Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Hero(ines): The Fictional Women I Most Look Up To

A few weeks ago the Offbeat Home blog posted this short post about the most inspirational fictional heroines.   This in turn inspired me to make my own list.  I am, somewhat to my chagrin, really hard on female fictional characters, particularly those in a heroine sort of role.  I expect a lot from them and when they don't meet my expectations I tend to get ranty and unhappy with the book, film or tv show.

There are a few characters however, that I can absolutely say without hesitation, that I see as role models and people I wish I emulate more.  Here are some of the characteristics that I most admire:

- They are confident/comfortable with themselves.
- They embrace life with gusto.
- They have a strong moral compass and
- Are always brave enough to choose the right path even if it's the more difficult/less comfortable.
- They make mistakes and take responsibility for them while not giving in to self-loathing.
- They are independent.
- They are smart.
- They are strong.
- They are courageous and opinionated.
- They have compassion.
- They pursue love and intimacy without making it the end all be all.
- They have great senses of humor.

Not all the fictional women below embody all these characteristics but they have at least one and usually more.

The first two on the list are the career women.  They are workaholics (one a tad more reluctantly than the other) who are the best at what they do and they are scientists who can also kick some ass!

1) Dana Scully
Despite what the GIF says, Dana Scully is not flawless.  For one she falls in love with the most exasperating man in North America possibly the world, who is most of the time too obsessed with aliens to notice how seriously awesome his partner is.  Despite his cluelessness, she is, in fact, so so great.  She has integrity and loyalty in spades.  She is smart and independent and makes up her own mind about things using facts and her own prodigious brain.  She is also grounded and loyal and while good ole Fox may be the charismatic one, he would be nothing without her cool rational mind.  I also really admire women who are able to compartmentalize and have the strength to push through emotional pain.  Also she's flipping gorgeous but you could never just dismiss her as a pretty face - she won't let you.

2) Samantha Carter
I not only want to be Sam Carter but I have a lot of affection for her.  She's a gigantic nerd who gets so flipping excited about physics and anything remotely science related that she annoys everyone around her.  She's also super tough though.  Like Scully above she is a woman working in a world dominated by men so she must push harder, endure more and be that much smarter so that she is taken seriously.  I am also a scientist and work in a field dominated by men that gets pretty heavily macho from time to time so I love Scully and Sam as role models in that arena.  They don't get bitter or angry, they are just better than everyone else.

3) Buffy Summers
Joss Whedon has a talent for creating strong and incredibly compelling female characters.  Buffy is a woman who has been given an immense responsibility and despite the fact that she longs to be a regular teenage girl, her compassionate heart and rock solid sense of right and wrong keeps her fighting.  She sacrifices an immense amount and does it with a sense of humor and a ton of ferocity.  I love how she's smart but not necessarily at the the whole school thing and she has a strong sense of who she is.    

You can buy these as posters!

4) The Women of Firefly
They are all awesome in their own special, shiny ways.  Kaylee loves life and sees everything through the lens of her cheery and generous spirit.  She's also really great at what she does, takes pride in her work and is completely comfortable with who she is and where she is in the world.  River is a bit mad but she's held on to what she could of herself through sheer determination and strength.  Zoe is calm and cool personified. She's brave, incredibly loyal and will kick your ass if you deserve it.  Unfortunately the show didn't last long enough for us to figure out what darkness was in Inara's past but whatever it was she's come through it to be fiercely independent and self-contained.  Yes, she's a futuristic Geisha but everything she does is on her terms and she uses what she has to make others feel valued and good about themselves.  

5) Anne Shirley
Oh how I've wished to be Anne and not just because she's captured the heart of the dreamy Gilbert Blythe.  Anne is another who lives life to the fullest every moment of every day. It frequently lands her into predicaments but she takes it all in stride and never backs down from a challenge.   She is independent and smart and can charm the pants off of anyone.  She excels at everything she does because she works hard and is driven.  

5) Lucy Pevensie
Lucy is feisty and doesn't back down from the truth even when her older siblings doubt her and are really quite crappy about it.   She also serves as the moral compass for her family - she is the most compassionate and caring and is strong in her convictions. And she's pretty jolly and friendly on top of it all.

7) Veronica Mars
When I first watched Veronica Mars I was WELL out of high school but that didn't stop me from looking up to her.  She goes through a horrific tragedy and has her whole life turned upside down at the awkward age of 15 or 16 no less.  She comes out the other side snarky as hell and cute as a bug.  One of her greatest advantages is that people frequently underestimate her because of her aforementioned youth and cuteness while she proceeds to run circles around them.  Veronica has every reason to be bitter but as is a popular catch phrase of the show - she's a marshmallow.  She is incredibly compassionate but don't cross her or those she loves because she will take you down. 

8) Lizzie Bennet
Austen has a number of good heroines but Elizabeth Bennet is arguably her most admirable.  Not because she doesn't make any mistakes - she makes some pretty dismal judgment calls - but Lizzie is who she is.  She's smart and funny and affectionate towards and defensive of her family even though they are seriously loco or you know, a little uncouth.  She enjoys life and doesn't take it too seriously though when crisis does strike she is the voice of reason. 

9) Scarlett O'Hara
So you may be thinking "Seriously? Scarlett O'Hara?" Scarlett is a spoiled brat, vain, self-centered, and her moral compass is way out of whack but she is one seriously strong lady.  She's independent and calls the shots in her life during a time when women didn't really do that.  When things got rough, like "middle of a war, we might starve" rough she was never beaten and did what needed to be done to survive.  She most certainly embraced her life with gusto and was comfortable with who she was in all her crazy glory. 

So that's my ode to the fantastic fictional women that have inspired me through the years.  What fictional women have inspired you?  How about real women?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

REVIEW: Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the DayThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Original Publication Year: 1988
Genre(s): Literary Fiction, Historical
Series: NA
Format: eBook borrowed from Library
Narrated by: NA
 “For a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? The hard reality is, surely, that for the likes of you and I, there is little choice other than to leave our fate, ultimately, in the hands of those great gentlemen at the hub of this world who employ our services. What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that is in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.”
If I’m honest about it, I have always been a bit skeptical of literary fiction.  Sure, I’ve read and really enjoyed a number of books that could be placed in this “genre” but that has not stopped me of being a little ornery and irritated by the classification as a whole.  I think it’s this impression that it is somehow better or higher quality than books of another persuasion and that those that read these books exclusively are more intelligent or at least more intellectual.  This could be its own post, but I mention it briefly here to say that I think this book has made me realize that I need to drop the attitude.  Because Kazuo Ishiguro is a literary writer and while this is only the second of his books that I have read both have been very “literary” and both of them have completely blown me away. 

This book is not about “nothing” which is a frequently lobbed criticism of literary fic but
it is a quiet introspective examination of one man’s life. I can’t say that it swept me away and in fact right after putting the book down I gave it four out of five stars. But now, a month or so later I think I will be changing that to a five because it has stuck with me and upon further reflection I become further aware of all the themes and ideas Ishiguro managed to convey in the excessively formal, repressed and somewhat unreliable narration of a mid-century British butler.

The book is structured as a travel journal of sorts, written by the consummate butler, known as Stevens, of a “Grand House” in 1950’s England. He writes as if his words are addressed to other professionals such as himself and while he mentions his travels he is really reflecting on his life. In a way he is having the world’s most civilized mid-life or really three quarters life crisis. The voice is formal in the extreme, distinctive and never wavers. The reader must almost literally read between the lines to see the huge ocean of emotion underlying the simple and often misleading account. Stevens would like his audience to believe certain things about him and his career and his life but truly most of what he is saying on the surface is codswallop, sort of. It is such a complex portrayal, expressing a man’s unwavering beliefs about himself, his life and the world and his unwilling subconscious that realizes he may have been incredibly and completely wrong about it all and coming to terms with that. For example, Stevens is constantly defending his long-time noble employer because he himself feels betrayed by having served a man who in the end was very mistaken in his endeavors (see the quote above with the flash of honesty).

There are so many touches that serve to further illuminate the narrator. His own father was a butler tried and true and I found the scenes between father and son extremely disturbing and sad. There is also a humorous and continual throughline regarding the art of bantering. Stevens is concerned because his new American employer interacts with him in a bantering way and seems to expect bantering back from Stevens. This is so outside of the persona that Stevens has made for himself but to he feels compelled to be the best he can be for his employer so he endeavors to cultivate some witticisms. While the two times he tries to exercise his wit in the book, what he says is quite clever and funny, the response he gets is bemusement because his manner of delivery is so practiced, formal and cold. He seems completely unaware of what he must do differently.

And all of my babbling is just the tip of the ice berg. The writing is beautiful and completely mesmerizing. It portrays England as it approaches and then narrowly survives World War II and, most importantly for Stevens, begins to move into a modern world where butlers and huge household staffs will no longer be needed. It ranges in scope from one man’s life to the momentous changing of the world. There is also some romance, repressed and tortuous as it is.

Final Verdict: This has one of the most distinctive voices in any book I have ever read and manages to convey so much food for thought in a compact and mesmerizing narrative.  Highly Recommend!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturdays in the Garden - Traveling through Time and the Stargate


This refrain is getting very old but I once again spent very little time in the garden this week.  The weather has been pretty perfect for Autumn though I'm not sure I've had first frost in my little pocket of a yard.  An exceptionally windy day brought down about half the leaves in town - thankfully some of the color is left.

I did get a couple of small things accomplished.  I bought a new leaf composter made of cedar wood that is a little less ghetto then the no longer really circular wire bin that is currently not doing its job in my compost area.  I am the world's worst at making compost, a process that is supposed to happen naturally so it takes real talent to be bad at it.  I also moved in most of my fragile plants in to their winter quarters.

I've also been playing a little bit with propagation by stem cuttings.  My county Master Gardener group had a short program about it earlier in the week.  It seems like it should be so easy but I'm not so sure.  I have a cutting of  a coleus, a houseplant I can't remember and some other pretty purple plant in water (as you can see my notes were stellar), I have a leaf cutting of a geranium in soil as well as a stem cutting of a chrysanthemum.


After several weeks on the road for work and with the weather changing, I felt in serious need of some nesting.  So with a list of house projects about a mile long, I embarked on a two week staycation with the primary goal of puttering around the house.  I'm halfway through my vacation and it's amazing how fast it is going and how slowly my to do list is getting done.  I allocated Monday to re-organizing and deep cleaning the kitchen.  I'm still not finished, lol.  Even though two weeks seemed like an eternity and that I should have plenty of time to get my entire life back under control, I think a number of items on my to do list are going to stay where they are.  It's been a good lesson in just how fleeting time is - it is never standing still even when we wish it to.

I have given myself plenty of time to relax as well which may be having a tiny impact on my productivity level.  I've been mainlining episodes of Stargate SG1 which I discovered is available on Amazon Prime.  This is one of my favorite shows that went along just brilliantly for a good long time and then crashed and burned heavily in later seasons following the departure of the charismatic headlining actor.  Sound familiar (cough *X-Files* cough).  What can I say?  I have a weakness.  I can't decide if I need to get some of my feelings about the show out with some Sunday blog posts.    Sam and Jack are one of my favorite all time ships and may be my favorite in the category of "handled extremely poorly by all involved." So lots of angst there to ramble on about. 

For a girls night last weekend I also finally caught Richard Curtis's (writer of Love Actually, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral - pretty much most of the charming and touching British films you can think of ) most recent movie About Time.  I loved it and cried like a baby. There is a time travel element that you don't want to think too hard about - it's not the point of the film anyway.   It's ostensibly a romance but it is also the story of a father and son and about embracing the all the moments of one's life.  It's all told in that funny, slightly quirky Richard Curtis way.  If you can deal with wonky time travel rules and like a bit of heartfelt sentimentality mixed wit a healthy dose of humor then I definitely recommend it.


It's Dewey's Read-a-thon day and I am participating my head off.  Here's my post where I will be keeping track of things.

I just finished The Martian by Andy Weir on audio and it was really great.  I now want an astronaut/botanist/mechanical engineer/smart ass boyfriend.  Anybody know any?  I also enjoyed, (with less relish and fewer boyfriend longings) Murder in Grub Street by Bruce Alexander, second in a mystery series featuring Sir John Fielding, founder of the Bow Street Runners.

I'm still trying to get through the middle grade book The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau, 2nd in the Book of Ember series.  It is not working for me.  I also started The Pursuit of Mary Bennett by by Pamela Mingle - Jane Austen fan fiction focused on the least charming of the Bennet sisters.

Last week on the blog:
SUNDAY:  Mini-Reviews:  The Case of the Missing Marquess, Cybele's Secret and The City of Ember.  These are all middle grade/YA books.
TUESDAY: Top Ten Tuesday:  Ten Places books have made me want to Visit. 
THURSDAY:  Sign up and plan post for Dewey's Read-a-thon.

This Coming Week:
SATURDAY:  This post and a Dewey's Read-a-thon tracking post.
SUNDAY:  Review - TBD
TUESDAY: The Top Ten Tuesday post is the ten new series I'd like to start - I'll give it some thought but I don't really keep up with new releases etc... unless they make a big splash.  May come up with my own listy topic.

I think that's it!  Time to get down to some read-a-thon reading.  Hope you all are having a lovely Saturday reading or enjoying some cheesy sci-fi TV!  Are there any other SG1 fans out there?

Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-Thon


Well it's a lovely gray and chilly day here in Iowa so pretty much perfect for a Read-a-Thon!  I have a good plan for the day and you can see my stack of books anxiously waiting to be read in my sign up post.   I also scored big time and saw that Alyxandra Harvey's just released book was available at my library!  That one will definitely be devoured today.  She is a serious guilty pleasure.

I'll be checking in on this post every few hours or so and updating. Thus far I was late getting started after a poor night's sleep so not a great beginning but there are no real rules besides have fun. I think I will also keep an eye on the new Goodreads group and see what other things are going on with the other participants.   Now for some coffee and a start to the Little House in the Big Woods!

Man time flies!  It's already past 1:00 in the middle of the U.S. and I feel like the read-a-thon just started.  As such here is my Opening Meme in Hour 7:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Smack dab in the middle of Iowa in the United States.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
This is a tough one.  I am excited to be reading the Little House on the Prairie series for the first time at the age of....old.  BUT I was pretty psyched that Alyxandra Harvey's new release was just sitting at the library waiting for a read-a-thon: Whisper the Dead. It even has a nice Halloweeny ring to it.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I have homemade chocolate chip cookies and Mac and Cheese - it's all comfort food all the time here. 
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
Umm... I grew up in Virginia and never imagined that I would end up living in Iowa.  I'm not sure I could have even pointed it out on the map (it's the one with the boob right in the middle of the U.S.).  
A shirt from the very funny folks at Raygun: http://raygunsite.com/
Top of my list of ways I would not like to die is to be dinner for a predator particularly crocodiles or sharks.  Good thing I live in Iowa, eh?

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
Last read-a-thon I found out that I am an exceptionally slow reader (I think I have trouble focusing maybe) and only got through one book despite many hours of reading.  I've picked some shorter and "easier" books to read this time around.

FIRST UPDATE - 1:30 pm (Hour 7)
I started an hour late at 8:00 am and began with a walk through the woods with the dogs and a non-fiction Audio book - Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan.  Nothing like a story about someone's journey into madness to get the day off to a great start.

I followed that up with and  just finished the first of the Little House Books:  Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It basically covers a year in the life of the Ingalls family during the year Laura turns 6 years old.  It was lovely and simple and as a bonus gave me some tips for organizing my weeks:
"Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday"
Time Spent Reading: 4.5 hours
Pages Read: 238
Audio Listened to: 1.25 hours
Books Finished:1
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

SECOND UPDATE - 4:00 pm (Hour 10)

Where is the day going!  I honestly am a little stunned its 4:00 already.  Since the last update, I goofed around online for a bit, ate some lunch and started a new book - Whisper the Dead by Alyxandra Harvey.  It's much fun thus far.

My butt is starting to get a little numb so after a little more goofing off on the web I think I will put in my ear phones and head outside for a little yard work.  It's gotten sunny here, stupid traitorous weather.  It's supposed to be unpleasant outside for all read-a-thons!

Time Spent Reading: 1.5 hours
Pages Read: 87
Audio Listened to: 0 Hours
Books Finished: 0

THIRD UPDATE - 6:45 pm (Hour 12 - Halfway!)
Time Spent Reading: 1.75 hours
Pages Read: 36
Audio Listened to: 1 hour 10  minutes
Books Finished: 0

Mid-Event Survey
1. What are you reading right now?
Whisper the Dead by Alyxandra Harvey and Brain of Fire by Susannah Cahalan
2. How many books have you read so far?
1 finished, 3 total read
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
I hope to finish Whisper the Dead  - its a ton of fun!
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
All interruptions have been self caused and haven't really had too many. 
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
How fast the day has gone!!

FOURTH UPDATE -  10:30 pm (Hour 16)

I think I did this last time too but I can't resist 'cause they are just so darned cute.  Here are my reading companions as of the 15 hour mark:

They are not doing a lot to encourage wakefulness but are good company nonetheless.  I've had dinner, a little booze, some coffee to counteract the booze and some more good reading.

Time Spent Reading: 2.5 hours
Pages Read: 123
Audio Listened to: 0
Currently Reading: Whisper the Dead by Alyxandra Harvey
Books Finished: 0

FIFTH (and final) UPDATE - 1:30 am (Hour 19)
I took a couple hours off to goof around on line and that got back down to business.  Though I really really want to finish the book I'm reading I have hit that wall.  The wall beyond which no more comprehension happens.  So blech.  I am once again only going to finish one book but it is what it is.  I did up my page count a little.

Time Spent Reading: 1.5 hours
Pages Read: 82
Audio Listened to: 0
Currently Reading: Whisper the Dead by Alyxandra Harvey
Books Finished:0

It's been a lovely night of reading.  Good night all!


Time Spent Reading: 11 hours 45 Minutes

Pages Read: 566

Listening Time: 2 hours 25 minutes

Books Finished:1

Books Read but Not Finished: 2

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Read-A-Thon! Read-A-Thon! Read-A-Thon!


I was excited to discover that this Fall's Dewey's 24 Hour Read-a-thon concides with my longed for and rather lengthy staycation.  In fact, it is perfectly placed, this Saturday, in the middle of my vacation.  As the time grows closer however, I am a little worried as I seem to be in a bit of a reading slump.  I read so much last month that now I seem to be wanting to do anything besides reading. I've also got a huge stack of books that I want to but haven't gotten around to reviewing.  Adding more to that pile makes me a little anxious. So the overly enthusiastic title of this post is meant to pump me up!  Yay, Read-a thon!...?

To overcome these read-a-thon jitters, I've gathered up a tall stack of books that will hopefully be motivating. I don't really have a theme exactly but I'd like to a) catch up on a series that I missed as a kid (at least in book form) and wish I hadn't and b) indulge in a little re-reading which I don't seem to make time for anymore.  

The series if you can't tell is the Little House series which I'm not sure why I didn't read when I was younger. I'd like to re-read the Narnia series (in chronological vs. publication order) and Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles, two of my all time favorites.  Also on the pile is my current read The Pursuit of Mary Bennett by Pamela Mingle.  I am a sucker for Jane Austen Fan Fiction which varies wildly in quality but there are the occasional winners.  I've always felt rather sorry for and interested in Mary Bennett, the least charming and attractive of the Bennett sisters so I snatched this book up as soon as I saw it. Also, to mix things up I threw in the second volume of Y: The Last Man, a graphic novel by Brian K. Vaughan.  I also have a number of books on my i-pod in case I need to get up and move around, as well as a stack on my kindle if everything goes horribly wrong with my current plan.

My strategy here is to focus on (mostly) easy comfort reads.  I'm a slow reader and last read-a-thon, despite a prodigious amount of time spent reading, I finished only one book.  With the stack of shorter, easy reads I hope I can give myself a greater feeling of accomplishment by actually finishing two books!  I will obviously not get through even half this stack but it will be fun trying.

Anybody else participating in the read-a-thon?  What's your strategy?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Places Books have Made Me Want to Visit

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish for folks who like books and lists both of which are obviously awesome.  This week's topic is the ten places books have made me want to go. I like to travel and here are a few places that books have played an instrumental role in developing my interest in them. 

1)  Narnia:  This was the very first thing that popped into my head because ever since reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe I have always had a tiny little hope that any door that I open will be the door to Narnia.  Someday. 
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”- C.S. Lewis
Bulgarian Mountains
2) Eastern Europe (particularly Bulgaria) and Turkey: This desire was sparked by The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I honestly don't remember about this book and liked it a solid 3 out of 5 stars - nothing spectacular.  It's sort of a DaVinci code like quest involving vampires and such.   Despite my relatively blah feelings about the book over all,  it really made me wish to visit Eastern Europe and Istanbul which I can't say I had much interest in previously.

3) Greece: I was obsessed with Greek Mythology as a kid, especially with the book above.  I have always wanted to visit Greece as a result.

4) Camelot:  In a similar vein as the above, I have always loved the Arthurian Legends probably starting with The Once and Future King by T.H. White followed by everything about Arthur that I could get my hands on.  I have been lucky enough to have fulfilled this desire and have visited the place that is claimed to be "Camelot" (an old wall in the middle of a cow pasture) and I believe all of the sites in England associated with the legends.

5) A Napoleonic War Era British Sailing ship:  This rather odd one is inspired by the Aubrey and Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian.  I know that the ships would be crowded, stinking and incredibly dangerous but these books made me wish so badly to be a part of Jack Aubrey's crew.  Even though I am a woman and that would have been weird at the time. 


6) Australia:  I can't say this book was the sole reason for me wishing to visit Australia but it sure made my desire keener AND it's actually a travelogue.  Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country. This is another place that I have actually had the opportunity to visit. Blue Latitudes by Tony Horowitz is also a great non-fiction book that touches on Australia through a focus on Captain James Cook's adventures. 

7) The Outer Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney Islands:  This is a recent place added to the list after I read The Blackhouse by Peter May earlier this year.  This book was set on the Outer Hebrides and didn't exactly paint them as a barrel of fun but nevertheless I was intrigued and when looking them up on a map, I also started exploring the other islands off of Scotland's north coast.  

There are a lot of other places I'd like to go but I think that's all the book inspired places I can think of for now.  What about you?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

MINI-REVIEWS: The Case of the Missing Marquess, Cybele’s Secret, and The City of Ember

All three of these books are middle-grade to YA novels, each in a different genre: mystery, fantasy, and science fiction respectively.  I’m reviewing them together because while I liked them all in different degrees, I don’t have much to say about each.  They were all good but didn’t stand out.  In the order I liked them:

Original Publication Year: 2006
Genre: Middle-grade, Mystery
Series: Enola Holmes #1
Format: Audio (Audible)
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren

Enola Holmes is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft.  Enola was a late in life baby for their mother and on her 14th birthday her mother (the Marquess of the title) disappears without a trace.  Calling on her older brothers for help turns out to be a mistake, as they see her as nothing more than an ill-mannered burden and prepare to ship her off to a horrid girl’s boarding school.  Enola is cannot bear to be shipped off and is desperate to know what has happened to her mother so she makes her escape, using a number of disguises to get to London. She then sets out to discover what has happened to her mother (and a young missing duke to boot). 
If I was 10-14 years old I would have eaten this book up and asked for seconds.  As an adult, it definitely felt young and that is what in the end really stopped this from being a great read.  It suffers a little from the problem of Enola being way too young for almost everything that happens in the book, including the circumstances surrounding her mother’s disappearances.  Despite all that fussing, I did find the book charming and the puzzle is intriguing.  I liked it enough that I will definitely be continuing with the series which promises to develop interestingly. 
Final Verdict: An engaging historical mystery series that seems perfectly suited for middle grade readers and only slightly less so for adult readers.    3.4 out of 5 stars.

Original Publication Year: 2008
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Series: Wildwood #2
Format: Audio (library - digital)
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Awards: None

Marillier is known for her retellings of fairy tales and even her original stories have a very folk tale-esque quality to them.  This book was no exception.   In full disclosure I have not read the first in the Wildwood series so this was my introduction to the Transylvanian merchant family with connections to a magical world.  While I do wish I had read book one first I had no trouble keeping up with things - Marillier does a good job throwing in summaries to catch up new readers.  

Much of the action in this book takes place in a historical Istanbul and is focused on an artifact sacred to the ancient Goddess Cybele.  Interest in such an artifact is dangerous in the highly religious Muslim community on Istanbul.  The main character, Paula, is 18 and a scholar and she struggles with a lot of the restrictions placed on women in the Turkish culture.  She is a relatively likeable and strong female lead but I didn’t find her particularly interesting and she does a lot of stupid and na├»ve things because she’s young and thinks she knows best.  I found none of the characters all that interesting though there is some pretty transparent bait and switch things going on with a couple characters – i.e. they seem stereotypically good or bad but are not what they seem.  The setting is interesting however and there is a really fun obstacle course, Indiana Jones- style contest to wrap up the quest to return the artifact to where it belongs. 

Final Verdict: A perfectly readable, though not terribly remarkable YA book that is part fantasy and a little bit historical fiction.  3 out of 5 Stars.

Original Publication Year: 2004
Genre: Middle Grade, Science Fiction
Series: Book of Ember #1
Format: Audio (library – cds)
Narrator: Wendy Dillon
Awards: A bunch of children’s literary award

This one is a little bit of a challenge to judge.  I didn’t love it but that is because: a) I am not the intended audience and b) part of my dislike was for the narrator who is actually probably fine but her performance was pitched towards 9 year olds.  So for 9 year olds, I think this book has a lot of promise - an interesting premise and mystery. 

Unfortunately for adult readers there are some fatal flaws mostly to do with plausibility.  Many a great book has been built on completely implausible ideas but the internal logic must work and the story has to crack on and be completely absorbing to work.  I think this book lacks both of those.  One flaw,  that is a frequent pitfall for an adult reading children’s or YA literature, is that there is too much agency and authority given to its young main characters (in this book 12 year olds) and adults are marginalized and given no real role.  In The Case of the Missing Marquess this was less annoying because Enola truly has no trustworthy adults to turn to, but in this book there is no good reason for the children not to have enlisted the help of some trusted adult relatives.   The second big issue is the premise itself which upon any kind of reflection reveals itself to just be a spectacularly dumb, flimsy, or at the very least a poorly executed idea.  It is also hard to believe that a society would not have innovated or at least shown the tiniest bit of curiosity in 250 years. 

Final Verdict:  I think this is a pretty good children’s that really doesn’t translate well for adult readers.  I wanted to see what happened enough that I have started book 2 in the series but the problems from book one are just exacerbated.  2.75 out of 5 Stars.