Just Being Audrey: A Picture Book Review

Just Being Audrey by by Margaret Cardillo, illustrated by Julia Denos

Just Being AudreyAs the title suggests, this picture book is about Audrey Hepburn–her early life, her aspirations to become a ballerina, her success in Hollywood and her later-life work with UNICEF.

I love Audrey, who doesn’t? Cardillo’s text was an interesting insight into the background of an actress who many still remember as the epitome of style and elegance. The text offered an interesting but slightly unbalanced look at Audrey’s life from her childhood to her old age. (A timeline at the back details key events that were not mentioned in the narrative.) However there are very few transitions with each page spread seeming to have little connection to the pages that come before or after. The overall effect was a very choppy story albeit one filled with interesting tidbits.

Denos’  illustrations are gorgeous with beautiful details and color. The pictures all have a lovely sense of movement as Audrey “glides” through the pages.

There is certainly enough here to pique a child’s interest about Audrey Hepburn but fans looking for more thorough information will have to find a different book.

This would be a fun addition to a “non-fiction” or “biography” themed storytime with it’s large, bright pictures and relatively short text.

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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Just Being Audrey

Code Name Verity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinCode Name Verity (2012) by Elizabeth Wein is a strange book in that, I’m not sure what I can actually tell you about it without ruining everything. A plane has crashed in Nazi-occupied France. The passenger and the pilot are best friends. One girl might be able to save herself while the other never really stood a chance. Faced with an impossible situation, one of the girls begins to weave an intricate confession. Some of it might be embellished, some of it might even be false. But in the end all of it is ultimately the truth–both of her mission and a friendship that transcends all obstacles.

Broken into two parts, Code Name Verity is a masterfully written book as, time and time again, Wein takes everything readers know and turns it upside down as another dimension is added to the plot and its intricate narrative.

If a sign of excellent historical fiction is believing all of the details are presented as fact, then the sign of an excellent novel might well be wanting to re-read it immediately to see just how well all of the pieces fit together. Code Name Verity meets both of these criteria.

With wartime England and France as a backdrop, there is always a vague sense of foreboding and danger hanging over these characters. There is death and violence. There is action and danger. And yet there are also genuinely funny moments and instances of love and resistance.

Nothing in Code Name Verity is what it seems upon first reading–sometimes not even upon second reading. This book is undoubtedly a stunning work of historical fiction filled with atmospheric details of everything from airplanes to Scottish landscapes. But what really sets Code Name Verity apart is the dazzling writing and intricate plot that Wein presents. Then, beyond the plotting and the details, there are the two amazing young women at the center of a book that could have been about war or flying or even spies but ultimately became an exceptional book about true friends.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie,  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Tamar by Mal Peet, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Just One Day: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Just One Day by Gayle FormanAfter a whirlwind tour through Europe, Allyson is looking forward to returning home and starting college in the fall. Even if it means missing Paris and even if the tour wasn’t everything Allyson thought it would be.

Two days before she is set to return home, Allyson sees an underground production of Twelfth Night that unexpectedly changes everything.

Accompanied by a laid-back Dutch actor named Willem as her guide, Allyson spends a whirlwind day in Paris where, finally, Allyson understands what her European tour was meant to feel like. As she and Willem grow closer, Allyson starts to understand what a lot of things are supposed to feel like.

At least, she thought she did.

When Allyson wakes up the next day to find Willem already gone, Allyson’s previous certainty shatters.

Starting college in the wake of Willem’s abrupt departure, Allyson starts to fall apart. She knows what is expected of her. She even knows most of what’s wrong. But she has no idea what she wants. No idea how to fix anything.

One day gave Allyson the chance to change everything even if it meant losing Willem. With one year, Allyson might be able to finally find herself in Just One Day (2013) by Gayle Forman.

Just One Day is the first novel in a duet. Willem’s story, Just One Year is set to publish in fall 2013.

Forman expertly chronicles Allyson’s self-destruction during her first semester of college as well as her efforts to start fresh (with a tabula rasa, if you will) in the following term. Allyson’s changing relationships with her family and friends are also handled well in the story.

Filled with travel and a variety of settings, Just One Day is a vivid trip through Europe filled with descriptions of all of the sights Allyson takes in over the course of her story. I also loved the inclusion of so many Shakespeare references as counterpoints to Allyson’s experiences. The underlying buoyancy and serendipity of the story is refreshing as (after the obligatory wallowing) Allyson works on moving forward.

Told over the course of one whirlwind day and the subsequently turbulent year, Just One Day is ostensibly a love story–or at least a story of lost love. Except it’s also a more than that. Knowing that the book is part of a duet, there will of course be answers about Willem’s disappearance and his own feelings about Allyson. However, by the end of the story, that’s very secondary to the story of Allyson finding herself and figuring out what she wants.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Stranger in the Forest by Eric Hansen, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, As You Like It by William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, The Statistical Probability of True Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

The Dark Unwinding: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Dark UnwindingKatharine Tullman does not want to send her uncle to an asylum anymore than she wants to please her horrible aunt by doing so. Unfortunately Katharine very rarely gets to do anything near what she wants–not if she ever hopes to secure even the smallest bit of independence for herself.

When Katharine arrives at her uncle’s estate she soon realizes that dealing with her uncle is not going to be as cut and dry as she had hoped. Instead of a lunatic she finds her uncle is an incredibly gifted but eccentric inventor. Instead of a ramshackle estate near ruin she finds a village filled with workers rescued from London workhouses.

As Katharine explores the estate and learns more about her uncle, matters become more complicated as she is taken in my a handsome apprentice and an ambitious student. Soon, she realizes she is starting to care about her uncle and his household more than she can afford to given rising questions of her own future. And her own sanity.

With mysteries all around her and far more at stake than she can imagine, Katharine will have to decide who to trust and who to protect in The Dark Unwinding (2012) by Sharon Cameron.

The Dark Unwinding is Cameron’s first novel.

In a delightful blend of suspense, steampunk and historical drama, Cameron has created a delightful world with compelling characters and a plot filled with twists and excitements. The story perfectly captures the wonder of Uncle Tullman’s estate and the urgency felt by everyone who wants to keep it safe.

The question of Katharine’s own sanity and the mysteries surrounding the estate add another satisfying dimension to the story. Best of all Cameron’s writing is wonderful throughout giving each character a unique voice and bringing them to life. The beautiful prose elevates what could have been a sensational action story into something more as Katharine is forced to confront of her own principles and grow as a character as her priorities (and loyalties) change.

The Dark Unwinding is a marvelous book that will linger with readers. The undercurrent of suspense and mystery make it a perfect read for a dark winter night.

Possible Pairings: Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carringer, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

Unspoken: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

According to Kami Glass, every town in England has a story. Her town, Sorry-in-the-Vale, is no exception. The only problem is no one in town seems willing to tell that story to a daring girl reporter no matter how charming she is while asking pointed interview questions. Kami knows her town’s past is tied inextricably to the Lynburns, the town’s founders even if their manor house has been empty for as long as Kami can remember.

If every town has a story, so does every resident. Kami’s own story has caused her a fair bit of trouble over the years and not a few friends. That’s what happens when your best friend seems to be an imaginary boy you talk to in your head. Luckily, Kami can handle the odd looks from neighbors and worried comments from her parents. Kami is nothing if not intrepid and she is more than prepared to keep everything under control.

All of that changes when the Lynburns come back to Sorry-in-the-Vale. Their return brings many questions, as well as something more sinister, forcing Kami to question everything she thought she knew about her town, her friends, and even herself in Unspoken (2012) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Unspoken is the first book in The Lynburn Legacy (which will be a trilogy).

No one writes families and friends quite like Sarah Rees Brennan. Unspoken is no exception. As Kami struggles to crack the secrets of Sorry-in-the-Vale’s past she assembles an unlikely band of misfits to help her investigation. Like Kami herself these characters are well-rounded and, above all, memorable. Along with the Glass family, they create an entertaining ensemble that adds much to the narrative.

Rees Brennan brings Kami’s world to life with her signature wit and charm. (If you have read the author’s blog or tweets you may agree that this book truly channels her voice in the writing.) Kami is an determined and capable heroine who is ready and willing to fight her own battles even as she is surrounded by friends and family who fiercely want to help in any way they can.

Patently eerie, Unspoken gives a nod to its gothic novel roots as the plot moves forward. Although a lot happens in the final hundred pages of Unspoken, the unusual pacing is balanced out with humor, banter, strong characters and many moments of page-turning suspense. Highly recommended for anyone who likes their mysteries with equal doses of plucky girl reporters, chills, adventure, and cute boys in distress.

Possible Pairings: Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, After Obsession by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Veronica Mars

Exclusive Bonus Content: I love, love, love the cover by the way. Jacket illustrator Beth White created absolutely beautiful artwork for Unspoken that also is very in keeping with the book. If you’re as excited about this book as I am, be sure to head over to Sarah Rees Brennan’s website to learn more about the characters and the world of Unspoken.

But wait! There’s more! Sarah Rees Brennan also wrote two short stories to accompany Unspoken.

You can read about (and download a pdf copy of) the first story, The Summer Before I Met You from Sarah’s blog here: http://sarahreesbrennan.com/2012/09/the-summer-before-i-met-you/ (The story is being hosted by Oblong Books–an indie store. Isn’t that awesome of them?)

Wuthering Heights: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

When Mr. Earnshaw, a man of means, brings a dark, ill-mannered foundling into his home he has no idea that his one good deed will alter the course of his family forever.

Taken into the Earnshaw home only to be cast out abruptly, Heathcliff is intent to avenge himself on those who have done him wrong through any means possible. Even his oldest friend and companion Catherine is not beyond reproach.

Lockwood knows nothing of the scandal and unrest that surrounds Wuthering Heights when he leases Thrushcross Grange from Heathcliff for a season. Scandalized by the residents of Wuthering Heights and shocked by the blatant disregard for common courtesy and propriety, he soon endeavors to unearth the whole story from his housekeeper, Nelly Dean.

The story Nelly reveals is one of unresolved passion, haunting obsession, and a connection that even death cannot deny in Wuthering Heights (1847) by Emily Brontë.

Wuthering Heights is Brontë’s only novel.

Groundbreaking for its time, Wuthering Heights is a divisive novel that is more often regarded with love or hate rather than indifference.

Some claim Brontë’s gothic novel is a sweeping romance that spans not just years but death itself. Written in the first person with a framing story around the main drama of Catherine and Heathcliff’s doomed relationship, Brontë creates an evocative story filled with Yorkshire dialect and harsh lanscapes.

At the same time, this book is a study in human cruelty. Catherine and Heathcliff are horrible people and, even while proving their love for one another, they do unspeakable things.

If you can get past the basic meanness of almost all of the characters, Wuthering Heights is an atmospheric story filled with chills and menace sure to linger after the last page is finished.

Possible Pairings: Frost by Marianna Baer, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen, The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle, Swoon by Nina Malkin, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Between by Jessica Warman, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Persuasion: A (Classic) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth once meant a great deal to each other. But that was years ago before Anne’s well-meaning friend and her less-than-good-intentioned family discouraged the acquaintance and Anne was convinced to give Frederick up.

With years to think of her decision and years to consider all that Wentworth has accomplished without her, Anne has little hope of seeing him again or changing things between them.

That is until a change in her father’s circumstance forces the family to rent their estate. Given the identity of the new tenants, it seems inevitable that Anne and Captain Wentworth will see each other. It even seems inevitable that Wentworth will be angry and Anne hurt. Only time will tell if they can once again be something more to each other in Persuasion (1818) by Jane Austen.

Persuasion is Austen’s last novel. It is also a favorite among several of my friends.*

With a book that is already such a large part of the public consciousness and the literary canon, there isn’t a lot to say in a review that hasn’t been said before.

Jane Austen is one of my favorite classic authors so it is not, perhaps, especially surprising that I enjoyed Persuasion. In addition to a story that kept me on my toes,** Persuasion features a lot of strong, or at least interesting, characters. Wentworth is appropriately dashing even at his worst. Then we have Anne who is a delightfully forward heroine for a novel from 1818. It was invigorating to watch Anne come into her own as the novel progressed and she developed her own agency and the wherewithal to pursue her own wants and needs.

Like many classics Persuasion is a book many people will read on the merits of its reputation (or for school) or it’s the kind of book they won’t touch. One review might not change whatever opinion you might have but Persuasion is an obvious must read for romantics and anyone who likes their heroines level-headed and ready to stand on their own two feet.

*Though one does add the caveat that Pride and Prejudice first has to be taken out of the equation as Pride and Prejudice is arguably everyone’s favorite Austen novel.

**My only experience with Persuasion before this reading was Diana Peterfreund’s post-apocalyptic retelling For Darkness Shows the Stars. I had never even seen a movie version so I really had no idea what to expect from the story. At. All. It made for a pleasant surprise while reading.

Possible Pairings: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Middlemarch by George Eliot, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banksby E. Lockhart, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater