Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Review: Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani

Title:  Viola in Reel Life
Author:  Adriana Trigiani
Publisher:  HarperTEEN
Genre: YA 
Hardcover: 256 pages
ISBN:  0061451029 
When fourteen-year-old Viola is sent from her beloved Brooklyn to boarding school in Indiana for ninth grade, she overcomes her initial reservations as she makes friends with her roommates, goes on a real date, and uses the unsettling ghost she keeps seeing as the subject of a short film her first.

  • Overall rating: 8/10 flowers
To buy this book: IndieBound | The Book Depository | Powell's | Amazon
Add this book to your: Goodreads | Shelfari Library Thing Visual Bookshelf

Adriana Trigiani's Viola in Reel Life is a sweet coming-of-age story about a fourteen year old from Brooklyn who finds herself adjusting to life at a boarding school in Indiana.  I tend to gravitate toward the fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal books in the YA section and generally prefer YA novels with an older protagonist, so I was surprised to find myself enjoying this book as much as I did.  I enjoyed Viola's narrative voice as well as the humor and simplicity of the story, and it reminded me of contemporary YA novels that I enjoyed as a middle grade reader.

What I Liked:
-     Viola's personality.  She is confident and talented, and she always makes her passion (film-making) a priority.  Of course, she is also a typical fourteen year old girl, so she spends a fair amount of time making snarky comments, thinking about clothes and boys, and being a bit too self-absorbed for her own good.
-     One moment that clearly illustrates what I liked most about this book occurs when the boarding school girls are on their way to meet some boarding school boys at their first school dance, Viola thinks:
"Ever since the Founder's Day show, I feel very calm about who I am - as if I found a way to express myself that is truthful and authentic.  It's the only way I can say it.  I loved being creative and seeing my ideas realized in front of an audience.  I'm not afraid of anything, not even boys.  Awkward?  Okay, maybe.  But afraid?  I have nothing to be afraid of.  I know who I am.  And if a boy doesn't like it?  Well, too bad for him."
-     Viola is a high school freshman, and I liked that her story was much more about appreciating supportive friends and exploring her own interests than it was about chasing after the hottie-of-the-week or tearing down her female classmates mean-girls-style.  Even when she does begin to pursue her first romantic relationship with a boy, they are drawn to one another primarily because of their shared interest in film-making.
-     There is a lot of humor in this story, and it is not comedy of the slapstick variety that can wear thin very quickly in middle grade or contemporary YA novels.  Instead, the humor is rooted in Viola's witty, observant personality.
-     Adriana Trigiani's writing is enjoyably casual, with an easy rhythm and comfortable pace.  It is written in first person present tense, and both the dialogue and Viola's narration flow smoothly.

What I Wished:
-     I wanted a bit more tension.  Viola's roommates are all sweet, optimistic, and understanding.  Her parents and grandmother love her dearly.  Her two best friends back in Brooklyn are thoughtful and supportive.  While all those friendly and kind individuals helped make Viola in Reel Life a fast, cheerful read, they also made Viola's life seem slightly too charmed and kept this book from being much of a page-turner.  With no real villain and no strong conflict, the story doesn't have quite enough suspense or tension.
-     I would have enjoyed seeing more of Viola's best friend Andrew on the page.  Every time I began to think that we were about to hear more from him, he would essentially drop out of the story for another chapter or two.  

This is a light and innocent coming-of-age story about a fourteen year old girl's first experiences away from home when she is forced to adjust to life at a boarding school in Indiana.  While I am not always a fan of contemporary YA novels, I still found myself enjoying Viola in Reel Life quite a lot.  Viola's entertaining personality and Adriana Trigiani's heartfelt and humorous writing style makes this book a quick and pleasant summer read.  It is the type of book I would have liked a lot as a middle grade reader, and I would recommend it to fans of contemporary YA novels like Maureen Johnson's Suite Scarlett or Deb Caletti's Honey, Baby, Sweetheart.  I look forward to reading some of Adriana Trigiani's non-YA novels.  If you would like to learn more about Viola in Reel Life, check out HarperTEEN's Viola in Reel Life website, where you can read the first fifty-seven pages for free.  You can also visit Adriana Trigiani's website, facebook, fan page, or twitter.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Flower Friday - Blue Beauty Erigeron + Friday's Fab Five

'Blue Beauty' Erigeron
Today's featured flower is 'Blue Beauty' Erigeron!  Otherwise known as Fleabane daisies, these periwinkle blue flowers begin to bloom each June and continue flowering into the autumn.  This perennial seems to spread fairly slowly, but it blooms reliably year after year.  It does not need any special care and can tolerate fairly dry conditions.  They make excellent cut flowers and dead-heading  throughout the summer helps encourage this plant to continue blooming well into the fall.  Ours occasionally gets leaf spots, but the flowers are not affected & always look bright and pretty.  Butterflies seem to love these flowers!  You can learn more about 'Blue Beauty' Erigeron at GardenHelper.org or Peter Knippel's Nursery's 'Blue Beauty' Erigeron page.

Friday's Fab Five:

1. What book are looking forward to reading this summer?
Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel!  I truly cannot wait to read that book!  It feels like I've been counting down to August 31st for eons!  :-)

2. Do you take a book with you when you go to the beach or pool?
Not usually.  Since there are generally small children in tow, the pool is not a safe place for books that I intend to keep dry.  I do read in the car on the way to the beach, but the book usually stays in the car when we head out to examine tide pools, build sandcastles, or fly kites. 

3. Do you find you have more time or less time to read during the summer?
I always expect to have more time to read in the summer, but in reality I seem to have far less time to read in the summer.
4. Do you have an ereader and do you take that with you wherever you go?
I don't have an ereader yet, so no.
5. When you go on vacation in the summer how many books do you bring with you or do you prefer to pick one up when you are there or not to read at all on vacation?
I usually bring three or four books for myself and a tote bag full of books for the kids.

This fun meme is hosted by Froggarita's Bookcase.  Every Friday Froggarita asks five questions so we can all get to know each other better.  The only rule is that you can't use the same answer twice within your five!   Ready to play?  Leave your answers in the comments or leave us a link to your own Friday's Fab Five post.  :)

A few blog event notes:

1.  Candace of Candace's Book Blog is organizing a book drive for the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  I will be sending some books along to contribute, and I hope that some of you may be interested in  contributing too.  Please check out Candace's post about Pine Ridge Reservation here.  Pine Ridge Reservation is among the very poorest communities in the US.  The living conditions, infant mortality rates, unemployment levels, and average life expectancy on the reservation are similar to those found in Third World countries.  The more I read about the Pine Ridge Reservation, the more urgently I want to help in any way that I can. Run a google or a youtube search for 'pine ridge reservation poverty' and it is difficult not to be moved by the statistics and reports you'll find (articles like this one & videos like this one).  You also can visit Friends of Pine Ridge Reservation's website to learn more about some of the ongoing projects to help promote literacy on the reservation and you can find more information about the "Build Your Own Library" project here and here.

2.  The Once Upon a Read-A-Thon is coming up in a couple weeks (July 12th-14th), and we will be hosting one of the mini-challenges here on The Eager Readers!  Can't wait!  If you are interested in participating in the read-a-thon, please visit Pure Imagination, Reading Angel, or Candace's Book Blog to learn more about the fun three day event.
Once Upon A Read-A-Thon

3.  Our contests for Julie Kagawa's The Iron King and Jackson Pearce's Sisters Red end next Wednesday (June 30th), so be sure to check those out if you haven't already. 

Happy Reading!  :-)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Nevermore by Kelly Creagh

Title:  Nevermore
Author:  Kelly Creagh
Publication date:  August 31, 2010
Kelly Creagh's  website | blog | twitter | facebook
Pre-order NevermoreIndieBound Powell's | The Book Depository | Amazon | B & N
Add Nevermore to your:  Goodreads | Shelfari | Library Thing | Visual Bookshelf


And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sittingOn the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore
-- from The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe 
Cheerleader Isobel Lanley is horrified when she is paired with Varen Nethers for an English project, which is due—so unfair—on the day of the rival game. Cold and aloof, sardonic and sharp-tongued, Varen makes it clear he’d rather not have anything to do with her either. But when Isobel discovers strange writing in his journal, she can’t help but give this enigmatic boy with the piercing eyes another look.

Soon, Isobel finds herself making excuses to be with Varen. Steadily pulled away from her friends and her possessive boyfriend, Isobel ventures deeper and deeper into the dream world Varen has created through the pages of his notebook, a realm where the terrifying stories of Edgar Allan Poe come to life.

As her world begins to unravel around her, Isobel discovers that dreams, like words, hold more power than she ever imagined, and that the most frightening realities are those of the mind. Now she must find a way to reach Varen before he is consumed by the shadows of his own nightmares.

His life depends on it.

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  It spotlights upcoming releases that we are eagerly anticipating.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani

My teaser:
I shot this footage this afternoon, and at that time there was no lady in the field.  And here, on my screen, she walks in daylight.  How did I miss her?  What is going on?
- page 39 of Viola in Reel Life by Adriana Trigiani

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.  Anyone can play along!  Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two 'teaser' sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn't give too much away!  You don't want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title and author, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teaser!

Book Review: White Cat by Holly Black

Title: White Cat
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: YA /urban fantasy
Hardcover: 310 pages
ISBN: 1416963960
Cassel comes from a family of curse workers -- people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail -- he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.

Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

Overall rating:  9/10 flowers
Add this book to your:  Goodreads Shelfari | LibraryThing | Visual Bookshelf 

Holly Black's White Cat is a smart story about betrayal and deceit among a family of curse workers with ties to the mob.  I've enjoyed several of Holly Black's books, but White Cat is by far my favorite.  I can't wait to read Red Glove and Black Heart, the upcoming books in her Curse Workers trilogy!  

What I Liked:
-     This book will appeal to male and female readers equally.  Not only does White Cat feature a realistic male protagonist, which is fairly rare in the current YA market, but the story itself is not dripping with saccharine teenage romance or the typical high school drama that frequently repels fifty percent of the potential audience.  This is not to say that there is no romance or angst, but the point-of-view stays true to the male protagonist and the primary conflict revolves around the tension and secrets between three brothers.
-     I loved Cassel!  I have always had a soft spot for broken boys, and Cassel is far more broken than most.  He has been dealt an extremely rough hand, and it is impossible not to sympathize with him even if he isn't necessarily a law-abiding citizen.  I would try to describe what makes him so wonderful, but I think a fantastic phrase in the book describes him much more succinctly than I ever could.  He is "clever as the devil and twice as pretty."
-     The secondary characters feel realistic and have distinct personalities and motives.  Even characters that only grace the pages for a few sentences don't seem like stock background characters.  In fact, several of the least-significant characters are so vividly painted that I can still recall bit players like the schnauzer-shirted shelter employee and the businessman arguing about sorbet vs. ice cream on his cell phone.
-     I enjoyed the gritty realism of the world in which White Cat takes place.  This is not the type of gritty realism that feels contrived or designed purely for shock value, but it is a variety of realism that allows you to see that the characters bleed, vomit, and bruise, and lets you see that the world they live in is one in which houses aren't miraculously spotless and cars aren't all brand new shiny sports cars.  It is similar to the difference between a CGI-driven blockbuster populated by airbrushed actors and a clever independent film populated by character actors who look and behave like real people.  I liked the realism a lot.
-     The references to the French fairytale, The White Cat, are intriguing.  While this book is definitely not a straightforward retelling of that story, I really enjoyed all the fairytale references - such as the veiled white cat, the disembodied hands holding torches, and the three brothers with the youngest being the kindest and most likable.
-     Following a main character who is reluctantly skilled at the art of conning people is entertaining.  Even when Cassel is not actively scheming, he analyzes situations with the eyes and mind of a con artist, and it quickly becomes obvious why he has a difficult time building friendships or maintaining a romantic relationship.
-     I liked the idea of curse magic and the ways in which political choices made based on fear led to the outlawing of curse work and the development of major crime families here in the U.S.  The current political debate within the book made the fantasy elements of the story more believable, since curse workers faced such a familiar and realistic type of discrimination.
-     I was pleased that the magic in this book has very serious consequences, not only legal ramifications but immediate physical or mental consequences in the form of blowback.   
-     There are lots of quotable moments in this book.  A couple of non-spoilery ones that stand out to me are:
(Cassel thinking about how his mother's cluttered house was always overflowing with random items she couldn't seem to throw away - p. 52):  "When I was a kid and brought friends over, I was defiantly proud of the chaos.  I liked that I knew how to jump over the piles and the shattered glass while they stumbled.  Now it just seems like an ocean of crazy that I have no way to explain."
(Cassel reflecting on the unreliable nature of memories - p. 96):  "Memory is slippery.  It bends to our understanding of the world, twists to accommodate our prejudices."
-     A few of the background characters' names included winks to some of Holly's author friends or their characters - such as brief mentions of the Brennan crime family (Sarah Rees Brennan) & a Jace that lives in Cassel's dorm (Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments).  Those types of tiny nods are always fun & remind me of spotting hidden Mickeys at Disneyland.  Basically it is the type of thing that isn't necessary to your enjoyment of the book, but if you happen to like those authors it may feel like a little inside joke you get to smile at too.
-     The book's ending leaves plenty to be explored in the next two volumes of the Curse Workers trilogy, but readers are not left hanging with thousands of infuriating loose ends either.

What I Wished:
-     One of the twists near the end of the book seems slightly more contrived than I would have liked.  Not that Cassel's rotten luck surprised me or that I didn't believe the characters would behave in the ways they did, but this particular turn in the story had me thinking "Geez!  What are the odds?!" a little more than usual.

Fans of organized crime stories or noirish capers will definitely want to pick up White Cat.  Fans of clever antiheroes who find themselves caught up in horrific circumstances will want to check out White Cat.  Fans of books or movies about con-men or smart criminals, like The Usual Suspects, Ocean's Eleven, The Sting, Rounders, Snatch, L.A. Confidential, Matchstick Men, or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels may also want pick up White Cat.  If you would like to learn more about the Curse Workers trilogy, you can visit Holly Black's website, blog, or twitter, and you can read the first chapter of White Cat here!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Flower Friday - Duchesse de Montebello

Duchesse de Montebello

This week's featured flower is a lovely light pink rose - Duchesse de Montebello!  This beautiful old-fashioned Gallica hybrid rose is a once-bloomer that flowers abundantly each May and June.  It grows quickly and blooms generously year after year.  The flowers start out a very pretty blush pink and fade toward white as they open.  The leaves are light green and non-glossy, and we have never had trouble with black spot or rust on this rose.  We started ours from a tiny plant about four years ago, and it has grown into a sprawling bush that is around five feet tall and eight feet wide.  Paul Barden used the Duchesse de Montebello (and Abraham Darby) to breed my very favorite rose, Marianne.   You can find my Flower Friday post about Marianne here and can learn more about Duchesse de Montebello roses on Paul Barden's Old Garden Roses and Beyond website or Rosegathering's Duchesse de Montebello page

A few book and blogosphere updates:

1.  Sorry for the unexplained absence of posts here on The Eager Readers this week.  We've had family visits, the start of summer classes for the kids, and a couple of days spent out of town this week.   My best friend is also staying with us right now.  She is getting married next week, and since she lives 3000 miles away but is getting married here, a lot of her wedding planning has been done from across the country.  So this week has been about pulling together the final wedding preparations now that she is here in town.  Fun! :)  Anyway, we should be back on track with more consistent book reviews and blog posts next week.  I'm excited to share my thoughts about several of the books I've read recently including The Demon's Covenant, White Cat, and Shadow Hills.

2.  Tonight I'm driving up to meet Candace of Candace's Book Blog at a Jacqueline Carey book signing event!  I can't wait!  :)  Jacqueline Carey is the author of the Kushiel series and is visiting Powell's to discuss her latest book Naamah's Curse.

3.  Novel Novice is giving away three copies of Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon.  That contest ends June 22nd and you can read more about it here.

4.  Candace's "My Favorite Things" event ends June 29th so if you haven't checked that out yet, be sure to hop over to her blog.  You can learn more about her birthday giveaways here.

Happy Reading!  :-)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Flower Friday - Veilchenblau + Friday's Fab Five


This week's flower is one of my favorite roses - Veilchenblau!  This rambling rose is a fast-growing, thornless rose that blooms profusely in shades of violet and purple.  The flowers are only about two inches across, but they bloom in such large clusters that Veilchenblau puts on a huge display of color each May and June.  We started our Veilchenblau from a tiny twelve inch plant a few years ago and it is now a sprawling rambler that is over twelve feet tall and eight feet wide!  Sometimes called "The Blue Rose" or "Blue Rambler" it is an old-fashioned climber with bright green foliage.  The flowers have a light scent that smells a bit like green apples.  Our Veilchenblau has never had trouble with aphids or black spot, even when planted near one of our most disease-prone roses.  It is a once-bloomer, so the flowers fade mid-summer, but the foliage remains green and pretty well into the autumn.  You can read more about this rose on GardenGuide's Veilchenblau page, Woodland Rose Garden's Veilchenblau page, and Martha Stewart's Veilchenblau page.

Friday's Fab Five with Froggarita
1.  What is your favorite book blog meme?
I enjoy Friday's Fab Five (when book-related).  I also love Teaser Tuesdays because it's fun to read quotes from a wide variety of books & I always seem to stumble across new books to add to my wishlist.
2.  Name a book that everyone should read.
 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. What is your favorite invented world in a book or series?
The world of Harry Potter is pretty awesome.
4.  Do you like it when they make books you love into movies?
I do!  Movie adaptations are practically guaranteed to disappoint when compared to the source material, since it is nearly impossible to capture the depth and atmosphere of an original book or series in two hours.  But I still enjoy watching and discussing movies based upon books I loved.  If the adaptation turns out to be terrible, it is fun to laugh at what a mess they made of the story.  And if the adaptation turns out to be wonderful, it is fun to smile at how nicely they captured a particular character or moment.  One thing I don't like about movie adaptations is that after watching one, I often find my image of a character tied to a particular actor and have a difficult time remembering how I originally pictured them.  For example, even though Robert Pattinson is not even close to my original image of Edward Cullen, his face is now inextricably linked with Edward in my mind and that makes me unhappy.  :(
5.  What is your favorite movie made from a book?
I can't seem to pick just one favorite, so I am going to list ten.  The BBC/A&E version of Pride & Prejudice is amazing and by far the best Pride & Prejudice adaptation I've seen.  Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility is lovely and impressively faithful to the book.  Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing is fantastic.  The BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North & South is beautiful.  Victor Fleming's Gone With the Wind is epic and moving, even if it is not entirely true to Margaret Mitchell's incredible book.  Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings adaptations are excellent.  In fact, I would say that the first movie is much more fun to watch than The Fellowship of the Ring is to read.  Rob Reiner's The Princess Bride is based on William Goldman's clever book and is among my all-time favorite movies.  Kevin Sullivan's first two Anne of Green Gables  adaptations are awesome interpretations of Lucy Maud Montgomery's series.  James Ivory's adaptation of E.M. Forster's Howards End is beautiful.  And several of the Harry Potter movies, while not perfectly faithful to the books, are very entertaining.  :)
This fun meme is hosted by Froggarita's Bookcase.  Every Friday Froggarita asks five questions so we can all get to know each other better.  The only rule is that you can't use the same answer twice within your five!   Ready to play?  Leave your answers in the comments or leave us a link to your own Friday's Fab Five post.  :)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Siren by Tricia Rayburn

Title:  Siren
Author:  Tricia Rayburn
Publication date:  July 13, 2010
Tricia Rayburn's  website | blog | twitterfacebook

Add Siren to your:  Goodreads | Shelfari | Library Thing Visual Bookshelf
Seventeen-year-old Vanessa Sands is afraid of everything—the dark, heights, the ocean—but her fearless older sister, Justine, has always been there to coach her through every challenge. That is, until Justine goes cliff-diving one night near the family’s vacation house in Maine, and her lifeless body washes up on shore the next day. 
Though her parents hope that they’ll be able to find closure back in Boston, Vanessa can’t help feeling that her sister’s death wasn’t an accident. After discovering that Justine was keeping a lot of secrets, Vanessa returns to Winter Harbor, hoping that Justine’s boyfriend might know more. But Caleb has been missing since Justine’s death. 
Soon, it’s not just Vanessa who’s afraid. All of Winter Harbor is abuzz with anxiety when another body washes ashore, and panic sets in when the small town becomes host to a string of fatal, water-related accidents in which all the victims are found, horrifically, grinning from ear to ear. 
Vanessa turns to Caleb’s brother, Simon, for help, and begins to find herself drawn to him. As the pair try to understand the sudden rash of creepy drownings, Vanessa uncovers a secret that threatens her new romance—and will change her life forever.

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.  It spotlights upcoming releases that we are eagerly anticipating.