Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two and Twenty Dark Tales

It's been a long time since I have blogged, but in that span of time, life certainly did not stop.  I've been working and reading, and cooking and caring for my family.  I have had stacks of books piled up for reviews; between Library Media Connection, SOYAMRG, NetGalley and Penguins First Reads Program, there never seems to be a time when I don't have obligatory reading to do.  Not that I am complaining...but maybe I am. I am finally reading a book right now that I want to read - Donald Ray Pollock's The Devil all The Time which has been on my to-read shelf for about 8 months.  I am excited to read this - it sounds dark and suspenseful and that's the way I like my books.  I just finished reading Philip Reeve's Predator City quartet - Mortal Engines, Predator's Gold, Infernal Devices and On a Darkling Plain.  These are fantastic books - new classics and I was absolutely weepy at the end of the series.  But, I spent a long time in that Steampunk world, and my brain was craving some new setting.

 Two and Twenty Dark Tales was a switch, but not the one I really wanted.  This is a NetGalley download published by Month9Books, and is marketed as a charity anthology of dark retellings of Mother Goose Rhymes.  I was most pleased with the publisher - this is their first release and they will donate the proceeds from the sale of the first 5,000 books to a charity they love.  In fact, this title is the first in a series of annual charity anthologies to be released.  It is refreshing to see this act of charity in a publishing world that seems to be dominated by greed for money.  I am not ignorant;  I know that money makes the publishing world go 'round, but Penguin's attitude about ebooks and libraries can be called nothing but selfish.  So, bravo, Month9Books and Georgia McBride on your debut.  I am looking forward to future publications.

The book is delivers just what it promises to in its title.  Mother Goose nursery rhymes serve as the inspiration for dark and fantastic short stories for young adult readers.  There are to be 22 tales in the final publication, but this ARC had only 21 total.  There were some extended versions of stories not included, as well as a poem.  Several of the stories stand out to me, while others left me as soon as I finished.  The first story in the book, "As Blue as the Sky and Just as Old" by Nina Berry was an excellent start to the anthology and was inspired by the nursery rhyme about Taffy the Welshman.  I'm a real sucker for Welsh words - there's just something about all those y's that is pure poetry to me.  But this story really captured the retelling or even the real telling of this nursery rhyme.  So many seemingly childish rhymes are in reality based on dark and grim events and folklore.  Berry's story of timeless search for three disguised objects and the evil forces that seek them is deliciously frightening with enough magic glimmering at the edges to keep it light. It was well-developed with just enough back story to make the plot interesting and characters believable.  On the other hand, "Pieces of Eight" by Shannon Delany and Max Scialdone was overly developed for a short story.  There was too much to accomplish - an entire quest- in one short story and I found myself overwhelmed and eventually uninterested in this retelling of the nursery rhyme Sleep, Baby, Sleep.  The authors might want to consider writing a novel based on this short story in order to include the full quest plot and  character development.

"Wee Willie Winkie" by Leigh Fallon and "Life in a Shoe" by Heidi R. Kling are two stories that should be developed into novels.  The setting of each story were unique and beg to be developed fully.  Voice was strong in each as well, and I found myself wanting to know more about the females narrators in these two dark tales.  Also satisfying were "The Wish" by Suzanne Young and "A Ribbon of Blue" by Michelle Zink. These two stories managed to catch me by surprise and deliver an element I wasn't expecting.

Overall, the book is entertaining and a treat for anyone who loves nursery rhymes.  This will be a great addition to school libraries and will be perfect for readers who like their stories short and sweet.  It is a solid first publication for Month9Books.



Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Summer Heat

We made it through the 4th of July blast - temperatures in the high 90's and low 100's here in the Midwest.  It was miserable.  I finally gave in and turned on my A/C.  I hate being shut in during the summer months.  I grew up in a big old house that had electric heat for the winter and some 20 year old fans for the summer.  One fan was made in the late 30's, probably.  I kid you not - heavy, wood encased dark metal blades.  In other words, I am used to temperature inconvenience.  My best childhood memories are of nights scorching hot where my sisters and I would sleep at the ends of our beds in order to be closer to the breeze from our box fan.  Inevitably, sometime in the night, the temperature would drop and I would crawl to the head of the bed, and pull a sheet over me to deter the chill.  Bliss.

Middle age brings the need for comfort, however.  Night times are the worst for sweating, I have found.  Air conditioning is the savior for those uncomfortable muggy evenings when not a breath of air is moving through the windows. Reading in bed is one of my favorite things to do, so a cool evening is appreciated.  My latest read came from Penguin First Reads.  City of Women by David R. Gillham is a WWII story set in Berlin in 1943.  All the men are gone - either burned up in ovens or fighting the battle against the Russians.  Sigfrid lives with her mother-in-law while her husband fights on the front.  She works in the patent office and appears to be an honorable German hausfrau  doing her part for the Motherland.  In truth, however, she is an adulteress who has had an affair with a Jew named Egon.  The beginning of the book centers on this relationship and with Sigfrid's self absorption as she deals with his recent disappearance.  Strewn with glimpses at Sigfrid's sad childhood and her lonely adult existence, the book allows readers to see the motives for the protagonist.  She is not a likeable character, but by the end of the book, she has added layers and matured to become a believable and complex woman who makes choices no longer based on her wants and needs.  Her involvement with the illegal hiding of Jews complicates her life in numerous ways, which leads to death, betrayal and finally redemption. 

This was an excellent book and I am glad that it was part of the Penguin First Reads program as it is not a book I would have committed to otherwise.  I no longer seek Holocaust literature, though it will certainly haunt me forever.  But this book was more than just a story of the underground railroad for Jews.  It was the story of a woman who like a slim wick dipped over and over in hot wax, developed into a candle with the possibility of light.  This will be a great discussion book, and one that will stay with me for a while.  Complex and sad, it is not a beach book, but it was a cool spot during the summer heat for me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

One Moment

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to meet author Kristina McBride at a Librarian's Luncheon at a local JVS.  She talked about her first book, The Tension of Opposites and about her inspiration for the book.  Her book sounded intriguing and the explanation of her process was so helpful, that I took notes and actually followed through on her advice.  I wrote about two chapters of that book I have always wanted to write before I lost focus yet again.  I haven't looked at it in about a year, but reading McBride's second book One Moment inspires me once again to work on that book.

When I met Kristina, it wasn't her presentation that intrigued me.  It was the discussion we had after the presentation.  My mother had just been diagnosed with dementia and I was somewhat overwhelmed that day.  I was talking to the host of the luncheon, an old friend, and Kristina became part of the dialogue.  I found her to be one of those people that I instantly click with, one who is easy to talk to, real in her approach and downright likeable.  We found each other on Facebook and have kept in touch over the last two years.  I have kept up with the writing of One Moment and have eagerly waited to read this book.  When it finally was available on Net Galley, I immediately downloaded it and read it in one day.  It is a great book, and one I think will establish Kristina as a well-known young adult writer. This is a book that teens will seek out for its subject and for its realistic take on adolescent emotions and concerns.  In other words, Kristina nailed it. 

The book is the story of a group of friends in a small town in Ohio (based on Yellow Springs) who face a great loss and must deal with the realities that arise as a result.  Beginning with action, One Moment never loses that initial pace.  Readers will not find rest until the final pages of the book when the resolution leads them just where they knew it should. There are no real twists in this book;  I could see what was coming all along.  However, Kristina's writing is strong enough to make me connect fully with the characters, especially Maggie.  Realistic dialogue and intuitive teenage actions combine to create a strong emotional tie for readers - even one who is 40 years old.  I imagine adolescents will identify even more with the feelings and thoughts of the characters as they encounter painful truths and realities that will shatter life as they knew it.  Overall, the books seems tautly composed and cleanly written.  It is Kristina's style that makes this book a winner, and I will highly recommend it to my friends and library patrons. 

As a reviewer, I have to conclude by saying this book is a necessity for YA libraries.  As a friend, I have to conclude by saying, "Bravo!"

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Books Are Our Friends

 I know I am not the only one who experiences something in life, and thinks, "Oh, this is just like when so and so in such and such book did this.."  Good books are not over when the last page has been read; good characters last despite the ending of a series.  I am often reminded of Nick Carraway watching that light and thinking of Gatsby's life...beating against the current.  Aren't we all in some way or another?  Good books are going to capture those moments that are ubiquitous and real.  I am often borne back into the past, even if it isn't the way to move on in life.  I just can't help it. 

Life is challenging right now, even more so than usual for me.  I have some tough realities to face, but face them I must.  I have lots of family and friends to get me through, and I am so very grateful for that.  I also have books, and I know I will bring them with me into any challenge.  I wonder how much I will think of Michelle Cooper's Montmaray Journals series when I think back to this period of time in my life.  It is very apropos, to be sure, for anyone who has grown and changed, loved and loss, looked back and looked forward.  Sophie's story is not unique in theme.  Despite a made-up country, her story is anyone's.   I love this series, and the characters have always felt more like friends to me than like fictional characters.  The Montmaray Journal, The Fitzosbornes in Exile, and The Fitzosbornes at War are books in a series that is overshadowed by showier, more dramatic series.  The writing, characterization and development in this series is far superior to that of many other series.  I hope the general public discovers them.

I have a happy memory of when my kids were little and we first moved into the house where we live now, but won't be for much longer.  The boys were 5 and three, and they ran across the yard to a fence that separated our property from the neighbor's.  I had been afraid that we would not like living so close to others, that this new house wouldn't suit our needs.  But as I watched them race across the grass and climb the white fence, my fears were put to rest.  I remember it along with the end of the final book about the Fitzosbornes, as Sophie remembers her sister Henry racing along the beach, her beloved dog at her side.  "That is just like when the boys ran to the fence,"  I thought.  Good books last like good memories. 

My NetGalley review is below.




Michelle Cooper's third and final installment in the Montmaray Journals series is a much more mature and sophisticated book than the previous two.  It is to be expected, however.  In The FitzOsbornes at War, Sophie, Veronica, Toby, Henry and Simon grow considerably since they were introduced to us in the first book, with years passing and wars brewing.  Not only have the Fitzosbornes aged, but they have faced grim realities:  the occupation of Montmaray by Nazis, the rationing of food and supplies, the bombing of London, and the entanglement in a war by all ages and genders.  Toby and Simon join the RAF, Henry becomes a WREN, Veronica works as a translator, and Sophie writes propaganda for the British Food office.  Even Aunt Charlotte does her part for the war effort, trying to outdo her rival Lady  Bosworth in monies collected for charities.  The books spans the five long years of WWII, and is again told in the form of Sophie's journal entries, letters and articles.  The naive Sophie has a much wiser voice in this final book, but she stays true to character, and is an excellent storyteller.  Readers will weep with the FitzOsbornes as they experience loss, and rejoice as they reach victory.  Cooper does not spare the family from the war; readers should be ready for a realistic look at how it changes people and places forever.  Each member of the royal family will be altered in some way while fighting the war and finding the way to return to the beloved island of Montmaray.  Cooper's final book in the series is a satisfying ending to a story full of characters who are more like friends, and a plot that will last in memory.   Readers who have faithfully followed this underappreciated series will remember Sophie, Veronica, and the others and think, "I wonder what she is doing now?''  Well-crafted, this final book is a victory for Cooper and a must-read for fans.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Debut

If someone says "free books," I instantly raise my hand.  It's a Pavlovian thing, probably.  Getting my hands on more books is a daily goal.  Of course, I have to read them, too.  That's where the problem begins, not because I don't want to, but because I do want to.  I also want to read the other 294 titles I currently have listed as To-read on Goodreads.  I want to do nothing but read, but there are these other obligations like children, work, cooking...When I got my weekly update from Early Word and it was looking for reviewers for the Penguin Debut Authors group, my hand shot up in the air.  "Pick me!  Pick me!"  I am that annoying kid in the class who always has to be heard.

Two weeks ago, I received the first book in the mail, The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman.  While Zimmerman has written other books, this is her first fiction.  It is historical, and is set in mid-seventeenth century New Amsterdam.  The book takes its title from an actual position in earlier time periods.  Orphan masters were in charge of caring for the orphans of a community.  New Amsterdam's orphans play a key part in this historical suspense book, and unfortunately for many of them, it is the supporting role of corpse.  Someone is killing orphans.  That someone uses the Native American folklore to confuse the community, and appears as a Witika.  Also know as the Wendigo, this Native American boogeyman haunts the wilderness and takes, rapes, kills and eats its prey.  A grown orphan, Blandine von Couvering, finds herself thrust into the mystery, not only to help the orphans, but eventually to clear herself of blame.  As more children disappear, familiar and beloved members of New Amsterdam become suspect, including Aet Visser, the orphan master and Blandine, whose independent, assertive nature makes her stand out even in the gender-tolerant Dutch community.  Aided by a British newcomer, Edward Drummond, Blandine discovers the truth is often more frightening than tales of the boogeyman.  United by love, the couple must face a serial killer who is haunted not only by loss and hunger and but also by a sense of entitlement.

The setting of this book is fascinating.   Historical fiction lovers will adore Zimmerman's writing style which brings life to a long-gone Dutch community in 17th century America.  Political upheaval is imminent for New Amsterdam, and Zimmerman deftly weaves a cast of characters whose actions and interactions create a beautiful and intricate plot tapestry.Characters who seem extraneous initially eventually become central to the plot, and each is cleverly developed and connected to the mystery at hand.  The plot may be somewhat formulaic - that was one problem for me.  I found myself checking off a mental checklist each time an event occurred that was predictable or expected.  Overall, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and  found it easy to pick up and hard to put down.  Zimmerman is an author I will seek in the future.  

Sometimes, raising your hand a lot pays off, as it did in this case.  This afternoon is the live chat that is part of the Penguin Debut Authors group, and I look forward to sharing thoughts with others who have read this fascinating book.  Can't wait to see what arrives next, but until then, I am reading Michelle Cooper's third installment of The Montmaray Journals, The FitzOsbornes at War,  a Net Galley ARC that I snagged immediately.  I also have seven books to read for SOYAMRG by the third week in May.  Oh, and I went to the public library this week and checked out three books that really look good, including a book of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates.  So many books, so little time.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Two for One

A long and snowless winter has become an early spring.  On the second of April, flowers are in full bloom and trees are green, a sight usually not seen until the middle of the month.  Temperatures have already hit the high 70's this year, and wintry pale legs emerge from shorts and summer skirts.

We are in our Spring Break now.  Eleven days free of schedules, alarm clocks and homework.  I left everything work related at work.  This week, I will concentrate on the tasks I want to concentrate on:  reading, gardening, parenting.

In the past two days, I have finished two books for review.  One was Unspoken:  Book One of the Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Brennan Rees.    The other was A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle.  The completion of this book fulfilled the responsibility of two reviews - Net Galley and SOYAMRG.  Two very different books.

The first in a new series, Unspoken is the story of Kami Glass, a British teen living in the village of Sorry-in-the Vale.    All her life, Kami has been different.  It is not just the matter of being half-Japanese that separates her from her peers.  Kami hears a voice inside her head, that of Jared, a very real boy that Kami has never met.  Despite the peculiarity of hearing the voice, Kami is quite close to Jared and can reach out to him in times of need or joy.  The two share thoughts and feelings.   Her parents are aware of the situation and Kami has one friend, Angela, who is too lazy to be bothered by Kami's real imaginary friend.  Trouble has come to Sorry-in-the-Vale.  The disappearance and ritualistic death of animals and the return of the Lynburns has stirred up the small village.  Secrets hide in the back of the once familiar shops, and the faces of neighbors are lined with worries and fears newly discovered.  The return of the aristocratic Lynburns, sisters Rosalind and Lillian, is perhaps the most disturbing event that has occurred in the past twenty years.  The beautiful blond women bring with them their families, including handsome sons Ash and Jared, and live in the cold, imposing manor house.  On an awkward elevator ride, Kami finds herself face-to-face with Jared.  In her mind, she hears her beloved Jared complain about the Asian girl he has encountered.  It is her reaction to this comment that reveals to Jared who Kami is, and thus begins their strained and unexpected real relationship.  Despite the difficulties of interacting as physical beings, Jared and Kami find themselves thrown into the mysteries of Sorry-in-the-Vale, the sleepy town that is not at all what it seems.  When a girl is found dead, the community turns its fearful eyes to the Lynburns and the strange power they seem to hold over them all.  Kami and Jared must overcome their own fears and doubts to stop the evil that has returned to the village, before it is too late.

Sarah Brennan Rees has written a suspenseful and moody first installment in the Lynburn Legacy series.  An abrupt ending will seduce readers back for answers and romantic fulfillment.  Sorry-in-the-Vale is a well-developed setting and despite the mysteries that surround it, really quite charming.  The strong sense of place is the best feature of the book:  Gothic, yet quaint all at the same time. It is the believable setting that makes the whirlwind plot easier to follow.  Within the first 20 pages of the book, Rees has thrown readers into a half-dozen realities that are all central to understanding both the rising action and the characters.  Readers may find themselves taking deep breaths and flipping back a few pages to fully understand the issues introduced at the beginning of the book.  A slower pace is not always a good thing, but I think the plot and characters of this book would benefit from just that.  After the hundred yard dash that is the beginning of the book, the pace does slow down.  Some of the best moments of the book are when Jared and Kami are alone exploring who each is in light of the others existence.  The climax and the resolution of the book work:  thus the surety that readers will be back for more.  There are few factors in the book that separate it from other YA paranormal romance, but if Rees focuses on the bond between the connected teens, she may be able make Lynburn Legacy series one a must read for teens and the young at heart.
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Doyle's A Greyhound of a Girl is a story for all generations, one that offers insight for the young and the old.  It is about four generations:  Mary, her mother Scarlett, her grandmother Emer and great-grandmother Tansey.  The journey the women take is one both metaphorical and physical, and with it, each gathers elusive memories as well as the realities of life. 

Mary's best friend has just moved away.  Forlorn, she walks home from school, only to be met by a lady in the front of her house.  Odd features which emerge as age, transform into an old-fashioned appearance, and Mary finds herself intrigued by the lady, Tansey, with her quaint way of talking and dated methods.  When she mentions the name to her mother, she is told that the name is that of her great-grandmother, a woman who died when her own ailing Granny was only three.  After several encounters, Mary introduces her mother to Tansey, and she confirms that she is indeed, a ghost who was unable to leave her daughter.  Realizing that Tansey and Emer must be reacquainted before it is too late,  Mary and Scarlett invite the ghost to visit the hospital.  Riding in a car is a new experience for the ghostly great-grandmother, and she savors every moment of the trip.  Sadly, ghosts are translucent, and the trio realize she cannot venture into the hospital where her appearance may cause more trouble than needed.  Instead, frail and worn Emer is bundled into a wheelchair and then into the car where the four generations travel to the family farm where Tansey died of the flu after she cared for the slippery, skinny greyhounds in the yard.  Emer's fear of the dogs is tied to the loss of her mother, who quickly puts to rest that fear.  In the empty, abandoned farmyard, the four generations look upon a life that was, and still is, despite the change of year and scenes.  Grand, indeed. 

Doyles' beautiful, lilting writing speaks to the reader as if the room is full of Irish lassies.  The style and structure of the dialogue carries the reader quickly from one line to the next, as if borne by windy, green meadows where greyhounds run.  Each character has her turn to talk and tell her story, and the essence of each generation is caught in simple memories.  The book is a quick read, and will engage readers from one chapter to the next, until there is no more to read.  However, the voices of the book remain, and will last well after the last page is read.  Doyles' story, then, is one of life and of what passes from one generation to the next.  A Greyhound of a Girl is a sweet story, one to be read and savored by any age.

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Moving on to The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman.  Review to follow!  Now for some April sunshine!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reaching Midnight

My mother has dementia.  It is all too easy to say she suffers from Alzheimer's disease, but I have learned that there is no way to diagnose Alzheimer's until after death when an autopsy reveals the pitted and shrunken brain of a true victim of the disease.  So, I say she has dementia.

It started slowly.   My father died four and a half years ago, and at first, my brother and sisters and I thought that she was grieving, suffering from depression.  Forgetfulness can be a sign of depression, as can changes in habits and interests.  My mother didn't read anymore.  She was a constant reader, the flint to my reading fire.  Now reading was hard and required focus, which she lacked.  She was moody and terse, quick to anger.  When friends called, she dismissed them.  Too tired, too much hassle, no, no, no.  And of course, she forgot.  First, she forgot that she had already told me who called and what they said.  Then she forgot she had appointments.  She forgot that she had just bought two bags  of groceries and went to the store again.  And again.  She bought three bags of groceries.  She still bought more.  Mom forgot how to have fun with her grandchildren.  They were afraid of her.  She forgot to take her medicine.  She forgot she already took her medicine.  She forgot what day it was.   Mom forgot my birthday. She forgot she had already given the granddaughters their Christmas gifts and yelled at them for snooping and prying. She forgot to be rational and use logic.  Why shouldn't she drive?  If she wrecked the car, she would die -so what?  But what about the other car that you crash into, Mom?  And what about the baby in the backseat...?

She knows who we are.  There has not been a moment yet that she has seen her loved ones and not known who we are.  I am so grateful for that.  I am frustrated by her lapses now, but I know that the worst is yet to come.  I ask her questions now, and I prod her for stories.  On Halloween, I pick her up to take her to my sister's house.  Her hair is wind-blown, and she wears an old coat.  The silver white hair is her greatest feature, and now it suffers from lack of affection.  My mother wore lipstick and slacks to the grocery.  Her wardrobe is haphazard and monotonous these days.   "Do you remember how you always brought us trick-or-treating?  Dad was always in the fields, so it was just you?  Do you remember?" I ask her in the car.  And maybe she remembers, and maybe not.  But she tells that story to everyone the rest of the night, including me.

"Ask Grandma about the blood pit in Murrayville," I urge my daughter.  She does, but Grandma doesn't know.  "Yes, you do, Mom," I say.  "It was behind the funeral home where your grandparents worked.  It was where all the blood went - remember, Mom?"  And she nods her head, and tells me about her grandparents and the legendary Murrayville, Illinois where she spent so much of her childhood.  Those moments are golden.  She still knows who we are and more importantly, who she was.  Watching her realize that she was someone else once is really the hardest part of this disease.

Memory is such a tenuous thing, really.  It floats around in the mind like cirrus clouds- those thin and insubstantial ones that can be gone in a minute.  When I read Terry Pratchett's final book in the Tiffany Aching series, I was awe struck by the profound and moving passages it contained about memory, especially since I knew that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  In an interview he recalled his favorite memory - the night his daughter was born.  His words are not unique or new.  It is the simplicity of what he says that captures the reader:
 "...the elation – I mean, nothing could’ve gone wrong that night.

“I think I’d hate to lose that memory.”

It is the feeling that accompany the memories that really make them worthwhile - whether it be elation or sorrow.  That is why we store memories despite their transparency.  When  I read I Shall Wear Midnight by Pratchett, I felt like the book was just for me.  The characters and their conflicts reflected my problems.  I felt known.  The memory I have of the book was a memory itself as the the village witch tends to the dying Baron.  The old man speaks:

"The hare runs into the fire.
The hare runs into the fire.
The fire, it takes her, she is not burned.
The fire, it loves her, she is not burned.
The hare runs into the fire.
The fire, it loves her, she is free....
It all comes back to me!  How could I ever forget it!  How did I dare to forget it?  I told 
myself I would remember it forever, but time goes on and the world fills up with things to 
remember, things to do, calls on your time calls on your memory.  And you
forget the things that were important, the real things."
And then, despite his nurse's dismay, the Baron tells Tiffany about the September day and the little boy in the tweed jacket and how his father sang.  The fields burned and the animals ran before it.  One hare looked at him - directly in the eyes- and then turned and jumped into the fire.  His father told him the hare song.  It was a day of elation for the child baron.  And it was the memory he took with him to his death soon after he shares it with Tiffany.

I am not quite sure who I held closest when Pratchett told me that story in I Shall Wear Midnight.  It might have been my dad who I had already lost, or my mother who I am still losing bit by bit.  I do know, however, that I ache where my heart is and a lump forms in my throat.  I do know that he is telling his own story as much as he is telling my story, or anyone else's for that matter.  For now, the world still turns and we find and forget, we create and we destroy.  But one thing is ephemeral.  Not memory - but those feelings that accompany them.  

We beg and beg and beg, and finally Mom says okay.  We gather around the kitchen table and she quickly reads to us from The Wizard of Oz.  Around us are the signs of cleaning and housework, but for now, she is ours.  I feel special and loved there at her knee.  The story comes off the page, and her precise and practiced voice brings us all to a different world, if just for a minute in time, if just for this one perfect moment.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Home Alone


It seems to be a trend in today's YA literature to include parents that just don't care. Take, for example, the two top-selling teen books on the market:  Twilight and The Hunger Games.  Bella had one parent who lived in a different state and showed up in emails or phone calls.  Her father was a bumbling, embarrassed man who managed to allow his only child to spend too much time with her possessive boyfriend while he fished and patrolled Forks.  Neither parent seemed to bother to keep track of what his/her moody, sullen teenage daughter was doing - whether sleeping with a vampire or riding motorcycles.  Katniss seemed to have one parent who was on top of the situation - her father - but he was dead.  That left Mom, who was terribly wounded by the loss of her husband and allowed her teen daughter to be the pillar of strength in the family.  In short, Katniss ran the show.  

  As a parent, there is no way I want my sons or daughter doing either of these things.  I am, perhaps, too overprotective.  When my sons were 11 and 10, I got mad at my sister because she let them walk down the street alone to get ice cream.  I still check the yard (3 acres) periodically to make sure the boys (now 15 and 14) have not been abducted and I am panicky if my 10 year old daughter wanders to a neighboring store in the mall without me.  The thought of them driving or riding in a car with another teen is downright alarming to me.  All of this may indicate that I need to cut the apron strings, but I can't help it.  I love them.

Teens want to read about teens who don't have overprotective parents, I suppose.  Twilight would not be quite the same if Charlie had checked Bella's bedroom just once and discovered her undead boyfriend freezing up the place. If Katniss had to take her mother with her, Peeta might have been less forward.  Scads of other teen novels fail to make parents accountable, but it's all part of the selling plan.  I guess I want some sexy romance too, and that's hard to manage if parents are hovering around. (It's also hard to accomplish with kids around.)  The book reviewed below, Starters by Lissa Price, gets rid of all parents.  Doesn't help the book much in my opinion, but I guess it's what teens want... 

Callie Woodland is a Starter, a person under the age of 20 who has survived the Spore War's deadly onslaught.  Unfortunately, Callie's parents and all other adults ages 20-60 did not survive the war, leaving hundreds of homeless orphans to fend for themselves.  The Enders are not much help.  Ranging from the age of 60 to 200, most of the silver-haired citizens are more concerned with themselves and wealth than with the starving children left by the deadly bio-agent released during the conflict.  Callie must find a way to take care of her younger brother Tyler, who is ill.  Prime Destination seems to be the only way she can earn money, even if it is illegal.  Specializing in making Enders young again, the agency promises Callie a hefty sum if she will allow her body to be rented by Enders who want to feel and look like a teen again.  Reluctantly, Callie agrees and falls into an unconcious state while various elderly people use her body to experience youth once again.  On the third time, however, something goes wrong.  What is supposed to be a month-long rental ends abruptly, and Callie finds herself living the life of a wealthy Ender named Helena who speaks to Callie inside her mind.  The voice warns her to stay away from Prime Destinations, and then leads Callie into a plot to expose the agency's owner, known only as the Old Man, and his dark vision for the future.  Along the way, Callie meets Blake, the attractive great-grandson of a senator involved in Prime Destination's plot.  She is instantly drawn to him, but is torn as she must choose between exposing the senator and making Blake trust her.  The  evil presence  of the Old Man threatens Callie, and her quest becomes more than just putting a stop to his plan.  Instead, Caliie must save her brother and reveal the identity of the Old Man before he ruins the lives of thousands of teens in a war-scarred society.
This post-apocalyptic tale is different than most others, and leaves a funtctioning society in place.  However, the disapperance of all parents leaves the plot wide open for teens to do as they please when they please.  Like many YA novels, Startersfeatures a main character who is driven by desperation, and has no adult resources to rely on or to guide her.  While many other YA books seem to make adults invisible or ignorant, Price's book eliminates them altogether.  The absence of adults is a plus for young readers who certainly have enough adult "guidance" in their own lives.  It is troubling, however, that many YA novels seem to avoid writing strong, helpful and postive adult characters altogether.
The book does parallel many other books of this genre, and will satisfy readers who are searching for another book like the popular Hunger Games series.  However, the parallels may be   too close for some readers' enjoyment, and they may find  themselves creating a mental list to be checked everytime a plot element occurs that is similar to the popular series:  both girls make a sacrifice to save a sibling, both girls have extreme makeovers, both girls find themselves torn between two romantic interests, both girls become the "face" of a movement, and both girls experience the loss of a younger child that haunts them.  At the end of the book, a twist may encourage readers to search for the second book. Some unanswered questions remain, as well, regarding the war and its aftermath.    However, many of the book's resolutions may cause readers to feel as if there is no real suspense to carry them over from the first book to the second.   
 Teen readers will enjoy the book, and those hungry for post-apocalyptic fiction will snag the title quickly.  Readers in grade 7-12 will find Starters appealing, as long as they aren't expecting any plots or characters that are fresh or new.  It is an optional purchase for school libraries.




Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Finally, satisfaction.

 I was pretty excited when the email came to let me know that I was approved for the NetGalley copy of The Wicked and the Just.  I had read the description on Goodreads, and it instantly appealed to me.  Not long after I added it to my to-read list, I got a friend request from the author, J. Coats.  All seemed pretty coincidental...

My review follows and I think you will find that this is the best I have read in a while.  My Goodread's review is after the NetGalley review.  Finally, satisfaction.


It has been quite a while since I have read historical fiction as good as The Wicked and the Just.  J. Anderson Coats has certainly done her research for this tale of Wales in  the 13th century.  Conquered by Britain, and ruled by a distant king, the people of Wales are little more than slaves to the British men King Henry has sent to manage his new land.  Cecily and her father arrive in Caernarvon, a newly built walled city in Wales, where he will serve as a burgess appointed by the king.  Cecily is less than happy to be in Wales, and longs for the day when she can return to to a home that no longer belongs to her or her father.  Spiteful and bitter, Cecily's anger finds an easy target: the incompetent servant Gwynhwyfar.  Gwinny is easy for Cecily to despise-  she is Welsh.  It is not long after her arrival, however, that Cecily begins to understand that there are not clear boundaries between the wicked and the just, or the British and the Welsh.  Told alternately in both the voices of Cecily and Gwynhwyfar, readers will find their sympathies changing as the characters reveal more of their pasts and learn more about each other.  While full of fascinating history about a lilttle known part of Great Britain's timeline, The Wicked and the Just is anything but dry.   It is, rather, an exploration of the human heart as it is molded, stomped and stabbed by the circumstances of human nature.  The story of two young women from different backgrounds is compelling and honest, and readers will read late into the night to find the resolution that must come for two who seem so different, yet are really much the same.  Coats' novel is a masterpiece for young adult readers, but will appeal to adults as well.  It is highly recommended. 

Goodreads

I loved this book for so many reasons. I loved the history of Wales and the masterful way that the hatred, mistrust, and misunderstanding of Brits and Welsh was portrayed through the eyes of two young women who were more alike than they knew. I loved the title. Who is sure of what is wicked and what is just? Within pages, my sympathies changed from one character to another. I loved that this was real, never subtle, always honest in what life brings. I loved the ending, and I love thinking about the new Caernarvon Cecily and Gwinny built. A must- read book for 2012, and a Printz contender in my mind.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Peculiars in a Peculiar February

Usually by this time in the school year, we are facing make-up days added because we have used too many calamity days for snow.  This year, we have had 0.  None.  Nada.  Zip.  Usually, in February I have had loads of time to read and I feel utterly immersed in books because I have had loads of snow days.  This year, I am moving slowly through books because I have to go to work.  Every day.  Even my weekends are devoted to my beloved teenaged sons' wrestling tournaments.  It has been, indeed, a peculiar February.

I did manage to read The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry pretty quickly.  I take my iPad to those wrestling tournaments and read.  I was excited by the description of this book on NetGalley because it was Steampunk.  I loves some Steampunk.  I was hoping for a 4, maybe even a 5 star book, but this one was just a three.  Below is the NetGalley review.

Maureen Doyle McQuerry's Steampunk, alternate history is the story of Lena Mattacascar, a girl who fits into the peculiar category.  Since birth, Lena has had elongated hands and feet.  Marked as "goblinism" by the doctor, Lena's deformity causes many problems, most in her own home.  As she struggles to hide her deformity, she must endure the cruel remarks of her grandmother.  Not only does the woman blame Lena's absent father, she also seems to find Lena at fault for  her odd appearance.  Finally, on Lena's 18th birthday, she receives an unexpected birthday:  a letter from the father she barely remembers and a deed to a mine in the Scree, a wild territory inhabited by Peculiars.  Lena boards a train and heads West, were her fates abides.  She arrives in Knob Knoster, the settlement on the boarder of scree, full of experts on the untamed land and the strange and feared inhabitants.  She meets both friend and foe in the Western town.  Jimson, a boy her age that she meets on the train, invites her to visit him at his new place of employment where he is to serve as a librarian.  When Lena takes him up on his offer, she finds herself at the home of Mr. Beasley, a man with knowledge of Scree and its inhabitants.  He is also an inventor, and was once a doctor.  Accepting his offer of employment in hope he will lead her through Scree, Lena discovers that Mr. Beasley has secrets.  Lena is determined to learn more about the man, and what he may know about her father.  With Jimson and Beasley along for the aerocopter ride, Lena sets off for the Scree and the truth about who she is and what she is.  Adventure awaits any who read this tale, and readers who enjoy Steampunk will find Beasley's inventions amusing.  The alternate history is not clearly defined in the book however.  It can be inferred that Scree is part of the "Wild West" but no real reference is made that directly implies that Lena lives and travels in a United States with a different past than one readily known.    A romance between Lena and Jimson blossom, but its development seems to lack spark and it ends up cute rather than sexy.  In addition, the ending may leave readers wondering as story lines seem largely unresolved or unexplained.  It would seem that a second book my be needed to truly give readers a trip into the untamed territory of Scree and to give them a better idea of what or who a Peculiar really is.  Despite these issues, McQuerry's book will engage readers and keep them up reading "just one more chapter."  It is suitable for readers in grades 7-12 and should be an optional purchase for school libraries.

I am now reading Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.  I have read the Eyre Affair, but none of the other books by this author.  I am enjoying it so far.  The biggest problem is that I have to work all day and I am really tired at night.  Last night, I fell asleep with the book on my chest.  I was jerked out of sleep by the son crashing into  my bedroom.  Dang work.  Dang winter with no snow.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Midwinter



Back on Net Galley because I just don't have enough books to read?  Hardly.  It's because I have a terrible book addiction, plus I just got an iPad.  I must say reading ebooks is much more pleasurable on on iPad than on an iPod. The review that follows is for The Green Man by Michael Bedard.  It will be published in April of 2012.  I was intrigued by the title and the fact that it is about a book store.


In her 15th summer, O makes the trip to California to her Aunt Emily who owns a book store called The Green Man.  Like any 15-year-old girl, O is not thrilled to spend her summer in a small town with an aunt who writes poetry and has heart problems.  However, O soon finds herself falling in love with the dusty book store and the aunt who persuades O to write poetry.  The Green Man is more than just a book store - it is a home for ghosts of poets, a host to Tuesday poetry readings and Emily's heart and soul. Declining customers are not the only problems for the second hand book store.  Something evil seeks out Emily and waits to collect the debt she made over 40 years before.  Unless O can help her aunt, the evil from her past could destroy her and The Green Man.  While The Green Man is a companion book to his novel A Darker Magic, it stands alone.  The story is engaging and the characters likeable despite the fact that both are underdeveloped.  The rising action is slow and numerous characters are introduced with little or no storyline after the initial scene.  Most neglected in Bedard's writing is, by far, the setting of The Green Man.  References are made to the ghosts who live in the store, but there seems to be no reaction from O or Emily.  An image is created of a crowded and warm environment, but the author fails to draw the reader into the setting with the limited references to the cluttered and haunted space.  Instead, I felt as if I were standing outside, looking in the dirty windows wondering what treasures could be on the shelves.  The book was enjoyable and a pleasant read, but was not as compelling or as complex as it could have been.