Splintered, A. G. Howard

[amazon_image id=”1419704281″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft” ]Splintered: Splintered Book One[/amazon_image] A. G. Howard’s novel [amazon_link id=”1419704281″ target=”_blank” ]Splintered[/amazon_link] is a sequel, of sorts, to Lewis Carroll’s books [amazon_link id=”0553213458″ target=”_blank” ]Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass[/amazon_link]. What if Alice really did go down the rabbit hole, and all the adventures she had really happened? Alyssa Gardner is a descendant of Alice Liddell’s, and she carries a family curse—beginning with Alice herself, a strain of madness has run through each woman in Alyssa’s family. Alyssa’s mother Alison lives in a mental institution, and Alyssa herself hides the fact that she can hear bugs and plants talking to her because she knows her mother’s fate is the fate that awaits her as well. But a Wonderland resident reaches out to her and convinces her that she has the power to save her mother, and herself, if she is willing to go down the rabbit hole and put right what Alice destroyed when she went to Wonderland.

The cover of this book is gorgeous, and the beautiful cover, along with the plot description, convinced me to pick up this book. The book owes a great debt to Tim Burton’s visions of Wonderland, which A. G. Howard acknowledges herself. Parts of it were quite enjoyable, and the ending was a page-turner. However, there were stretches of time when I found myself avoiding reading it, which is always a sign to me that something’s bothering me about a book. I like the premise, but the writing isn’t even, and I almost felt like Alyssa and her crush Jeb were a little too “cool.” I really wanted to like this book more than I did. If it is part of of a series, I don’t believe I’ll be picking up the other books. I admit it was diverting in some places. I liked it best when Lewis Carroll’s characters showed up in all their glory, however. What that means to me is that Alyssa and other characters created for this sequel more or less pale in comparison to Carroll’s memorable characters, even if their descriptions were rather deliciously morbid and freaky. The Wonderland landscape is rendered vividly. I think the right readers will find and love this book, and truthfully, I’m not the book’s intended audience. I give it 3½ stars for being more than just OK and for being different and creative, but in the end, I just wanted to like the new characters and to find them more interesting than I did. It just took me way too long to finish.

Rating: ★★★½☆

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi

[amazon_image id=”0545477115″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft” ]The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle[/amazon_image]I realize that [amazon_link id=”0545477115″ target=”_blank” ]The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle[/amazon_link] has been around for a while, and it’s been on my list, but I didn’t actually read it until my daughter chose it for one of her summer reading books. She said she had read and excerpt of it in school and thought it sounded good.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is the story of thirteen-year-old Charlotte Doyle, who has been away at school in England and is returning home to Providence, Rhode Island aboard the Seahawk. Through a confluence of events, she winds up being the ship’s only passenger, a fact which makes her very uncomfortable. Both the cook, Zachariah, an older sailor from Africa, and Captain Jaggery, the ship’s master, try to befriend Charlotte, but she doesn’t know who to trust. When the crew rises up against Captain Jaggery’s cruelty, Charlotte is even more confused about her place and winds up getting herself into a heap of trouble.

I have to admit it starts slow. I really wondered if Charlotte was going to become likeable and get some sense. She eventually does become likeable, but I think sense is a hopeless case. Once the book gets going, it’s pretty good. I think Avi was attempting to create a 19th century cadence through the first-person narration of Charlotte, but some of the sentences were awkwardly constructed, and I had to read them a couple of times to get them sorted out right. There is quite a lot of naval terminology, but the book has a helpful diagram of a ship and a glossary in the appendix. My daughter gave it two thumbs up. I’m glad she liked it. We read it together, and it was really nice to hear her say she didn’t want to stop at just two chapters once we reached the end of the book. This from a girl who says she doesn’t like reading. So that has to count for something.

If my daughter hadn’t chosen it for summer reading, I might not have gone past the slow start, but I did like it more once the action started, and towards the end, it was a regular page turner. Avi’s characterization brings all the players to life, and he has a true knack for setting, though I think he over-describes a bit. I don’t need to see “everything.” Then again, he is writing for children and may feel he needs to describe a bit more. I don’t know.

It’s a solid YA story, and I’m very glad my daughter liked it.

Rating: ★★★½☆

The Bookman’s Tale, Charlie Lovett

[amazon_image id=”0670026476″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession[/amazon_image]Charlie Lovett’s novel [amazon_link id=”0670026476″ target=”_blank” ]The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession[/amazon_link] is the story of Peter Byerly, antiquarian bookseller and restorer, recently widowed and at a loss as to how to move on with his life without his wife Amanda by his side. When Peter goes to a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye and discovers a watercolor of a woman who bears a stunning resemblance to his late wife tucked in a book, he begins a quest to discover the origin of the mysterious watercolor. He enlists the help of Liz Sutcliffe, an editor of art history books, who tells him B.B. is at the center of a mysterious scandal. Peter is hired to look through the book collection of John Alderson, a local man who lives in a sprawling mansion and whose family has an “ancient grudge” with the Gardner family across the river. In a box labeled “Never to be sold,” Peter finds the Holy Grail—proof that William Shakespeare of Stratford was the true author of the plays attributed to him. But is it real? Or a forgery?

The novel travels back and forth among two distinct periods in Peter’s life: his time with Amanda and the novel’s present in 1995. In addition, the reader is taken back to several points in the history of the copy of Pandosto by Robert Greene that supposedly has Shakespeare’s annotations in it. Greene is the playwright who famously referred to Shakespeare as an “upstart crow, beautified with our feathers” who believed himself to be the “only Shake-scene in a country.” Pandosto is itself a very rare book and is the source material for Shakespeare’s play [amazon_link id=”B00762VENM” target=”_blank” ]The Winter’s Tale[/amazon_link].

The novel was an entertaining mystery, and I found I liked and sympathized with Peter as he struggled to move on with his life and then as he found himself embroiled in a mystery. However, coincidences strained credulity and I found the plot somewhat predictable. I would recommend it to folks looking for a page-turner à la [amazon_link id=”0307474275″ target=”_blank” ]The Da Vinci Code[/amazon_link], but better written and with more book nerdiness, but don’t look for the next [amazon_link id=”0679735909″ target=”_blank” ]Possession[/amazon_link]  or [amazon_link id=”1400031702″ target=”_blank” ]The Secret History[/amazon_link].

Rating: ★★★½☆

Catalyst, Laurie Halse Anderson

[amazon_image id=”0142400017″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]Catalyst[/amazon_image]Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel [amazon_link id=”0142400017″ target=”_blank” ]Catalyst[/amazon_link] is the story of Kate Malone, perfect student, driven athlete, minister’s daughter, and so dead-set on going to MIT that she hasn’t applied anywhere else. Since her mother’s death, Kate has held everything together through tightly-controlled organization. She makes she her brother has his asthma medication and that her family’s clothes are cleaned and pressed. With all this pressure, something has to give. Kate’s life starts spinning out of control when her neighbors, the Litches, lose their home to a fire and move in with her family while they rebuild their home, which means Teri Litch—the angry bully who used to pick on Kate—is now sharing her room.

Kate was not as likeable a heroine as some other characters Laurie Halse Anderson has written. Sometimes people need to be shown that their priorities are out of whack in a really harsh way, and to Kate’s credit, she gets it by the end of the book. She’s fairly typical of a lot of overachievers—driven, way too focused, wound so tight it’s a question of when not if they’re going to pop. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Anderson’s other books, but Melinda Sordino of [amazon_link id=”0312674392″ target=”_blank” ]Speak[/amazon_link] has a cameo appearance; this novel takes place in the same school and community as Speak. The characters were interesting: they were layered and more complex than you usually see in YA (but typical of Laurie Halse Anderson, who is a brilliant writer). I just didn’t like them very much, and it was hard to root for them. Still, I would probably read anything that Laurie Halse Anderson wrote.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Full disclosure: I checked this book out of my school library.

More Than You Know, Beth Gutcheon

[amazon_image id=”B000BLNPIW” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]More Than You Know: A Novel[/amazon_image]Beth Gutcheon’s novel [amazon_link id=”B000BLNPIW” target=”_blank” ]More Than You Know[/amazon_link] is the parallel story of Hannah Gray, reflecting on her first love in Dundee, Maine, and Claris Osgood Haskell. Hannah fell in love with wild boy Conary Crocker, but it’s clear something didn’t work out as she begins her narrative sadly reflecting on how she married Ralph, whom describes as “a good man and I loved him, but he wasn’t the great love of my life, and he knew it, thought we never spoke of it” (8). Hannah is reading over a diary she kept as a teenager during the time when she met and fell in love with Conary. As a teenager, Hannah developed an interest in the Haskell family on Beal Island. One day, Danial Haskell was murdered with an ax, and though his daughter Sallie was tried twice for the crime—one ended in mistrial and the other in acquittal—she was never found guilty, and no one was imprisoned for the crime, though some suspicion also fell on the Haskells’ boarder Mercy Chatto.

The Haskells’ story is told in third person, while Hannah herself narrates her own story. The two stories intertwine as both Conary and Hannah see a ghost associated with the Haskells both on the island and in the schoolhouse the Gray family is living in. The schoolhouse originally stood on Beal Island, but was moved over to the town of Dundee. The island is uninhabited when Hannah begins her story.

The Maine setting is beautifully evoked, and the Haskell ax murder was clearly influenced by the Lizzie Borden story—many of the elements of the two stories are similar. I found the characters hard to sympathize with, and I felt more like I was hearing gossip about a local family I barely knew than being let into the lives of people I cared about. I expected the two storylines to mesh more tightly by the end of the novel, but I never felt they did, and Hannah never resolved her curiosity about the murder (though the reader does learn what happened). The one connection I did make was to wonder if Gutcheon showed us the end of the “what-if” story. If Conary and Hannah had been able to marry, would they have been happy together? Or would they have ended up more or less like Claris and Danial Haskell? In the end, it felt incomplete, as though some connection I was supposed to make had been withheld from me as it had been from Hannah. It’s a pity because it started out strong, and I thought I would like it in the end, but I found it left me feeling kind of hollow. But other people clearly liked it, and if you’re thinking about reading it, please read their reviews.

Rating: ★★★½☆

One of Our Thursdays is Missing, Jasper Fforde

[amazon_image id=”0670022527″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” class=”alignleft”]One of Our Thursdays Is Missing: A Novel[/amazon_image]The sixth book in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, [amazon_link id=”0670022527″ target=”_blank” ]One of Our Thursdays Is Missing[/amazon_link] is set amid turbulence in the BookWorld. An all-out genre war is threatening to break out between Racy Novel and Women’s Fiction. And Jurisfiction/Spec Ops agent Thursday Next is missing. It’s up to her written counterpart to get to the bottom of Thursday’s disappearance. Meanwhile, she is asked to substitute for the real Thursday at peace talks between Racy Novel and Women’s Fiction. She begins to wonder if she might be the real Thursday Next, which would make the plot a whole lot more complicated.

After a fairly slow start, the novel picks up, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the other books in the series. The written Thursday just isn’t as much fun as the real Thursday, and the puns and jokes that usually have me laughing out loud as I read Jasper Fforde were in much shorter supply. It is definitely my least favorite of the series so far, and I hope that any future Thursday Next books will not continue down this road. If you haven’t read the series, I don’t recommend starting with this book, as I think it will put you off Fforde, and his other books are really good. He’s one of my favorite writers, but this book is a disappointment in comparison with the others. If you have read the series, then you will probably want to read this one, too, so prepare yourself. I seem to be in the minority: most of the reviews I have read are positive. You might find it more to your liking than I did. And I would not be honest if I didn’t say that there are some genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud moments. Once the book picked up steam, I finished it in the space of about five hours or so, but I’ve never had to wait so long for Fforde to hook me before.

P.S. If you’re like me and you read this on your Kindle, the map of Fiction Island is impossible to read. Luckily, Fforde has the map available on his website.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Other books in the series:

  • [amazon_link id=”B000OCXHC2″ target=”_blank” ]The Eyre Affair[/amazon_link] (review)
  • [amazon_link id=”B004WB19EY” target=”_blank” ]Lost in a Good Book[/amazon_link] (review)
  • [amazon_link id=”0143034359″ target=”_blank” ]The Well of Lost Plots[/amazon_link] (review)
  • [amazon_link id=”014303541X” target=”_blank” ]Something Rotten[/amazon_link] (review)
  • [amazon_link id=”B001IDZJIQ” target=”_blank” ]Thursday Next: First Among Sequels[/amazon_link] (review)



The Lady and the Poet, Maeve Haran

The Lady and the PoetMaeve Haran’s novel The Lady and the Poet chronicles the romance and ultimate marriage of British poet John Donne and Ann More, whose father is a third generation knight in the employ of Queen Elizabeth. He has in mind a much more prestigious match for his daughter than a poet who is the son of an ironmonger, but Ann has romantic sensibilities and strong opinions, and John Donne is who she wants. Haran’s novel is told from the point of view of Ann More, giving voice to a lady who is historically silent. The novel is ultimately a historical romance that describes how the poet and his lady fell in love and managed to marry, despite her father’s wishes.

One of my gauges of whether I loved a novel or not is my ability to put it down. I never had much trouble putting this one down. I wasn’t on the edge of my seat for John Donne or Lady Ann. Of course, I knew how it would end, but that doesn’t always prevent me from flipping madly to see how it ended up that way. On the other hand, it was a well-researched, historically accurate description of life late in Queen Elizabeth’s reign. I enjoyed some of those historical details. I enjoyed learning more about the Donnes, and historical evidence does support the notion that their marriage was a love match. I did mark a couple of passages that I enjoyed. In one, George More, Ann’s father, is admonishing Ann to stay away from Donne by describing his verse:

“[T]here is one whose company I would fain you shun, since it befits not an innocent maiden. Master John Donne. Your uncle thinks highly of him yet I came across some verse of his being handed round the Inns of Court and laughed over by its inmates like naughty schoolboys. It seemed to be both lewd, and, even worse, satirical. (104)

You have to watch out for that satire. Here’s another in which I read a modern criticism of Twitter (and yes, I acknowledge it’s just me):

Yet Prudence’s sadness at having to leave London the moment when she had just arrived, and her twittering response to each sight we passed on the road, no matter how trivial, from the marvel of paving stones, to the fascination of every shop, tavern or bear pit, and the exclamation every two minutes at how polite the Lord Keeper’s servants had been when I am sure these august gentlemen took her for a humble rustic, made me wish she had stayed behind. (108)

John Donne
John Donne as he looked when Ann More would have met him.

I’m not sorry I read it because of the insight it gave me into the life of John Donne, whose poetry I teach my British Literature students. However, it never really grabbed and convinced me I needed to keep turning pages.

Unfortunately, I ruined my copy by getting it wet. I set it carefully down next to the bath in a place I thought was dry, but was actually a puddle (thanks to my son). It took days to dry. I’ve never seen a book so wet.

Rating: ★★★½☆

This is my first book for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. Fourteen more to go!