Monday, May 31, 2010

Among the Barons by Margaret Peterson Haddix ***

This is the fourth in the Shadow Children series. I'm pretty committed now to finishing them all, and this one is pretty good. It takes up where it left off with the character of Luke, who has assumed the identity of Lee Grant in order to come out of hiding. The problem now is that the real Lee, who died mysteriously, had a little brother who has decided to come visit his brother "Lee". Smits, the younger brother, knows that his real brother is dead, but can't seem to come to grips with that reality. Luke tries to help Smits, but after awhile everything becomes murky--why is Smits here? Why does he have a bodyguard that follows him everywhere? What are Smits' parents up to?

A good sequel, and it leaves the ending open for a new chapter in the series.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield ****

This one was recommended by a co-worker, she said she couldn't put it down and now I can see why! Though the time period is never clear, the action takes place in England and it is like a modern Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, with all the Gothic horror to go with it.

A biographer, Margaret Lea, is summoned by the most famous writer in Great Britain, Vida Winter, to write her life story. Miss Winter has given at least 200 versions of what her life was like to 200 different reporters, all of which are untrue. Haunted by one young man from the past who asked her for the truth, Miss Winter decides to finally reveal her origins to Margaret. But is this the truth this time?

Like my friend told me, this is a very engrossing story that will leave you pondering how it all fits together until you get to the end. I'm not the most romantic person in the world, so I had a hard time suspending my disbelief at certain points in the book, but overall it was a great read and filled with interesting character studies. The twists and turns were at times hard to follow, but when looked at in the context of a master storyteller giving her last performance, I could believe that Miss Winter could tell her story in this way.

Another aspect of this book is it's description of the love of reading. This was one of my favorite parts, because I feel as compelled as the character Margaret to read all that comes within my grasp too. All the books of the world are there to be read, and when you look at them you realize that all their authors were trying in their own way to keep themselves alive, to make a monument to their knowledge to pass on. Even the most dull textbook from 100 years ago is of some value, because it contains the life work of someone. It is an attempt to continue one's soul beyond our earthly scope.

So if you like a good Gothic mystery in Jolly Old England, or if you just love to read, I think you will like this book.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Among the Betrayed by Margaret Peterson Haddix ***

This is the third book in the Shadow Children series. Like all sequels, it's hard to keep up the excitement that the first book had. Ms. Haddix gets around that problem by introducing all new characters in this book, the main one being a child that was in the background of the last book. Now we learn about her story.

Nina is a third child, illegal in this future version of the US. So she has been in hiding at Harlow's School for Girls, along with most of the other students there. But when her first love, Jason, betrays her, Nina's life goes into a downward spiral that ends up with her beaten and in prison, waiting to be executed. When she's given the opportunity to live if she will betray three other third children, Nina faces a difficult decision. Mattias, Percy, and Alia are all younger than her, Alia only being 6. Should she do what she can to stay alive, or should she help these other kids too?

My only criticism of this book has to do with the ending, which if I reveal any of I'll give the story away! Let's just say I'd have been a little more angry with the way I was treated if I were Nina! But otherwise, this is a great book. I can't wait to read the next one!


As a side note, I tried reading an adult book between this one and my previous post, but I couldn't finish the book! It was The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. After reading other people's reviews of it, I realize that not knowing Yiddish was a big part of my problem. I can't recommend that book to anyone, so if you're wanting to read a Michael Chabon book, read The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier and Clay instead--much better!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Among the Impostors by Margaret Peterson Haddix ****

This is the second book in the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I read it pretty quickly, so that could be seen as an indication of how good I thought the book was!

Luke has now assumed the identity of Lee Grant, in order to come out of hiding as a shadow child (any third child, since any children more than two are not permitted in this vision of the future). He's in a very odd boarding school without windows, trying to figure out what he's supposed to be doing and how to survive in this new world he's been thrust into. And most of all, he's trying to figure out who, if anyone, he should trust.

This was a good sequel to Among the Hidden, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes futuristic sci fi.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett *****

I'd heard about this book somewhere, perhaps while listening to NPR. It sounded like an interesting experiment--what if a group of hostages started liking where they were and who they were with? What if they didn't want to be rescued? It's not really like Stockholm syndrome, it's something different. All the people are rich, powerful, and very busy. And when they are taken hostage, they suddenly have time.

The action takes place in the vice-presidential home of an unnamed country in South America. We are told the country is very poor, so in order to attract more investment they are holding a birthday party for a very important man--Mr. Hosokawa. Mr. Hosokawa is the CEO of an electronics company in Japan. But Mr. Hosokawa has no intentions of building a new plant in this "God-forsaken country". His only reason for travelling halfway around the world to this birthday party is because Roxanne Coss, the most talented operatic soprano in the world, will be singing for the guests. And Mr. Hosokawa's great love is opera.

So begins the infamous party, which soon turns ugly when three "Generals" and their barely teen aged troops sneak into the mansion through the air conditioning vents and take over the premises.

This is the kind of book I like, in that it is an in depth look at the characters and how they interact. Mr. Hosokawa, Gen, Roxanne Coss, Carmen, the Three Generals, Simon Thibault, etc. etc. You care deeply for them all by the end of the book, and fear what will happen to them. Roxanne I tended to get annoyed with, she was a very entitled person. But I have noticed that in general that if you act entitled, you are treated with entitlement. Of course you can't help but wonder how you would have behaved in the same situation. Selflessly, like Father Arguedas and Ruben Iglesias? Or otherwise?

I didn't like the ending of the book, but I think that was the point. It wasn't supposed to happen, and it leaves you feeling a sense of doom for the relationship that is featured. It's a futile attempt to recapture something that is gone forever. And haven't we all tried to do that ourselves?

If you like to delve into others, and thereby into yourself, I highly recommend this book.