Friday, January 28, 2011

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Reading Hale’s books are like sitting next to a warm fire wrapped in your favorite blanket drinking salted caramel hot chocolate.

It’s comfort reading.

I’ve read six of her books and I’ve found them all (with the exception of one) very satisfying.

Princess Academy has been on my shelf for awhile. Before I could pick up a copy of A Conspiracy of Kings, I read Princess Academy. I thought it would keep my head in all things royal and destiny.

It’s a charming tale of a young girl named Miri who comes from a small mountain village. She’s small and feels like she’s not contributing to the family since her father won’t let her do quarry work.

When it’s foretold that the future princess comes from Mount Eskel, they put together an academy where the girls will be sent to learn and study and prepare to meet the prince. The girls are promised that he will come to meet them and choose one of them to be his bride.

What appealed to me about this book is that its emphasis isn’t necessarily on becoming a princess, but rather the importance of education. Miri goes to the academy to learn and discover her unique gifts and strengths. At first, becoming the princess means a better life for her family. But what Miri soon discovers is that her newly acquired knowledge and self confidence is what will ultimately improve her family’s life.

I definitely recommend this one. I'd love to re-read it again with my girls.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Sophos, the nephew of the King of Sounis, and rightful heir, tells his story in this fourth installment of the Queen’s Thief series. We are first introduced to Sophos in The Thief. Toward the end of The King of Attolia it’s mentioned that he’s been kidnapped and feared dead.

Here’s our chance to find out what’s happened to him.

I loved the beginning of this book. The action happens right away. I liked Sophos very much, though he doesn’t seem to like himself at all. In fact, he’s a great disappointment to his father banished him to an island hoping he'd improve his sword skills rather than his poetry reading.

After Sophos is kidnapped, he ends up as a slave working on the grounds of a ruthless Baron. Not ideal circumstances, right? But here’s the thing—he’s actually enjoying himself. Sophos works hard building stone walls during the day and recites poetry to the other slaves in the evenings. He begins to feel free from the burden of disappointing his family.

Then his life as a slave is disrupted with certain news and he's forced to decide whether he’ll keep his head in the sand or step up and claim his destiny.

It’s not an easy choice for Sophos. He struggles with the idea of bearing sole responsibility for his actions.

“Out among the olives…I thought, as if it were the first time, about what I wanted. All of my life people had chosen for me. My father of the king of Sounis, his magus, or the kings’ other advisors. All my life they had made choices for me, and I had resented it. Now the choice was mine, and once it was made, I would have no right to blame anyone else for the consequences. Loss of that privilege, to blame others, unexpectedly stung.”

What will he choose and what will be the consequences of those choices? Does he have the strength to make hard decisions? Will he always be plagued with self-doubt?

The first part of the novel is told in first person as if he’s writing to someone. I love the reveal of who he was relaying the events to. Next, it’s told in third person. I liked the switch. I think it works. Then it goes back to Sophos's point of view and then back to third person again. Turner is brilliant at keeping each novel fresh and interesting by offering different points of view.
So…now I wait for the next installments. I’m tempted to go back and reread The Thief. I admit I wasn’t that enthralled at the beginning of The Thief. However, near the end, I was hooked.

If I had to pick a favorite of the four I would have to say The Queen of Attolia is my favorite. However, A Conspiracy of Kings is growing on me the more I think about its themes of choice, destiny, and friendship. And of course, love.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

So here's the thing. I'm in love. Serious, serious love. I'm not talking about the love for my husband sitting next to me watching Firefly (sidenote: also love Nathan Fillion), whom I happen to adore, but oh my word I am in love with this Queen's Thief series. To me it has everything I love in a book--intrigue, plot twists, kings, queens, love, cleverness, brilliant writing, etc. The list could go on and on.

One thing this series has going for it is its amazingly complex characters, namely Euginides/Gen/the Thief, and now the King of Attolia. He's witty, smart, an excellent liar(not that I'm condoning such behavior ;), a skilled swordsman (which given his circumstances is quite amazing), and a risk taker.

However, about a hundred pages into the book I started to worry about Eugenides. He wasn't acting like himself. Then I got to this passage and realized I wasn't the only one who thought so.

"Ornon had the great respect for the Thief of Eddis, much the way he respected the business edge of a sword. He wondered how the Attolians thought Eugenides had managed to become king if he was the idiot they assumed him to be. Perhaps because they had never seen him as the Thief, with his head thrown back and a glint in his eye that made the hair on the back of a man's neck rise up. The Attolians had only seen this new and uncomfortable king. Ornon himself wondered what had become of the Thief. Ornon had seen no sign of that character in Eugenides since the wedding."

Ah, but remember--Gen is a brilliant trickster and something is definitely going down. But here's the brilliant part--you really don't know what that is until the end. Turner truly is the master of showing and not telling. And you don't even realize she's been showing you clues or has she? I don't remember! That's why this series has serious re-read appeal.

The King of Attolia brings out themes of loyalty and compassion. Even for those who betray their loyalties there is compassion and even a chance for redemption. Just wait til you get to the part with the King in a cell with someone who's betrayed the queen--it's not what you'd expect and the irony of it all...just so dang brilliant!

The story is told through the point of view of a new character to the series named Costis. He gets into some serious trouble at the beginning of this novel. He's quite certain he's a gonner, but his unexpected promotion allows us to peek into Gen's reluctant role as King as well as an opportunity to learn about what it means to get a second chance.

As much as I loved this book, I did have one complaint. I sorely missed the Queen of Attolia. She still has a presence in this installment and an important one, but I wanted even more. And I wanted more scenes of her and Eugenides together. Ms. Turner can we please get the Queen her own series? Three or four books oughta do it.

I picked up A Conspiracy of Kings from the library yesterday. So excited. Plus, I just read somewhere that there will be two more books in this series. Score.

This is a world in which I've happily immersed myself. It's time for you to do the same!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Is it possible to love a sequel more than the original?

If you're talking about The Queen of Attolia, then the answer is yes!

What a great follow-up to the page-turning ending of The Thief.

One thing I really like about this novel is that every character is clever. They're all smart, they're all playing some sort of game, they all surprise me. Turner reveals each character's motivations and thoughts at exactly the right time.

The novel's opening scenes are suspenseful as we follow Eugenides through the secret passageways of Queen Attolia's palace. He's there on a mission from the Queen of Eddis. But things go horribly wrong and he suffers greatly for it.

The trial he is now faced with sinks him into a pit of despair. You feel his pain and frustration. You feel his anguish.

Once he's back in Eddis, the queen he serves offers comfort, but there isn't much she can do to help. Even his father who serves as the minister of war, can do little to restore his son's hope and sense of usefulness. He is a thief and his abilities have been severely compromised.

Just when you think the anguish and suffering will be his demise, Eugenides rises to the occasion and surprises us with his adaptability. A war has begun in his name and he alone is the one to set things in motion that will restore peace.

Once again, Turner weaves a tale of the gods which foreshadows one character's actions and also adds depth to the character. I love that.
This book is smart, witty, and exciting. It's a book I'd like to re-read just to admire Turner's writing style. I've already re-read several passages just to revel in her creativity and ability to capture a moment or an emotion in just one brilliant sentence. This second installment is compelling and adventurous. It's also a love story. And a great one on so many levels. The ending was perfect.

Now on to the third book--The King of Attolia.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I'm excited to share my thoughts with you about the novel. It's no secret how much I love the movie adaptation. I tell everyone about it. I've even successfully passed the obsession on to my sister, for which she is very grateful ;)

I finished the book over Christmas break and I LOVED it.

The first thing I did when I got my copy of North of South was to try and find the line, "Look back. Look back at me," which was perfectly uttered by Mr. Thornton as he watches Margaret leave. I suspected it was screenwriter Sandy Welch's invention and I was right. However, she did draw from the novel for this gem of a moment.
Towards the end of the book Margaret is talking to Mr. Bell and fretting over what Mr. Thornton thinks of her.

"...In the respect and high regard which she had hoped would have ever made him willing, in the spirit of Gerald Griffins beautiful lines,

'To Turn and look back when thou hearest
The sound of my name.'"

Well crafted Ms. Gaskell and well adapted Ms. Welch!

I also love the next few lines:

"She kept choking and swallowing all the time that she thought about it. She tried to comfort herself with the idea, that what he imagined her to be, did not alter the fact of what she was. But it was a truism, a phantom, and broke down under the weight of her regret."

You can just feel her sorrow and frustration at not being able to fix things. Haven't you ever been in a situation where someone had the wrong impression or idea about you and there was nothing you could do to change their mind? It's quite a burden and this part in the novel is full of heartache and regret.

After searching for the "Look back at me," scene I went on to find the proposal scene. After reading that I thought: Enough! I just need to read it from the beginning!!

Here's a quote from Mr. Thornton after Margeret rejects him:

"One word more. You look as if you thought it tainted you to be loved by me. You cannot avoid it. Nay, I, if I would, cannot cleanse you from it. But I would not if I could. I have never loved any woman before; my life has been too busy, my thoughts too much absolved with other things. Now I love and will love. But do not be afraid of too much expression on my part."

Sorry, Margaret. He's gonna love you whether you like it or not.

There are many subtle differences between the book and the mini series. I won't go into all of them, but the first one that struck me was how Mr. Thornton and Margaret meet. Mr. Thornton does not catch one of his workers smoking and then proceed to beat the crap out of him in front of Margaret as the movie portrays. Instead, they meet at her home where Mr. Thornton is waiting to speak to her father. Mr. Hale, who hadn't been told Mr. Thornton was waiting for him, leaves again and and it is up to Margaret to speak to their guest alone. It's awkward for both of them. Margaret comes across as haughty. Mr. Thornton is boring. It's not a good first impression for either of them.

And yet...there's this moment from their first encounter:

"Mr. Thornton was in habits of authority himself, but she seemed to assume some kind of rule over him at once."

A few chapters later Mr. Thornton gets a second chance to make a better impression when he comes over for tea. This is one of my favorite scenes from the movie. And after I read it, I knew Mr. Armitage had read the book. He captured the moment exactly. Below is a picture from that scene and reads as follows:

"She had a bracelet on one taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist. Mr. Thornton watched the replacing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father...There was so little left to be done after he arrived at the preparation for tea, that he was almost sorry the obligation of eating and drinking came so soon to prevent his watching Margaret."


Despite his fascination with her, they end up arguing and he leaves thinking she is proud and disagreeable. And she tells her father that she really doesn't like Mr. Thornton at all.

So how do these two ever come together? Well, that is for you to read and find out! So much happens to them. They both make mistakes and wrong assumptions about each other, attempt to set things right, suffer from pride, and form unlikely friendships with others in Milton, which eventually helps them on their journey to reconciliation. It's rich and meaningful and just buy the book already!

And now for the ending. In the movie it takes place at a train station, which provides a great visual metaphor for meeting in the middle, seeing each other's world's and appreciating where each has come from. She's been to the North, he's been in the South and they reconcile somewhere in the middle. In the novel, however, Mr. Thornton goes to the South to meet Mr. Lennox to discuss financial matters. When Lennox fails to keep his appointment it is Margaret who has to explain their business proposition. I love how this scene echoes that of their first meeting and yet so much has happened in between to change them both forever. Ah--I love a good full circle moment!

"While she sought for this paper, her very heart-pulse was arrested by the tone in which Mr. Thornton spoke. His voice was hoarse, and trembling with tender passion, as he said--

There is so much to love and analyze about this story. The worker's strike, the differences between social classes, friendship, love, loyalty, death, redemption, and second chances. It's themes are timeless, the characters unforgettable (I didn't even mention the secondary characters which are just as interesting as the leads!), and the realistic setting. I will definitely revisit this novel. You already know I'll watch the movie again ;)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Harry Potter Midnight Premiere!!

Such a fun night!

I wrote some "Would You Rather" questions {Harry Potter edition} to read during our wait in line. I wish I'd had time to write more. It was pretty fun.
My favorite?

"Would you rather see Snape fight Care Bears or Dumbledore fly the Millenium Falcon?"

Think about it...

The essentials for a midnight premiere--Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs, Diet Coke, and Uggs!

Betty, Becky, Amy

Can't wait for July!!!
P.S. Do you like our outfits?