Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Inferno by Dante Alighieri

the-inferno.gifThe Inferno by Dante Alighieri

Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Introduction and Notes by Peter Bondanella

Genre: Epic Poetry

Written between 1308 and 1321 this Barnes and Noble Classics edition published in 2003

Recommended Age Group: Adult

Summary: Dante goes for a walk in a forest and gets lost then is blocked by various animals. Virgil meets him in the forest and tells Dante that he is going to be his tour guide through Hell. Dante’s hell is divided into nine circles with a few subsets in the last three. It is shaped like an upside-down cone with the center being Lucifer and thus the most evil the center is located in the center of the earth. There are also four rivers, an abyss, a city, and a well.

In the First circle Dante puts those who lived a basically good life but who were not baptized. Included in the circle are Homer, Virgil, and other classic poets that Dante admires. The second circle is for those who committed Lust; third for gluttony; fourth for avarice and prodigality; fifth for wrath; sixth for heresy; and the seventh for violence against others, self, or God. The eighth circle is called Malebolge and is divided into ten chambers and deals with those who committed fraud. In this circle Dante places Pope Nicholas the Fifth and writes about the sins he and other pontiffs committed. Ulysses is also placed in the eighth circle of hell. The ninth and final circle of Hell is for those who are guilty of Treachery against kin, country, guest, or benefactor. This is the circle for Judas Iscariot and those like him. Dante and Virgil leave Hell by a secret passage way and end up on the other side of the world able to once again view the stars.

Personal Notes: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I wonder what that says about me that I liked a book about hell and suffering but it was really good. The language was a big hard to get into. It is epic poetry so long and a bit obscure but more than that it’s translated so it doesn’t read like English prose anyway. After I got past auto-correcting the sentence structure I had a great experience. Dante is so imaginative in his writing and the punishments that he comes up with for people. It was also interesting to see whom he put in hell.

This edition was amazingly helpful. The introduction, although too long to read in one sitting, was so good that I went back to it again and again for help. It had information about the life of Dante, where he got ideas for The Divine Comedy, summaries of the cantos, and a map of hell. The notes in the back where also helpful at explaining things that were obscure to me.

Not being Catholic I was unaware how much of this was based on beliefs that Dante learned from church. The introduction by Peter Bondanella says, “Church Doctrine in Dante’s time (as today) holds that Hell’s function is to punish for eternity human souls who died in mortal sin without a sincere confession of their faults that expresses repentance for their misdeeds. These miscreants do not qualify for the purifying punishments of Purgatory, where souls who do not die in mortal sin escape eternal damnation and suffer temporary expiation before receiving their blissful reward in Paradise.” So this means that the basic idea of Dante’s Hell is in accordance with doctrine but he takes it beyond what the church has stated is true. Bondanella goes on to say that the Church viewed Hell as a place to separate the evil people from the good and there are no set punishments.

Bondanella also said that Dante wants his reader to believe that this is an actual journey taken not just a story he wrote. He’s trying to awaken people to the nature of Hell perhaps in an effort to get them to change their lives.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

ella-enchanted.jpgElla Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Genre: Fantasy

Published in 1997

Recommended Age Group: 8 and Up

Summary: Ella Enchanted is a Newbery Honor Book that begins with Lucinda, a foolish fairy, casting the spell of obedience on Ella shortly after Ella’s birth. Lucinda thought she was doing a good thing but no matter how Ella’s mother and their cook Mandy explained it to her she wouldn’t change her mind. The spell put Ella in a lot of danger all the time. No matter what the command was she had to obey. She would be able to delay the obedience but not for long.

The first disaster happened on her fifth birthday. The cook told her to eat the cake and no matter how she tried to stop herself or how sick she felt she had to eat the whole cake until her Mother discovered the problem and told her to stop. Later Ogres caught her and they commanded her to come to them and not to run away. She was lost to their control until something broke the spell and she was able to use their own tricks to command them. Her two stepsisters had power over her as well. Olive took all of her money and made her count it over and over again. Hattie usually made her do small things but also took a necklace that Ella’s mother wore on her wedding day. Her stepmother made her a servant and she was unable to leave or defy them. She fell in love with the Prince of the land Charmont who liked to me called Char. When she found that he loved her too she was afraid that her curse would be used against her to hurt him or the kingdom. She tried to trick him into thinking she was married and it worked, but not for long.

Mandy, the cook, who also turned out to be Ella’s fairy godmother, told her there was a way to break the spell she just had to find it. Ella believed that Lucinda would take it back if she was found but she didn’t. Ella was finally able to break the spell in the end and was able to live happily ever after with Char and without her stepfamily.

Personal Notes: In the beginning this book wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. As the book went on it got dramatically better until the end when I didn’t want it to be over. I enjoyed the friendly banter between Ella and Char. I also liked her obedient defiance it reminded me of my own children only they don’t have to obey me. A great book, beautifully written and fun.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Beauty: A retelling of the story of Beauty & the Beast by Robin McKinley

beauty.jpgBeauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty & the Beast by Robin McKinley

Genre: Fantasy

Published in 1978

Recommended Age Group: 12 and Up

Summary: Beauty is a nickname Honour received when she was five and found herself unfit to carry the name. Her sisters Grace and Hope received, in her mind at least, all the beauty the family had to offer. Beauty’s mother died when she was young and her father Roderick Huston, was a successful businessman who owned many ships. Four of these ships set sail on a three year long journey taking with them Grace's love Robbie whom she promised to wait for and marry him when he returned. Disaster struck the four ships and Robbie was presumed dead and the family lost all of their money in out swoop. Gervain, Hope’s secret love, came and told the family there was work for the father as a carpenter in the country where we was moving to be a blacksmith. The family fortunes were auctioned and they moved out. They were successful because of their skill and the great need that village and surrounding villages had for them both. Hope and Gervain married a year after the move and were blessed with twins shortly there after.

Roderick received word that one of his ships had survived the storm and he went to town to deal with the business. Grace thought it might be Robbie’s ship and was excited for their father’s return. He returned in late March during a blizzard looking forlorn and with a mysterious story. He took a shortcut thought the woods on the way home, something the locals would never do for fear of the woods, and came upon an enchanted castle that gave him everything he desired and more. It was while he was leaving that he thought of Beauty’s request for some rose seeds and his inability to obtain them in the city. Right them he happened upon a rose garden and took one to give his daughter. The Beast came and was quite angry with him. He said that after all his hospitality how could he steal from him. The Beast told Roderick that he was to return in one month with one of his daughters or he would die.

Hearing the story Beauty decided that it should be her to go. She found herself useless around the house and was excited for the adventure. She never expected an adventure like this. The enchantments were strong and mysterious and every night before she went to bed the Beast asked her if she would marry him and every night she said no. They grew fonder of each other and things began to change for both of them but still she said no. One night she missed her family greatly and was able to see them in a looking glass. She also saw that Robbie was safe and had just made it home from a six-year journey. She asked permission and then rushed home to tell her family the news. The Beast said she could be gone a week but after that he would die. She stayed a little longer than a week with travel time and returned just in time to save the Beast’s life and see him transform into and older version of his old self. And they lived happily every after.

Personal Notes: This book was beautifully written. The most captivating that I’ve read in months. I loved the way that Beauty and her family did not live perfectly before the beast came. They had their struggles with loosing the family fortune and business and having to start all over. I also appreciated the view we got of the beast. He was interesting in Beauty’s family and did a lot to help them. It made him a more believable character. I was sorry to see it end not because I wasn’t left fulfilled but because I liked McKinley’s writing style so much. Over all it was truly enchanting and a pleasure right to the end.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

the-sisterhood-of-the-traveling-pants.jpgThe Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares fits into the Juvenile Fiction genre and was published in 2001.  It is recommended for readers ages 14 and up.

Summary: This book is about the exciting summer adventures of four girls: Lena, Tibby, Bridget, and Carmen. It was the day before they were supposed to go their separate ways for the summer and they were in Carmen’s room. Going though Carmen’s closet they found a pair of jeans that Carmen bought months before and forgot. Miraculously they fit all four girls in spite of their differences in height and weight. They decided that these were magic pants and to make their summer pass quicker and they were each going to have the pants for two weeks and then mail them to another girl. Carmen was to spend the summer in South Carolina with her Dad, Lena in Greece with her sister and grandparents, Bridget in Baja California for soccer camp, and Tibby was staying in town working.

The four of them had known each other all their lives and this is their first summer apart. When their mother’s were pregnant they all joined a water aerobics class and then had a playgroup. Eventually the mothers went their separate ways but the girls stayed friends and did everything together.

Carmen was excited to spend a whole summer alone with her Dad but that’s not how it ended up. Her Dad had a new girlfriend and her two children that he was living with and they never had time alone. Lena ended up loving Greece and in spite of her better judgement fell in love with a local boy Kostos. Bridget enjoyed soccer camp and was able to get away from her family that stopped really being a family when he mother died. She also fell in love with her coach Eric. Tibby was quite sad about being the only one to stay home but made two new friends and ended up having the best summer.

Personal Notes: I loved this book. I just ate it up. I liked how it gave the stories of four different girls. They were each interesting in their own way and I think there was something here for every girl to love since they are all so different. There are two bits that hearing about it some people might find questionable. Bridget and Eric have sex and Lena and Kostos happen upon each other skinny-dipping but like so many other books meant for teens they don’t go into detail. It is mostly just mentioned and then they move on. It’s one of the reasons I love reading juvenile fiction, it’s exciting yet so clean.

Other reviews available:

3 Willows the sisterhood grows by Ann Brashares

What Janie Found by Caroline B. Cooney

what-janie-found.jpgWhat Janie Found by Caroline B. Cooney

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Published in 2000

Recommended Age Group: 14 and Up

Summary: What Janie Found is the fourth and final book in the series that started with The Face on the Milk Carton. Janie is tired of being the good guy and doing everything to help other people. This book opens with her contemplating being the bad girl and like Hannah giving it all up and to be last seen flying west. Janie’s Connecticut father Frank Johnson had a stroke and a heart attack in the same day and to help support her family Janie is asked to take care of the bills. While looking in the file cabinet she finds a folder marked “H. J.” it could only be about Hannah the kidnapper and Frank’s original child. Janie doesn’t want to go through the folder with her mother sitting there so she decides to wait until she can be alone, unfortunately Brian, her little brother, and Reeve, her ex-boyfriend are in the room and see the folder too and want to see inside. The problem is she wants to see it alone. While waiting for a good time to look at the folder the possibilities of what could be inside go through the minds of all three. One thing is certain, being in the paid bills section Frank was giving money to Hannah or money to find her.

When they were finally able to look in the folder they found that not only did Frank know where Hannah was but he was also sending her large chunks of money four times a year to an address in Boulder, Colorado. Conveniently Janie and Brian’s oldest brother Stephen is living in Boulder going to college. They decide to visit him and while there find Hannah because they all have questions that need to be answered. Worried about how their parents will react to the trip they come up with all kinds of reasons but they are all happily surprised and readily pay for plane tickets for Brian, Janie, and Reeve to fly. As the trip progresses one by one they decide that finding Hannah isn’t the greatest idea. Janie also has to face the choice as to whether or not she should continue to support her kidnapper. In the end they decide not to meet her. They mail Hannah the rest of the money in the account with a note that she will not be getting any more and not to contact the Johnson family again. They also have a great visit with Stephen and Janie decides who her real family is and what she’s going to do with the rest of her life.

Personal Notes: Not the ending I expected but it was really good. With the way the others just ended I was happy to finally have a bit of closure with the last one. I appreciated the depth of the inner conflict in each character. They were all very round and complete. I also liked how everything worked out in the end with both the families and Reeve. It wasn’t a and they lived happily every after, there was actually work involved and I think that made it more realistic.

Other reviews available:

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

Whatever Happened to Janie? by Caroline B. Cooney

The Voice on the Radio by Caroline B. Cooney

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Voice on the Radio by Caroline B. Cooney

the-voice-on-the-radio.jpgThe Voice on the Radio by Caroline B. Cooney

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Published in 1996

Recommended Age Group: 14 and Up

Summary: The Voice on the Radio is the third book in the series that started with The Face on the Milk Carton. This one begins with emails that Janie and Reeve send to each other. Janie misses him and wants to skip High School, Reeve misses her too but is somewhat more practical. Reeve started a new job as a Radio DJ during a talk hour and he panics when he finds he has nothing to say. To save embarrassment he begins to tell listeners all about Janie’s kidnapping. The show was a hit and he talks about her private life and struggles two days a week for nearly three months. He never dreams that he will get caught and occasionally he feels bad about it and even makes feeble attempts to stop but the idea of fame has a strong hold.

Meanwhile Janie is facing her junior year of High School and trying to cope with people who won’t let the kidnapping become the past. There are friends, reporters, and classmates who seem to think it’s a great story but they don’t see the people involved and the pain that it causes.

In the Spring household the oldest Stephen left for college. Jodie is in her senior year trying to pick a college. Brendan is the new sports star of every sport in Junior High and Brian, his twin, found that he is not great at sports but loves history. The family changes become more pronounced with the purchase of a new home and everyone gets a room to themselves.

In the end Reeve does get caught and the cost is much higher than he imagined it would be. Stephen finds he is peaceful at home. The Spring parents are able to let go of their children and live more carefree. Brian faces and embraces the difference between him and his twin and Janie is able to love both families equally and really put the past behind her.

Personal Notes: Like the last two books this one didn’t really end it just stopped. It felt like she had a deadline and just turned in what she had thus far. That said I really liked the book as a whole. It was a lot more interesting because it involved more than just Janie and her feelings. It went quite in depth to their feelings and their experiences. It also focused less on the kidnapping. Of course there was Reeve telling it all on the radio but other than that it wasn’t rehashed again. I can’t wait to see how the series ends.

Other reviews available:

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

Whatever Happened to Janie? by Caroline B. Cooney

What Janie Found by Caroline B. Cooney

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Whatever Happened to Janie? by Caroline B. Cooney

whatever-happend-to-janie.jpgWhatever Happened to Janie? by Caroline B. Cooney

Genre: Juvenile Fiction

Published in 1993

Recommended Age Group: 14 and Up

Summary: Whatever Happened to Janie? is the sequel to The Face on the Milk Carton. Janie was kidnapped when she was three by a woman named Hannah Javensen. Hannah gave Janie to her parents telling them that Janie was her (Hannah’s) child. Frank and Miranda Javensen moved and changed their name to Johnson fearing that Hannah, or the cult she was a member of, would come and take Janie back. When Janie found her picture on the milk carton and discovered the truth behind what happened she called her birth family. That is where the last book ends. This book begins with Janie’s (real name Jennie Spring) birth family and their story of struggle through the years after their daughter Jennie was kidnapped. The family became extra cautious with the four other children fearing that they might disappear as well. They didn’t know what happened to Janie/Jennie. They didn’t know that she was alive or safe or happily living with another family under a different name. After they got the phone call from Janie it was decided that she should return to live with them and go by her original name, Jennie.

It was a big adjustment for everyone. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson did not know the truth so they had their little girl taken from them like they were being punished when all they did was love and care for her. Janie now Jennie was just trying to do what’s right by calling her family and telling them she was safe. She never expected that she would have to move and change her name. The Spring family was excited to have their baby back and they all had grand ideas about what it would be like. Most of those ideas were wrong. Jennie tried in spurts to get along with the family but her heart wasn’t in it. She missed her other parents and friends and she was worried that she only had so much love, that if she loved this family she wouldn’t be able to love her other parents.

In the end Jennie decides to keep being Janie and to go back and life with the Johnsons. The Springs were really hurt and Stephen and Jodie, the two oldest, decide to take revenge on Hannah the kidnapper. They heard she was in New York City so they get on a train from them Connecticut home and go to the Big Apple to find one person. Of course when they get there they are overwhelmed by the amount of people, especially the homeless which they figure Hannah will be a part of since the cult disbanded. They don’t find her but they figure with all the trouble she’s had in her life she has been punished enough for her crime.

Personal Notes: I was disappointed at the last book ending so abruptly with the phone call and couldn’t wait to read this one. It was so interesting because it dealt with both families feelings on inner thoughts. Their struggles were different but really a lot a like. Everyone just wanted love and acceptance and everyone just wanted to make it right. The problem was that no one knew how. Janie wanted to love her family but didn’t want to give up on the parents that raised her. There are two other books in this series and I can’t wait to read those to. Hopefully it all gets worked out by the last one.

Other reviews available:

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

The Voice on the Radio by Caroline B. Cooney

What Janie Found by Caroline B. Cooney

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Bones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs

bones-to-ashes.jpgBones to Ashes by Kathy Reichs

Genre: Crime Fiction

Published in 2007

Recommended Age Group: Adult

Summary: Bones to Ashes, is the most recent in the Temperance Brennan novels by Kathy Reichs. This one begins with a flashback into Tempe’s childhood. We find what caused so much pain in her past. Her brother died at nine months old. Then her Father, sick with grief, found solace in getting drunk and died on the way home from a bar. The family moved to North Carolina where Tempe’s mother suffered from depression and Tempe made a summertime friend Evangeline. A few years later Evangeline disappears and the Aunt and Uncle that Evangeline and her little sister were staying with said just to forget about her. Tempe never did. When bones turn up that are about consistent with the age Evangeline was when she disappeared Tempe wonders if she found her friend.

Meanwhile Ryan and a cold case cop nicknamed Hippo are working on a case with three missing and three dead girls. Tempe is reluctant to join in because of her past with Ryan and since Ryan has decided after seeing Tempe with Pete that he was in the way of something with Tempe’s estranged husband. Well, Pete has plans of his own. He asks for a divorce because he intends to marry someone twenty years younger named Summer. Tempe decides that in spite of their past she can get over it and help Ryan solve the case.

As in other books a lot of twists and turns arise. One of Ryan’s missing girls was killed by her father who confessed the killing to a friend right before he killed himself. One is still alive and going by a different name trying to escape bad things she did in her past. Three are dead and identified and one is still missing by the end of the book. The bones that Tempe thought were her friend’s remains still remain anonymous and the mystery of what happened to Evangeline and her little sister is solved.

Personal Notes: I know I say this a lot about Kathy Reich’s books but she is full of surprises. Often when I watch mystery movies I know who’s done it before the character’s figure it out. It’s exciting to read books where a lot of the time I don’t know how all of the pieces fit together. It’s fun to discover it along with Tempe and Ryan. I especially liked the mystery surrounding Evangeline and her sister.

Other reviews available:

Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs

Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs

Deadly Decisions by Kathy Reichs

Fatal Voyage by Kathy Reichs

Grave Secrets by Kathy Reichs

Bare Bones by Kathy Reichs

Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs

Cross Bones by Kathy Reichs

Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs