Move Over Mr. Darcy, Here Comes Captain Williams

Book Stats: I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend

Author: Cora Harrison

Age group:14-18 (or older)

Where to buy: Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com

Length: 342

Rating: 7 out of 10

Book number two of six has been read. I decided to read I was Jane Austen’s Best Friend by Cora Harrison next, partially to get in the spirit for the Jane Austen Yule Ball Saturday next. (That’s Austen speak for the Saturday after this one.)

I have long loved Jane Austen’s works and the movie adaptations. What girl doesn’t love an old fashioned romance? Obviously Cora Harrison is a fan herself; it was the inspiration for writing this book.

Not much is known about Jane Austen’s teenage years, only clippings of her writings from that time and details of a few key events. One such event was an illness she suffered while at boarding school in Southampton. Her courageous cousin Jane Cooper (changed to Jenny in the book for clarity’s sake) went against the orders of the headmaster to tell Mrs. Austen of Jane’s illness. Without the intervention of her mother, it is believed, Jane could have died from this illness.

In the book Jenny is not just disobeying orders but goes out past midnight to deliver the letter to the post. In her adventures on the street she meets a dashing young captain by the name of Thomas Williams. He escorts her to the post and back, keeping her safe from the riffraff that roam the streets that time of night.

For the rest of the book a horrible fear plagues Jenny, if her midnight adventure were to be discovered her reputation would be ruined. Yet even with this fear she enjoys many of the exciting opportunities chronicled in Austen’s books.

Jenny and Jane share a room and gossip over their pillows. They go to balls, choose new dresses and wonder which men will take an interest in them. Many of the people and events in this book are true to actual history, including Captain Williams, who comes back later in the book.

While the book was sometimes a little slow moving I found it quite enjoyable. It added a modern flair to Austen’s style of writing. I personally think all of Jane Austen’s books take a bit of time to get to the exciting things so in that regard Cora Harrison had it spot on.

This book would make a great introduction for teen girls into the world of Jane Austen. It explains some of the customs and attitudes of the time which would make understanding Jane Austen easier. I would still recommend it to older teens though, mostly because younger teens might not understand the obsession with marriage that was so ever present at that time. Mature young teenagers may also be able to handle it.

Cora Harrison has produced a work about real people in a slightly fictional situation, written in a way that Jane Austen could be proud of. Austenites and regular folks alike can enjoy this book. I know I did.

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Frozen in an Internal War

Book Stats: Wintergirls

Author: Laurie Halse Anderson

Age group: 12-20

Where to buy: Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com

Length: 278 pages

Rating: 9 out of 10

The first book I chose to read out of my six book shopping spree was Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. Anderson continues her great work of bringing important but often sensitive subjects to a wide audience. She has a gift for making these subjects something that everyone can relate to, even if they have never gone through it.

The subject of this book is one every young girl should know about, eating disorders. Eating disorders are very hard to explain to people who have not been through it or known someone who has. There are many misconceptions and snap judgments made about people with these disorders.

Lia is an 18 year old girl struggling with anorexia. The book opens as she finds out about the death of her best friend, Cassie, who died due to complications from bulimia.

Could Lia have saved her?

“You’re not dead, but you’re not alive. You’re a Wintergirl…”

Will Lia have the strength to save herself?

Haunted by the ghost of her friend and fighting an evil cycle of self hate and deception, Lia must find a way to live, before it is too late.

Nothing anyone says can save her, until she chooses to save herself.

The Miami Herald is quoted on the back as saying, “If you’re a teenage girl, Wintergirls might just save your life.”

I think this book is a must read for all teenage girls. Little is said about eating disorders yet girls are constantly bombarded with images of skinny models, weight loss tricks and diet fads. If asked would any girl know the causes or symptoms of an eating disorder?

Laurie Halse Anderson has brought this subject to her audience in an easy to understand way. Awareness may just be the key to keeping our youth from following others down this destructive and dangerous path. Even I, an overweight young adult, felt myself connect to Lia and her struggles. Imagine what this book could do for a girl about to go over the edge.

All I can really say is read it!

The Forbidden Shopping Spree

From Left: Aurelia by Anne Osterlund, Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia Wrede, Eon by Alison Goodman, Virals by Kathy Reichs, I was Jane Austen's Best Friend by Cora Harrison

I decided this weekend to get some new books to read over Thanksgiving break. I had to make a special trip to the nearest big town to visit the mall there.

Before I went down I did some research and chose a few books I would like to read. When I got to Barnes and Noble (the biggest bookstore in the town) only two of the books were in the store, I hadn’t noticed the release dates on the other two. (They don’t come out for another couple of weeks.)

Since those books weren’t there it opened me up to the Achilles’ heel of book lovers, browsing. How I can I resist the aisles of the young adult section? The bright colors, the interesting titles, favorite authors and the amazing displays. It is a wonderland.

My fingers itched to pull every book off the shelf and read them right there. I had to control myself, fighting my desires, in order to find the perfect books to review. I also wanted to keep the costs down a bit since I am a typically poor college student.

Even with my budget I found it hard to stop myself from picking books. By the time I made it to the checkout counter I had reduced the pile to six books; only two of which were hard cover.

I still cringed when I saw the total but with a laugh of self deprecation I handed my card to the nice pregnant lady behind the counter. A moment later I walked out of the store with my bag full of (hopefully) exciting books.

I haven’t worked in over a week (no surveys to call people with), I eat out way too much and last night I spent way too much money on books. From now on, shopping sprees are forbidden until I am earning money again.

In the meantime I will read the six books I bought and enjoy a relaxing week off from school. After I get through this next week of course. I should go get some homework done.

Dragon Training 101

Book Stats: How to Train Your Dragon

Author: Cressida Cowell

Age group: 9-14

Where to buy: Amazon.com

Length: 213

Rating: 7 out of 10

With the recent release of a movie of the same name on dvd I decided to read the book that inspired it. Within moments of starting to read I realized how very different the two of them are.

The book starts with Hiccup and his fellow young tribesmen standing at the bottom of a cliff. They are told that today is an important day, the day they steal their dragons. In Hiccup’s tribe the stealing and subsequent training of a dragon is how they become full-fledged members of the tribe.

Hiccup barely makes it out of the cave with a dragon after another youth wakes the 3000 dragons hibernating in the cave. With their dragons procured the hard job of training them begins.

The only book on the subject suggests yelling at their dragons to train them. Hiccup cannot yell, not effectively. So he uses his skills with the dragon language to teach his small reluctant dragon.

In the end it is this skill with “dragonese” and ability to lead that saves the islanders from certain death. For the first time in his life his father is proud of him and his peers respect him.

This book felt a bit young for me but I still enjoyed it. I felt for Hiccup and enjoyed the rebelliousness of Toothless. I plan on reading the rest of the books in the series.

This was one of the few times I enjoyed the book without it ruining the movie for me. I feel that both can stand on their own. The movie plot was better suited to the big screen than the book plot. Either way Hiccup saves the day.

You can watch the movie and read the book. Both are worth the time invested.

Author Spotlight: Shannon Hale

Author stats: Shannon Hale

Books: Goose Girl, Enna Burning, River Secrets, Forest Born, Princess Academy, Book of a Thousand days, Austenland, The Actor and the Housewife, Calamity Jack, Rapunzel’s Revenge

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books

Age group: YA- 13-17 Graphic novels- 8-14 Adult- 24-45

Where to find her books: Amazon.com

An author popular among young adult readers is Shannon Hale. Her first book was The Goose Girl, based on the classic fairy tale. She took characters from this book to write three sequels, not based on any fairy tales that I know of. She created a complex world with characters that were a joy to get to know.

She has also written two adult books, two stand-alone young adult books and co-written two graphic novels with her husband.

While Shannon has been writing since she was ten, she tried to pursue other careers, including acting. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English at the University of Utah and her MFA in creative writing at the University of Michigan.

She had been writing for nineteen years by the time The Goose Girl was published. She began writing The Goose Girl while still attending the University of Michigan as a challenge between her and a fellow student. They were both trying to write a book before the next semester began. Three years later The Goose Girl was ready to be published.

Princess Academy was actually the first book of hers that I picked up. I fell in love with the characters and the setting. She was able to weave a tale with elements of tradition and whimsy in a masterful way. I have since read every book she has written but the graphic novels.

My one recommendation to her would be, stick to young adult fantasy. I did not enjoy her adult books half as much as I enjoyed Goose Girl and the rest of her young adult books. They felt too forced and did not fit her writing style. I think her imagination is better suited to creating its own worlds instead of trying to fit a story to the real one.

So if you find yourself in the young adult section of your library or bookstore, pick up a Shannon Hale book and enjoy her unique voice and vivid descriptions. I don’t think you will regret it.

To Become a Warrior

Book Stats: Warrior Princess

Author: Frewin Jones

Age group: 14-17

Where to buy: Amazon.com

Length: 346

Rating: 7 out of 10

Finally I had a chance this week to do some fun reading. I found a new book by an author I have read before. Frewin Jones also wrote the Fairy Path books an interesting series about the mortal and fairy worlds.

This book is the first in a new series about a princess in ancient Britain. Branwen is the daughter of a prince and the famous Alis ap Owain, a warrior in previous British wars. Saxons have attacked her homeland and killed her brother. As she tries to decide how to deal with this tragedy and the upcoming war the old gods of the land reveal they have a plan for her.

She resists, blaming them for her brother’s death. At the same time she becomes sick of sitting around and waiting for her marriage to a man she does not know. She talks an old warrior into helping her train. While out one morning she meets a runaway servant who used to belong to a Saxon. He warns of an impending attack on Branwen’s home and joins her in a frantic flight to warn her parents.

While I enjoyed this book somewhat, it was by no means my favorite. I found it a bit hard to relate to Branwen and get engaged in the book. I think that this book has some good girl power messages and addresses the idea of fate.

Mid to late teens would probably enjoy this book the most. Branwen is a strong willed, courageous and independent young woman finding her way in a very male dominated world. She is forging a path that is completely different from other young women around her.

While I may not have enjoyed this book as much as others I think it will appeal to this audience. Frewin Jones is great at writing detailed descriptions. Give the book a chance and decide for yourself.

A Journey in the Enchanted Forest

Book stats: Enchanted Forest Chronicles

Books: Dealing with Dragons; Searching for Dragons; Calling on Dragons; Talking to Dragons.

Author: Patricia Wrede

Age group: 13-17

Where to buy: Amazon.com

Lengths: (in order) 240, 272, 272, 272 (really)

Rating: 8 out of 10

Years ago I found a book series that has produced many hours of happy reading. This series was, of course, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede. I found this series in my early teens and have read it many times since.

Princess Cimorene’s parents can’t handle her anymore. Over the years she has forced the palace tutors to give her lessons in everything from fencing to cooking. This behavior is highly improper for a princess and they are worried if it gets out she won’t be able to marry a prince.

Marriage is the goal when Cimorene’s parents bring her to meet a neighboring kingdom’s prince. After the meeting Cimorene is desperate to get away, desperate enough to resort to kissing a frog! When that doesn’t work she packs her bags and runs away.

In the mountains nearby lie the cave homes of the dragons. It is tradition for dragons to kidnap princesses to be their helpers. Cimorene hopes one dragon will accept a volunteer.

Adventures ensue that will keep the reader riveted for days. There are fights between dragons and wizards, a strange cat keeping witch, the king of the Enchanted Forest and more.

I don’t think that I will ever rate a book a ten. Hit me if I do. So with that in mind this book series is pretty high up on my list of likes. I would highly recommend them to anyone early teens and up. They are fun, witty and fast paced (except for the last one, it kind of drags). Few books can achieve the kind of balance and wit these ones do.

You don’t have to buy them, they have been out for years and almost every library I have been to has at least the first one. So go out and pick up Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles today.