Friday, July 31, 2009

Sisters Forever

I admit that I approached Sienna Mercer's Fangtastic! with a chip on my shoulder, since careless labeling meant that I had read the sequel before starting this one. So I knew it would end with an tell-almost-all interview at the school newspaper. But the cheerful bubbles of Olivia the cheerleader and her goth (and vampiric) twin sister Ivy cheered me up, as they wrestled with meaty problems like school assignments and changing clothes without alienating boyfriend Brandon. Oh yes, and thwarting local news hound Serena Star, who has figured out Olivia's true secret. Cute and non-filling entertainment.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Certified Silly

Once Upon A More Enlightened Time is a collection of fairy tales told in a parody of "politically correct" speech, with changes to the ending to reflect these more egalitarian virtues. So "wommon" are liberated and not fixated on phallocentric dehumanizing modes of dress, and so on. Most of James Finn Garner's stories are predictable, but then so were their originals. It seems more a sympathetic poke at extremes of language and superficial fixes for real problems, not a real polemic against the scary ideas that racism is bad and women are people too. I smirked several times but never laughed out loud, so if you know me you can fit that against my humor meter.

Another very short book so that I can clear off the low-hanging fruit in my to-read bookcase. Ideally I will soon fit all the kidlit books stacking in front of that bookcase on its shelves.

Very Different Childhood

Johnny May Grows Up by Robbie Branscum has been living on my unread bookcase for years now. I don't even remember where I got it; probably a library sale or garage sale. It's the second book about Johnny May and I've never seen the earlier one.

Johnny May is a young girl (thirteen? fifteen? twelve?) in rural Arkansas who dropped out of school to take care of the farm that her Grandma and Grandpa are too old to handle on their own. This is a normal thing for a poor kid to do, so I guess that means that the book is set in the past. There are radios and pick-up trucks that Johnny May can drive to town, but no mention of television. These are the clues I have to figure out the setting -- when the heck does this book take place? The book was written in 1987, but didn't even Arkansas have education laws by then? She is very worried about losing her boyfriend Aron, who thinks they should stop kissing so much now that they are older, and she diets strenuously (and successfully) to get skinny to win him back. It was hard to really commit to the book because I never felt grounded in the setting. I don't know whether that is a fault of me or the book -- either I missed clues or the author didn't think it was important. The very different childhood of Johnny May was interesting, but I don't really feel I understand a new culture since I have no idea where in time it rests. I'm guessing the fifties, but I don't feel confident about it. I don't think I'll be recommending this to my kids, although the reading level is about at the fifth grade level.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Series Books Need Numbers

I meant to pick up the second book in Sienna Mercer's vampire-twin series, but instead I read the third -- Re-Vamped! As there were no numbers and they all all apparently written in the same year, I was going by the description in the back. This is the book where the girls tell their parents about their discovery. In my naivety, I thought that must come right after the book where the kids find each other. I mean, if my boys find their long-lost vampire twin brothers, I hope that they feel they can tell me. Like, maybe, before they tell the reporter for the school newspaper. Maybe. In case you were wondering, you should read Fangtastic, the one with where they tell the newspaper, before you read this one with the parental notification.

Anyway, after a few bumps for me to realize that the boyfriend and the school were in on the twin thing (but not the vampire thing) I got into the swing of the book. The reaction of Olivia's human parents to their new goth friend (I'm not sure what the technical term is for twin-sister-of-your-adopted-daughter) is funny, especially to me as a parent as I can see trying to adopt goth ways to make this girl feel at home, and I can see my kids crawling under the furniture in embarrassment as a result. Ivy's vampire dad is less enthusiastic, and when the other vampires figure out that Olivia is in on the big secret of their existence, there is blood to pay! Well, metaphorically. B- again, good for 3rd - 6th grade.

Now I have to go read the second and grump about the lack of numbers on a series book. I hate that! I mean, it's not like these books don't have series all over them, and things change in the books, so why make it so hard to read them in order? I should have looked online, instead of at books themselves. I could have asked my son; he knew the correct order, although he read #2 first, then 3, then 1. That's how we acquired them. There is a #4 floating around somewhere, so I hope a Scholastic order form in the fall gives us a chance at them.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Green Skateboards and Friends

Picklemania by Jerry Spinelli is a nice, non-issue book about four middle school friends. I think they meet in an earlier pickle book, which explains how they became friends, but by now they are just kids who hang together. They have small scale worries -- the eight grade bullies, Valentine's Day, the lack of snow for sledding. Spinelli writes believable and interesting characters, and in this book he does this without invoking any dire calamities that fuel so many kid books. A nice, calm read for upper elementary kids. B.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Telepaths and Quis

Catharine Asaro's The Ruby Dice continues the history of the Skolian and Eubian space empires. The Eubians are bad guys, slave traders who literally delight in torture, and the Skolians have resorted to harsh tactics to counter them. Meanwhile little Earth sits in the middle and makes coffee. The galactic empires are held together by the psychic powers of the Skolian ruling family, astonishing telepaths who can support an interstellar communication network. The family is torn by the twisting politics of their civilization, which contrasts with their intimate and loving family life.

The book is about power and how the leaders of a group may not really control the forces under their command. Both main characters, Kelric and Jaibriol, have awesome titles -- Jaibriol as Emperor, Kelric as Imperator, Yet despite their mutual hatred of war, they see no way to prevent endless bloodshed between their people.

The space opera setting is grand; unfortunately I don't find Asaro's characters at all realistic. They are clumsily and obviously drawn. But the pace of the story lets me enjoy the books, and I like following the history of the empires. C+.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Post-Apocalypse For Kids

It's a bit of a cheat to call H.M. Hoover's Orvis a post-apocalypse book, since it is so far after the crisis that the two kids in the books attend a posh boarding school. But there is still the wilds of the big Empty, where people not lucky enough to have access to the space colonies and Mars colonies and far distant stars tend to stagnate and turn strange.

H.M. Hoover often pairs her young protagonists with an older mentor; in this case it is ORVIS, an obsolete robot ordered to junk itself because the adults are afraid of its independent programming. The kids befriend it and decide to try to find it a new home; both Toby and Thaddeus know what it is like to never have a real home. The blend of self-reliant orphans with science fiction plots with robots and future societies is a winning combination; I haven't read a bad Hoover book yet and this is even better than average. B+.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Mysteries for Kids

Sammy Keyes is a middle school girl with a good brain and some good friends. And she solves mysteries. In Sammy Keyes and the Curse of Mustache Mary, she has to deal with peers at a wild New Year party, an old lady with a 200 pound pig for a pet, and a bunch of new acquantances who may or may not be up to no good. I like how Sammy is more concerned with her friends than with finding a mystery to solve -- her biggest crisis is worrying that her instincts about people may just be wrong; if she can't trust herself, who can she trust? I'm enjoying this series and I'll keep looking out for more. I like how Wendelin Van Draanen writes.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Beautiful and Cruel Stories

Susan Palwick's book of short stories, The Fate of Mice, was a delicious and sastifying meal of a book. Each story was complete. My favorite was the story about the psychopath "Sorrel's Heart" but each one was a delight. Jo Walton recommended this book on, and I'm very glad she did. A.

Words vs. Pictures of Words

Today I drove from Seattle to Salt Lake City, so I listened to a book instead of reading it myself. Safer for the other highway drivers, y'know. I shared the car with five other people, ranging in age from 74 to 6, so I tried to pick a book with broad appeal. I came up with the audio for The Green Glass Sea, a book by Ellen Klages and narrated by Julie Dretzin.

It was a good pick. The story covers a few years on The Hill, the Los Alamos base where the nuclear bomb was developed. Dewey and Suze, two pre-adolescent girls whose parents work on the project, meet and become friends. The kids like the developing relationship between the girls, from antagonism through respect to friendship and collaboration. The adults also enjoyed the history, as the girls encounter famous names such as Bethe, Teller, Feynman. It's a fascinating look at a very small town during a crucial moment of history, and Klages' beautifully evocative prose brings each day to vivid life. I'm not sure I liked Dretzin's reading; it felt like she was enjoying the language as she spoke it, which is understandable but distancing. When I read the book, the prose was transparent, but listening to it I felt pushed to notice the phrases, to see how each sense was evoked, to appreciate the tiny metaphors.

Tomorrow I'll officially ask the other listeners to rate the book, and maybe update with their responses. For me, I give the book an A and the reading a B-.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

That'll Learn Ya

The title of Bill Wallace's Snot Stew puns on the teasing game played by the owners of two kittens. "That's mine." "Is not!" "Is too!" Get it? Is not == snot. Heh heh heh. Sorry.

Anyway, the two kittens were adopted by the bickering children, and they try out this new game, which involves Toby, the more aggressive cat, claiming Kikki's dinner. Kikki soon tires of the game, because she is getting hungry, but Toby is enjoying the double meal. It's time he learned a Valueble Lesson. Sadly, the kids do not notice the improved behavior of the cats.

It's a cute story, nothing all that special. I'm not sure my kids ever bothered reading it; I think they just liked the title. I might see if my niece wants to try on our upcoming road trip. C+

My Son Defies Stereotypes

My son is reading these vampire books by Sienna Mercer. Pure middle school, and not unusual for a fifth grader (fourth when he read them), except that the books are about two twin girls. He's been getting them from the Scholastic order forms; the first one was a $1 special -- I'll order just about anything for a buck. But he liked it enough to get the others, so to celebrate his imminent return I picked up his copies and read them.

The first book, Switched, introduces Olivia, new girl in town and pretty in pink. She meets Ivy, one of the many Goth kids at school, and they soon notice that they look exactly alike, except Olivia is tanned and Ivy is translucent. Oh, and Ivy is a vampire. They compare notes to figure out they are twins separated in infancy. They play around with switching places, and find they can fool almost everyone -- even Ivy's best friend only figures things out when Olivia takes more than a few seconds to heal a scraped knee. The girls deal with planning a party, making a new boyfriend, and cheerleader tryouts while celebrating their new-found sisterhood.

Both kids are nice -- they stand up to bullies, apologize for rudeness, and try to respect their parents even when displaying the mandatory embarrassment of an teenager. I probably wouldn't have picked these up by myself, but I enjoyed them, especially with the delicious knowledge that my son approves. Take that, all you conventional knowledge about how boys won't read books about girls! B-; appropriate for elementary through young middle school.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Real Kids, Strange Power

Zilpha Keatley Snyder is very good at writing authentic children, even when she gifts those children with psychic abilities. In The Magic Nation Thing, Abby O'Malley is a smart girl with a craving for order who loves her mom even when that mother disappoints her. The mom, Dorcas, doesn't have that desire for order -- she enjoys running her private detective agency and making her own way in the world.

Abby has a rich friend, Paige, with two younger and obnoxious brothers. Abby also has her Magic Nation, an ability inherited from her grandmother, which lets her sometimes sense things about other people by holding their possessions. Any of these details could go off into afternoon-movie territory, but instead Snyder keeps the story close to Abby's center. Abby doesn't go off and start solving dangerous mysteries with her eleven year old assistant. She doesn't violently repudiate her unwanted abilities and suffer a great tragedy. She doesn't suddenly learn a great truth that helps her re-evaluate the world. Instead, she has small adventures, some involving her powers and some not, learns small things about herself and her friends, and watches the people around her do the same. I'm going to try to book on my fifth & third graders to see what they think; this in an author I'd like to share. A-.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Alternate History

Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt covers half a millennia of history, a history changed by the death of almost every white person when the plague mutated to an even more lethal version. Islam, China and India carve up the world between themselves, with a little interference from the united league of American Indians. Our viewpoint onto this history is a band of reincarnated spirits, identified by the first letter of their names, who are reborn near each other time after time.

The first few hundred pages are fascinating, as different sections introduce new versions of our heroes, and the reader learns to look for the returning souls while figuring out where and when the story has shifted. The book starts with Bold fleeing the plague and falling into the hands of Chinese slave traders. He meets Kyu, another slave whose intensity is fueled by the torture inflicted upon him. They are bought by I-Li, a restaurant owner with a busy intelligence, but the slaves soon move on. Future stories show people settling the empty lands of Europe, a Chinese fleet accidentally exploring the west coast of North America, scientists exploring optics and ballistics with the genius of a Leonardo, and so on. Different sections are in very different styles, and the characters are recognizably similar but still distinct in each incarnation. Short passages between lives serve to tie it all together, but I found those scenes increasingly repetitive. The final two sections were a disappointment; instead of action Robinson literally presents lectures -- the characters are academics who spend a lot of time listening to cafe talks. But the first few hundred years were captivating. B-.

Balloon Power!

The Sky Village, the first Kaimira book by Nigel and Monk Ashland, alternates between the story of Mei and Rom, two teenagers trying to salvage their families in an interestingly post-apocalyptic world. Mei's mom has been captured by Meks, autonomous robots that have gone wild and roam the Earth destroying things. Her father sends her to the Sky People, a tribe who live in balloons high above the land. Rom tries to keep himself and his younger sister safe in a destroyed Las Vegas, a task made harder by the Beasts, enlarged and more dangerous wild animals that also roam about destroying people. The Meks and Beasts fight each other and kill any people they encounter.

Rom and Mei have as allies a strange book, a family heirloom that allows them to communicate with each other and with the entity inside the book. As the wrestle with the monsters and challenges threatening their lives and their families, they draw on each other and on the mysterious power in the book. They apparently have a genetic trait that lets them access this power, but they don't understand what it really is or what they can do with this power.

The book does a good job showing two kids struggling with powers beyond their control. Both Rom and Mei are trying to do the right thing, but the safety of their families looms much larger than figuring out the mechanics of the strange powers they start to access. Their perspective remains believably short. At some times the switches between their viewpoints pushed me out of the story, and as an adult I find the slick marketing a bit pushy, but I liked the complex struggles and the dual enemy -- what are Meks, what are Beasts, which are more dangerous? I'll see if my fifth grader wants to try the book. B.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What? Me Compulsive?

Last April I read Kate Ross's Julian Kestrel mysteries. I liked the first, enjoyed the second even more, and galloped through the third and fourth. Unfortunately, there are no more -- Ross died at a very young age. Except there was one more short story, and so I asked my library to get Crime Through Time for me. This anthology has mystery stories from many different authors, from the first story set in ancient Egypt to the last story set in roughly modern times. I read the Julian Kestrel story, then let the book lie around until I realized it was almost due (our library gives you twelve weeks) and then plowed through the rest.

The problem with short stories is that any mystery has to be fairly gimmicky -- there's no time for character-driven plots. So the best of the stories are a puzzle locking together, and the worst a feeling that most of the pieces came glued together. It doesn't help that I have a prejudice against using famous characters in a story, which many of these do -- Tutankhamen, Prince Albert, Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, Caruso, and maybe a few others. On the other hand, the structure of the book, with the time line moving forwards, gives the book an overall arc that lifts up the energy level of all the stories. Most of them were fun to read, even if I felt snooty about the name-checking. It's a good vacation book -- a feeling of progress without having to remember an intricate plot. B-.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I'm Not Ready For Recovery

So, sometimes I read too much. I get nervous if I leave the house without a book. I don't like to sit quietly by myself when I could be reading. I probably couldn't finish reading the books I own before I die, and I keep buying more while frequenting several libraries. I have a hobby of collecting book lists, and then lovingly crossing out any books from the lists I complete.

So, when I saw the book Breaking Everyday Additions: Finding Freedom from the Things That Trip Us Up, by Dr. David Hawkins, I decided to see if there was any good advice for me. It addressed both chemical addictions (alcohol and illegal drugs), social additions (gambling, pornography, binge eating), and secret addictions (over working, computer networking). So my reading addiction sorta fit under the secret type of addictions. Hawkins discusses how to know you have a problem and the importance of getting support in recovery. He writes from a Christian perspective, and leans on the power of religion to help people.  Unfortunately, if I picture a life for me after recovery, it seems horrible and empty, so I think I'll stick with my addiction. I guess I haven't bottomed out yet.

It terms of the book, he tries to make the case that the mind processes bad habit addictions (pornography, over-working) with dopamine and other natural chemicals so that there is still a dependency. But I'm not completely convinced (self-servingly) that bad habits are in the same class as drugs, or that avoiding social interactions by reading is quite as destructive as losing my life savings gambling. I think it would be helpful for Christian people with a problem that was affecting their lives, but it isn't really a book addressing bad habits, which I guess is what I was looking for.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Good Kiddie Lit

My older son won our family March Madness Tournament, and around May we awarded prizes. Since my sister did particularly poorly and she was in charge of calculating the winner, there was apparently no hurry. Prizes are B&N gift cards, and Alexander picked up the first two books in Sarah Prineas's Magic Thief series. The second one still in hardback, no less. I still can't believe I didn't win -- I picked the final match! And the winner! But not much else, apparently...

Anyway, I have finally finished sulking and so I read the second book in the series, and I liked it even more. Conn in The Magic Thief: Lost is still supremely self-confident, but he isn't always right. His mistakes have terrible repercussions, and while he keeps his solid sense of self he also wrestles with guilt and loneliness as he wonders if he has alienated the people who matter to him. His enemy spends a lot of time several steps ahead of him, and while he begins to earn the respect of some of his former foes, it is a long and slow process. I'm looking forward to the next entry in the series. I recommend this book to solid readers 3-8th grade. Grade A.

And hey, the title reminds me that Megan Whalan Turner's Thief series will also have another book soon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sesquipedalian Conversations

Tendencies, a book of essays by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, looks at the use of gender politics in critical analysis in modern America. It raises some interesting points about the assumptions made by almost all authors and readers, assumptions about the sexuality of the reader (the straight male reader, in most cases). But so often the languages pumps itself up to silly heights, desperately seeking one more goofy synonym to round out a list. I love reading essays with complex thoughts, essays where you have to pay attention to follow the ideas, but these often seemed purposefully opaque, like the point of the essay was to say nothing but say it stridently. And it didn't help that I haven't read many of the works directly addressed (now I'm talking like her!), such as The Wings of the Dove, or the movie Pink Flamingos. The final piece, "White Glasses," was a more personal homage to a friend, and I found it much more powerful.

Anyway, it was a disappointment to me. I had heard the author recommended by someone I trust, but I couldn't get the titles they mentioned -- Between Men and Epistemology of the Closet. Maybe these essays aren't a good showcase. C-.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bad Picture, Good Book

Sherwood Smith only lives part-time on Earth. She spends the rest of her life in the world she has been imagining since her childhood, a world with complex nations and continents and cultures, and one which she brings back to us through her books, which range over hundreds of years and thousands of miles across her globe.

Stranger to Command links two series, the Crown Duel books and the Inda books. Set among the Marlovan cadets (like the first Inda book, although several generations or more apart), Vidanric from Crown Duel learns to fight and to lead. He's a stranger among the other cadets, the only foreigner allowed in the academy, and he finds the modes of command difficult to accept ethically. I liked how the young kids struggled both with loneliness, tough physical challenges, and ethical dilemmas. Sherwood has a habit of writing children and youths who with insanely high potentials and the drive to achieve their goals. I like books like that, so I don't mind the high quotient of uber-kids.

I was hesitant to link to the cover, which I regard as one of the ugliest pictures in the library, but I thought I'd better warn people. The boy in the text is much more sympathetic than the Legolas wanna-be on the cover. B+.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

It Wasn't My Fault

So, next month the book club is experimenting a bit, reading two books. One of them is Micah, by Laurell K Hamilton. This is actually a fairly good introduction to the Anita Blake series, as it a short novella that demonstrates some action scenes, sex scenes, and relationship scenes in the style that make this series so, um, special.

The action scene is in the cemetery where she raises a deceased witness for the FBI. Anita is one of the best animators in the country, although she consistently leaves her common sense in the car. So we get to see her filling with power and not bothering to see if anything is going on or different from usual, until the zombies go crazy and the bullets start flying.

I also like her constant complaints that no one takes her seriously as a female officer, but she never figures out that maybe if she wore a skirt that came somewhere close to her knee people wouldn't constantly assume that she sleeps around on the job. And, uh, if your lipstick can smear all over your face and your sweetie's, maybe you applied it just a leeeetle on the heavy side. You know, for working with the FBI and all. Relationship angst here involves a hilarious discussion of the stereotypes men with large endowments (and I'm not talking trust funds here) must grapple with, before moving directly into the bedroom. If you find yourself throwing this book across the room in stunned disgust multiple times, than you are not ready for the full-sized versions, which feature much more complicated sex and extended action and relationship trauma.

I have no idea how to rate this, as I do not read them as books, more as ironic textual art.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Seattle Vampires

Harper Blaine likes working for herself, enjoys playing with her ferret, and relishes meeting handsome, interesting men. As a private detective, she spends most of her time checking records, hanging out in the right places to spot run-aways, and occasionally meeting the target who takes things a bit too seriously. A violent encounter with a small-time fraud who escalated to big-time assault brings her to the brink of death, so close to dying that afterward she finds herself accessing the Grey, the supernatural side of life, which unfortunately makes the ratio of dangerous encounters to dull ones far more readable and far less comfortable.

This is a gritty but not dark urban fantasy book, with vampires that are mean and dangerous, although the new ones haven't learned that trick yet. Ghosts and witches have powers for good or evil, and handy maverick jack-of-all-trades Quinton knows a suspicious amount of this stuff. Convention decrees that he's a were-wolf, although he hasn't admitted it yet.

I liked Harper -- she has a lot of common sense and stubbornness that helps her deal with the strange things happening. I like how her relationships with normal people are affected by her changed state. I enjoyed Kat Richardson's _Greywalker_, and I'll be looking for the next in the series soon. A-.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Book Clubs!

Book club is tomorrow, so today I read the book. Pro-active, that's me! This month we are reading a mystery novel, and we deliberately picked a middle book in a series (I think maybe one member has read the series). This is something I like to do -- start any series in the middle, especially an open-ended one. I figure if I'm going to commit to reading a zillion words by an author, I want to make sure she can write well enough to interest me even if I don't know the zillion details that went before. If I like the series, I'll go around and read it all, and probably eventually do a series re-read in order, but I want it to be good enough to start anywhere.

I think I have many unusual reading habits.

Anyway, this book was _The Penguin Who Knew Too Much_, one of Danna Andrew's Meg Langslow books. There was a mystery, or at least a dead body, and Meg does sorta want to find out what happened, but she's more interested in her new house, her fiance, and the influx of animals her father has invited to shelter at her house while the local zoo has some unexpected set-backs. There were zany neighbors and family members, annoying yappy dogs, spitting llamas, and smelly penguins in the basement. I didn't guess who the murderer was, but I didn't really care, because the story was all about the crazy family and the huge party going on in between the animals and the ditch-digging and the murders.

I give it a B+ because it was a lot of fun, and that was going without the net of any associations with previous book. For #8 in a series, that's good work.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Wouldn't Want Her Dating My Brother

Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch tells the story of Sarah, a Southern girl who learns but tries to reject the code of the Camelias. She escapes to New York, where she chases pleasure and misses happiness, occasionally returning home to reassure herself that she is always better off away from her origins.

One reason Sarah rejects the code of the south is that she fails in the basic requirement of women -- landing a husband. Yet watching her stumble through bad relationships and quick affairs I realized that if she were dating my brother I'd light candles in the hope that she would go away. When the final chapter gives her a brief look at a possible mate, I found myself urging him to run far and fast, because I don't believe having a baby can instantly cure selfishness. Crouch's writing is limpid and luscious, lending the air of the south to the rhythms of Sarah's life. I prefer books where I can root for the protagonist, but Crouch gives us a clear picture of a deeply flawed woman.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

More Small Humor

I was hoping Eats, Shites & Leaves: Crap English and How to Use It would be an entertaining response to the original, with essays about how to break the rules for effect. Instead it is a compendium of hard to spell words, poorly worded advertisements, silly politician misspeakings, and other short jokes about the English language. As a bathroom book of short humorous pieces I give it a B+, but as a parody of the panda book only a C-.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Very Short

You Can't Be Too Careful, a book by David Pryce-Jones, is a standard bathroom book of paragraphs about strange events, usually fatal. The gimmick is supposed to be that you never know what could happen: a viper may fall from the sky and bite you to death any second now. However, many of the strange deaths actually are quite predictable (the guard who died showing his friends how Russian roulette works), so it's really a collection of news items that Pryce-Jones found odd or humorous.

Anyway, not worth chasing, but useful for those short reading moments that come intermittently during the day...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Amazing Forgiveness

I heard a few minutes of a radio interview with the authors of this book, which made me immediately request it from my library. Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo alternates between the story of Thompson-Cannino's rape and her testimony against the man she identified as her rapist and Cotton's fight to prove his innocence in the face of her convincing eye-witness testimony. When DNA testing finally frees Cotton after eleven years of prison, he has to start his life all over again. She eventually comes to apologize to him, and when they keep meeting at various events demonstrating the risks of eye-witness testimony they become friends.

Erin Torneo has helped them writing a gripping story, that covers both the horror and devastation of the crime -- Thompson-Cannino's life is wrenched askew by the trauma, and many of her relationships never recover -- and the parallel tragedy of Cotton's repeated trials and convictions for a crime he abhorred. The final sections after his release show him rebuilding his life, her secure family first rocked by the revelation of her mistake, and then their friendship after she brings herself to meet him to apologize for her mistake. The final chapters also address how mistakes in identity can happen, but the focus of the book is on the people involved.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Who Let the Dogs Out?

Tamora Pierce's books are full of hard-working, honest heroes who care about what is right and have adventures making sure that bad guys don't win. Oh, they also have magic and talking animals and nobles and kings and STUFF. The main characters usually can do magic, and often get special pets that help them out in special ways.

If this sounds like fun (if you are either a child or willing to read with a child's eagerness and lack of cynicism) then grab any of her books you can find. Her latest, Bloodhound, has all the usual ingredients -- Beka has been working as a cop (a Dog) in a fantasy city. She trains hard, but also has the help of her powerful friend, a star disguised as a cat, as well as spooky eyes and a close friendship with the Rogue, the head of the underworld in the city. When counterfeit coins begin turning up in the city, she joins in the investigation, following it to new cities with new dangers and new friends. Pierce likes to push boundaries a bit; gay characters are an unremarked part of the background in many of her YA titles, and in this book she includes a transgendered minor character.

Recommended for middle school and up. I give this book a B+.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Fast Review

I've been wanting to read a "grown-up" book, but my self-imposed goal of a book a day pushes me towards easier fare. So Adam Haslett's
You Are Not a Stranger Here worked perfectly -- the short story form let me plug along for a few days without losing any energy.

Each story acts as a single hard gem, usually flawed. Many of the themes revolve around failures of love, usually between men but sometimes within a family. Grief and loss tint the perceptions of the characters, narrowly focusing their attention on their lives so that we see each tiny detail as well. A beautiful collection. B+

Thursday, July 2, 2009


Barbara Metzger writes romances, mostly Regency (or Historical Regencies). At her best she is witty and sweet, with a may pole of couples and intertwining phrases that amuse while telling an amiable story of true love, often with cute animals. At her worst, the puns and word play lie soggily between the enforced antics of her lurching, wooden characters.

I'd say Hourglass was her worst. But she has written many better, so I'll still try her next book.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

G Rated Mages and Thieves

Sarah Prineas's The Magic Thief echos Sara Monette's Labyrinth books in having a thief befriend a magician. Luckily there aren't many other similarities, because Monette's books are not exactly elementary school fare, and Prineas's books came recommended by my fifth grade son. I have not responded by handing him Melusine, though. I recommend Monette to the rest of you, though.

In The Magic Thief, Conn meets a wizard by picking his pocket without dying. Intrigued, the mage brings him home, even though the mage's burly minion thinks he's bad news (wow, this reminds me of Monette again!). Conn is determined to be a wizard; he feels an affinity for magic that baffles the older magicians around him.

The story moves along, showing off the other wizard's apprentices, the political maneuvers between the Duchess, the wizards, and the sinister Underlord, who has some kind of connection with Conn. His past continues to haunt him; it's hard to trust a boy who has been a thief all his life, and it's hard for that boy to trust others. I guess Conn is a little too good to be true, but I like that in a story. I give this book an A-, and recommend it to kids around fourth grade (3rd through seventh?). I'll be grabbing the sequel in a week or so.