Category Archives: review

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

Word Lily review

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010), 336 pages

please ignore vera dietzSummary
Her best friend, the boy next door, the guy she loved — *he* died. But maybe even worse, the friendship/relationship ended before he died. The title character goes through life, most days in a haze of grief, getting through her senior year of high school, working at the pizza place, and dealing with her dad. Mostly trying to avoid her destiny (of becoming her mom).

Just a touch of mystery pervades this book for most of its breadth. But for the most part it’s the story of how a girl deals with the grief and regret of losing her best friend.

It’s really readable. Good, but tragic, sad. I feel like it says good stuff about life, but maybe I was reading too fast to catch it? Maybe just too tired or racing through it too fast. I mean the underlying meaning stuff.

It reads a bit like Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life. Except a bit more shallow. Which sounds bad, but I don’t mean it as an insult, exactly. It’s a little angry and rough. Vera is very real, in that she’s wounded, she makes mistakes.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz reads quickly. I liked how her history with Charlie is played out in History chapters, and how brief words from Charlie and her father are interspersed with the main, current-day, chronological text. My favorite aspect might well be how it dealt with the question of nature vs. nurture, or how one can avoid the path he/she is generally expected to walk in.

This was my first King, but I don’t intend for it to be my last. One of those hot YA authors I’m glad to have tried.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is a Printz Honor book.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Other reviews
Book Addiction
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Jenn’s Bookshelves
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Lilith by George MacDonald

lilithOnce upon a time, several years ago, when Amy and I made lists of books for ourselves and each other to read, there was one joint read on that list. Finally, at the end of 2012, we read it! That book? Lilith by George MacDonald (1895).

I think part of my motivation to read it stemmed from Hutchmoot that year, either the assigned reading leading up to it or something stated at the actual event. I read a couple other MacDonald books, and I quite liked them. (Phantastes (which I never got around to reviewing, but I took copious notes about) and At the Back of the North Wind)

My expectations going into this book were pretty high, I think, which ended up being a problem (as it so often is).

I found some bright spots in this story. The beginning was good, it started off well and my excitement continued to rise.

Several vignettes I quite liked. But as a whole, I didn’t really love it. For a very short book (236 pages in this edition), it took me nearly two weeks to get through, if I remember correctly.

I liked how MacDonald took the concept of growth (spiritual, emotional, whatever) and made it physically visible. That was kinda neat. But such a small piece of the story, it seemed. And there’s this dangerous area of the world/landscape that, at night, is filled with dangerous monsters, but certain characters simply *had* safe passage because of some aspect of their character, while others acted as a shield to a group. It was a really beautiful image, I thought, how that was worked out.

Now the not-so-good stuff. I really feel like the tagline :: A Romance is realllllllly misleading. I mean, there is a romance, and a Romance, I guess, but.

It read partly as allegory, but as soon as I decided what various characters were, it would totally fall apart. I never really felt like I understood fully what was going on. Some things I never figured out at all. This was a big one.

I seem to have such trouble finding nice (as in, not horribly done) versions of old books like this. Maybe I should just decide that just because there are cheap editions of books like this, doesn’t mean I should buy those ones. This edition wasn’t horrible, but I do think it detracted from my personal potential enjoyment of the story.

Lots of people love this book, but I wasn’t one of them. Maybe from now on I’ll stick to MacDonald’s works for young readers.

Here’s My Friend Amy’s post about Lilith.

Have you read it, or any of MacDonald’s work? What did you think?

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Too Far to Say Far Enough by Nancy Rue

Word Lily review

Too Far to Say Far Enough by Nancy Rue, book 3 in The Reluctant Prophet series (October 1, 2012, David C. Cook), 512 pages

too far to say far enough

Allison picks up right where she left off, taking care of orphans and women in trouble, along with her unexpected but strong band of helpers who have all felt some form of a Nudge from God to do so.

It took me a little while to remember who everyone was and where we’d left everything when I first picked up Too Far to Say Enough, this third book in a series (trilogy?). I’ve loved this series from the very beginning, and this book is no exception.

I loved the surprises, the twists and turns, and how broken and human and real the characters are. No one is a type.

I loved how things were allowed to come almost full circle in some respects with this story but still not everything was neatly wrapped up. It had a couple of the super-happy, much longed-for moments the series has led up to, also, which is excellent.

But this one seemed a little more two-dimensional to me, somehow. Maybe I’d just gotten to know the characters well enough that it wasn’t as surprising or shocking? Or maybe it’s just part of the story/series reaching its logical end.

Still, these are excellent, well-written books and I’d recommend them to almost anyone. I’m saddened by how poorly they’ve sold, apparently. Why are so many of the best books not appreciated until too late? (Just like: Why are so many of the greatest TV shows cancelled before they can even get to the best parts?) I’m afraid, in this case, that the reason they haven’t sold all that well is that the target audience doesn’t want to be challenged to step out of their pew, doesn’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable or encouraged to really think things through (that working-out-of-their-faith thing, especially).

Rating: 4.5 stars

Here’s my review of book 2, Unexpected Dismounts, but I urge you to start the series with book 1, The Reluctant Prophet.

About the author
Nancy Rue has written tons of books. I love her blog, The Nudge.

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In the Woods by Tana French

Word Lily review

In the Woods by Tana French (Viking Penguin, 2007), 429 pages

In a small outlying Dublin neighborhood, three children hop the stone fence into their favorite woods. But then they don’t come home for tea, and they don’t come when their mothers call. Much later, police find only one of the tweens, terrified and with a complete block as to what filled the missing hours. Years later, that found boy is a detective on the Murder Squad. He’s changed his name and left the past buried. But when he and partner Cassie Maddox investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl in those same woods, well, things get interesting.

I’d heard so many good things about this, I knew I wanted — needed, even? — to read it. I’m glad I finally got around to picking it off the shelf. The writing is superbly beautiful and filled with nuggets like this will still being accessible and readable.

The characters are definitely flawed, just the way I like them. Even when they disappoint me.

Haunting is a good word for In the Woods. Not that it scared me, but that it stayed with me in a somewhat uncomfortable way. It’s interesting to read the blurbs on the back cover, some call it a “hard-boiled police procedural” and others label it “psychological suspense.” Of course these aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but it does kind of show, I think, the limits of labels.

I think I might finally understand all the people who say they love sad books. Well. I’m not saying I love sad books to the extent that I’m going to seek them out, but this book is sad, and I [still] love it.

I was spoiled, I knew before I got to the end that it wasn’t all wrapped up neatly. But I don’t think it would have bothered me like it did some people, even if I hadn’t known. I should have suspected, anyway. I’m OK with ambiguity. The sadness was harder for me than the lack of closure.

In the Woods won an Edgar Award for best first novel.

Rating: 4.5 stars

I look forward to reading more from French. I’ll probably start with the follow-up to this one, The Likeness

About the author
Tana French grew up in Ireland, Italy, the US and Malawi, and has lived in Dublin since 1990. She trained as a professional actress at Trinity College, Dublin, and has worked in theater, film and voiceover.

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Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin

Word Lily review

Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin (Feiwel & Friends, 2011), 240 pages

Pearl feels like the very uncool little sister, especially compared to the great life Lexie (eighth grade) has — with a boyfriend, tons of friends, great grades — while Pearl’s only boyfriend is the cat, Bitey (the name’s not ironic), and she doesn’t even have her own key to the apartment.

I picked this up because it’s by the Ann M. Martin, the author of the Baby-Sitters’ Club books, and I’d just had a conversation about reading those books and was feeling nostalgic. It also didn’t hurt that I knew it would be a quick read! 🙂

This was a fun story about starting to know yourself and growing up, grasping some self-control. I felt for the character, who was moved ahead in school based on academic testing but perhaps before she was ready for it socially.

The “hand-drawn” lists and charts are a definite plus.

It’s been a bit since I read a middle grade book, but this one felt like it skewed a bit younger than most/some. The protagonist is (just barely) 9 years old.

Rating: 3 stars

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Mini-review: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley
AKA book 2 of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, AKA the series with titles way too long to remember :: I’m really hoping this was just a book-two flub and that book 3 (and subsequent titles) will be better, back to what I expect based on book 1. While I loved The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, this one felt overly dark and also nearly failed to keep my interest. Just kind of a dud. I’m holding out hope that A Red Herring Without Mustard is better, especially since I already have it. But I’ll give the series a break before giving it that shot at redemption.

Do you think it’s sophomore releases, or book-2s-in-a-series that’s so often the problem? Maybe both? Thoughts?

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The Rhythm of Secrets by Patti Lacy

Word Lily review

The Rhythm of Secrets by Patti Lacy (Kregel, December 2010), 320 pages

Rhythm of Secrets by Patti Lacy Summary
Sheila Franklin has lived three separate lives. Now a conservative pastor’s wife in Chicago, she is skilled at hiding secrets — a talent birthed during childhood romps through the music-filled streets of New Orleans. But when the son she bore at the age of 18 comes back looking for answers and desperate for help, her greatest secret — and greatest regret — is revealed. Eager to right past wrongs, Sheila’s heart floods with memories of lyrical jazz music and a worn-out Bible. But when her husband learns her history, she’s faced with an impossible decision: embrace the dream — and son — she abandoned against her will or give in to the demands of her safe but stifled life. ~from GoodReads

I had heard good things about this book, but the cover was a major hurdle for me. It looks … self-published. I think it was Amy’s review that got me over that hurdle. Thanks, Amy. This is one of those instances where my cover-judgment would have dis-served me.

I’m just going to give it to you in bullet points, because that’s what my notes look like, and it’s been way too long since I read it for me to remember specifics.

• The musical threads Lacy uses to tie the pieces of the story together are brilliant. This gives the whole book almost a rhythmic, poetic feel.

• The pacing lagged at times.

• There is an incredible amount of time (number of years) covered in the book. I think she mostly pulled this off, but it might have contributed to the feeling of slow pacing somehow.

• I liked that there’s a bit of a mystery for the reader to uncover.

• And I really liked the setting(s) of the book.

• There was something else that just didn’t quite feel right about it, but I, even after many months, can’t put my finger on it.

Not really related, but still: I think this book (reading it and writing about it) have finally gotten me to where I can spell “rhythm” correctly on my first try. That was one of the words I always had to try a couple times before I found the accurate spelling. So there’s that.

Rating: 4 stars

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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Word Lily review

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985), 336 pages per Amazon, but my copy ends on page 226

Ender was conceived because the ruling authority thought he just might have the right characteristics to be able to lead the fleet in the Bugger Wars (the buggers are aliens). He advances through the training years ahead of the norm. There’s endless debate about the best way to push him to excel, but all Ender knows is that they make his life hard. He’s good at this stuff, but he doubts himself and resents that his destiny was chosen for him.

I don’t remember why I decided I should read this book, but I bought it to read during the June 2008 read-a-thon. That seems about one hundred years ago. Over the impending years, I’ve had two brothers-in-law bugging me (heh, that pun was unintentional) to read it whenever the subject came up. I challenged myself to read it in 2011, and now, at the end of 2012, I’ve finally fulfilled that goal.

I was caught up in the fast-paced story from the very beginning. Ender is very human, and reading the (apparently begrudgingly written) introduction by the author helped draw me in, too. Card, there, talks about how some readers criticized the book, saying Ender (and the other characters) didn’t talk or think like children, but Card’s response that when he was a child he heard himself speak not as a child but as a person, which I thought was a very good point.

I really loved this book. I definitely see some ways Ender’s Game might have influenced The Hunger Games, or at least some parallels between the two. Ender is incredibly sympathetic.

Now, just a couple criticisms. I liked the references to religion early on, but I was disappointed that it wasn’t addressed more.

The political aspect of the book really reminded me that it was published in the 1980s. Not all bad, but it definitely dated the story.

I’m frustrated about one bit at the very end, and again it’s about religion. Card creates a new religion, and it apparently takes off, but there’s really no reasoning given for its huge popularity, and as described, it seems to be one small ritual, not a full-blown religion. The way he persisted in talking about it was a real turn-off to me. I’m guessing it’s set-up for the next book in the series, but it feels tacked on and awkward in this book. He either needed to explore it more or take it out. This was almost enough to sour the book for me, but really, the rest of the story shines clearly enough to overpower this. And maybe I’m alone in feeling so about this aspect of the book? Or maybe my opinion will change if/when I read book 2, Speaker for the Dead?

Rating: 4.75 stars

Ender’s Game won both the Hugo and the Nebula award.

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