Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Highlander's Temptation

I was asked to read and review A Highlander’s Temptation by Sue-Ellen Welfonder. The story is set in 14th century Scotland, a time when hostilities were high among the various Highland clans. The heroine of the story is the young and beautiful Arabella MacKenzie, daughter of the chief of clan MacKenzie. While on a sea voyage to a set of islands, Arabella I forced to abandon ship. The following day, she is found offshore of an island owned by the clan MacConacher. Darroc, the hero of the story, is happy to help her, until he learns her name. The MacConachers hate the MacKenzies for atrocities committed against their clan in the past. Unfortunately for Darroc, he falls for the one woman he knows he should hate.

Think of this book as a Scottish rendition of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet- feuding families and a love that seems doomed from the beginning. I enjoyed this book! It was a quick and easy read, and the story kept me interested throughout. There was certainly no shortage of action or drama! This book has a smattering of everything- battles, magic, paranormal activity, and romance. I became very attached to characters, and even caught myself getting a bit misty-eyed at one point in the story.

I particularly enjoyed the interactions between the MacConacher men. Whenever Arabella was around, they had fun picking on Darroc (A lot of that “wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of humor, if you know what I mean!). The crazy old woman who helped around the castle was also very amusing- she was convinced she was helping when often the men had to go behind her and correct the wreckage she was causing! The author did a nice job of developing the characters, even the minor ones who only played supporting roles to the storyline. By doing this, the author develops an entire community of which the reader is able to become a part.

Something that caught my attention was that some of the names were a bit silly in this book. A Viking with the name Olaf Big Nose would certainly not inspire his foes to go running with their tails between their legs! There’s also a relic in this story that the clans call the “Thunder Rod”. Can you guess what sort of power it has? No? Think hard! Thunder. Rod. Have you got it now? My mind had wandered into that gutter long before they explained the extent of its powers later in the book! I understand the purpose behind the names used, however it was difficult to take them seriously each time they arose in the book.

I wasn’t a particularly big fan of the paranormal aspect of the storyline. Essentially, the ghost of a jaded female haunted the castle and enjoyed meddling in the affairs of Darroc and Arabella. However, in the end, her role had absolutely no bearing on the storyline aside from being a relic of a tale they told around the castle about a girl who had been left to die there long ago. I normally enjoy the paranormal aspect of stories, however I think in this situation that the story would not have been any different without it.

I will say I was a bit disappointed towards the end. Clan MacConacher and Olaf Big Nose’s warriors headed off to sea battle, and without giving too much away, I would have to say I felt it was incredibly anticlimactic! It almost seemed as if the author rushed towards the end of the book. To remedy this, it’s as if she created situations in which everything was able to happen in an expedited manner. That being said, I will say I appreciate her brevity in some cases. I do not feel the need to experience days of wallowing in self-pity when I can just as easily catch the gist from the statement, “He had been miserable for days.”

All in all, this was a good book. It didn’t take long to read, and didn’t have a complex plot. If you’re looking for a nice, light romance novel, definitely give this one a try!

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

I'm sorry to report that I accidentally chose a "four books in one" monster of a P.D. James novel to kick off the year, and it is taking me forever to finish it.  I didn't realize the heft of the book because I bought it on my Kindle, and I didn't pay attention to the number of pages.  I did, however, manage to read 1971 Newbery Medal Winner Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien to my kids last week.

The story is about a widowed mouse named Mrs. Frisby who must find a way to move her house (a cinder block) from one corner of the garden to a safer one. Her frail, thoughtful son, Timothy, has recently recovered from a bout of pneumonia and will not survive if he is exposed to the cold, early-summer nights.  She seeks help from a colony of elusive rats who harbor a secret that involves her late husband, Jonathon. She learns that the rats have undergone chemical experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health, resulting in their being over a thousand times more intelligent than natural rats.  With the help of Nicodemus, the leader of the NIMH rat colony, she learns the truth about her husband's early life and uncovers a strange, cautionary tale about science and ethical limits.

The book was everything quality children's literature should be:  funny, interesting, cozy, nerve-wracking, and thought-provoking.  And all of this without being a thinly-veiled Disturbing-Story-For-Grown-Ups told in a Kindergarten-Teacher-Voice.  I hate those kind of books.

The book is 233 pages with the occasional pen-and-ink illustration.  The target age for the book was 8-12, but I read it to my 6, 7, and 9 year olds, and they were all rapt.  Oh--and if you've seen the movie, don't skip the book.  As usual, the book is densely packed with philosophical discussions and character development that the movie omits.  Also, the movie throws in a bunch of bite-your-knuckle plot twists that don't happen in the book. In the words of my nine-year-old, "How dare they change the plot?  After all Robert's hard work?"  (She and Robert are tight, it would appear).  The biggest offense in her mind?  That the movie changes Mrs. Frisby's name to Mrs. Brisby, and that Jenner is portrayed as a Stone-Cold-Killa, which he isn't in real life.  (Real Life=The Book.  But I don't have to tell you people that).

Q for you:  What other children's books-turned-movies have you read?  Tell me in the comment section, and if you've reviewed any children's books-turned-movies, Mr. Linky-it-up!

J. Kaye's Book Blog

The Local News by Miriam Gershow:

I quit the P.D. James book.  I loved her beautiful sentences, and I truly believe she is some kind of a genius, but the timing was off between the book and me.  The book was like a nice-looking, smart boy I once dated too soon after a messy break up, and I ended up feeling tired and sarcastic whenever he opened his mouth to speak, even though I knew I was the one with the problem.  The real issue is that I was too dim to keep up with the characters/plot without constantly flipping back to previous chapters, and I was reading the book on my Kindle iPhone app, of all crappy, impractical mediums.  So I quit.  Basta.  Done.  The book is good, though.  It'll find someone who treats it right.

But I quickly cuddled up with Miriam Gershow's The Local News, inconstant thing that I am, and proceeded to blow off my life until I finished the last page.  In The Local News, fifteen-year-old Lydia Pasternak struggles to survive the aftermath of her brother's mysterious disappearance.  As her parents and community grieve, Lydia wrestles with ambivalent feelings about life without her indomitably popular, sometimes cruel, older brother.  Lydia is an over-achiever, and she throws her energy into organizing any clues that might lead to her brother's recovery.  Her hunt for information causes her to tunnel into her own mind and heart, leading her to confront and make sense of a crumbled family dynamic that--if she's honest--predates her brother's disappearance.

This books was top notch.  Emotionally taut, painfully and deliciously pitch perfect, sharp, focused, darkly funny.  Not a word wasted--I did not happen upon a single skim-worthy paragraph.  At one point, Lydia  watches her grieving father and describes the things he mutters to his missing son when he thinks no one is listening, and I'm telling you:  the scene is grip-your-sides-and-rock-sad.  And yet, Lydia's highschooler-y musings are also so earthy and devastatingly true that I laughed quite a bit (and read out loud to myself) as well.  Why can't every book be this engaging?  I was convinced that Gershow had a brother who went missing, and that this book was a quasi-true tale, but nay.  I googled it.  I'm definitely looking forward to Gershow's next thing.

I know many of you reviewed this book a few months ago, and I wondered if you might link up those reviews below so that I can read through them and mentally muse with you, book-club-style.  Please and thank you.