Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss
Stephanie Perkins
Dutton, 2010

I kept hearing all kinds of gushing, wonderful things about this book, and the cover is amazing, so when I won it through Confessions of a Book Addict's Blogoversary Giveaway? I was thrilled. I made myself finish reading what I was reading, and then indulged.

At first glance, it's the average 'girl goes abroad-girl meets boy-girl falls in love-it's all one big happy European love story'. But no. It's more than that. I mean, yeah, there is the whole going to school in Paris-thing, and there is definitely a very strong girl meets boy-girl falls in love vibe to Anna's story. However, it's not that simple. There are other boys - and other girls. There are misunderstandings and miscommunication abounds. Assumptions are made and names are called. Things happen. There are tears and vomit, silences and yelling matches. There are sweet moments and surprises that take your breath away.

The characters are interesting and believable. The setting is foreign - Paris? Totally not my high school experience! - but the story is one that most American teenagers can relate to. (As well as those of  us who have not been in high school for a while). What I really appreciated was the way the characters grow - Anna and Etienne obviously, but also their circle of friends. One thing that did bother me a little, one of those background annoyances that doesn't really affect my enjoyment of the story, is the way Anna presents/deals with her virginity. In one place she states that she's still a virgin because she hasn't met/dated anyone that she felt 'worthy' of that step - and later in the book she recognizes that she herself is "not ready" for that step. Good themes/ideas that should be in more books -- stressing the weight of the decision, you know? And yet, more often, she is horribly embarrassed about her virginity, thereby devaluing her other - more positive - statements. I realize this is a real issue in high school(s) and etc, but if we're going to give our character the first positive thoughts, don't devalue them later. Most teens I know, if they are waiting for the right time and person, are definitely not ashamed of that. So that bugged me a little, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the read - fell a little in love with Etienne St. Clair (despite the height/age discrepancy!) - and look forward to Perkins's next novel!

Book provided by my personal library.


The Last Polar Bears

The Last Polar Bears
Harry Horse
Peachtree Publishers, 2007

I had never heard of the Roo books by Harry Horse, (I'd actually never heard of Harry Horse - I'm not sure how, now...), until Peachtree Publishers offered The Last Polar Bears as a title for review. Oh. My. Goodness. What initially caught my eye was the title - I'm an absolute sucker for a polar bear. Then I saw the cover, and my heart melted.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Last Polar Bears - it's set up as a series of letters from Grandfather-to-[grand]Child, and chronicles the misadventures of Grandfather and his dog Roo. On almost every page is a pen and ink drawing to illustrate the story at hand, and I loved all the details! There is as much going on in the pictures as in Grandfather's text. Definitely an amusing, light-hearted-but-a-little-serious read. Great for young readers adjusting to reading longer books on their own. Now that I'm made the acquaintance of Grandfather and Roo, I hope to revisit them and join them on their other escapades!

Book provided by publisher for review.


New Books!

Well, okay, so technically this should be called "New Book," because I only got 1 ... However, I like the consistency of calling all these posts "New Books!" ...

This week, I was delighted to receive in the mail this adorable, very-portable little treasure:

The Jane Austen Handbook - Margaret C. Sullivan
Thanks to Eric over at QuirkBooks!
I may or may not have had to curl up on the floor and start reading this as soon as I opened the package ... This definitely promises to be a fun, informative read, and I'm looking forward to reading (and reviewing) the experience!


Han Solo: Epic Hero, Flawed Man

Happy Valentine's Day!

On this day dedicated to love of all forms and varieties, what better to ponder than that illusive ideal of 'hero'? My friend Jessica and I have been going back and forth about heroes, particularly those great heroes of film and literature that we all love to adore. From this, she had the brilliant idea to create a 'series' of sorts, wherein we, with the additional insight of Nancy, look at these heroes. Why are they heroes? Why do we love them? What do they mean to us individually? What do they represent to us as a generation? We all agree that we are a generation in need of a Hero -- and how better to find a hero than to become better acquainted with those we use as standards. And so ... This Valentine's Day, I shall spend some quality time with Han Solo: Epic Hero, Flawed Man.

I was introduced to the amazingness of Star Wars 'late' in life - it was my freshman year of college, and there was a blizzard on the way. Mum told me to check out a stash of movies, and started rattling off these titles I'd heard mentioned but never seen. So, I grabbed A New Hope, and fell in love. Since then, I have watched the trilogy (original movies, Episodes IV-VI only, thanks), at least once a year, and fall ever more in love with Han Solo. My friends tease me about it, saying it's really young Harrison Ford I'm in love with (pointing out that I also swoon over Indiana Jones). But it's Solo, not Ford. I mean, think about it. On the most basic and elementary level, how can you not fall in love with the man who has a 7-foot-tall Wookie as best bud and back-up (and who shoots a mean crossbow), all while piloting a sweet little cookie of a ship that just happens to be the fastest in the galaxy? Be still my heart ...

... There's more to Han's hero-status than the 'package' he comes with however. Han is real. As a man? He's tremendously flawed. He's a bad boy - trouble - a smuggler with a bounty on his head and a whole herd of strange creatures hunting him down. He's proud and arrogant, and more than a little smart-mouthed at times. He's makes no effort to hide that he's joined the adventure in A New Hope solely for the money. At first, you wouldn't think he has a heart or is capable of any feeling other than saving his own skin - excepting of course Chewie and the Falcon. So why on earth is he heroic? Because he changes. Or rather, the rough outer layers peel back and you can see the Man behind the exterior.

All the qualities (or lack thereof) that make Han the bad boy smuggler also make him the epic hero: He's stubbornly dedicated once he sets his mind (or heart?) on something. He speaks his mind, he doesn't hold back. What you see is what you get - there's not really a looming mystery about him. Once he starts to 'open up' and break away from the bad boy persona he's embraced for ages, there's a sense of loyalty and justice, courage and leadership. He's still a little rough-and-tumble, he's not got polished grace or banquet manners, but he's real.

Han sums up himself as hero the best, talking to Leia in The Empire Strikes Back:
"You like me because I'm a scoundrel."
It's the scoundrel, flawed man who both knows his weaknesses and strives to better his strengths that makes Han so epic ... He doesn't change, not at heart, so it's not one of those "find a bad boy and make him an angel"-type things. It's a "I make you think I'm a bad boy, because I've not found someone - or something - to make me believe myself a hero"-type thing. And that, my friends, is why I love Han. He's far from perfect, he makes some pretty stupid decisions/statements at times, but he is what and who he is. (And the sweet ship helps too).

For more Valentine's reading: Jessica's covering Superman and Nancy is featuring Darcy! Eek! Such an abundance of heroism on this Love Day!


Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares
Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Knopf Books, 2010

Several years ago, I read Cohn & Levithan's Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist - and I was impressed by their ability to toss chapters back and forth and create a cohesive and enjoyable novel. What I wasn't keen about was the language. Call me old-fashioned, but it bugged me. So I was a little apprehensive about reading another of their co-writing projects. But the premise of this one was just too much to resist, and coupled with the enthusiastic reviews of several of my new blog buddies, I took the dare and read the book. (Pun entirely intended).

Let me begin by saying reading Dash and Lily's story was a little eerie: From the first page, I was hearing the story told in my voice (for Lily's chapters) and my friend Joshua's voice (for Dash's chapters). It was like they'd tapped into our heads or bugged our phones or something. In places it was like reading a conversation we'd have, and the whole story had this feel as if we could/would/should have come up with it. A little strange. Nice, but strange. It made the story more fun, actually, after the initial 'shock' of discovery. Back to the story ... Dash and Lily tell the story in alternating chapters - sometimes the chronology overlaps, but it's not confusing. You're reading both "their story" as it unfolds, while also reading their individual stories. The characters are well developed, and the supporting cast is hilarious and well-placed. It's an improv story of sorts: neither Dash nor Lily has any idea where it's going - it's just one mysterious clue, challenge, dare in the notebook after another. Until ... it's not anymore.

Dash & Lily is more than just a couple kids trying to keep themselves occupied during Christmas break though - it's a journey of self-discovery for the characters that will make you remember the days you were trying to figure it all out. It's about learning to be comfortable with yourself, while also learning how to be a friend. It's about opening up and taking chances - whether it's taking a dare or offering your very inner self. And it's laugh-out-loud funny, which will always earn a book bonus points. Fun read, quick read, but a read that will linger ... I want a sequel. But I also don't - because I want to continue Dash and Lily's story myself, in my head, as I live my own life and see their reflection in the seeming insanity of the moments that make memories, in the friends who surprise you and bring out the best (and sometimes worst) in you.

Book provided by my personal library.


New Books!

It was a happy book week, and now my next-to-read decision is getting harder and harder. Sigh. But a happy problem, I'd much rather have a hard time picking from multiple good reads than because I can't find anything to read.

Dreaming in English - Laura Fitzgerald
Won through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program!

The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy - Mary Lydon Simonsen
Won through Laura's Reviews!

Attachments - Rainbow Rowell
ARC won through a DuttonBooks Monday giveaway!


Across the Universe

Across the Universe
Beth Revis
RazorBill, 2011

I won this in a pre-release giveaway by PenguinTeen on facebook, and also got to participate in the big launch project. So when I was finally able to hold - and read - my own copy of this beautiful book, I was thrilled! (I know, I gush about the cover ... but how can I not??? It's gorgeous! And actually, if you take the book jacket off, you can reverse it to show another cover ... but you'll have to discover that one on your own. I am in love with the stars).

It's been almost 6 years since my last foray into the world of science fiction - my first (and only) extended visit to the realm was sophomore year of college, when my favorite English professor was offering a special topics course on Science Fiction. When I saw the first 'preview' for Across the Universe (a 'read the first chapter today!' thing online from the publishers), it made me think of a couple of the books I read in that class combined (the few that I actually really, really enjoyed, actually), and I was definitely intrigued. Once my copy came, I had to make myself finish what I was already reading before letting myself start. When it was finally time to lose myself in the Universe? Oh man ...

This story is nothing like I expected and everything I wanted it to be - even without knowing what exactly I wanted. Revis hints and teases throughout the book, making you question your understanding of whats going on, of who is what and what is who. There's mystery, there's struggle, there's discovery, there's growth. It's a picture of what people can be and who they become. It's a sweet romance, without being overtly sappy or preoccupied with lovey-dovey stuff that would be out-of-place. There's a lot of science (or pseudo-science), but not so much that I felt overwhelmed. Logistically, the story is told in alternating chapters/points-of-view: Elder and Amy, and you always know who is 'talking,' which is always a good thing. The story itself is fast-paced and engrossing, and when I finished it - I was happy with the ending. And then I saw where Beth said it's the first book in a trilogy. At which point I got very excited. Because yeah, I was happy with the ending, but I am still curious about what comes next. It wasn't a cliffhanger, but it was still an attention-grabber. Now it's a waiting game. Sigh.

Book provided by my personal library.


The Queen's Daughter

The Queen's Daughter
Susan Coventry
Henry Holt, 2010

This one has been tempting me for several months, but I've finally been able to curl up and read it. (The (admittedly happy) problem of having To Read 'stacks' instead of merely a 'list'). I am happy to report it was definitely worth the wait. Going in to the reading, I confess, I wasn't entirely sure what I'd discover. I'd read the book jacket and several reviews, so on some level I knew what I was going to be reading: the story of the daughter of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Figures I am incredibly familiar with thanks to both my History and Literature degrees. And I got that - but also so much more.

 The Queen's Daughter focuses on, of course, the Queen's daughter - Joan - and the unusual, dramatic, and tumultuous life she led. Joan's family was torn apart by inner-family warring and an unquenchable thirst for power. Joan, wanting only to love and have her family together in peace, is in effect a victim riding the tides of turmoil rocking the country. Because she is a princess, Joan is also a useful pawn - and is married off to the last Norman King of Sicily. There, Joan tries to model her Queenship after her mother's example and slowly learns that Eleanor's queenly example is not universal. Actually, throughout the novel, Joan is continually coming to terms with the fact that Eleanor's model example is one that only works (or doesn't work, depending on your perspective) for her. Joan is not Eleanor, and her life is not happy and contented and rewarding until Joan learns to live for Joan instead of her mother.

Aside from learning about Joan - a figure I was previously unaware of, and who I could definitely relate to - one thing I really enjoyed about reading The Queen's Daughter was getting a different look at some of the figures I was familiar with prior to reading. I got a sense of Henry II as a father instead of merely a King desperate to keep and/or gain power and land. The most drastic 'change' in perspective for me was Richard - oh, Richard the Lionhearted! I have loved him from Ivanhoe and Robin Hood, always seeing him portrayed as the wronged King and a dashing, fearless knight. And yet, looking at the decisions and methods he employed, I saw a different (probably truer) version of Richard. He wasn't the peerless knight any longer.

I thoroughly enjoyed the read, and will be searching out more reads dealing with the time and host of characters. I might even, gasp!, foray into nonfiction. Maybe I'm growing up, but I want to explore this 'new dimension' of the figures I have previously known.

Book provided by my personal library.


New Books!

Low week on new books, which is okay, because I've gotten a lot of wonderful goodies lately. Plus, the book that did come? I am so very excited to have it! Christina, over at Confessions of a Book Addict, had a fun giveaway for her Blogoversary. And I was the happy winner of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins! (As well as some fun swag).

I've been hearing good things about Anna, and am really looking forward to reading it - but am being very disciplined and making myself finish what's in-progress already (particularly the library book) first.