Matilda – Audio Book Review

matildaBook Title: Matilda

Author: Roald Dahl

Publisher: Penguin Audio

Copyright Date: July 3, 2013

Number of discs: 5

Narrated by: Kate Winslet

Genre: Children’s Books

Book Rating:  A

Audio Performance Rating: A

The Gist:

From the Penguin Audio:

“The Trunchbull” is no match for Matilda!

Matilda is a sweet, exceptional young girl, but her parents think she’s just a nuisance. She expects school to be different but there she has to face Miss Trunchbull, a kid-hating terror of a headmistress. When Matilda is attacked by the Trunchbull she suddenly discovers she has a remarkable power with which to fight back. It’ll take a superhuman genius to give Miss Trunchbull what she deserves and Matilda may be just the one to do it!

My Thoughts:

It is hard to believe that until now, I had never read Matilda by Roald Dahl.  It just seems like one of those books that I should have read a long time ago.  Luckily, it’s never too late to repent and read!  Matilda, the title character, is a sweet five year old child with a most formidable intellect and more natural gumption than any of the grown-ups in her life.  Her father is a crook of a used car salesman and her mother is a simpering, shallow nitwit and neither of them are capable of recognizing or appreciating the gifts and talents displayed by their precocious daughter.  On Matilda’s first day of school she encounters the lovely and sweet Miss Honey, her teacher who is fully capable of recognizing Matilda’s potential.  She also encounters “The Trunchbull,” a legendary horrific beast of an awful woman, who is so foul and vile-tempered, she strikes fear into the heart of every man, woman and child who crosses paths with her.  Matilda takes it upon herself to bring the Trunchbull down and she does so in the most creative and thorough way possible.

Matilda is a fast read with a fun paranormal quirk of twist.  Though technically a children’s book, Roald Dahl’s fantasies and fairy tales will appeal to adults as well, and Matilda is no exception.

The Audio Performance:

Kate Winslet gives a wonderfully whimsical performance on this audiobook.  Her voices for each of the characters are spot-on.  She gives Matilda an impish, almost adult-like curiosity, without losing her childlike tone; Miss Honey is winsome and sweet; and The Trunchbull, though comical for her sheer absurdity, is aggressively cruel.

Bottom Line: Gorgeous rendering of a cautionary tale for mean and vile grown-ups.

Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Penguin Audio.  I received no compensation for this review, and the thoughts/opinions expressed are entirely my own.  Matilda is available in stores now in book and electronic book format, as well as audio.

Posted in Award Winners, Fiction, Posts by Izzy | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The State of the Blog

Dear friends,

Today marks our second anniversary of this blog. We are in a very different place from when we celebrated our first anniversary. We were full of celebration and big ideas. Unfortunately, life had different plans for each of us. I’m sure you’ve noticed that during the last half of this past year, the posting here has dropped dramatically. Personal circumstances collided and have made for lack of reading time, which translates to lack of blogging material, not to mention blogging time itself.

I am loathe to close the blog altogether; however, the blogging here will still remain sporadic at best for the unforeseeable future. I am really proud of what we’ve done here. I hope life will chin up for us all, that we’ll have time for reading and blogging again so we can actively participate in this lovely community.

Thank you all for your support these past two years. You all have been such dears. This isn’t farewell, but we do need to rest and tend our gardens for a bit.

Much love and hugs,

the quirky girls

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Book Review: Princess Academy

PrincessAcademy_Author: Shannon Hale

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s, 2007

Genre: Young Adult Ficton, Grades 5 through 9

Award Won: Newberry Honor Award

My Rating: B+

Summary from the School Library Journal:

The thought of being a princess never occurred to the girls living on Mount Eskel. Most plan to work in the quarry like the generations before them. When it is announced that the prince will choose a bride from their village, 14-year-old Miri, who thinks she is being kept from working in the quarry because of her small stature, believes that this is her opportunity to prove her worth to her father. All eligible females are sent off to attend a special academy where they face many challenges and hardships as they are forced to adapt to the cultured life of a lowlander.

My Thoughts:

So many people have loved and recommended this book to me. I finally got around to reading it. It was a pleasure to spend time with the twenty mountain girls who attended the academy. I identified with their hopes and struggles, their dreams and their homesickness. I joined in their horror when they encountered a mean-spirited teacher.

Tutor Olana was blatant in her disrespect for the girls who came from a place she considered inferior. Her prejudice against the girls was obvious. In spite of the odds, the girls pushed themselves to learn to read, write, learn history, the art of diplomacy and negotiation, and many more things.

An interesting aspect of the story was something called “quarry-speak.” This was the way people from the quarry and village communicated with each other when words weren’t able to be spoken.

There were plenty of events in this book that kept me turning the pages. There were, however, when I felt the story dragged. I experienced impatience several times and just skipped ahead. I know I’m not the target audience for this book, but I still wondered if the YA reader would also lose patience. I hope that you, if you have already read this book, will tell me of your experience reading the book.

About the author:

I started the year reading Shannon Hale’s popular novel Austenland. I’ve read some of her other books as well. My favorite novel is her One Thousand Days. So, yes I’m a Shannon Hale fan.

She began writing books at age ten and kept on going. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing. Her books are for both young adults and adults as well. You can visit her official website here: Shannon Hale

Posted in Award Winners, Posts by Margot, YA | 3 Comments

Review: The Beautiful Cigar Girl

cigar
Title: The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder
Author: Daniel Stashower
Original Publication Date: 2006
Edition Read:
2006, Dutton/Penguin Group
Total Pages:
326
Genre:
Non-Fiction
Reason Read:
Intended as a nice Halloween theme read, morphed into Thanksgiving & Christmas
Rating:
3 out of 5 Stars

“I have a proposition to make. You may remember a tale of mine published about a year ago in ‘Graham’ and entitled the ‘Murders in the Rue Morge.’ Its theme was the exercise of ingenuity in detecting a murderer. I am just now putting the concluding touch to a similar article, which I shall entitle ‘The Mystery of Marie Roget – a Sequel to The Murders in the Rue Morgue.’ The story is based upon that of the real murder of Mary Cecilia Rogers, which created so vast an excitement some months ago in New-York. I have handled the entire design in a very singular and entirely novel manner. I imagine a series of nearly exact coincidences occurring in Paris. A young grisette, one Marie Roget, has been murdered under precisely similar cirumstances with Mary Rogers. Thus under pretense of showing how Dupin (the hero of the Ruge Morgue) unraveled the mystery of Marie’s assassination, I, in fact, enter into a very rigorous analysis of the real tragedy in New-York. No point is omitted. I examine, each by each, the opinions and arguments of our press on the subject, and show (I think satisfactorily) that this subject has never yet been approached. The press has been entirely on a wrong scent. In fact, I really believe, not only that I have demonstrated the falsity of the idea that the girl was the victim of a gang of ruffians, but have indicated the assassin. My main object, however, as you will readily understand, is the analysis of the principles of investigation in cases of like character. Dupin reasons the matter throughout.” – Page 193 (Poe’s pitch letter to a magazine editor)

Shortly before Halloween I was in need of a read and turned to my Goodreads shelves for inspiration. There, I found a recommendation I had long ago recorded for a non-fiction piece, in the vein of The Devil in the White City (a book about the Chicago World’s Fair and a serial murderer operating in its midst). This other book paralleled a sensational 1841 murder in New York City, with Edgar Allan Poe’s use of that case in forming the basis for his famed The Mystery of Marie Roget, the second in the Dupin mystery series. I am a fan of the true crime genre, I enjoyed the poetic license that blurred the non-fiction lines in White City, and have always felt that Poe captures the essence of horror better than anyone since. I decided this would be an appropriate selection for the scary season. Unfortunately, because of Superstorm Sandy’s wrath, the library system was knocked out and the book was unavailable to me until after trick-or-treaters came and went. Left without any better ideas, I went ahead and dove in the beginning of November instead.

Continue reading

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Book Review: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone Cover ImageName of the Book: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

By: Laini Taylor

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

Copyright: September 2011

Number of Pages: 432 pages

Reason for Reading: TBR list

Rating: A+

The Gist:

With no family and history to speak of, an upbringing with the chimaera, and juggling running secret errands for her caretaker Brimstone while attending art school in Prague, Karou certainly leads a mysterious life. As Brimstone’s missions send her all over the world, Karou is attacked by an angel. This is the beginning of the end of Karou’s life as she knows it.

My Thoughts:

This book has been on my radar since it made the ARC rounds in book blogging land. Oh man, I’ve been wanting to get my hands on this for a while. I loved loved loved this book. I love the world that Taylor has created.

Her characters spring to life, dripping with personality. Taylor is a wonderful storyteller. There is a love story that spans lifetimes, a mystery to unravel, an age-old war. The words she weaves are lyrical and precise. She twists words in new ways, giving them fresh meaning. There is humor and wisdom and heartbreak.

The setting in Prague is a character unto itself with its storybook rooftops, winding cobblestoned roads, atmospheric cafes. One of my favorite scenes is when Karou’s artist friend Zuzana performs in the square in a very moving piece. I also love the eccentric Poison Kitchen with its statues in gas masks where Karou and Zuzana go regularly for a bowl of goulash, pastries and a hot drink.

Karou yearns to discover why Brimstone sends her the world over for teeth. She wants to know what’s behind the secret door. Handprints are burned into portal doors for a sinister purpose. Love between enemies blooms.

I don’t have words to do this book justice. Per usual, I struggle to not say too much. I picked up this book not remembering a thing about save that there were angels involved. What I discovered was story rich in characters in a mesmerizing world. I cared so much about them all, my heart broke when theirs did. I loved this book so much I started reading it again when I finished the last page.

Last Words:

In short, a delicious, magical story.

Posted in paranormal, Posts by Jehara, YA | Tagged | Leave a comment

Book Vs Movie: Breaking Dawn

Breaking Dawn Book Cover ImageName of the Book: Breaking Dawn
By: Stephenie Meyer
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Copyright: 2008
Number of Pages: 754
Reason for Reading: a movie adaptation usually calls for a re-read
THE BOOK:
Izzybella’s Thoughts:
Part 2 of Breaking Dawn is one long vampire UN as vampire allies from all over the world congregate in Forks to bear witness that Renesmee, the half-human, half-vampire spawn of Bella and Edward, is not a child vampire, a species forbidden in the vampire world because of their inability to progress physically or emotionally past the age they were when turned.  I enjoyed the introduction to other vampire clans and nomads and the potential vampiric force that could have been brought to bear against the campily evil Volturi would have been fantastic.  But Meyer chose to end her saga with a whimper rather than a bang, as (SPOILER ALERT, but honestly haven’t you already read – or heard about – this by now??) the epic battle becomes a chess game, with Bella – and how could it be otherwise – as the Queen, the biggest, baddest, and still the most clueless player on the board.
There’s just so much creepiness to Breaking Dawn, and I’m not talking solely about the Romanian contingent.  From imprinting to the golden, sparkly vampire sex (but okay, mostly the imprinting) Breaking Dawn is just..gross and weird.  Meyer tried, but it just doesn’t work.  I will never ever be okay with Jacob imprinting on Renesmee just as I will never ever be okay with the name, Renesmee.  Ya’ll, it’s stupid.
Breaking Dawn had moments.  I will admit to feeling a sense of joy as Bella discovered her new-found vampire grace.  I loved Kate’s unrelenting assault on Bella while training her to stretch her psychic shields.  And Garrett.  I loved Garrett.  But, in general, Breaking Dawn annoyed me much more than it thrilled me.
Jehara’s Thoughts:
Out of the entire saga, which honestly felt like a train wreck I couldn’t tear my eyes away from, Breaking Dawn was my favorite. I thought it was the most interesting of them all. Some crazy weird shite happens, that’s for sure, what with the grotesque weeks long pregnancy to Jacob imprinting to the name Renesmee (terrible name with an even worse nickname). However, Bella as a character finally gets interesting! I’ve felt ambivalent about her at best, but as a vampire she won me over. Bella finally grows a spine and some spark.
The Cullens have to prepare for serious battle potential. It was gratifying to see the vampires and wolf packs work together. The onslaught of vampires from various parts of the world were fascinating. The Romanian vampires were full on creepy but I thoroughly enjoyed their vendetta against the Volturi. Those dudes hold waaay too much power and definitely could stand to be taken down several pegs. I also really liked the Egyptian vampire Benjamin who could manipulate the elements. And Garrett, he was a joy (even more so played by Lee Pace, but I digress. .  . )
Now, this imprinting thing, Meyer knew what she was doing and set it up several books back with Quil and Claire. So it wasn’t a shock in that sense, more of a shock in the wow-Jacob-is-free-from-Bella sense. The whole concept is definitely weird for sure, but it didn’t bother me much. It is bizarre and slightly creepy, but I was able to suspend my disbelief enough to accept it. I think the fact that it breaks Jacob from his masochistic attachment to Bella made me more okay with it.
The ending of the book was, in a word, anticlimactic. It was thrilling to witness the chess-like interplay of conversation, but man when the Volturi turn around and slink back to Italy, it was not quite as satisfying as an epic battle would have been. Although, watching Bella and her badass shield thwart Jane and Alec was pretty awesome.
All in all despite being too long (seriously all the books could use a good dose of downsizing), Breaking Dawn, held my interest much more than any of the previous books.
As an aside, I have to mention the section of the book told from Jacob’s point of view: entertaining and hi-larious.
Breaking Dawn Part II Movie PosterName of Movie: Breaking Dawn, Part II
Director: Bill Condon
Release Date: November 16, 2012
Running Time: 115 minutes
THE MOVIE:
Izzybella’s Thoughts:
Let’s just cut to the chase.  I’ll try not to spoil here, but that ending…that ending was 90% perfection, 10% cheap cop-out, and 100% worth it.  I got excited the moment the Volturi, who by the way, appear to use the same hairstylist as Lucius Malfoy, stormed that snowy field in Forks.
At last the actors appear to be in on the joke and the final installment of the Twilight saga unabashedly embraces the absurdity of the entire storyline.  The acting is…well, it’s BAD, but who cares because they finally seem to be having fun.  And Lee Pace as nomadic vampire, Garrett, is essentially a gift from God, for which we should all be grateful.  The rest of the vampire UN doesn’t have nearly as much to do, but everyone (except the Irish contingent, which blows because I liked them a lot in the book) gets a chance to posture vampirically.  Taylor Lautner continues to rise above the material and in one memorable scene says out loud exactly what the audience was already thinking about Count One and Count Two from Romania.  I defy anyone not to start an internal monologue (Von, von, Volturi bastard, Ah, Ah, Ah!!!  Two, two Volturi bastards, Ah, Ah, Ah!!!…) every time either of them speak.  And, finally, Billy Burke is still the best thing about the entire film series.  His introduction to the supernatural world is hilarious.  I’m so glad that particular scene, only referenced in the book, made it into the film, because it is perfection, as is Charlie’s dry observation concerning Renesmee’s growth spurts.
But the ending…it was FUN and incited multiple audible reactions from the theatre audience, everything from gasps of shock to choking laughter.  I have to admit there was something truly satisfying about seeing Bella and Edward working in tandem with a very common goal.
Jehara’s Thoughts:
This may very well be the best of the bunch, right here. I still resent that they split the last book in two parts (seriously do we need a two hour long rendition of grotesquely pregnant Bella?), but this movie sped by. The first installment the time passed agonizingly slowly and I couldn’t help thinking every so often, is it almost over yet? And then of course, when Bella opens her red eyes, and my heart thumped in anticipation, the credits started rolling. Sigh.
But! This second installment more than made up for it. It was over before I knew it. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Aside from Bella and Edward, the other actors were awesome. (Can I just say how much I LOVE Ashley Greene as Alice?) It seemed like they finally starting enjoying themselves. The rest of the Cullen family seemed to have more than cameo appearances,  and I felt like I had a better sense of who they were. However, the primary actors just fell absolutely flat. Their performance was so monotonous it was comical. It wasn’t until the very end that they sprang to life and I glimpsed the early Bella and Edward. They seem to have forgotten to get into character, which was disappointing because I’ve enjoyed these actors outside their Twilight roles.
But let’s skip to the end, it was SO.MUCH.FUN! Izzy and I had a conversation by email, speculating how the final battle would play out as we both know that is not how the book ended. We mused out loud how the movie would explain such a turn. In an offhanded remark, I pretty much summed up the explanation the movie gave (which, I won’t spoil here on the off chance you haven’t seen it yet). Izzy feels like it was a cop-out ending, and while I would love to see Aro writhing on the ground permanently, I feel like the ending maintained the integrity of the story, while still satisfying cinematic requirements. Because really, an ending without a bit of violence would most likely incite violent disappointment. It was thrilling and shocking and almost tear-making until the big reveal. And, on a fresh re-read of the ending, the ending of the movie did retain several elements from the final showdown in the book.
THE VERDICT:
Izzy:Ya’ll this may be the first, and possibly the last, time but…the movie. Hands down.

Jehara: I have to agree with Izzy on this one. The movie ending totally wins over the book.
Posted in Posts by Izzy, Posts by Jehara, YA | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Announcing the National Book Awards for 2012

The National Book Award is an annual award in which only books published in the United State in the year of the award are eligible. Nominations are accepted only from publishers although panel chairs are allowed to request a book from a publisher.

There are four categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature. Each category has a panel of five judges who set their own criteria. The judges, new each year, are selected by previous winners and judges and the National Book Foundation. They are “chosen for their literary sensibilities and their expertise in a particular genre.” (from the National Book Award website)

Each year I look forward to reading about the nominations and then the final winners in these National Book Awards. Last week the final winners were announced. I’m excited to share the winners with you.

My favorite award is this one: Fiction: Louise Erdrich, for The Round House

One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared. While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

The winner for Nonfiction: Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter will soon become its first female college graduate. But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths,the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

The winner for Young People’s Literature: William Alexander, Goblin Secrets

Rownie, the youngest in Graba the witchworker’s household of stray children, escapes and goes looking for his missing brother. Along the way he falls in with a troupe of theatrical goblins and learns the secret origins of masks. Now Graba’s birds are hunting him in the Southside of Zombay, the Lord Mayor’s guards are searching for him in Northside, and the River between them is getting angry. The city needs saving—and only the goblins know how.

The winner for Poetry:  David Ferry, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations

To read David Ferry’s Bewilderment is to be reminded that poetry of the highest order can be made by the subtlest of means. The passionate nature and originality of Ferry’s prosodic daring works astonishing transformations that take your breath away. In poem after poem, his diction modulates beautifully between plainspoken high eloquence and colloquial vigor, making his distinctive speech one of the most interesting and ravishing achievements of the past half century. Ferry’s translations, meanwhile, are amazingly acclimated English poems. Once his voice takes hold of them they are as bred in the bone as all his other work. And the translations in this book are vitally related to the original poems around them.

I’m looking forward to reading these books, especially the Louise Erdrich novel. Has anyone read any of these books? What did think?

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