Monday, November 15, 2010

Aria of the Sea: Dia Calhoun

Sometimes a person is given the gift of knowing exactly what it is they are meant to do. Not everyone is so lucky; most people struggle their whole lives, trying to figure out their purpose in life.

Cerinthe wants nothing more than to be a dancer in the royal court. To please her mother who died from infection, to make a life for herself full of wealth and notoriety, and most importantly, to please the Sea Goddess. When Cerinthe is accepted to the Royal Ballet School, her life is turned upside down. She is little more than a poor child from the Northern Reach with no real dance experience, thrust into a world of intensity. After leaving the world of folk healing behind her, Cerinthe makes every effort to leap forward into the life of a royal dancer. Yet something keeps drawing her back to the world of medicine, leading her toward a choice between dance and healing. How does one decide what she is meant to do in life?

I picked up Aria of the Sea at the library book sale. Something about the title intrigued me, and I stuffed it in my bag before even reading the book cover. Dia Calhoun has created a new era and a new region, vaguely familiar, but ultimately unknown. Without using archaic or verbose language, Calhoun sucks in her reader with characters that are people we would like to know: Cerinthe--the fiesty young woman chock full of determination, Elianna--the exquisite "highness" who rules the school of ballet, Tayla--the sweet underdog who befriends Cerinthe. Sure, there are a few thin characters, and I would have liked to see more of a few, but basically it's a well developed cast.

This is a young reader novel, and as such, very effective. The heavy-handed moral is simple--listen to your heart. It may sound juvenile, but I know that there are many people who still need to learn this lesson!

Rating: $.5

Thursday, November 11, 2010

City of Bones: Cassandra Clare

A friend of mine recommended "The Mortal Instruments" series to me, claiming that it was her new favorite series of books. As an avid reader of anything that makes my friends squeal, I got a copy of book one, City of Bones, and delved in.

If you're anything like me, you enjoyed Harry Potter, you maybe even mildly enjoyed Twilight, but you haven't been able to get into any of the bazillion ensuing series about wizards or vampires or other "underworld" type creatures. City of Bones is the answer. Clary is a pretty chill girl who has this geeky friend Simon. They go to a punk/goth club one night and Clary meets some very interesting people. Alec, Isabelle, and Jace are not like anyone Clary has ever met. There are some unnerving events and Clary discovers that she's not the normal girl she always hoped she was. Her life is turned upside down when Clary learns that she is the child of a Shadowhunter and that she has it within her power to fight demons. While she's crushing on Jace, Clary is also learning how to master her skills as a Shadowhunter. This story has everything--magic, romance, battles, drama, family, and a queer character or two. City of Bones takes place in current times, on the perceived plane of perception (for the most part). There's no time warp or separate universe to contend with, which I think is part of the reason I was able to get so involved so quickly. I wasn't forced to wrap my brain around a whole new world as well as a whole new cast of characters.

Cassandra Clare has garnered much success from her mold-breaking series, but I'm not convinced she's the best writer. Her talent is good and her storytelling ability is phenomenal, but her writing technique is just good. She gives a solid performance, and I'm hooked by her story. Her characters are engaging, though they're not all fully developed. The most important character is Clary and she is a believable young woman with all of her quirks and total misunderstanding of teenage boys.

I enjoyed this book, and I'm looking forward to reading the next book in the series. City of Bones is addictive and the new ideas it presents are exciting and enticing. I've heard that Clare will be adding more to this series, and I've no doubt she will be met with continued success.

Rating: $$

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry: Kathleen Flinn

Maybe it was the thumbnail picture of  the Tower d'Eiffel  on the cover. Maybe it was the enthusiastic quote by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love). Maybe it was the mysteriously dangerous title. Whatever the reason, I picked up The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn at the library book sale. The back cover said something about a woman on an adventure to pursue her passion at Le Cordon Bleu. I am only vaguely interested in cooking, but I am over-the-moon-in-love with all things French, so I hoped this read would immerse me in all things Parisian.

The story is somewhat familiar. Kathleen Flinn is unhappy with climbing the corporate ladder. She's a journalist who has been swept away into a career she doesn't even like. Fortune smiles on her and she is fired from her job. It turns out to be the best possible thing because it allows Flinn to finally pursue a lifelong dream--to earn a diploma from THE Le Cordon Bleu, in the beautiful City of Lights, Paris, France. She writes about her experiences, which vary from the mundane to the comically absurd. She meets an array of people from all walks of life, and is challenged in every way possible.

As a memoir, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry isn't eventful. There are no real life lessons to be learned from this book, except maybe that we should always follow our bliss (which I'm hoping we've all learned by now, after the avalanche of uplifting memoirs about how great life can be when you do what you love). There is drama, there is comedy, there is love, there are shed tears and peals of laughter. There are eccentric chefs, and bizarre house guests, and friendly shop owners. There are also pages and pages of mouth-watering French recipes.

In short, unless you are passionate about France, food, or French food, this book doesn't have much to offer the average reader. However, if you get excited by a good cheese and wine pairing, or if you lose yourself in daydreams about walking the Seine by moonlight, this is a book to get lost in.

Rating: $$