24 April 2014

Review: Burn by Julianna Baggott

It seems that the market has become saturated with young adult dystopian trilogies, making it difficult to believe there could something unique in the mix. But as I said in my review of Pure, Julianna Baggott has indeed taken a fresh and complex approach to the genre.

Even better, unlike many trilogies, the second installment, Fuse, was just as strong, increasing our connection to the protagonists and their world. Baggott introduced new situations and allowed her characters to grow, change, and even make life-altering mistakes.

The best news is that Baggott didn't let up in the final book, Burn. The characters still surprised me and tugged on my emotions. This bullet review assumes you've read the first two books, but includes no spoilers for Burn.

  • Remind me of the premise: The world has been destroyed by Detonations, which left the Wretches (the masses) horribly disfigured and forced to survive in a polluted, almost lawless land. An elite group of people, the Pures, were sheltered inside the Dome, where they escaped disfigurement and now live in a controlled environment with many luxuries.
  • Remind me of the characters: The books focus on five characters: three Wretches (Pressia, Bradwell, and El Capitan/Helmud) and two Pures (Partridge and Lyda). They have different backgrounds, different agendas, and different lots in life. The story is told in alternating viewpoints, providing us with a diversity of opinions and reactions.
  • What happens in this book? As tensions between the Wretches and the Pures mount, everyone is forced to take a stand of some sort: fight, accept, hope, give up. The relationships among the main characters begin to change drastically, especially as our protagonists come to understand the consequences of their past actions and realize they must pay the price before they can face the future. Baggott doesn't necessarily allow her characters to take the easy or obvious path, not everyone is brave, smart, or strong.
  • What I love: The characters, who are flawed, complex, and unpredictable. No one is all good or all bad or always smart or never fooled. Each person's dilemmas and personal issues are tangled and real and clearly have contributed to their individual personalities. Baggott is as much a master of character development as she is a creator of a unique and terrible world.
  • Themes and issues: As is common in the dystopian genre, Baggott uses the Pure trilogy to address larger themes. Although questions about genetics, family, love, trust, and personhood come up throughout the trilogy, they are prevalent in Burn. All the books deal with issues of class differences, the environment, power, politics, and free will.
  • Not really young adult: Although the principal characters are teens, the main themes are mature. Yes, there is some romance, but even in the heat of love, the characters don't lose track of who they are and what they ultimately want out of life. Baggott's world is no fairy tale realm, and it doesn't come with many happily ever after endings either.
  • General thoughts: Even though Burn brings Julianna Baggott's complex, dark, and sometimes all-too-real trilogy to a satisfying end, I can't tell you how sorry I am that this series is over. The story has a well-thought-out conclusion, but the future is left open-ended so we can think about what might happen to the characters and the world. I would love to think that Baggott will revisit the Wretches and the Pures, but perhaps it's better to leave me wanting more.
  • The audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition of Burn (Hachette Audio; 13 hr, 19 min) was read by Khristine Hvam, Casey Holloway, Kevin T. Collins, and Nicholas Tecosky. As I mentioned in my reviews of Pure and Fuse, the performances of some of the narrators are stronger than others. On the other hand, the overall production is well worth the listen; the narrators kept me fully engaged in the story and made it easy for me to remember the current point of view.
Hachette Book Group / Grand Central Publishing, 2014
ISBN-13: 9781455502998
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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22 April 2014

Wordless Wednesday 286

Another April Sunset, 2014

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Today's Read: The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

The Shadow Queen by Sandra GullandWhat would it be like if you were low born to a family of French traveling actors in the mid-1600s? Now suppose your father died and it was up to you to care for your mother and little brother? That's how life started for young Claudette, but that was not where she would end up.

Winter was coming--I could smell it. Even so, we headed north, following a cow track across a barren field, away from all the lawless soldiers.

Onward. I shifted little Gaston onto my right hip and set my eyes on the far horizon. . . . Onward toward Poitiers, where we might earn a meal performing for crowds. News spread that the King and Court were there, mobilizing for yet another battle.
The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland (Random House / Doubleday, 2014, p. 3; uncorrected proof)

Quick Facts
  • Setting: later decades of the 1600s; Paris, Versailles, the theater
  • Circumstances: Claude des Oeillers (Claudette) struggles to make a better life for her mother and brother, rising from traveling actor to member of the French theater to companion of Louis XIV's mistress
  • Characters: Claudette and her family; Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV, the king; famous playwrights; various people at court and in the theater
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • Strong points so far: the personal and ethical conflicts Claudette struggles with; the details of the French theater in the 1600s; seeing the court through the eyes of an outsider
  • Themes that have caught my attention: politics of the theater; role of the Church in daily life; the intrigues of the court; moral dilemmas; love of family
ISBN-13: 9780385537520
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy).

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21 April 2014

Review: The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh JohnsonIn Solace, a land bombarded by debris and meteors from other worlds, thirteen-year-old Piper, an orphan, supports herself by scavenging. She is also a gifted machinist, a skill she learned from her beloved father, and seems to be able to fix everything from watches to music boxes.

While protecting a friend caught out in a meteor storm, Piper discovers the unconscious body of a young stranger. Noticing the girl's tattoo that marks her as being under the protection of the Dragonfly Kingdom, Piper takes her home, dreaming of ransom money. But when Anna wakes up, her memory doesn't fully return; all she knows is that she must escape capture by the evil man who seeks her.

On impulse, Piper helps Anna, fleeing her desolate home town via the 401, the main supply train to and from the royal cities. Once on board, Piper's perceptions of her world, herself, and Anna are forever altered.

Jaleigh Johnson's The Mark of the Dragonfly is an action-packed adventure that introduces us to a world like no other. Although billed as middle grade steampunk, the novel's mix of dystopian, scifi, and fantasy elements and its strong, well-paced plot give the book a much wider appeal.

Young readers will like the bits of steampunk and magic and getting to know Piper, Anna, and their new friends and enemies. Older readers (both adults and teens) will be caught up in the setting and the politics of this strange new world.

This multilayered, genre-bending story would make a great book club selection, and not just for middle grade readers. Discussion topics include friendship, made families (as opposed to birth families), what makes us human, getting past first impressions, sociopolitical divisions, prejudices, and the intricacies of Piper's world.

The Mark of the Dragonfly is the first in a proposed series and thus sets up the larger story to come. Fortunately, it also stands strongly on its own, leaving us wanting to know more but reaching a satisfying conclusion. The novel's complicated and conflicted characters and unique world pull you in, and the hints of future battles, political struggles, and even romance will make you look forward the next dragonfly installment.

If you've had enough of vampires and werewolves but still like to escape reality, place Jaleigh Johnson's The Mark of the Dragonfly on your reading list. You'll love Piper's spunk and Anna's passion for reading and will be as amazed as they are at all they learn about the world of Solace.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 9 hr, 49 min) read by Kim Mai Guest. I loved Guest's expressive reading, great characterizations, and excellent pacing. The Mark of the Dragonfly would make a great family listen, perfect for a road trip or rainy-day entertainment.

Published by Random House / Random House Kids / Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780385376150
Source: Print: review; audio: review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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19 April 2014

Weekend Cooking: Teeny's Tour of Pie by Teeny Lamothe

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

Teeny's Tour of Pie by Teeny LamotheTeeny Lamothe grew up in a family of pie bakers. No matter the season, there was almost always pie in the house. And as her mom or grandmother baked, Lamothe would be right by her side, patting out her own miniature ("teeny") pie with the leftover crust and a 5-inch pan.

All grown up and living in Chicago, Lamothe was once again bitten by the pie bug, eventually deciding to become a professional baker. Without much more than a lot of gumption and a desire to learn, she set off to apprentice in pie bakeries all around the country, learning both kitchen skills and how to run a business.

In 2011, Lamothe began documenting her experiences on a Tumblr blog called Teeny Pies. Thanks to her year on the road, "hopping from pie shop to pie shop," Lamothe was able to realize her dream. Today she sells her Teeny Pies at markets in Washington, D.C., and has shared her experiences and recipes in the newly published Teeny's Tour of Pie cookbook.

Teeny's Tour of Pie has a fun retro design, but don't let the 1950s look fool you. The recipes in this book are cutting edge, with gluten-free and whole wheat crusts and modern flavor combinations. Lamothe's chatty and personal style made me feel as if she were a friend recounting her adventures. I loved reading about the shops she visited, the people she met, and the techniques she learned.

The book is adorned with gorgeous photographs and cute line drawings. All the pies look so good, it's hard to decide what to bake first! Because Lamothe advocates fresh ingredients, the recipes are arranged by season, which makes it easy to find just the right pie for everyday eating or special occasions.

I especially appreciate the copious extras: storage information, tips, and troubleshooting. Whether you're experienced in the kitchen or new to pie baking, don't skip the introductory chapters, which explain techniques, equipment, and ingredients and give step-by-step directions for making a variety of crusts and toppings.

One of the fun treats in Teeny's Tour of Pie are Lamothe's directions for Teeny Pies: almost all the recipes can be converted to 5-inch cuties, which are perfect for one or two people. A variety of little pies would brighten a children's party, and they're the perfect size for a savory entree.

The recipes are straightforward, easy to follow, and use common ingredients. They range from traditional, like sweet potato pie, to unusual, like grapefruit and pomegranate. There are sweet, sweet pies, like shoofly, and hearty potpies, like pork and apple. I love Lamothe's flavor combinations, such as kale with chicken, beet with goat cheese, and strawberry with basil. If you're not that adventurous, no worries; take a look at her lemon meringue, Georgia peach, pumpkin, and French silk pies.

The first pie I'm going to make is the strawberry rhubarb pie, shown in the scan. Don't you just love the holey crust? Mr. BFR wants the bacon bourbon pecan pie, and we both want to try the breakfast pie with its hash brown crust. (Note: the photo was scanned from the the cookbook; all rights remain with the copyright holder.)

If you were to own only one pie book, you couldn't go wrong with this one. Whether you're drawn to standard pies or Teeny pies, whole wheat crust or graham cracker, fruit filling or savory, you'll find your slice of pie heaven in Teeny Lamothe's Teeny's Tour of Pie.

Instead of a recipe this week, I want to share Lamothe's advice on pies and friends:
How to Make Friends with Pie
  1. Make pie every day for one year.
  2. Move to a new city where you have no friends.
  3. Bake half a dozen pies
  4. Invite potential new friends over for a pie party.
  5. Eat pie and drink whiskey.
  6. Friends!
Published by Workman, 2014
ISBN-13: 9780761173366
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

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