Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kid Recommended

I read The Ghost's Grave because it was recommended to me by an elementary school kid at a baseball game. We were busily exchanging favorite books when I noticed this one because my son had enjoyed some other books by the author, Peg Kehret. So a few weeks after the game (the Mariners won, in case you were worried) I hunted up the book.

I liked the light imprint of the main character, who narrates the story. He's a good kid, who doesn't like having his plans upended but doesn't act out on innocent bystanders to show his frustration. He automatically offers to wash the dishes after his great-aunt cooks. He likes stray cats (Kehret likes cats -- I think they show up in a lot of her books). But it's easy to put yourself in his place because he doesn't let his personality dominate his story. The plot is a good mix of realism and wackiness and a bit of magic and danger. Being sent to a distant relative for summer vacation is something many kids could identify with; having that distant relation shoot bats in the house and talk to a peacock is believable but unlikely, and meeting a (friendly) ghost and a (not so friendly) bank robber moves the story into the thrill-seeking, not-in-my-backyard-but-it's-fun-to-imagine dimension.

I give the book a solid B, and recommend it for second-fifth graders. I might share-read it with the younger crowd, depending on how strong their reading was, but I can easily see reading a chapter out loud and then letting the kid read ahead.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Puff of Fragrant Air

I've enjoyed all of Melissa Marr's books about people interacting with faeries because they take the emotional ramifications seriously, the faeries are truly strange and powerful, and the writing is often exquisite. Much of that is true about this third book, Fragile Eternity. Aislinn, the new faerie Summer Queen, struggles to balance her role as the Summer King's co-ruler with her love for her long-time friend Seth. Keenan, the Summer King, desperately tries to preserve his kingdom with the new strength that a long-lost Queen brings them, but doesn't want to give up his love for the Winter Queen. And Seth, Aislinn's mortal lover, wants to trust her but is terrifyingly aware of his fragility as a mortal in a faerie court.

They all have blind spots they don't share with each other -- Aislinn can't see the danger Seth faces merely by being near her, Keenan refuses to see that ignoring his choices is another way of making them, Seth thinks that romantic love is the same for faeries and mortals and can't understand the complexities of Aislinn's new life. When Seth makes a unilateral decision that affects them all, the balance between the Faerie courts and the rules shifts alarmingly.

The images of the various faerie courts are lovely, dark or bright. There are no easy answers, nothing that makes everything happy-ever-after. It's a beautiful book to read, but Aislinn's passivity weakens the overall effect. She never seems to rise to her role as Queen, which admittedly would take a strong woman, but her lack makes the sacrifices the men around her continually offer less moving. A strong but flawed novel.

But then, I loved her second book, Ink Exchange, so much that anything less than perfect would disappoint.

Crime Fighting With Demons

Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland combines a police detective with a paranormal demon summoner. There are no vampires, although demon lords have the same kind of hot sexy moves that many recent vamps flaunt. Rowland maintains a light touch and a quick pace, making this an entertaining entry in the action-figure with extras genre. I'll be looking for the next book by Rowland, as it is clear she is hoping for a series.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Love and Safety

I'm pulling a book from my safety stack; I finished two books a few days ago and saved on for emergencies. Today I managed to get sunscreen in my eyes and spend the afternoon with my eyes sealed shut, which slowed down my reading a tad. Thankfully I can see again, so I'm back on the reading train. And I got my injury having a great time kayaking about on a real river, with real water and everything, so it was all worth it.

A Dangerous Deception, by J.M. Jeffries is a romance novel about a cop and her old lover, an insanely rich businessman whose evil mother tore true love apart. It uses a lot of stock tropes -- the child of the love affair kept secret from the guy (mostly the fault of the evil mother), the super attraction between the lovers that not even a decade of separation can dwindle, and the wise-cracking daughter with a heart of gold. But the writing moves along smoothly and the cop mystery is entertaining (if predictable).

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Witch Mountain

A few ages ago the kids and I went to see the new Witch Mountain movie. In anticipation we had watched the old movies, and I had given Alexander my copy of The Forgotten Door. But I've somehow lost my copies of the original books, and for some strange reason they haven't been reprinted with new covers. Humph. So I ordered Escape to Witch Mountain from the library and it finally appeared.

Tia and Tony were as good as I remembered, and I enjoyed recognizing the parts that my memory had overwritten with the movies. Alexander Key writes fun psychic kid books, which is a genre I almost always enjoy. I hope I can keep my library copy until the boys come home.

I just rechecked amazon, and in August the original book will be reprinted (with pictures of the new kids). So that's all right, then.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reading With My Eyes Shut

Debra Gwartney's memoir, Live Through This, tells with stark honesty the years Gwartney's two oldest daughters spent running away from home. After a fairly bitter divorce, Gwartney moved with her four daughters to Oregon, far from the girls' father. Amanda and Stephanie drifted into the local Goth scene, then the drug scene, and from there into spending nights away from home, and eventually into running away for months at a time. Gwartney watched helplessly, unable to reconnect with the girls, and struggling with mounting anger for the pain and anguish and fear they were putting her and their younger siblings through. At the same time, she documents how her anger with her ex-husband twisted their loyalties and possibly contributed to their alienation.

I read this book backward, because it pushed so many buttons of mine. I'd read a few chapters, then skip to the end to make sure the kids turned out all right. Then I'd back through their lives. I found myself angry with both the mom and the daughters for the hurt they were selfishly piling on each other. But the honesty of the writing kept me turning the pages. The mistakes were real, and the love was strong. And yes, they live through it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kid Talk

I've been pressing books on my sons for years, and lucky for me they've started to press back. Alexander recommended Go Long, by Tiki & Ronde Barber with Paul Mantell. Well, he also recommended the first book, Kickoff, but that had already gone back to his school library. The Barber brothers are real life football players, and this series is a semi-autobiographical tale of a junior high football team.

The plot is the season -- will the team make the playoffs without their favorite coach? Will the new quarterback learn to play for the team, not for himself? Will Tiki and Ronde stand up for themselves or be too afraid to speak up for what is right? The answers are just what you think they are, but the ride along the way is gentle and entertaining. I remember reading a slew of sports books along these lines (is Matt Christopher still around?), often for sports I had only the vaguest understanding of. Much like football today, I guess. As celebrity books go, this one isn't too bad, and I really enjoyed hearing the enthusiastic recommendation from my son.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fun and Repulsive

I read a book by the pool today while energetic kids splashed all around (and I huddled in a sweatshirt -- this is a strange land where people think it is hot when it is a chilly 25 degrees out there. Centigrade. And every time I laughed out loud, I'd look up and do a head count to make sure no one I had brought to the pool had drowned. Since I was reading a David Sedaris book, I figured this was a safe period of time. Naked is an older collection, from 1997, but I missed it; I was abroad for most of that year.

Sedaris ruthlessly displays his family (especially himself) in the harsh light of his cynical and naive autobiographical essays. He innocently and confidingly trusts that we can all laugh at the selfish and narcissistic viewpoint he brings to his life, and we do laugh because it reminds and reassures us of the echoing voice inside us. He sees himself clearly, skewering his memory of using his mother's fatal illness to win sympathy at work. "Here we could get the sympathy without enduring any of the symptoms. And we deserved sympathy, didn't we?" I laughed out loud while recognizing the real grief involved.

At the end of the book, I was glad to be in a world with books by Sedaris in it. And I was glad that the man in the essays (who probably is very different from the real David Sedaris -- these works are highly polished and aren't meant to be historically accurate) was not in my social circle. I prefer people a little better at hiding their naked self-interest. So this is my new genre, books with characters wonderful to read about but who would be horrid to meet in real life. I'd put Jeff Kinney's Wimpy Kid books in this category -- Greg is actually a really lousy friend and brother.

Tough Titles

Nick Hornby had what must be the best job in the universe -- writing a column about his reading life, the books he bought and the books he read. He didn't have to review them, just talk about whatever he wanted in the context of his reading. His joy in this assignment makes the essays comic and perceptive -- he cares about reading, takes it seriously, but doesn't take himself seriously. Reading them reminds me of why I love to read, although I don't write about it as elegantly or read as literary books as he does (and since he always jokes about how dim his reading is, I'm really glad that I'll never be near him in a book discussion).

Housekeeping Vs. the Dirt is the second collection of his Believer reviews, and it wasn't until I closed the book that I realized what the title referred to -- a real duh moment. Two book titles, and probably the two most dissimilar books in his reviews. Well done.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

They don't misunderstand each other!

Today's read was Marrying the Captain, by Carla Kelly. I'm on a bit of a Kelly kick lately, after being very impressed with her Daughter of Fortune, a story of Spanish settlers in New Mexico. This was more standard fare, a regency Romance of an inn keeper and a naval captain who fail in love when they meet. I didn't really buy their instant devotion, but if I grant that Cupid stuck them with his little arrows, then the rest of their relationship does make sense. There is also a pleasantly silly action plot with an EEEEEvil Bad Guy at the end, to let us down from the happy-ever-after gently.

However, the best part of this romance is that there is no misunderstanding -- they are both completely in agreement with the first big barrier to their love -- sailor's wives have a rough life. She never wanted to marry a sailor, and he never wanted to get married. Later on there are other problems, but they talk about them, which doesn't instantly resolve things but is a hugely refreshing change to the usual romance theme of running around having huge issues that a single sentence could resolve. So I'll continue to count myself a Carla Kelly fan.

Now I'll send this book back to the library, where I do get most of my books (and where I get the name of my blog -- more BOOK, BOOK, BOOKs for me!).

Finding Home

Today's book was The Journey Home, by Isabelle Holland, a standard children's historical book about two sisters sent west on the orphan train for adoption. I devoured this kind of book by the bushel as a child, and as an adult I entirely approve of this addiction. It's a painless way to absorb history, with the small risk of learning everything all wrong if the author's research or biases obscure the truth too much.

The interesting bit for me this time was the clash between the girls' Roman Catholic upbringing (shown by their devotion to the Virgin Mary ) and the Protestant community that they ended up in. It's fairly clear that the younger child will join her new family's church, but the older girl will not. I also liked the marital dynamics between the stern dad and the more sophisticated mother, with the bitter mother-in-law added for complication. Anti-Irish prejudice also seasoned the tale. The birth family was a traditional stock Irish group -- dead, drunk father and saintly dying mother. Maggie, the older daughter, considers herself responsible for her younger sister Annie, and gives up this status reluctantly and with some jealousy. A good balance between period setting and characterization, with little sense of modern sensibilities inserted into the sympathetic characters.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Kid Power

Andrew Clements tends to write books about competent kids who get over their heads in a situation complicated by adult assumptions, but then climb back out with a little support. The kids are honorable types who care about doing the right thing. I like the formula, and The Last Holiday Concert doesn't disappoint. Hart is a sixth grader who finds life fairly easy -- he's a great guy who is popular because he honestly cares about other people, but he's also a bit smug about his easy life. He finds himself in charge of the class holiday concert, and deals with various management problems. Adults reading this book will enjoy that, while kids should enjoy the idea of a teacher handing real responsibility off to a student, and then being astonished when the children do well with it.

Book a Day

My to-read book case has started overflowing. I am determined to fit all it on all the shelves, so I am going to try to read a book a day as long as possible. This is not as insane as it sounds, as many of the books are short kidlit types, so I should be able to polish off one of them and then push forward on several adult books as well. I'll just pile the books on my nightstand and call them out one by one before bed. If I get ahead by finishing two books, I shall cheat and leave one for the next day. I reserve the right to bend the rules in my favor at any time.

Today's book: Marco's Millions, by William Sleator, 2001. Despite the silly title, this is a fairly tight book about independent children making tough choices and being willing to pay the price. Sleator's books put their young protagonists at the center of the action -- Marco and his sisters are the ones affecting the universe while their parents natter ineffectively around the edges. My favorite part was the uniformly petty and low younger sister, born with an annoying cry and doomed to grow up to be a fat slob who smokes around babies. Who needs redeeming qualities? I'm going to give this to my son to read on his next trip, to show him that a few thousand miles isn't much of a journey.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Round-Up

This week has been a slow one for concentrated reading, since I strained my eyes and neglected my life during the Reading Challenge last weekend. I started a lot of books, but only finished two:

His Bundle of Love, by Patricia Davids (2006). This is an inspirational romance about a homeless woman who lists the fireman who rescues her as the father of her baby when she thinks she is dying. By the time she recovers, he loves the baby. It's a fluffy piece since the characters are forced to fall in love because of the genre, but it raised interesting questions for me about what it means to be a parent and what our responsibilities are -- does Mick have to step aside even when Caitlin is clearly making bad choices? Does Caitlin's poverty automatically make her a bad mother? The book doesn't answer the questions, instead letting plot jerks solve everything, but I still liked getting to think about them.

Fantasy Lover, by Sherrilyn Kenyon (2002). Grace is disillusioned with men, so her woo-woo friend gives her a book containing one guaranteed love-slave, good for a month. He's hot and he's obedient. He's also rather unhappy with his lot in life, which Grace realizes after a few hundred pages.  This is a very silly book, even for a romance. Even for a paranormal romance. The big bad guy is Priapus, which tells you a lot right there. The characters are all morons, who continually angst over doing something before doing the opposite, there is no real conflict, and there is a baby scene at the end. Even the sex isn't that great, although the scene where Grace puts her face in love-slave Julian's crotch (twice) to adjust the seating in her car is rather priceless. I only recommend it for people who love train-wreck books.

On the other hand, it wins Genre of the Week: Magical Love Slaves! So far the entries are Tiger Eye, by Marjorie Liu, and Fantasy Lover. Are there other books where one of the characters is forced to serve the other? These characters are magically bound together -- freedom is impossible unless they break the curse.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Finished the 48 Hour Challenge!

I just finished up MotherReader's 48 Hour Reading Challenge, and boy are my eyes tired.  My final stats:  

8:30 Friday night -- 8:30 Sunday night
Blog: 1 hr 30 minutes
Read Blogs & Comment (only a few comments, I'm shy): 1 hr 22 minutes
Read: 22 hrs 30 minutes

Total: 25 hours and 22 minutes.


I read 9 books and finished four that I've had bookmarks in for a while. I'll star the ones that were
only partially read.  I didn't track page counts at all.

* Stewards of the Flame, by Sylvia Engdahl, 2007. Medicine has taken body-worship to such extremes that it is illegal to die -- people are kept in stasis when their bodies fail. Psi-learning hero types rebel against this system with the help of Jesse, a space captain imprisoned on the planet because he may someday get ill. But there is too much talking for too little action; I remember Engdahl's earlier YA books as having a better balance.

* Firebirds Soaring, ed. Sharyn November. The 3rd collection of YA short SF short stories, with many names I cross the street to read (Jo Walton, Ellen Klages, Nancy Farmer, Sherwood Smith, louise Marley, etc.) I was impressed by Walton's fairy tale (Three Twilight Tales) and Nancy Farmer's "A Ticket to Ride." And the last story, "Something Worth Doing" by Elizabeth Wein was a good solid ending to a rich work. But I did at some point start wondering where the boys were -- they seemed rare on the ground, and easily outshadowed by the girls. But the girls mostly rock.

The Wedding Journey, Carla Kelly, 2002. Someone recommended this author but I can't remember where. It's a Signet Regency, so we know going in that the couple will end up Happily Ever After, but the journey is a pleasant one. Well, not for them, as they are trying to get across war-torn Spain ahead of Napolean armies, but we see them both learn about and from each other. The supporting characters are unlikely but amusing, and the sex is muted. B 

* Tithe: a Modern Faerie Tale, Holly Black, 2002. I've been stuck midway through this book for months now, and the challenge got me to pick it up and finish it. The depiction of faerie is brutal enough that I was afraid of what would happen, and some bad stuff did happen but the book is worth it. I'm not sure I buy the romance, but I liked the friendships. I'll probably try another Black book. B

Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon, Nancy Atherton, 2009. Latest installment in this tea cozy series, about a nice lady with a nice husband and nice kids who all live in a nice village. The nice lady talks to a nice dead Aunt Dimity. It's a good vacation from the real world; Atherton usually manages to make even the villains of the slight mystery sorta nice too. (Not always, there is always the occasional psychopath, but usually.) B

Impossible, Nancy Werlin. 2008. I think of Nancy Werlin as a science fiction writer, but here her characters have to struggle with a fantasy curse, yet still deal with the real world. So Lucy has the worries of a teen-age pregnancy while still coming to terms with the terrible curse that seems to be on her family. A.

Mystery of the Sassafras Chair, by Alexander Key. 1967. Timor tries to prove his friend is innocent of a robbery, but the friend can only communicate through the magical sassafras chair since he died running from the police. Timor's uncle disapproves of these magical going-ons and the real robbers disapprove of his investigation. B

Daughter of Fortune, Carla Kelly. 1985. A gripping story set in New Mexico in 1680 during an Indian uprising that threw the Spanish back. The main characters were terribly young (15-20) but never thought of themselves as children. Lots of atrocities, though; this is not a book for the squeamish. A-

* Red Sails to Capri, Ann Weil. 1952. This Newbery Honor book tells a slow story of life on Capri, concentrating mainly on the characters and having little plot. As an adult I think it rather condescending, both to the Italians and the kids reading it, but as a kid I bet I would have enjoyed it. C

Sword, Da Chen. 2008. The daughter of a murdered sword master tries to avenge him by killing the emperor, but fails and decides to have babies instead. I was confused by the switches between kung fu magic and adolescent storming, and I think it assumes a knowledge of a lot of tropes I can't supply. So I missed this one but I suspect that other people might get a lot more from it. C

The Kayla Chronicles, Sherri WInston. 2007. Kayla's overbearing friend talks her into trying out for the school drill team, yet refuses to be happy for her when she makes it. B

Wicked Gentlemen, Ginn Hale. 2007. Wow, very different from what I expected, but interesting. Vampires are real but oppressed, and the Inquisition is a police force willing to use them as convenient frames for inconvenient crimes. At yet it is a romance, because true love does triumph. B

Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson. 2000. Luckily I walked into this expecting everyone to die, so it was not nearly as depressing as it could have been. It felt grounded in it's time, and I appreciated the strict mom who gets lost fairly quickly so the protagonist can grow. B