Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Book Review: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 368 pages

But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful?

Alice Liddell Hargreaves's life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she's experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only "Alice."

A love story and a literary mystery, ALICE I HAVE BEEN brilliantly blends fact and fiction to capture the passionate spirit of a woman who was truly worthy of her fictional alter ego, in a world as captivating as the Wonderland only she could inspire.

Review: I wasn’t originally planning to read this book. I heard about it on a podcast, and I thought it sounded interesting but I didn’t really want to pick it up at first—I can’t really say why. And then I heard about it on the radio, and then a friend mentioned it, and then it was on display at the library, so...I just had to pick it up. And I’m so glad I did.

This book was filled with the kinds of interesting facts mixed with story that makes historical fiction so interesting to me. Not a whole lot is known about the real Alice or her relationship between the man who would become Lewis Carroll, and this book filled in the gaps to make her into a very realistic person. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read Alice in Wonderland the same way, because I’ll always be thinking about this book when I do.

Besides the fact that it just puts a personality to someone I’d never thought much about, this book also told a fantastic story, which was even more interesting because it was at least partially true. Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) in the books was much more creepy than I had ever imagined, and a kind of pedophile way. But he wasn’t a creepy person…he was just obsessed with little girls. Okay, that does make him sound creepy. But it was fun and interesting to read about.

Alice’s story was extremely well told, not just as the story about the girl from Alice in Wonderland but as a story of a life. I loved it in almost every way, and it definitely deserves to be read. it, because you won't regret it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book Review: Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
Age Group: Young Adult
Length: 432 pages

"What do you want from me?" he asks. What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him. More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn't a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all.

In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

Review: Jellicoe Road is a gorgeous book—after you get through the beginning of it. It does start off slow, with lots of plot threads that don’t seem to connect or look like they’re going anywhere. But after you get through the setup section, it gets amazing, and it’s definitely worth reading.

I loved the characters so much in this book. Marchetta does a fantastic job of introducing the main character and making her flawed—very flawed—but still likeable. And the other characters develop very well, too. They change in your eyes as they change in Taylor’s, which is difficult to accomplish but wonderful when done well.

One thing that really bothered me was the constant trips into back-story that didn’t make sense. Every chapter or so, there would be a portion of story that was meant to be from a “manuscript” that Taylor’s guardian was writing. Not only did you not really understand who the characters were for most of the book, they skipped around through time so I rarely even knew at what point in their lives they were. I know it was meant to be a mystery, but I just found myself skimming those sections to get back to the main story.

Apart from that, though, this book was excellent. It introduced me to some of present-day Australia, which was fun, and did so with well-written and believable characters.

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Releases: 3/20/10-3/27/10

Caught by Harlan Coben
This story of a missing girl has been getting a lot of good reviews, and I think the idea is really interesting--tracing a lost girl who may or may not have been taken by a sexual predator.

Fading Echoes by Erin Hunter
Though I've never personally read the Warriors series, my brother informs me they're excellent for young readers. The series revolves around cats as the main characters, which seems like it could be really interesting. I'm a big fan of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series, myself, and that's all about owls.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Malantes
This is a story about a fictional Marine who finds himself in Vietnam, in all kinds of situations and problems. This could be a really interesting look into war, as it's written by a veteran who can definitely bring knowledge of the feelings of war to the table.

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear
I adore the Maisie Dobbs series about a woman detective in the 1920's and 30's. They have a wonderful charm to the way they're written, but they're engaging mystery stories as well--a tricky balance to acheive. I can't wait to read this new installment.

What are you looking forward to reading?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Dystopic Fiction

One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state of the art recreation facilities, and live the few remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over sixty–single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries–are sequestered for their final few years; they are considered outsiders. In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation. Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and…well, then what?

I have seriously mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I liked the premise and plot, and I really want to like the book. However, I didn’t really like the characters at all and couldn’t understand their decisions, and I hated the ending. A lot. So…yeah.

I really liked the idea behind the story of a population of people forced to become organ donors/test subjects. It’s a perfect model of a controlling government that’s not simply cruel. They let people have a long life before they send them to the biological reserve bank. They treat them well once they’re in the bank, and the people we meet who run the place seem nice. It’s an interesting concept, and the plot itself is executed well.

The characters, though, fell flat. I just couldn’t get into the heads of any of them. Dorrit, the main character, wants to be a strong, independent woman who doesn’t rely on anyone else, but she also relishes in having man take care of her. She makes friends, but they never seem to become close. It’s just assumed for the sake of the story that they are.

And then there’s the ending. Oh god, the ending. I just stared at the back cover of the book for about ten minutes after I finished the book. I just couldn’t believe what had happened, and it wasn’t in a good way. It was a total departure of character yet again, and it just made me angry.

So after that extremely long and convoluted review, I have determined nothing at all. I do recommend the book to people who enjoy dystopic fiction, because this twists it in an interesting way. But don’t go into expecting a fantastic novel.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Ummmm…maybe mystery?
Length: 208 pages

Four mysterious letters change Miranda's world forever.

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it's safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda's mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she's too late.

When You Reach Me is a very sweet book. The main character and her friends are wonderfully written and they all feel different—the way they talk, the way they act, and the way they interact with other people in the story. And even though they’re younger than most of the characters I read about, I connected with them.

The ending of this book is amazing, too. I don’t want to give anything away, so suffice to say it made me want to reread the book. Everything came together in the end masterfully.

The pacing was a little bit slow at the very beginning, but other than that this was a fun, very quick read—I finished it in one sitting—that I really enjoyed with a beautifully woven together plot.

Friday, March 19, 2010

This Week in Books: 3/13/10-3/19/10

Young Adult:

FANG by James Patterson
Release Date: March 15, 2010

This is the next book in the Maximum Ride series, which is about a group of genetically modified kids with wings, that I have long enjoyed for it's quick, action-packed writing style. This is shaping up to be another good book, though the premise doesn't seem quite as interesting as some of the other books in the series.


Barnes and Noble
Official Website
Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 by Stephanie Meyer, Young Kim (illustrator)
Release Date: March 16, 2010

Okay, I'm not really a fan of the Twilight series (and yes, I have read them), but I'm still excited to see how the graphic novel turns out. It definitely has the potential to be interesting, and could be really fun to read if the artwork is good.

AmazonBarnes and Noble

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis
Release Date: March 15, 2010

This is a book about how the financial crisis in America really happened. From what I've read, it appears to be mostly character-driven--written like a novel, but telling a true story. Sounds excellent!

AmazonBarnes and Noble

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
Release Date: March 16, 2010

This is a novel about a woman who moves back to North Carolina to help understand her past a little bit better. It's magical realism, which is a genre I've never really read but find very intriguing.


Barnes and Noble

The Queen's Lover by Vanora Bennett
Release Date: March 16, 2010

I love historical fiction, so this new book about 15th century Catherine de Valois looks perfect for me.

Barnes and Noble
Official Website

What are you excited about this week?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Review: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
Length: 514 pages

Faith, I tell them, is a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain.

It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.
And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.

The 19th Wife is a fascinating look at polygamy in The United States. I knew next to nothing about this topic before I read the book, and I’m glad I picked it up. It’s an important topic that’s gotten a good bit of coverage, and it’s engrossing to read about.

The two stories written about worked well together in the novel. There was an interesting combination of letters, essays, and memoirs that kept the writing interesting. The modern-day mystery story seemed a little forced, though—the characters acted like detectives in a cliché crime novel to advance the plot. I didn’t really like the ending to that storyline, either. Everything was wrapped up a little too neatly.

The historical information was exciting to read, but also terrifying. It starts with the formation of the Mormon Church and goes through the time when polygamy is denounced by that same church. Seeing the power of the prophet of the church and the motivations of the top officials was scary, especially when considering how many people once accepted their word as law. It’s fascinating, though, and I’m glad I understand more about the topic than I did before.

The 19th Wife is a peek into a different kind of world, and it captured me from the very beginning. This is the book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction or simply wants to learn more about a hot topic of today.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Classics Circuit

Today I would like to turn everyone's attention to a fantastic blog tour called The Classics Circuit. Instead of helping to publicize a book that is coming out soon, this tour delves into the work of an author from the past, with a four week tour of reviews and information on dozens of blogs. It's not always just an author, either--they recently had a tour that consisted of work from the Harlem Renaissance.

The tour going on right now is a tribute to Georgette Heyer, and Emile Zola is coming up next month. I highly encourage you to go check it out if reading classics at all interests you, or even if you just want to find more excellent blogs to read. Long live the classics!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Book Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 480 pages

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.

She never expects to fall in love with beautiful Prince Po.

She never expects to learn the truth behind her Grace—or the terrible secret that lies hidden far away . . . a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

This book was excellent. It managed to take a kind of world that has been written several times—the high fantasy, medieval-esque type of invented location—and breathe new life into it. Katsa’s actions as a bully for the king make her an interesting and new type of character, and her internal struggles are wonderful to read. She has depth, and she hates herself sometimes, and she gets confused about the decisions she has to make. And she’s powerful.

The romance was sweet, and though it was a bit predictable in the way it developed, I really enjoyed seeing Katsa and Po around each other. They really understood each other while at the same time staying true to what their characters were built up to be.

The actual plot was exciting and unexpected as well. It kept me enthralled the entire time, and I found myself practically shouting at the book. When I’m that emotionally involved, I know I’ve hit on an excellent book. If you enjoy fantasy novels in general, you will love Graceling.

Friday, March 12, 2010

This Week in Books: 3/6/10-3/12/10

This week has been a great one for releases of new books--here are some of the most notable.

Young Adult:

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
Release Date: March 9, 2010

This is the companion book to the very popular The Forest of Hands and Teeth. The series is about an alternate world where zombies live (metaphorically speaking) along with the living. I never read the first book, but it looks excellent.


The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Release Date: March 9, 2010

This is a debut novel about a grief-stricken teenager who ends up torn between two different boys. Though the story has been told before, this looks like a sweet and heart-wrenching novel, and it has gotten good reviews so far.


The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann
Release Date: March 9, 2010

This book is a collection of short stories that revolve around obsession. I read one of the author's other books, The Lost City of Z, and absolutely loved it--this one looks like it will be just as good.

The Husbands and Wives Club by Laurie Abraham
Release Date: March 9, 2010

This book was written by a jounalist who sat in on the marriage counseling of five different couples. The article she wrote for The New York Times Magazine was so popular that she expanded it into this book, which examines marriage and the many complexities involved. I think this could be truly fascinating.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
Release Date: March 9, 2010

Oh my god, I'm so excited for this. It's the second in the Flavia de Luce series, after The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and I adored that book. Flavia is a quirky girl--maybe 10 or 11--living in the 1950's who loves poisons and solving mysteries. The first book involves her solving a case, and it looks like this one will be similar. I'm really looking forward to reading it.

What new books are you excited about this week?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book Review: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Science Fiction Romance
Length: 546 pages

Audrey Niffenegger’s innovative debut, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals—steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

I loved this book. I was originally hooked by the interesting concept (who wouldn’t enjoy a love story about spontaneous time travel?), but the characters and writing took it from a cool idea into a really fantastic novel that I couldn’t put down.

I really loved the characters in this book, especially the main characters Henry and Clare. I was rooting for them from the very beginning, and every time something happened to them my heart just went out to them. Seeing the characters as young kids was great also—especially the dynamic between Henry and young Clare. It was so sweet.

It took me a little while to get used to figuring out how old the characters were in each scene because it jumped around a lot (much like Henry, incidentally). However, after a little while I got used to it and was able to place each event in their lives.

For anyone who loves romance of any kind, this book would be a perfect fit. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Classics Everyone Should Read: Sherlock Holmes

Classics Everyone Should Read:
Sherlock Holmes

While I was at the library, I decided to pick up the first Sherlock Holmes book, A Study in Scarlet. I just saw the movie, and thought it would be fun to read the original inspiration for the character. I expected it to be good—it is possibly the most popular mystery series ever—but I didn’t think I’d love it as much as I did.

For those of you who don’t know, Sherlock Holmes is a detective who relies on observation to solve crimes. By simply glancing at a person, he can determine their profession—as is demonstrated several times in the book. His ability to see things for what they are is extremely helpful when solving crimes, and the police often come to him when they’re stumped. His friend Dr. Watson often helps him with the mysteries, however it is usually Holmes who solves the case.

As this is the first book, it really delves into the beginnings of the friendship between Holmes and Watson and how it developed into the partnership that we think of today. It’s interesting to see how two very different people come together, and the interactions between them are wonderful. The mystery itself was almost less interesting than these two characters and their quirks.

A Study in Scarlet is not a simple detective story. Reaching into the mind of a character like Sherlock Holmes is fascinating as well as enjoyable. It goes into the motivation of man eventually discovered to be guilty, as well, in a separate section of the book that branches off from the first. People who enjoy mysteries will love the reasoning behind this book, and people who don’t enjoy mysteries will love the interesting characters. Everyone should read this book.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Book Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 576 Pages

There were no surprises in Gatlin County.

We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.
At least, that's what I thought.
Turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong.
There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she's struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town's oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Beautiful Creatures was a beautiful book. The small Southern town setting was written in a way that really made me feel like I could be there—the smallest details were included to bring the area to life. The characters, too, were realistically fleshed-out and likeable. I felt like I could relate to the decisions they made and how they were feeling, which really helped draw me in and make me care about the characters and what they were going through.

That said, there was something a little bit off about the book for me. The way the back-story was incorporated into the main storyline seemed a bit like an info dump every time it came into play, and I also had a hard time focusing and really reading those sections—they weren’t relevant until later in the story, so I had a difficult time absorbing the information when it came up.

Overall, Beautiful Creatures was a very good book and I enjoyed reading it. This book would be excellent for anyone looking for a paranormal novel that breaks out of the mold that seems to be so common today.

Introducing Brimful Bookshelves

Hi and welcome to my blog Brimful Bookshelves. My name is Anna, and I’m a teenager from Pennsylvania. As it seems my bookshelves are so full they’ll collapse any minute, the title seemed appropriate for a blog about those same books.

I’ve been reading book blogs for a while now, and I always love being referred to that perfect book by someone else, allowing me to read the cream of the crop and avoid wasting my time on something I wouldn’t enjoy. There are too many books out there that should be read to spend time on anything less than the best ones. With that in mind, I hope this blog will help you find the books that are best for you—whether those are YA, adult, or somewhere in between. Good luck and happy reading!