I had a few days off between Christmas and New Year and I did what I usually do when I have some time off: I read. A lot. Although I did not finish all the books I tried to read (like for example Before I fall by Lauren Oliver which firmly sets me in the minority when it comes to that book – but it was JUST LIKE Groundhog Day, only, with extra emo teens added), the exercise was good and I ended up with a bunch of books I loved to bits. Some of them I already reviewed. Some will be reviewed in full soon. But there were four of them that were on the shortish side (around 200 pages mark) I thought I could review them together in a more concise (HAHAHA, as if I was capable of that) manner.
We can call these four books: Ana’s Holiday Bundle of Joy!
(after the break, because I am many things but apparently “concise” is not one of them, alas).
Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin
Harlequin, 2010, MMP: 288 pages
Review copy provided by author
During China’s infamous Tang Dynasty, a time awash with luxury yet littered with deadly intrigues and fallen royalty, betrayed Princess Ai Li flees before her wedding.
Miles from home, with only her delicate butterfly swords for defense, she enlists the reluctant protection of a blue-eyed warrior….
Battle-scarred, embittered Ryam has always held his own life at cheap value. Ai Li’s innocent trust in him and honorable, stubborn nature make him desperate to protect her—which means not seducing the first woman he has ever truly wanted….
Ah, my first ever Harlequin novel. I admit to being prejudiced against Harlequin novels even loving Romance novels as I do. (One of the reasons is that I suspect many of its novels are written to a formula. See here: Harlequin Writing Guidelines for each of its lines).
This prevented me from picking this book up even though I LOVE the cover, I welcome the diverse setting (Tang Dynasty! China!) and there were loads of favourable reviews from trusted sources. It wasn’t until the author contacted us to offer a copy for review that I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try. And do you know what? It was a pretty good book and I am all: Shame on Me.
Ai Li is the daughter of the Emperor and is on her way to an arranged marriage with a powerful ally when she discovers he was part of a plot that killed one of her brothers. She flees and is trying to make her way back home when she is attacked. She fights the attackers with her awesome skills and Butterfly Swords. She is helped by Ryam, a white “barbarian” (perhaps Russian?) who then agrees to escort her back to her father and the two fall in love on the way there.
I will start with the not so good. At first, it seemed that all my misgivings were to be proven true because there is an element of insta-lust coming from Ryam as he examines Ai Li with his lustful eyes which was sort of tripe and fell into tired, clichéd territory. Secondly, at least until I got used to it, I had a problem with the language used. These two did not speak the same language and tried to communicate in Ryam’s mother tongue but that is not really incorporated into the novel that well. In fact, it was actually really grating when Ryam said something like “”You kicked me pretty hard for all my trouble” which sounds extremely MODERN for a novel set in the 10th century. I was able to let go once the novel got going but there is one thing that made me actually upset. Harlequin, if you are going to make a point of being diverse and celebrating other cultures, it would do you good not to transliterate the name of your main Chinese character so that it sounds more Westernised. Her name is Ai Li – so why call her Ailey? I understand Ryam doing so, but even when we are inside HER head, from HER point of view, it still was Ailey. It this lack of trust in your readers to grasp that it’s the same person?
Rants aside, I did really enjoy the book. Once they start travelling together and after I got used to the language (once I accepted it, that is) the story fully transformed into something else. It is a Road story with a lot of great action scenes and adventure (Ai Li kicks so much ass with her little swords! It’s awesome) and what turned out to be a lovely romance. I particularly enjoyed the themes of Honour and Family and Tradition that were the heart of the conflict between Ryam and Ai Li. She incorporates those in her daily life, in her beliefs and never let them go – they are part of her identity, even as she has to struggle with making choices that might break away from her parent’s idea of honour. Ryam is more of a free spirit who is not really aware of those things, at least not in the same way and it’s interesting to see how it all plays out – I loved that the story is set in China and it remains in China till its happy ending. I enjoyed it so much, I went and bought the novella in the same world The Taming of Mei Lin and I am looking forward to her next one The Dragon and the Pearl.
Rating: 6 – Good
Trapped by Michael Northrop
Scholastic, Feb 2011, HC: 240 pages
Review copy provided by author
The day the blizzard started, no one knew that it was going to keep snowing for a week. That for those in its path, it would become not just a matter of keeping warm, but of staying alive….
Scotty and his friends Pete and Jason are among the last seven kids at their high school waiting to get picked up that day, and they soon realize that no one is coming for them. Still, it doesn’t seem so bad to spend the night at school, especially when distractingly hot Krista and Julie are sleeping just down the hall. But then the power goes out, then the heat. The pipes freeze, and the roof shudders. As the days add up, the snow piles higher, and the empty halls grow colder and darker, the mounting pressure forces a devastating decision….
Michael Northrop wrote Gentlemen, one of my top reads last year and I was very much looking forward to reading Trapped. It is about a group of kids (and one teacher) that get trapped in a High School in the middle of the worst snowstorm EVER. It sounds great plus the book has been described as Breakfast Club meets The Shinning. After reading it, I am left baffled as to why and how in the world were these associations made? There is nothing even remotely Breakfast Clubb-y (unless you count teenagers in high school, which then means that 99% of YA is just like Breakfast Club) or Shinning-y (unless you count the snow?) about this book and I recommend you adjust your expectations accordingly should you decide to read it.
The story is narrated by one of kids and it starts just before the storm hits by building up the reason why they get left behind which happens for a myriad of believable reasons. At first they believe it will only be for a few hours but as the snow builds outside, the hours – and days – pass, mobiles get disconnected, electricity and heating die and tempers rise. Things like where to get food, how to go to the toilet when the water freezes in the type, or who are hooking up with who are only part of what adds tension to the story – it is like the most mundane things in the midst of the most horrendous situation. I read it hard and fast and with a growing sense of upcoming doom but it isn’t as riveting or thrilling as it ought to have been considering the premise although maybe the anticlimactic feel is probably more realistic though? I am undecided on the matter. I do think Gentlemen is a much superior work from this author.
Rating: 6 – Good
The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones
Harper Collins, 1980 (First Edition), Paperback: 288 pages
In the Italian Dukedom of Caprona, the houses of Montana and Petrocchi control everything magical, watched over by its magnificent guardian statue, the Angel. But the families have been feuding for years so when all the spells that are meant to vanquish the threat of war from other city-states all start going wrong–each predictably blames the other. It is only when the young Tonino Montana and Angelica Petrocchi suddenly disappear that rumours of a White Devil who threatens the Angel of Caprona are taken seriously. Family differences must be cast aside to save the day from an evil enchanter, and lives cannot be saved without the involvement of the magic man they call Chrestomanci.
I read Charmed Life, my first DWJ novel last year, loved it and immediately bought the next two books in the Chrestomanci series. This one is set in one of the different alternate worlds in the Chrestomanci universe where Italy is still divided in Dukedoms.
In the fair city of Caprona, two households (the Montana and the Petrocchi ), both alike in dignity (well, sort of) and magical powers, are sworn enemies. When the magic spells that protect the city start to fail, they blame each other and fighting ensues until their two youngest children are kidnapped and they must GASP work together to save them AND Caprona. The book is from the point of view of Tonino, the youngest child (10 year old?) of the Caprona household but it’s not infantile at all. The story is full of wonders and so imaginative, and I loved hoe the spells had to be sang by the magicians, it has one of the best talking cats ever in literature AND it is creepy.as.hell. There is this one scene where the two kids have to replay the scenes of Punch and Judy that left me with the mouth hanging open – those who say that YA and Children literature are safe and downplayed, I have one thing to say to you: HAHAHAHAHA. I would very much like to submit the villain of this book as one of the Evilest villains I ever read.
Also: this is a perfect example of a novel that pays tribute to a well-known story (Romeo and Juliet) but adding its own flavour to it and without overwhelming the readers with how much alike the two are.
The Magicians of Caprona was a lot of fun although not as charming as Charmed Life. I am truly loving these books and will be reading Witch Week pretty soon.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Penguin, 1912 (First Edition), Paperback: 144 pages
Jerusha Abbott was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. The children were wholly dependent on charity and had to wear other people’s cast-off clothes. Jerusha’s unusual first name was selected by the matron off a grave stone (she hates it and uses “Judy” instead), while her surname was selected out of the phone book. At the age of 18, she has finished her education and is at loose ends, still working in the dormitories at the institution where she was brought up.
One day, after the asylum’s trustees have made their monthly visit, Judy is informed by the asylum’s dour matron that one of the trustees has offered to pay her way through college. He has spoken to her former teachers and thinks she has potential to become an excellent writer. He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance. Judy must write him a monthly letter, because he believes that letter-writing is important to the development of a writer. However, she will never know his identity; she must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply.
Oh, internets words cannot describe how much I loved this little gem of a book. I would never know about it if it wasn’t for the Other Ana’s wonderful review of it over at Things Mean a Lot. So, thank you Ana!
Daddy Long-Legs was first published in 1912 and it’s an epistolary novel (oh, how I love these!) featuring orphaned Jerusha Abbot, or “Judy” later on, as she leaves the orphanage she grew up at to go to university. The opportunity is granted to her by one of the orphanage’s trustees, who wants to remain anonymous and asks only that she sends him letters about how she is getting on with her education. She nicknames him Daddy Long-Legs after catching a glimpse of his well, long legs and the book is made up of those letters. It follows Judy as she leaves the orphanage, starts to attend lessons, and then eventually grows up, graduates and gets married.
Her story is beautiful to behold because Judy is for lack of a better word, AWESOME. She is smart, she is witty, funny, a keen observer of her environs. She might be an Orphan Who Got a Chance but she is not a martyr and she works hard to better her situation. She is thankful to Daddy Long-Legs for the chance he gave her but that does not prevent her from being opinionated or saying what is on her mind – and the things that are on her mind are again, made of awesome. Early feminism, the triumph of hard work over privilege plus a lovely romance (awww) make this a new favourite to me. Plus I love epistolary novels so much anyway and this one is full of those unsaid things that make up the best of them – the “read between the lines” factor that I love so much.
Internets, I could go on and on and I am sure I could find something to fault as no book is perfect but I loved this with all my heart, will read it again and recommend it wholeheartedly to everybody (and it’s SO cheap, I paid £0.72 for the kindle) so I deem it a Totally Awesome Book, a book Made for Ana and one who deserves to be read. I shall leave you with proof of its awesomeness:
I am beginning, in fact, to feel at home in the world – as though I really belonged to it and had not just crept in on sufferance. I don’t suppose you understand in the least what I am trying to say. A person important enough to be a Trustee can’t appreciate the feelings of a person unimportant enough to be a foundling.
The way people are forever rolling their eyes to heaven and saying, ‘perhaps it’s all for the best’, where they are perfectly dead sure it’s not, makes me enraged. Humility or resignation or whatever you choose to call it, is simply impotent inertia. I’m for a more militant religion!
You can’t know how I dreaded appearing in school in those miserable poor-box dresses. I was perfectly sure to be put down in calls next to the girl who first owned my dress, and she would whisper and giggle and point it out to the others. The bitterness of wearing your enemies’ cast-off clothes eats into your soul. It I wore silk stockings for the rest of my life, I don’t believe I could obliterate the scar.
That’s the way with everybody. I don’t agree with the theory that adversity and sorrow and disappointment develop moral strength. The happy people are the ones who are bubbling over with kindliness. I have no faith in misanthropes. (Fine word! Just learned it.) You are not a misanthrope are you, Daddy?
You know, Daddy, I think that the most necessary quality for any person to have is imagination. It makes people able to put themselves in other people’s places. It makes them kind and sympathetic and understanding. It ought to be cultivated in children. But the John Grier Home instantly stamped out the slightest flicker that appeared. Duty was the one quality that was encouraged. I don’t think children ought to know the meaning of the word; it’s odious, detestable. They ought to do everything from love.
And that’s Ana’s Holiday Bundle of Joy! What about you? Did you read anything you liked over the Christmas holiday?