails.  But then you find a book that is wonderful all around, and Valente wrote one of those for us.

September is twelve years old and lives in Omaha.  Her father is off fighting in the war and her mother is in the factories making planes to help with the war effort.  September is bored, frustrated and angry.  A Green Wind shows up and takes her away to Fairyland, letting her know that help is needed and that maybe she’ll be the girl to save them all.

Her introduction to Fairyland was really funny.  She has to go through a TSA-like procedure to get a passport and cross over.  I loved how Valente did this.  It’s still a familiar story, but there’s a pause into the absurd before September can carry on.

Of course she’s going to meet characters along the way, take up quests, solve problems, and learn about herself.  It wouldn’t be a fairy tale if she didn’t.  She gains a wonderful companion, a Wyverary who knows everything A-Through-L.  Like many characters in many tales, I wanted him to be real so we could hang out.

September learns that the good Queen has been missing for a very long time and the evil Marquess is now in control and wants to make life miserable for all of Fairyland’s residents.  September, of course, must confront the Marquess, but before she can do so, she must follow the folklore path and learn more about Fairyland.

I loved the structure of this book so much.  The nameless author has asides for the reader, and this almost always works for me, especially in kids’ books.  I would get stupidly excited when I was young because I thought it was hilarious when the author broke the fourth wall to talk directly to me about what was happening in the book.  Seeing it as an adult, it makes me feel like that giggling little kid again.  Sometimes it can be annoying if the author tries too hard, but Valente uses it well and it adds to the story.

I liked the twists and reveals.  There was one that I saw coming, but another one was a surprise.  The book is targeted for a middle reader audience but it works on many levels.  There are traditional themes, nods to female protagonists that have explored tales before September’s journey, modern ideas, and a little bit of information about Rosie the Riveter.

I’m happy there will be more in this series and I hope to see more with September and her mother, although I can’t wait to hear about A-Through-L’s adventures.

Super cute, super fun, and a wonderful take on the classic motifs.

2011: The Review

The fact that I’m sitting down on January 31, 2012 to type up my 2011 review sort of sums up the review…  I did not meet my goal of 52 books.  I was very surprised by this because I assumed I read this much by the middle of each year easily.  Clearly I spend more time watching TV, playing video games (Skyrim owns my soul right now), and letting my iPhone own my life than I realized.

Here are the books I finished last year but did not review, so they did not make it into the CBRIII countdown:

#38: The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick

This is a self-help book. I had thought it was a memoir and would have been really disappointed if I didn’t find out it was a self-help book before I got it.  Like any self-help book, there’s stuff in here that is outstanding and there’s stuff in here that made me roll my eyes.  I do like that he framed skills to fit the nerdist mind and I could relate to the negative mindset, but parts of it didn’t work for me.  I think any self-help book is like that though.  I don’t know what I would have thought of this book if I wasn’t a huge fan of Hardwick and the Nerdist podcast.

#39: The Fairy-Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm #1) by Michael Buckley

Super cute!  Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have been living in an orphanage and shuffled around from family to family.  The grandmother, who they were told is dead, shows up to claim them and things start to get more and more confusing for the two girls.  Granny Relda calmly explains that fairy tales are real, they’re all related to the famous Brothers Grimm and it’s up to them to solve crimes in their town and keep all the characters in line. 

I would have LOVED this book and probably the entire series as a young’un because the book was massive and had chapters.  I can see a lot of hardcore young readers tearing these up. 

#40: Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch

Another memoir in my quest to live vicariously through others.  This was a great look at Lynch growing up knowing to her very core that she was going to be a star and how she navigated her way and did it.  There’s a lot of interesting things about her improv work and I was really interested in the terrifying exhilaration of working on a Christopher Guest creation.  She talks about how she realized her drinking was becoming a problem and even if she didn’t have some fantastic rock bottom story, it was time to let it go. 

She developed an incredibly mean streak for herself and had a long running, critical, judgemental voice running over and over through her mind.  In her early thirties she was finally able to embrace her sexuality, come out to her parents, stop drinking, and tackle that inner Sue Sylvester.

She comes across as very honest and open in this book and it’s awesome to see her success, not only with acting but with her wife and wife’s daughter.  It’s awesome when there are happy accidents.

#41: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I loved this. 

I didn’t know it was YA until after I started it, but I would have grabbed it anyway.  It’s super creepy and original and I could not figure out what in the hell was happening. 

Did I mention it’s creepy?

The ending was great and set up the next book.  I wasn’t expecting a series, but I’m really happy it’s in the works because there is a lot that can be done with this.

The pictures make this book work.  So, so creepy.

#42: The Gluten-Free Bible: The Thoroughly Indispensable Guide to Negotiating Life without Wheat by Jax Peters Lowell

Yuck.

There were really helpful sections of this book where the author sticks purely to the facts.  The sections on gluten free grains and flours is outstanding.  She knows what she’s talking about.

However…

There is a lot in this book where she speaks in universal statements that are simply not true and incredibly off-putting if this is not your experience and reality.  She often reminds you about how bad you felt when you kept losing all that weight and didn’t know why.  Remember when your bones stuck out?  Remember when you were so very skinny?  Yeah, that doesn’t always happen.

She also gives tips that work for her and she assumes that everyone will be comfortable and on board.  She talks about how she understands that at first you won’t be comfortable going into a kitchen in a restaurant to read all the labels and make sure the cooks are using clean pots and pans and cleaning off the grill if needed.  Since you won’t feel comfortable doing that right away, just bring your own food and have them cook that.  In clean pots and pans and on a cleaned grill if needed.  WHAT??!?!  Yeah, because that’s totally a comfortable moment!

The part that made me put down the book and groan in pain was when she got to the affirmations.  Yes, I understand the power of positive thinking and I agree that it is important.  However, I am not going to suggest to my newly diagnosed Celiac husband that he walk up and down the bread aisle in the supermarket whispering “You will no longer hurt me.”

I’m sure some people adore this book.  They will love her attitude and find her tips work for their personality.  I am not one of them.

It’s great for the facts, but for me, the tips and behavior suggestions were so alien that they almost negated everything else.

#43: Missy by Chris Hannan

I grabbed this one off the shelf knowing nothing about it. 

Opium addicted, prostitute Dol follows the silver boom miners looking to make money and have a fabulous time.  Nearly permanently gonged out on missy, she wanders aimlessly from party to party and her next dose.  She stumbles upon a violent pimp and his huge stash of missy, steals it, and then must figure out how to get rid of it  before the original owners kill her and everyone she knows.

While all of this is happening, her band of flash-girl friends is falling apart.  Some are killing themselves, some are trying to get out of the business.  On top of everything, Dol’s mom flits in and out of her life.

I almost abandoned this book several times.  I didn’t care about Dol.  Her character was static to the point of being infuriating.  Her friend Ness is done with the life and wants to be a respectable business owner.  She desperately tries to get Dol to come with her, but Dol keeps leading her on and using Ness’ own hopes to fund her missy addiction.  The other flash-girls had no personalities other than what was laid out in the original descriptions.

Dol’s mom was interesting in her desperation.  She’s been in the game too long but knows no other life.  It was incredibly depressing watching her fall apart while maintaining a false ideal of being glamorous and better than anyone else.  Even sadder was Dol’s ongoing attempts to win her mother’s respect and love, or at the least get some any type of attention from her.

I did like the end of the book.  Dol has a great moment of introspection and it changes everything.  I thought it would come sooner and even though I wasn’t too attached to the book, it was incredibly satisfying when it happened. 

#44: The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters by Elisabeth Robinson

More Chick Lit.  This one follows some of the major Chick Lit themes: cancer, sisters, relationships, career, kids, marriage…

There were some clichéd themes, but they often work in Chick Lit, so I only roll my eyes when they aren’t well written.

I liked the structure of this one.  The entire book is told through emails, faxes, letters and other written correspondence from Olivia.  She’s a super powerful Hollywood exec and is infuriated and befuddled by her wide-eyed small town little sister.

Her letters capture their fights and Olivia’s frustrations with love and work.  And then Maddie gets cancer and things change.

One of the things I really liked about this book is that things don’t get all syrupy sweet and perfect once Maddie gets sick.  Family issues are still there and the same fights continue to happen.  Even while the family pulls together, they still push each other’s buttons and push each other away.

It was also really entertaining to see the different sides of Olivia.  You’d see a professional fax she sends to a coworker followed by a pissed off email to a friend followed by a venting, desperate letter to a different friend all covering the same material.  I liked how Robinson captured this truth and show how we all have different voices depending on who our audience is.

There were a few sort of throwaway moments where Robinson slips in some Hollywood fame.  There’s one crazy scene where Olivia describes a date that is completely surreal and ends with the unnamed actor playing the banjo.  Steve Martin, perhaps? 

Robinson is a real-life Hollywood producer, so it’s no surprise that these sections of Olivia’s life are so well written.  Mixed with Maddie’s cancer and family drama, it made for a good read.

***

And there we go!  The 44 books of 2011.  I think there were a few more in there that I started and didn’t finish and maybe a re-read, but these are the ones that made the list.  A mere 8 books more and I would have met my CBRIII goal.

It’s going to happen in 2012 though.  I WILL DESTROY THOSE BOOKS IN THE FACE!

#26: Linnet by Sally Watson

Sally Watson is on a quest to have her books brought out from the dust and back into the hands of young readers.  Check out her website to learn more and be sure to read her bio.  She’s badass.

Fourteen year old Linnet decides she’s had enough of her boring, upper-class life so she sets off to London to find family she’s never met so she can be presented to Queen Elizabeth herself.

Clearly it’s not a well thought out plan.

She doesn’t get far before her heels blister and she meets Sir Colin Collyngewood who ever so graciously offers her a ride the rest of the way to London.  As he calmly present her with the facts of her ill-planned adventure, she is forced to admit she is in need of aid.

Unfortunately she doesn’t listen to him when he tells her he’s a liar and a rogue.  She find herself in an Oliver Twist den of pickpockets and beggars while “Sir Colin”  decides best how to use  her.

There are plots to overthrow the Queen after all, and she could come in useful there, or perhaps he could hold her for ransom.  In the meantime, she’s forced to live with the filthy poor and lower herself to breathe the same air.

Linnet is an interesting character.  For most of the book I found myself rolling my eyes at how unbelievably stupid she was and yet I still liked her.  I kept wondering why she hadn’t had her throat slit by the end of the first chapter, but of course Watson had much better plans for her.  Linnet’s transition is slow, but it happens.  You know it’s going to happen, but it’s still satisfying.  Watson carefully creates a running monologue for Linnet as she is suddenly thrust into a world she knows nothing about.  Although she’s always thought she’s made her own decisions, she realizes her entire life has been based on the small reality of her upper-class existence.

Watson’s books can be a challenge to find at the library, but I recommend hunting for them or buying a copy.  I hope her girls make their way back into bookshelves.  Anyone who is a fan of Anne of Green Gables would enjoy this.