Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End by Avi

iconiconA Beginning, a Muddle, and an End is a cute book on writing by one of my favorite young adult writers. When I was younger, I devoured his books — The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was one of my all-time favorites. So I was really attracted to the idea of reading a book on writing by one of my favorite writers.

It was a cute little story, with lots of puns, writing humor, and adorable illustrations. For a more complete review of the book, check out my post on Reading 4 Writers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

iconiconYesterday, just 10 hours after I'd finished blogging about Founding Mothers, I finished reading Frances Hardinge's The Lost Conspiracy. I'd decided to devote some time to reading during the day, but once I started, I found I couldn't bring myself to put this book down!

I first heard about this epic YA fantasy novel a little more than a month ago, when I read NPR's listing of the best YA fiction in 2009. The book was loosely compared to Harry Potter, in the sense that it's one volume instead of seven, but in truth it's more like Tolkien or George R.R. Martin in young adult form than Harry Potter.

I really liked that the main protagonist was a child. A very clever child, sure, but a child nonetheless, with a child's fears and insecurities. You can see her change and grow stronger during the course of the novel, until at some point you stop thinking of her as a child, and start thinking of her as the heroine in a truly amazing journey.

If reading speed says anything about how much I would recommend a book, consider this one to be highly recommended. I finished it after only nine hours of straight reading — I hardly even put the book down to eat dinner!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts

iconiconIt took me, sadly, three full weeks to read this book — a long time for me, but nonfiction usually does take me longer. I borrowed Founding Mothers and the sequel, Ladies of Liberty, from a friend after I saw them on his shelf.

There is a lot of interesting stuff in this book, which is part of why it took so long for me to read it — I wanted to absorb it all. Most of us have heard of the letters Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John Adams, during the Revolutionary War and the forming of our country — especially the most famous one, where she implores him to "remember the ladies." (Did you know that his response to her request was very condescending? Overall, the women of the period seem to have been much more liberal than their menfolk.)

But there were many more women involved in the politics and even the war than just Abigail Adams. Cokie Roberts talks about women who wrote political commentary, ran their husbands' businesses in their absence, advised men on politics, raised money to pay for the troops' expenses, defied the British to protect the army, single-handedly maintained the soldiers' morale, fought for the United States, and even spied for the British.

And the men — on both sides — knew full well the pivotal role the women played. Lord Cornwallis, the British general, wrote, "We may destroy all the men in America, and we shall still have all we can do to defeat the women."

Whether you like history, or women's rights, or both, this book is a fascinating read. You'll be amazed at how much your public school education left out!

Monday, January 4, 2010

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

iconiconYou may remember that over the summer, I read Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl. This was the second book of Gregory's that I'd ever read — I read one of her early ones, Wideacre I think, when I was much younger, though I don't remember much of it now — and I was very impressed.

My mom suggested recently that I should read The White Queen, her most recent book. Although this takes place long before her books about the Tudors, it is written in much the same style — well-researched, but with a touch of imagination and fiction that brings the history to life.

I really like Gregory's way of researching everything thoroughly, and then including an author's note at the end of the book that indicates where she may have deviated a bit from the history, or where she has had to choose from conflicting accounts. Her chapter headings, which always include the date, make it very easy to follow the story and the passage of time.

I particularly like how she brings the characters to life. In The White Queen, she highlights Elizabeth Woodville's family myth that they are descended from Melusina. Elizabeth and her mother are characterized by having special powers that play a role in the historical events. Although this is of course a fictionalized interpretation, it really makes Elizabeth's character come to life in the book: her ambition, her power, and the lengths that she would go to achieve what she wanted.