Wednesday, September 23, 2009

End of Summer (Reading Challenge, That Is)

I'm rather proud of myself. For once, I actually made a good-sized dent in the list of books I said I would read for a reading challenge at Teen Lit Review. Here's the original list, with the ones I finished in bold print:

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman by Adrienne Kress - this was a delightfully quirky adventure for young readers, with a delightful girl as the heroine. There were some VERY funny parts.
The Health of the Country: How American Settlers Understood Themselves and Their Land by Conevery Bolton Valencius - I thought this one was going to be the killer for the challenge; I am SO slow at reading nonfiction. But there was some good information, so I'm glad I read it.
Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose - still working on this....
A Difference of Opinion by Nancy Dane - a thoughtful historical romance - quite enjoyable, actually
My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier - I've had this book on my list for three different reading challenges, but never got around to it. I'm really glad I did this time. Although I hate what happened in the story, I thought it was a great book.
The River Between Us by Richard Peck - I liked this one, too. It sort of telegraphed what was going to happen, but there was an unexpected surprise at the end.
Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
Pioneer Breed by Glenn R. Vernam

I'm eager to start another list....

Saturday, September 19, 2009

What Makes a Good Romantic Hero?

I finished A Difference of Opinion by Nancy Dane last night. This morning, I woke up thinking about it, particularly about the hero, Allen Matthers. I'm not quite sure what to think about him. On the one hand, he's a very appealing character; on the other, [SPOILER] he's a murderer.

Allen has a lot of the qualities that I find attractive in a romantic lead, without falling into the cliche' of the romance-novel hero. It's clear that Allen is muscular and strong, but there are no descriptions of his "v-shaped back" or his "muscular thighs." He's handsome, with his bright blue eyes and coppery hair. He's intelligent and he's a musician, facts that raise him above his humble mountain roots. He's very good to Nelda, always showing up when she's in desperate circumstances, saving her life on more than one occasion. And he's always the gentleman - even when they are traveling together at the end of the story and camping alone together, he makes no move to push himself on Nelda. I liked the way he was openly confident he and Nelda would be together, even when she was telling herself she hated him for being a traitor.

But....I can't forget that Allen Matthers killed two men over a pocket watch and some gold coins. I suppose you could argue he killed them because they were a threat to his life - one of them had already shot Nelda. But Allen had already disabled one of the men by breaking his arm - why slit his throat as well? The story happens in a very violent time, the American Civil War. There are hints throughout the book that Allen may have killed several other men in the course of his work with the army (he's a "scout," not a soldier, though). I don't know. I may be able eventually to talk myself into believing he HAD to do it, but right now, it just seems to put a stain on his character that is hard to look past. It's like Allen Matthers, along with Joey Bolitho from FJ Warren's Broken Bonds, will always have an asterisk after his name in the "Hall of Fame" of romantic heroes I've encountered in my reading, ha ha.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Two Princesses of Bamarre

(...and here's the only review my daughter did)

by Gail Carson Levine

It's a really good book. Addie and her sister Meryl play together, but then Meryl gets Gray Death. So Addie goes on the quest to save her sister. She kills an Ogre and outsmarts a dragon.

It was sad at the end.

by Warrior Fan (age 10)

The View from Saturday

(This is the only review my son did for the other blog.)

This is a really good book. It follows the story of 4 members of a 6th grade trivia team. They have made it to the finals in their state, and are playing a team of 8th graders. In between questions asked by the judge, it follows each of the team members' stories. First is Noah, a Jew. Next in line is Nadia, Half-Jew, Half-Protestant. Ethan, Nadia's cousin, also helps the team. And last but not least is the quirky Julian, Indian, and very smart. Their loveable stories make up this Newberry Honor Book. If you would like to read it, the author is E.L. Konigsburg.

Pie Eater Kid (age 13)

The Perilous Gard

(I've decided to cut down on my number of blogs in the hopes that I will be more faithful in maintaining only two. This is a post from a blog I had set up to try to get my kids to write reviews - pretty much a failed effort! They love to read, but they don't seem to have inherited their mom's compulsion to write about what they read...)

Finding this book was one of those happy accidents that happen from time to time in my reading adventures. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope brings together several factors that I enjoy - historical fiction, mythology and mystery, and romance. The story is set in Tudor England, in the last months of Queen Mary's reign. Katherine Sutton, a lady-in-waiting to Princess Elizabeth, is exiled by the queen to a mysterious, isolated castle where she quickly notices that something weird is going on. She is especially intrigued by the handsome and aloof brother (Christopher) of the castle's owner, and her curiosity and infatuation with him (though she would never call it that) soon lead her into a dangerous encounter with the People of the Hill (who are faithful followers of the ancient, pre-Christian religion of the British Isles). She fights to save Christopher from being used as a human sacrifice in a religious ritual, with echoes of the Ballad of Tam Lin.

I liked Kate. When she finally gets the chance to step out of the shadow of her "perfect" sister, she develops into a strong and resourceful young woman who refuses to give up in her efforts to save Christopher. But when her sister re-enters the picture, Kate nearly slips back into the shadows before Christopher saves her, in turn. I liked the way the relationship between Kate and Christopher developed; for most of their "courtship," they can't even see each other and have nothing but talk to sustain them. I actually thought I might be imagining the "romance" angle of the story at first, but no -- the story ended in a satisfying, if rather predictable, way.

My favorite relationship in the book, though, is between Kate and the Lady in the Green (the leader of the Folk). Neither of them trusts the other, and yet they learn to have a degree of respect for each other - at least Kate does, which I think makes her the bigger person.

Teen readers today may be put off by the sort of stiff and old-fashioned writing style. I was, myself, at first. But as I read further into the book, I realized the writing style reflects Kate's personality - matter-of-fact and rational. That was just one more reason to like this book.