Thursday, October 30, 2008


The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Challenge: TBR (last one!)
Review: Very little about this book rings true. Which is a shame, because it's a good story, but nearly every scene seems contrived and forced. A few of the scenes that actually deal with art and painting are better than others, but there are too few of those scenes. Once Raphael and Margherita get together, all of their interactions are much the same, with a few variations in words and emphasis. A potentially interesting addition to the painting-turned-novel genre, but not in the same league as some others.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

insider's look

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: memoir, graphic novel
Summary/Review: It's tempting to say that Satrapi chose to write her memoir as a graphic novel because she's not very good at narrative writing, but to say that would be to completely undercut what this book has to offer. Satrapi tells her story through brief narration and elegant black and white drawings, illustrating the repression in Iran (veiled women and bearded men drawn with no mouths) and the freedom of Europe.

Satrapi takes us from her childhood in Iran under the Shah through her experiences during the Islamic Revolution. Her parents send her to Austria when she is 14, and she stays there for 4 years. An outsider in Austria, she returns to Iran, only to continue to feel like an outsider, because she did was not in the country through most of the Iran-Iraq war, and therefore didn't suffer through the bombings and terror that her fellow Iranians did.

Back in Iran, Satrapi continues to be a rebel, but is able to enroll in college to get her degree in graphic arts. Throughout this section of the book, she depicts her personal struggle to reconcile her values with her life in Iran, and to find meaning in her life. She discovers that, for her, meaning comes through education, both personal and institutional, and leaves Iran again to pursue her studies in France.

Through both her drawings and her words, Satrapi tells not just her own story, but that of others affected by the repression in Iran. That this is a graphic novel gives the reader the feeling of a special insider's look into that world.

Monday, October 27, 2008

too much detail, too many characters

Nana by Emile Zola
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Challenges: A-Z (author), 1%
Review: Lots of detail. Sometimes way too much detail. And although the characters manage to somewhat resolve themselves into individuals (at least some of the men do), the way in which they're introduced made them very hard to distinguish one from the other for the better part of the book.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I'll stick to vampires

Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fantasy, YA
Review: As a teenager, Klause’s The Silver Kiss was one of my favorite books, so I was really looking forward to Blood and Chocolate. I’m sorry to say that I was pretty disappointed. In conveying a pack, Klause involves too many characters, most of whom are not fully drawn, and I had trouble keeping them straight.

I did like Klause’s take on werewolf lore, though. As she did with vampire lore in The Silver Kiss, she took the commonly accepted wisdom on the supernatural and modified it to fit her own story. She created a werewolf pack that existed as its own society, with its own rules and traditions. This allows her depict Vivian’s coming of age within the pack rather than telling the same story with the same human characters that have been used many times. However, she does include interactions with human society, giving the reader something they can easily relate to.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

single father

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction, YA
Challenge: A-Z (author)
Review: It gives nothing about this book away to say up front that it's about a single father in high school raising his brand new daughter. Johnson alternates the action forward and backward from the birth of the child, showing Bobby's struggles caring for an infant, and also giving brief glimpses of how things went when Nia was pregnant.

By itself, it's a touching but realistic story of two students with promising futures that suddenly give way to parenthood because of one mistake. But for me, the story really came down to the question of why Bobby was raising the baby. This question is answered toward the end of the book, and to reveal that really would give the whole thing away.

Friday, October 3, 2008

cheesy but hopeful

The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: science fiction, childrens
Review: I'm not sure why DuPrau chose to gradually lower the reading level of this series, but this book reads much more like a book for children than the first three in the series, even though the characters and subject matter remain on a young adult level.

Be that as it may, this is still quite a good book. In the third book, the people of Ember and the people of Sparks are just barely managing to live together harmoniously, but conditions have not improved over the hard winter. Food is scarce and tempers are running short. When Lina and Doon discover a book that describes something left behind for the people of Ember, they decide to go back to their city and try to find this mysterious item, as well as see what supplies may have been left behind when the people left.

What they discover allows DuPrau to end her series on a very hopeful note. She does not disguise the fact that life continues to be hard, but she makes it clear that by working together, the people of Ember and Sparks are able to come together and make a bright new future. As cheesy as that sounds, she writes it so well that you can't help but smile and feel hopeful yourself.