Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book Reviews

Normally I would post a book review one at a time but I wanted to play catch up. You can see my usual updates over at Dianna the Explorer but I like to keep anything bookish over here.

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
Why I picked it up: My mom read it for her book club and highly recommended it to me.
My rating: 9/10

In summary, the book is about a young white woman named Skeeter who wants to write a book about black help in the south. It shows how much effort she goes through to get interviews and to get women to open up and trust her. The novel is written in her point of view as well as two black women named Aibileen and Minny.

I apologize that my summary is so short. It's been a very long time since I read it and I can't remember all of the details but I know I thought it was amazing. It was beautifully written and perfectly displayed the balances between black and white perspectives.

The Heretic's Daughter
by Kathleen Kent
Why I picked it up: Recommended by a friend.
My rating: 7/10

In summary, the book is about the prosecution of Martha Carrier in the Salem Witch trials, as told by her young daughter Sarah. It starts out with Sarah and Martha, both strong willed females, clashing constantly but it then follows their relationship as Martha is accused of being a witch, tried, and hung although completely innocent. While this story has the Salem Witch trials as a background, it's really about the bond between mother and daughter.

Again, this is a book I read quite a while ago. My old colleague, Amy, had recommended it to me. I read it and recommended it to my mom, who then used it for her turn during her book club she enjoyed it so much. This is a great, fast read about a horrible time in our nation's history were dozens were wrongly accused during a time where people were really just scared of the world they lived in and blamed anything bad on the people around them.

Book 1/8 of the Outlander series
by Diana Gabaldon
Why I picked it up: Recommended to me by a family friend since I was about to move to Scotland.
My rating: 6.5/10

In summary, the book is about Claire Randall, a nurse in the 1940's who is transported back in time to the 1740's in the Highlands of Scotland. It follows her as she becomes tangled up in adventure and love, all the while trying to return back to her time where her husband, Frank, is waiting. Claire is tormented constantly by her growing feelings for Jaime Fraser, a young Highland warrior.

I thorougly enjoyed 99.6% of this book. I won't say the reason why I didn't like it but something happens at the end of the book that just soured my taste buds. I just felt like it really didn't fit in the book and almost made me not continue on with the series had the last few pages not restored itself and the first 600 pages been amazing. Yes, that's right. First 600 pages. Each book in the Outlander series is about 600-700 pages and there are 8 of them (the last one has yet to be published) so make sure you're up for the long haul if you're interested in reading them!

Dragonfly in Amber
Book 2/8 of the Outlander series
by Diana Gabaldon
Why I picked it up: I wanted to see what happens next after reading Outlander.
My rating: 7/10

This book starts off about 21 years after Outlander. You find Claire back in her own time (now the 1960's) and she has become a doctor with no Jamie in sight and you don't know why. Claire's husband Frank has died and she can finally tell her daughter, Brianna, the truth about her father. The story then flashes back to where we left Claire and Jamie back in the mid-1700s to find out what happened.

When I first read Outlander, I had just landed in Scotland so I didn't know where anything was. I started this book after I'd taken a trip to the Highlands and as I read this book, I realized I'd been to a lot of the places they talked about which made me enjoy it even more as I was able to envision everything. While I didn't enjoy the storyline of Claire and Jamie together in the second book as much as I did in the first book, overall I enjoyed it and liked the introduction of Brianna who will continue, I believe, to have a role in the upcoming novels. I liked it enough to get the third book, Voyager, which I'm holding off for a while as I read some other books I've had sitting around longer. I think that book will make me ultimately decide whether I continue with the series.

Book 3/3 of the Hunger Games series
by Suzanne Collins
Why I picked it up: I've read the first two and enjoyed them and they were originally introduced to me by my friend, Megan.
My rating: 8/10

I haven't posted reviews of the first two books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. Both are wonderful spins on the idea of a post-apocalyptic world in the future that has been divided up into 13 districts. Each has its own role to play in society. When the 13th district rebelled against the Capitol, war broke out and was crushed. As a reminder to society, every year each district has to send one boy and one girl to the Capitol to compete in the Hunger Games where they all must fight to the death with one victor. This book follows Katniss Everdeen as she volunteers to go to the Games when her little sister, Prim, is drawn from the lottery. I don't want to spoil anything or go into too much detail but in the second book, Katniss is again selected to go to the Hunger Games and in the third book, the districts break out in war against the Capitol. Amazing, original series. A bit dark for younger children but a must read.

A Matter of Magic
Two books in one - Mairelon the Magician and The Magician's Ward
by Patricia C. Wrede
Why I picked it up: Liked the cover in the book store so I picked it up.
My rating: 5/10

These two books take place in the late 1800s, early 1900s (can't remember exactly) in London. Kim is a 'waif' or a street-urchin and makes a living picking pockets. She becomes entangled with a street magician named Mairelon who she finds out is an actual wizard (apparently people know about wizards in this London which wasn't very clear at first). He asks Kim to become his apprentice and they go on a journey to clear Mairelon's name of a crime he has been framed for. In the second book, Kim is made Mairelon's ward and it follows her as she joins high society and trains to become a wizard.

I enjoyed the second book much more than the first. I wasn't too crazy about the first book - I found it rushed. The books are only about 200 pages each and the first book is really covering only a few days where all these events unfold in a matter of hours (and really it's not a bunch of events, it's a whole bunch of people getting together saying 'you did this and then I did this' 'and then I did this' 'oh I can't believe that happened, so this means that'. Not a lot of action - just talking. I wasn't crazy about it and to be honest, I wouldn't have continued with The Magician's Ward if it hadn't already been part of the book. I enjoyed it much more because the pace was structured better and everything didn't happen all at once. There was the nice 'roller-coaster' climax with the rises and falls in the plot and the big bang at the end where a lot of questions come about. However, if there were to be sequels, I'm not sure if I'd go get them.

The Constant Princess
by Philippa Gregory
Why I picked it up: Have read and enjoyed Gregory's books in the past
My rating: 6.5/10

I've read a few of Philippa Gregory's novels including The Other Boleyn Girl, Wideacre (the only one I didn't like), and The Queen's Fool. I plan on eventually continuing with The Boleyn Inheritance. She's a great author, giving an interesting spin on Tudor history. In this novel she follows Katherine of Aragon from a young age as she married Prince Arthur of England. In her history, Katherine (or Catalina as she is first known as) is in love with Arthur and when he dies early in their marriage, he makes her promise on his death bed that she will marry his brother Henry and carry out their plans for England as queen. Therefore, Katherine tells the greatest lie in history - that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated and she is still a virgin.

The book is primarily in third person with intervals in italics in first person from Katherine's point of view. I, at first, found these sections annoying because a scene would happen in third person and then it would happen again in first person but later on the scenes are usually not overlapping so I didn't mind it much. It's certainly not as...uh, raunchy as Gregory's (when compared to The Other Boleyn Girl and Wideacre) other books but I enjoyed it. It even coincided for a moment with a topic we were discussing in my European Studies core class about post-colonial Spain and how Spain had become an empirical power. The book only goes, pretty much, to when Katherine becomes pregnant with Mary.

I hope you find these book reviews helpful. Let me know if you read any of them! I'm going to try to post as I read them now. My next book will be The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane which I'm halfway through.

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