Literature

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

This will most likely be a fairly short review because, even though I remember enjoying this book and finishing it quite quickly, I don’t really know what to say about it. Basically, a changeling takes the place of young Henry Day, who becomes Aniday and joins the band of changelings who live in the forest bordering his old home. Donohue’s book follows the story of both boys as the new Henry Day grows up, feeling not-quite-normal despite appearances to the contrary while Aniday struggles to retain memories of his other life as a normal boy while adjusting to his new life as a timeless pseudo-child.

The parallel stories are interesting, perhaps prompting a discussion of nature vs. nurture, and the writing is lovely, lyrical and flowing. There does seem to be something unsettling about the stories, as neither character quite becomes assimilated to their new lives – they still retain a sort of otherness about them despite the passage of time. Overall a very thoughtful book, although I might have preferred waiting for it to come out in paperback.

My rating: B+

Young Adult

The Death Collector by Justin Richards

When I first bought this book, I was rather worried that this was the book I should have written. Let’s see: Victorian London, a pickpocket, the British Museum, walking dead, and dinosaurs. What could go wrong? But fortunately, for my peace of mind at least, it was yet another case of fascinating premise let down by the writing and, well, the plot. I think the main problem with this book was that with such an exciting idea at its core, it had a lot to live up to. It wasn’t that it was bad, really, it’s just that it wasn’t as good as it should have been.

My rating: C

Startled By His Furry Shorts by Louise Rennison

This is the seventh in Louise Rennison’s series featuring Georgia Nicholson and I don’t care that it’s basically more of the same, it’s good enough for me! Really, I just can’t get enough of Georgia’s hilarious voice. I’m glad she’s back in England after her trip to Hamburger-a-Go-Go Land in the previous book, but other than that, there’s not much to say about this one, really, other than the fact that Georgia’s family is still the most eccentric family on the block and her relationships become even more complicated than ever! This is definitely one series that needs to be read from the beginning and if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it – it’s sort of in the vein of Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series (which I love, too), but with exponentially more…something!

My only complaint is that they changed not only the size of the book, but the cover as well, so it doesn’t match the other six books in the series! Alas.

My rating:B+

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

First off, I’d like to say that this is the first date that I’m waiting for.

That said, this is a fantastic book. If you haven’t read David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, go do so immediately. I’ll wait.

Amazing, wasn’t it? So this one shouldn’t be hard sell, then, since half of it was written by him. The other half was written by Rachel Cohn of Gingerbread fame. They would have had to work hard to make this book go wrong. It’s a wonderful mix of romantic and gritty and makes me long to be a teenager again, but living in New York this time around. Nick and Norah have so much to explore, including themselves and each other, and they do it with a mix of prickly uncertainty and infinite courage that is inspiring.

I will warn readers that there is a bit of language and the teensiest bit of sex present, but I tell you this not to put you off the book. Not by any means. I imagine most of you are past the point of worrying about parental censorship, but if you buy it for or recommend it to anyone who isn’t yet, just warn them to be sure that no one is reading over their shoulder.

My rating: A

Non-fiction: Travel/Humor

You Can Get Arrested For That: 2 Guys, 25 Dumb Laws, 1 Absurd American Crime Spree by Rich Smith

This book suffers much the same problem as The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke: great premise, disappointing follow-through. However, this one didn't inspire hatred so much as apathy.

The premise of this book is, well, the title says it all, really – 2 Guys, 25 Dumb Laws, 1 Absurd (or not, in my opinion) American Crime Spree. Rich Smith found 25 obviously antiquated laws, such as it’s illegal to kiss for longer than 5 minutes in Iowa or it’s illegal to fall asleep in a cheese factory in South Dakota, and decided to drive across the country breaking them. In the hands of Bill Bryson, this would have been a tour de force! Alas, Rich Smith is no Bill Bryson.

Out of the 25 laws, he only succeeds in breaking, well, I can’t find the exact number in the book, but I’m pretty sure that, while it was over half, it wasn’t all of them. And the ones that he “broke,” he often asked permission to break which sort of voids the definition of breaking the law, don’t you think? If someone in a position of authority says you can do it, it’s not really breaking the law.

His writing is clever enough and he does make some interesting and valid observations about travel in general, the absurdity of authority, and America’s foibles, but all in all, it’s a pretty disappointing trip. If he writes anything else, I’ll probably skim through it a bit more thoroughly before purchasing it, but I’ll definitely give him a chance.

My rating: C

Literature

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

First, let me type up the description on the book for you:

What if you found a 200-year-old love letter written from a fictional character to the writer who created him? And what if, next to that letter, was another addressed to this character…from the author herself? Truth may be stranger than fiction, but one woman is about to find out what happens when fiction becomes truth…New York artist Eliza Knight certainly did not realize it at the time, but her life changed when she bought the old, beat-up vanity table one lazy Sunday afternoon. Tucked away behind the mirror, she found two letters, one sealed, but one already opened:‘May 12th, 1810. Dearest Jane, the Captain has found me out. I am being forced to go into hiding immediately. But if I am able, I shall still be waiting at the same spot tonight. Then you will know everything you wish to know. F. Darcy.’

F. Darcy? Fitzwilliam Darcy, the fictional hero of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice ? Even more mysterious was the other letter, sealed and never read — from Jane to Darcy. Could this man, possibly the most romantic character ever written and the hero of Eliza’s favorite novel, have been a real person? Eliza’s initial guarded curiosity turns to astonishment as scientific testing confirms the sealed letter was indeed addressed by Jane Austen. But she is completely baffled by the revelation that the other letter, though proven to be from the same time period — was written by an American.Caught between the routine of her present life and the intrigue of these incredible discoveries from the past, Eliza decides to look deeper. Her research leads to a majestic, 200-year-old estate in Virginia’s breathtaking Shenandoah Valley where she meets the one man who may hold the answer. But he also has a secret, one he has kept hidden for years. Now, as the real story of Fitzwilliam Darcy unfolds, Eliza finds her life has become a modern-day romance, one that perhaps only Jane Austen herself could have so eloquently written”

Sounds intriguing, right? I love books that are about books a la Jasper Fforde or Ex-Libris, I love Pride and Prejudice, I just knew I would love this book. I mean, who doesn’t read Jane Austen and wish she had fallen in love with a real Mr. Darcy? For that matter, who doesn’t wish that Mr. Darcy would fall in love with them?! So how could this book fail?! Wait. I mean, How could this book fail?

I’ll tell you. By quoting the dedication page:

For Jane Austen, Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth

Creepy, no? Except that’s not all. This reads like something off of ff.net. A poorly written something off of ff.net. All the characters are one dimensional. Eliza is neither intelligent, nor likable. Her “research” of which the synopsis speaks consists of going to an exhibit at the New York public library where she scoffs at the dresses on display, sure that Jane would never wear such frivolous clothes. Be that as it may, it’s still a lame thing to waste time writing in a book. There she runs into a modern, American Mr. Darcy who does nothing but check her out. As in her figure, not a book she borrows from the library. Lame, lame, lame.

Jane reads like a heroine in a romance novel, something she would never sound like especially if she’s not going to at least have the courtesy to don the frivolous clothing that goes along with her behavior. Eliza only tosses her hair and is feisty at select moments. Darcy is sufficiently brooding and heroic. There is a modern day rival whose name I can’t remember, nor can I be bothered to pick up the book to find out and it’s sitting right next to me on the desk. We’ll just call her lame. The plot manages to be convoluted and predictable all at the same time. I honestly can’t find anything good to say about this book. I think I wouldn’t be so rabidly anti-The Man Who Loved Jane Austen if the premise hadn’t been so intriguing and had so much promise.

In conclusion: This book was LAME.

My rating: F+ (and only “+” because of the promising premise)

Literature

The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime by Jasper Fforde

With his newer Nursery Crime series, Jasper Fforde had a lot of expectations to live up to. The first book in the series, The Big Over Easy, didn’t quite meet them. Of course, that could just have been the inherent disappointment in finding that it was not a Thursday Next book. I suspect that, without the Thursday Next series, The Big Over Easy would have seemed a lot better – it had the same clever meta-literary theme i.e. characters from nursery rhymes interacting with and living in the real world, a likable protagonist and supporting characters, and a good mystery. The only thing it didn’t have was Thursday Next.

In The Fourth Bear, Fforde finally succeeds in making the reader forget all about the lack of Thursday Next. He has hit his stride with these characters – Jack Spratt (of ‘could eat no fat’ fame) gains a dimension or two as does Mary Mary (as in quite contrary). His other officer in the Nursery Crime department, an alien named Ashley who came to Earth to find out why there were only three series of Fawlty Towers, emerges as an exceptionally charming character. I only wish we would have seen more of Jack’s eccentric family (his first wife, who could eat no lean, passed away years ago and Jack has since remarried) – they are quite charming and likable, especially Jack’s wife, Madeleine.

Many of Fforde’s characteristic authorial devices are present here, as well. It has a knowing quality to it, as though the characters are aware that they are fictional, and there are a few vague references to the author himself. In fact, Punch and Judy, who move in next door to Jack, seem to serve only as a plot device, but Fforde is probably aware of that. More to the point, they probably are, too. His literary jokes are laugh-outloud funny. As an example, let me only say that Dorian Gray makes an appearance as a used car salesman. Just think about it for a moment. The mystery is also believable and has enough twists to keep you guessing. I have to admit, though, that I am not an avid mystery reader, so perhaps my deductive skills are a tad more rusty than those of you who read mystery novels on a regular basis. I certainly didn’t see it coming!

In the back of the book was a note, saying to expect the next Thursday Next book in the summer of 2007. There was also one reassuring the reader that Jack, Ashley, and Mary would all return in another story of their own at some point in the future. I can honestly say that I am looking forward to both of them.

My rating = B+

Progress!

I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think I may have gotten a job and an apartment all in the same day! Huzzah! The apartment is a studio, so it’s small, but it’s in an old building, so it’s got lots of character – it’s really cute! And the job is working in a video rental shop on-campus – not very glamorous, but the pay’s got to be better than nothing!