Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Flight of Gemma Doyle - by Margot Livesey

I stumbled onto The Flight of Gemma Hardy at the library where they were offering mystery books. These books were in brown paper bags with just a brief description to let you know a little about the genre. Even once I checked out this book, I didn't initially realize that it was a retelling of Jane Eyre, which I will admit I have never read.

The book begins with Gemma's childhood, not long after her uncle has died. Gemma was orphaned as a young child and it is her uncle who steps up to care for her. He brings Gemma from Iceland to live with family in Scotland where Gemma is quite content. After her uncle's death, however, Gemma is stuck with a resentful aunt and cousins who don't care for her. When she is offered a chance to take the entrance exams for the Claypoole boarding school, Gemma sees her chance to escape and her aunt is happy to see her go.

If Livesey painted a bleak picture of Gemma's life at home, it is nothing compared to what she finds at Claypoole. Although she is very independent and even stubborn, Gemma is also a bright a fairly studious girl. Instead of finding a place where she can shine as a star student, Gemma is relegated to the status of a working girl. She has to earn her tuition by providing the labor necessary to run a boarding school and her studies often suffer because of her workload. When the school closes down, Gemma is hopeful and happily accepts a job as an au pair on the Orkney Islands.

Gemma arrives at the distant Blackbird with her hope intact and soon finds herself feeling like she has found somewhere she belongs. Even after all her hardships, though, this is really just the beginning of Gemma's journey. As she matures and finds herself drawn to the wealthy master of Blackbird Hall, Hugh Sinclair, Gemma's life will lead her down an entirely unexpected path.  Livesey tells a compelling story of a girl, and a later a woman, who bravely deals with the twists and turns she encounters in life. I found Gemma's character especially intriguing because, even when it seems like her life can't get any worse, some spark of her stubborn personality shines through. Even though I have never read Jane Eyre, I very much enjoyed Livesey's novel and highly recommend it.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy will be my sixth book for the summer reading program at summerreadingonline.blogspot.com. I'm also going to cheat, just a little, and count this for the classic challenge. I admittedly don't read many classics and as a retelling of Jane Eyre, I think this book should count just in case I don't read anything else that would fit the challenge.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you....A NEW CAT!

I made this blog primarily as a place to share reviews of the many books I read. As you may have guessed from the title of this blog, though, I also love cats and really animals in general. I have a wonderful cat, Felix, who has been a member of the family for almost 14 years now! Recently, I took care of a friend's cat for several days and ever since that cat left, Felix has been pretty upset. I should also note that Felix is huge. Really huge. He's not fat, and the vet agrees that he looks really healthy at about 18 pounds. Jersey, our visiting feline friend, was also a pretty large cat.

Felix & Jersey

Felix, king of the house













Sir Davos
I finally gave in to Felix's rather stinky attempts to let me know he wasn't happy and decided I should find a permanent buddy for him. Before going to the shelter I decided I wanted to find a cat close to Felix's age and size. I also needed a cat that would not only get along with Felix, but also with my dog Davos. Felix is a pretty relaxed cat, but definitely needs to be the king, and Davos is surprisingly energetic for an 8 year old dog.


At the shelter I came up with a list of eight large cats between the ages of 10 and 15 that seemed like promising new family members. After talking to the shelter staff and learning more, we narrowed this list down to four that I would visit. And in the end I came home with this handsome guy who is 14 years old and just about as large as Felix.


Before I got to meet him at the shelter, I was warned that I might not be able to spend too much time with him because of some behavior issues. Little Boy, as he was being called at the shelter, had notes in his file about hissing, biting, scratching, and just being a generally grumpy cat. The woman helping me still suggested taking a look, because he had been at the shelter longer than most other animals and she thought that might be the real cause of his problems.

Little Boy was the second cat I met and during our short visit he spent most of his time rubbing all over me and purring with a few breaks to grab some food. When I decided he was the cat for me, I had to have a mandatory meeting with a behavior specialist and was again warned about his grouchy attitude. Little Boy did great in the car and is now in the spare room in my apartment to let him adjust to his new home. He's seen the other pets and didn't seem too bothered, so I expect that he'll fit into our family very nicely. There haven't been any signs of behavior issues, and he still spends all his time with me purring and begging for attention. 

Little Boy also got a new name and is now called Oskar. This poor cat had been left at the shelter at 14 years old and was stuck there for several months because nobody wanted to give him a chance. Now Oskar has a forever home with some other furry buddies and is one of the most loving cats I have ever met!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Shadow Scale - by Rachel Hartman

Shadow Scale is the sequel to Seraphina and I gather that quite a few people didn't enjoy waiting so long for the sequel. Fortunately I didn't discover Seraphina until the second book had already been release, but I still had trouble waiting a few weeks on the library hold list!

Shadow Scale picks up a few months after the events of the first book and we jump right into the conflict arising from the dragon civil war. In Seraphina's home country of Goredd it looks like the humans will soon be involved in the war as well. Along with Queen Glisselda and Prince Lucian Kiggs, Seraphina makes a plan to gather all the ityasaari (half-dragons) that she can. The hope is that together the ityasaari can use the mind powers they are all gifted with in defense of Goredd.

The first half or so of this novel mainly follows Seraphina and Abdo as they travel throughout different countries search for their fellow half-dragons. Shadow Scale is definitely more plot driven than the first book, but this section does become somewhat tedious and predictable. Abdo is able to help lead Seraphina to the ityasaari they are looking for, but they also end up having to face Jannoula. This half-dragon has the ability to invade the minds of other ityasaari and continuously thwarts Seraphina's attempts to gain the loyalty of the others.

In the second half of the book, we see more of the dragons and their actions in the war. Seraphina also begins the search for her uncle Orma who fled Goredd in the previous book, but is interrupted by more of Jannoula's plots. While Jannoula is a formiddable opponent, Seraphina seems to take a lot of time thinking about how helpless she feels and not actually trying to do anything about it. Seraphina seems a little too helpless in this book and I also didn't like that the tension between her and Kiggs isn't a present as it was in first novel.

Overall, though, I still enjoyed this book very much. Even with a much larger cast of characters, namely all of the ityasaari, Hartman still makes you feel like you know them just as well as Seraphina. I also LOVE the diversity in this book! I've read a lot of YA novels that are specifically marketed at LGBTQ populations, but seeing these themes in a fantasy book was even more exciting. While it isn't marketed to these audiences, Shadow Scale (and Seraphina to a lesser extent) manages to include gay, lesbian, and transgender characters in a completely natural way. I'm just disappointed that Seraphina's story won't be continued in a third book.

Shadow Scale will be my fifth book for the summer reading program from summerreadingonline.blogspot.com and I am using it for the fantasy book challenge.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sorteo Internacional El príncipe Lestat

For any Spanish-speaking readers, be sure to check out this contest to win a copy of Anne Rice's newest book (in Spanish of course)!


Particpo en el sorteo internacional del Prícipe Lestat por Anne Rice, gracias a Nanny Books. Como puedes ver en mi blog, leí El Príncipe Lestat hace poco, pero de la biblioteca y me gustaría mucho tener copia propia.

Bitch Doll - by Orfa Alarcón

I had already read Dead Doll (another book in the series), by M.B. Brozon when I was finally able to find Bitch Doll. Of the two in the series I have read, I think I prefer Bitch Doll. Dead Doll is a fun novel, but it doesn't carry the same weight as Bitch Doll. I think that in Bitch Doll, the author treats the main themes in a much more mature way than what I saw in Dead Doll. I had also previously read Perra Brava, by Orfa Alarcón and was very impressed by her writing.

Bitch Doll focuses on the very relevant topic of bullying, both in school and online. Shanti, a student at the Secundaria 33 and the main character, discovers her talent for drawing and decides to create several comics. When she publishes some of these comic strips that make fun of her classmates on Facebook, she is forced to confront the consequences. She also has to navigate arguments with her best friend, who she has fallen in love with, and her family. This book also very clearly shows Alarcón's love of animals, an aspect that I really enjoyed, reflected in Shanti's thoughts. Even though this is a young adult book, Bitch Doll can teach all of us what it means to be friends and what family really is.

This is my fourth book for the summer reading challenge at summerreadingonline.blogspot.com and I will be using it for a book containing bullying. Also, because I read this book is Spanish, I wrote my initial Goodreads review in Spanish for practice. Feel free to check it out below if you're interested!

Ya había leído Dead Doll antes de (finalmente) encontrar Bitch Doll, y creo que de las dos prefiero Bitch Doll. Dead Doll es una novela bien divertida, pero no tiene el mismo peso que Bitch Doll. Me parece que en Bitch Doll, la autora aborda los temas principales de una manera bastante más madura de lo que vi en Dead Doll. También había leído Perra Brava, de Orfa Alarcón y su escritura me impresionó mucho.

Bitch Doll se trata de un tema muy actual, el bullying, tanto en la escuela como en las redes sociales. Shanti, una alumna de la secundaria 33 y el personaje principal, descubre su talento por dibujar y decide hacer unos cómics. Cuando publica unas tiras burlándose de sus compañeros en Facebook, tiene que enfrentar las consecuencias. Además ella maneja discusiones con su mejor amigo, de quien se ha enamorado, y con la familia. También se ve el amor que Alarcón tiene para los animales, un aspecto que me gustó mucho, reflejado en los pensamientos de Shanti.

Aunque sea una novela dirigida a los adolescentes, Bitch Doll nos puede enseñar a todos lo que siginifica ser amigos y lo que es la familia.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Emotional Lives of Animals - by Marc Bekoff

I wasn't expecting purely hard science from this book, but it was still a bit less scientific than I had expected. Although, as Bekoff makes it clear that he is writing for people who don't necessarily believe that animals have emotions, I don't think the lack of scientific evidence is a downfall. I also thought this book oversimplified many of the issues such as animal testing or the impact of zoos, but again, this might be because I am not the intended audience. I am a passionate animal lover and have always accepted that all species of animals have a wide variety of emotions.

My main critique of this book regardless of the audience is the organization. Bekoff repeats many of his assertions to the point where they become redundant. And while I don't mind the mix of scientific evidence and anecdotes, I think the move between these doesn't flow very smoothly. The author will often just jump into an anecdote without any real transition or introduction, and then make a similarly jarring transition back to his more scientific or ethical arguments. This book has great potential if people who aren't sure if animals have emotions could be convinced to read it. My only worry would be that the organization might be off putting and the oversimplification might leave those who are more scientifically minded unconvinced. I am definitely interested in reading some of Bekoff's other books, though, because I did enjoy The Emotional Lives of Animals and would like to see what else he has to say.

This will be my third book for the summer reading challenge from http://summerreadingonline.blogspot.com/ and I will be using it for the book about animals challenge. I also considered using it for a nonfiction book, but lately I've set myself a personal goal of trying to read more nonfiction in general so I'm hoping that still having a challenge to complete will encourage me to do so.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Prince Lestat - by Anne Rice

As a disclaimer to this review I love the first books of the Vampire Chronicles, in particular the first five, so I was eager to revisit these character's in Anne Rice's new book.

In Prince Lestat, the vampire world has grown enormously but is also more connected than ever thanks to new technologies. Benji Mahmoud is broadcasting his radio show to vampires across the globe, urging them to band together as one united tribe. He believes this is more important than ever as the vampires seek to combat an enemy initially known only as the Voice. This Voice is urging vampires, especially elders, to destroy each other. Of course, who does every turn to for leadership? Lestat. Who has until this point been (very characteristically) sulking in a self-imposed exile.

Anne Rice brings back all our favorite vampires, giving most of the big players their own POV chapters. The alternation between points of view gives us a nonlinear narration of not only the current crisis but the backstories of what these characters have been up to since they last appeared in the Vampire Chronicles. At different points throughout the novel, the elders begin to realize that the Voice is in fact Amel - the spirit that possessed Akasha and became the Sacred Core keeping vampires alive.

Once this is established, Anne Rice paints a beautiful, luscious picture of stylish vampires not doing a whole lot to solve their problems. Don't get me wrong, I loved the descriptions of lavish clothing and long conversations about everything that has happened to them. I still would have liked a bit more action in terms of plot. Of course Lestat is known for taking his time to mope a bit before acting, but in this book all the vampires follow this pattern. I'm also not really sure about why Rose and Viktor, the two humans in the novel, are there. Viktor is interesting, scientifically, but doesn't do much other than inspire everyone with how perfect he is. Rose isn't even that interesting since she is portrayed as this extremely delicate and fragile young girl then woman who constantly needs to be saved.

Even with those complaints, I would still recommend this book so don't let me dissuade you if you are considering it. Despite the lack of action, the characters were just as great as I remembered. I felt like Anne Rice really brought back the essence of these vampires from her earlier novels. Prince Lestat fits in nicely with the initial Vampire Chronicles before Anne Rice branched off into witches and whatever else happened in the books that I could never bring myself to finish. This novel makes me want to read the first five books again then skip right to Prince Lestat and pretend that everything in between doesn't exist.

This is my second book for the summer reading challenge at summerreadingonline.blogspot.com and is going to take care of the NYT Bestseller challenge.