Sweet Trouble

Rants, raves, book reviews and one girl's thoughts on life, the universe and everything.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

Very Valentine, by Adriana Trigiani is the coming of middle-age tale of Valentine Roncalli. Valentine is a late bloomer. Although she graduated from college with half-hearted aspirations of teaching it wasn't until she was almost thirty that she found her passion. Now 34 and living with her grandmother, Valentine has left teaching behind to become an apprentice shoe maker, studying the art and working in the family's Angelini Shoe Company making custom order shoes for brides.

The Roncalli and Angelini families are quintessential Italian Americans living in New York. Food and family rule center stage; years are measured by weddings and funerals. One of four children Valentine is "the funny one" and the only child not married. She is divided between her art and between fitting into the mold that is expected of her by others. The story follows Valentine over the course of a year and a half through budding romance, family feuds, economic crisis and the perfection of her craft at the hands of a master in Italy.

Very Valentine is a lovely novel that at times reads like a food memoir, a comedy of errors, a tutorial on craftmanship and a travel guide of Italy. It will make you laugh and cry and most of all leave you filled with a warmth that comes from finding your place in the world, however vicariously, through Valentine's own journey.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

Julie Berry's The Amaranth Enchantment is a lovely novel that I happened upon quite by accident. It is a debut book in the vein of writers such as Gail Carson Levine, Donna Jo Napoli, or Shanno Hale. I'm always excited to happen upon a debut book without any help. It's fun to "discover" a new author, especially one writing something so exquisite in one of your favorite genres. That said, I do home Ms. Berry gets some buzz from librarians and other authors as this in one Enchantment begging for wider recognition!

The Amaranth Enchantment is a sort of fairy tale novel. If there were a formula for such things I would say that it is one part Cinderella, one part Prince and the Pauper and the rest is wonderfully new. In other words, there is just enough in the way of familiar fairy tale trappings to help the reader feel comfortable as they are slip into a brand new world.

The prologue introduces young Lucinda, the "princess" of our story. As a child her world is a glittering combination of loving parents and grand affairs. The little girl thinks nothing is better than the treat of watching her mother prepare for a ball...a ball from which her parents never return. When next we see Lucinda it is as a teenager slaving away for her wicked step-aunt. In short order a witch, a prince, a thief, tragedy and a quest come Lucinda's way and her life as she knows it changes once again.

The Amaranth Enchantment is a whirlwind of a read. Everything seems to happen very quickly and the whole story takes place over the course of only a few days. Still, Berry manages to weave lovely flashbacks into the picture to flesh things out. She also introduces a most unlikely companion and champion for her heroine, the goat Dog, who was perhaps one of my favorite characters. Lucinda's happy ending isn't the typical fairy tale answer to ever after, but it is a satisfying one.

In addition to fans of fairy tale retellings by the authors I mentioned early, Enchantment should also appeal to fans of Eva Ibbotson or Noel Streatfield. The book feels a lot like the novels in that the city is almost a character of it's own and there are plucky orphans dealing with a change in class status and romance.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Being Nikki by Meg Cabot

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Meg Cabot, according to the Blogger search feature I've mentioned her in over 13 posts over the past few years. I've read almost every book she's written except Nicola and the Viscount. Thus it's no surprise that I ran out and bought Being Nikki the day it came out a week or two ago.

Being Nikki by Meg Cabot is the sequel to last year's Airhead. Airhead introduces plucky, smart (and slightly geeky) girl next door Emerson Watts. Em is forced by their parents to take her brand snob of a younger sister to the grand opening of a store Em and her best friend would much rather be boycotting. A terrible accident occurs and poor Em wakes up in the hospital to find her life irrevocably changed.

Spoiler Alert!

When Em wakes up she finds herself in the body of super model Nikki Howard. From sweats wearing computer game aficionado to emancipated minor, face of her generation party girl Em's life is upended. This is no Freaky Friday transformation either. Em was the recipient of full on brain transfer surgery. Her body and name are gone, she IS Nikki Howard and is now legally bound to fulfill Ms. Howard's modeling contracts, no matter how loathsome the prospect.

Em learns to cope, but she still has a lot to learn about Being Nikki. When a good looking young man in a Navy uniform shows up in her apartment lobby claiming to be her brother, Nikki/Em's world is turned upside down. Again. Things are not what they seem to be in Em's new life and she is reminded again that there is no going backward, only forward.

Cabot's deft mixture of real world high school living, bizarre science, MTV party scene, evil coroprate giants and lots of humor make for a great little series. Being Nikki ends with quite a surprise, and rather than being annoyed at the cliff-hanger I found myself simply thrilled that there would be a third book. Another job well done, Meg!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce

Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce is the second book in the Legend of Beka Cooper series. Set in the land of Tortall, almost two hundred years before her popular series Song of the Lioness, Bloodhound is a different sort of beast from Pierce's previous books.

One of the biggest differences of this series is that it is written in first person. At first the change was jarring for me, but Beka's voice is so strong it is almost impossible not to be sucked into her world. Beka is a "Dog," a sort of medival peacekeeper or policewoman in the country's capital city. Both Bloodhound and the previous entry in the trilogy, Terrier, are written as journal entries that Beka writes. First she writes to keep track of her trainee year and later continues her journals as an exercise to hone her observation skills. This format could be a dangerous one, especially when it comes to giving details about the surroundings, but Pierce really has a knack for the journal entries and manages incredible world building without ever losing sight of the fact that each chapter is meant to be an "entry" in a young woman's journal.

Beka lives in the slums of her city. She works hard and loves her job, even though it is not glamorous. All of the Tortall novels prior to this have dealt with Knights, mages and nobles who are in the periphery, if not the confidants of, Kings and Queens. They are all wonderful books, full of daring-do and a pageantry. However, there is something comforting about Beka's smaller world where every day things like buying bread and having to worry about clean uniforms enter into the equation.

Tamora Pierce's cities came alive for me. Both the capital city of Corus and the seaside Port Caynn are characters of their own with colorful rogues, their own slang and manner of speaking, customs and foods. From riots over bread prices to finding lost children, the early examples of police work are presented realistically in these places. I would never have thought the subject of counterfitting could be fascinating, or even exciting, but it was. I reread Terrier in anticipation of Bloodhound's release in April and found myself so deeply into Beka's world that I didn't want to come out. I started Bloodhound again for a second read almost as soon as I finished it. That, more than anything I can tell you about the novel, including hints at the plot or characters, should tell you that this was a great book!

Monday, May 04, 2009

3 Willows by Ann Brashares

3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows by Ann Brashares

Set in the same hometown as Brasheres' bestselling Travelling Pants novels, 3 Willows picks up after the previous series has ended. The book introduces three new friends Ama, Jo and Polly and focuses on that awkward summer that happens after eighth grade. Friends since third grade the girls are finding that they don't have as much in common now as they hover on the brink of entering high school. Written in the same format as the Pants book, the novel alternates between each of the three characters and documents their changes and discoveries over the course of a summer.

I admire Brashares' deft handling or presentation of being a teenager. The girls are both needy and fiercely independant, determined and insecure and full of the riotous emotions I recall so clearly from those years of my own life. The parents are also well done; they are shown as loving and imperfect without being idiots or completley absentee as many parents are handled in this genre.

Tibby's family, Brian, and Lena's sister, Effie, all make appearances in the book, which will thrill fans of the Pants books. In fact, the four friends of Traveling Pants fame are legends in their own high school. Ama, Jo and Polly are enamoured of the idea of a magical friendship and have been searching for their own shareablel talisman. Believing they need something concrete to bind them together, the girls begin to drift until they learn that there are many different types of friendships and that you don't need a pair of pants to have magic in your life.