Saturday, June 27, 2009

Just Listen (2006)

Shades of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, this drama by Sarah Dessen gives us a heroine who also was a rape victim and keeps it in and suffers the barbs and shuns of her classmates. She does this for several reasons, one of which is maintaining her image for her career as a model.

Annabel has two sisters who are models. Kirsten is working and attending college in New York. Whitney also works in New York and lives with her but comes home when her eating disorder becomes too much for Kirsten. This family problem is another reason Annabel keeps her rape to herself.

"Sophie was still standing in front of me. It was quiet all around us. I knew I could have broken the silence, could have spoken up. It was only my word against his, and now hers. But I didn't."

It wasn't until the rapist acted again, against one of Annabel's ex-friends, that a pattern emerges and a champion steps forward to prosecute him and gives Annabel a chance to voice her secret.

"[Emily's] voice was barely a hush as she said, 'I know you've heard what happened. What Will did to me."

"I could feel it, a visceral reaction to what had just happened, her coming closer than anyone to the truth. My truth. And just like that, I could feel something rising up inside me. I looked around, wondering where on earth I could get sick quietly and discreetly. But then something else happened: I started to cry."

Of all the people who could have reached and helped Annabel, salvation came from Owen, a boy deeply interested in music and a veteran of an Anger Management program. Using techniques he learned in the program, he leads her to a point where she can finally share what happened to her in a venue that did her the most good and the rapist the worst; his trial.

Sarah Dessen is my daughter's favorite author and she recommended this book as the one I should read. One of the aspects of this book that I appreciated was that Annabel is a beautiful, popular girl which shows readers that rape can happen to anyone. The fear, shame, and loss of self-respect can be devastating and should never be suffered alone. This book shows girls that if they find themselves in a position similar to Annabel's, they should find someone to talk to.

This is a fast-reading book that all girls should read.

My rating for this book: ++++

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dog On It (2009)

I read once that a dog appearing on the cover of a book means the dog dies by the end but I didn't think of that when I bought this book by Spencer Quinn and luckily that maxim didn't hold true this time! Chet tells the story of how he and his master, Bernie Little, solved the case of a missing teen-aged girl named Madison. Luckily Chet understands a lot of human words and can relate their conversations to the reader. We also learn a lot about his world through smells and sounds.

We learn that his favorite things are steaks, riding in cars, and Bernie, who adopted Chet when he failed to get his K-9 certification.

"'What's with you right now?'
Nothing, nothing was with me: stoned out of my mind, that was all. I got my tongue back in my mouth; it was all dried up from the wind, felt more like one of those towels I sometimes found on the laundry-room floor. I liked burying those towels out in the backyard near the big rock, but burying towels was never easy. The chew strips - that was another matter, easy to bury and - Whoa! At that moment I had a very faint memory of burying one that I hadn't dug up yet, near the orange tree by old man Heydrich's fence. Maybe it was still there! I was gazing up at the moon and making plans when we turned in to a driveway and came to a stop behind Cynthia Chambliss's car."

Chet is an amazing dog, quick to respond to Bernie's commands and independent enough to end up in all sorts of predicaments, like time spent in a dog pound. That was a close one! Like most dogs, he doesn't have the best memory except when it comes to scents and can be easily distracted by things to eat or chase.

I give this book a hearty recommendation to people who love dogs and mysteries, two of my favorite things! And no, Chet doesn't die because Mr. Quinn is writing more books! I can't wait!

My rating for this book: +++++

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What I Saw and How I Lied (2008)

When I was a teenager I had a crush on an adult family friend. I thought he was dashing even though I knew he drank entirely too much (he eventually died of liver failure). In Judy Blundell's National Book Award winner, Evie develops a crush on a man who may be having a relationship with her mother. He dies at sea during a hurricane and her parents are suspected of causing his death.

This book takes place mostly in Palm Beach, Florida shortly after the end of World War II. Her stepfather, Joe, takes her mother, Beverly, and Evie by car to Florida for a break. Evie is a prime witness to many adult events such as fights between her parents and between her mother and stepfather's mother, Glad. She is also aware of feelings of antisemitism around her even though one of the major reasons for the war, she thought, was to save the Jews. So why does everyone hate them now?

On the verge of becoming an adult, she tries to participate in the games she sees played around her. She dresses up in her mother's glamorous dresses and wears her makeup and perfume. She flirts with Peter, another guest at the hotel they stay at and he responds by taking her and her mother out for drives to stores and movie theaters. But why did her mother always have to come?

There is a movie genre called "noir", French for "black", where detectives track down murderers and adulterers. There are always dark shadows and the actors use low, deep voices. This book reminded me of these movies. It was dark (even though it took place in Florida) and it seemed the camera angle was always aimed up at the adults as if Evie were shooting the movie and the adults were talking over her head.

I'm not sure who might read this book (notice I didn't say enjoy). I read it because it was an award winner and I almost had to push through it. It's a precautionary story about jumping into grown-up business too early so I would recommend it to readers who appreciate books with serious topics and a maybe not-so-happy ending.

My rating for this book: +++

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rose (1996)

Martin Cruz Smith writes fabulous mystery novels with a low key hero in unusual locations. This book takes place in the English coal mining town of Wigan in 1872. Jonathan Blair is paid to discover the fate of the town's pastor, John Maypole. Jonathan has recently returned from Africa and suffers recurring bouts of malaria. He wants to settle the matter of the disappearance as fast as possible so he can return to Africa.

Through Blair's eyes we learn a little of what life in a mining town and work in a mine are like and what the people's lives are like, living in perpetual darkness, and unable to get away from an occupation that is perpetually dangerous, dirty, and soul-depletingly horrible. But, as his patrons, the rich Hannay family might be heard to say, "Someone's got to do it."

If you like mysteries that don't depend on car chases and gun fights and offer a view of a life you'll never experience, this is a book for you. It will be even more dramatic if you suffer from claustrophobia.

My rating for this book: +++

Black Girl/White Girl (2007)

During the summer months I try to read "adult" books since I can devote more undistracted hours to reading, whether it be outside on the deck or enjoying a balmy evening on top of the covers of my bed. I buy books off the clearance rack and from new releases, I read books waiting patiently for me in piles around the house, and I pull books off my library's shelf as I perform an inventory. My first summer book was by Joyce Carol Oates, an author new to me.

This book reminded me a little of Davita's Harp since both books are about extremely bright, young women raised among liberal activists and, for the most part, without a father, as Genna's father is constantly on the move, hiding from the feds. Her mother is not occupied by her work like Davita's, but by drugs and self-pity.

In 1974, Genna goes to a liberal, all-female college in Virginia founded by wealthy ancestors and is eager to become friends with her black roommate, a scholarship student from Washington D.C. who seems to have enough in her life (religion and family) to not befriend anyone at the school. The story is told from Genna's viewpoint as she tries to support Minette through several instances of racism.

The genius of this book is that like Genna, we are not offered any insight into Minette's lack of response to Genna. While this book could have been, like so many, a cross-race friendship story, instead is how people from different backgrounds may never cross the race divide. Like Genna's father wrote:

"Some truths are lies. Some lies are truths. For all human utterances are provisional and expedient. And what we wish to believe to be REAL is but our political perspective and our political perspective is determined by race, class, social privilege from which we must be wakened to be free to throw off our skin-consciousness which is our collective blindness and sometimes that awakening must be violent for there is no other way."

This is an outstanding book and I recommend it to people who enjoy good character development stories.

My rating for this book: ++++

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Heroes of the Valley (2009)

After enjoying the Bartimeaus series so much, I was thrilled to see that Jonathan Stroud had a new book out and I was not disappointed.

We all grow up with stories that are so real to us they are like memories. We don't doubt their veracity since they have been handed down to us by our parents who heard them from their parents, and so on. Halli Sweinsson doubts the stories he was told from birth about his ancestors and Trows, monsters who lived all around their lands. Were the stories real? Halli, the second son of his town's leader, wanted to learn the truth and maybe make his own legends.

Like most of us, Halli is not perfect. He is much shorter than his brother and much smarter with a wonderful sense of humor (I found myself chuckling out loud). Everyone only notices his stature, however, and they all fail to appreciate his intelligence and wit, except for Aud, the daughter of another town's leader. Together they are quite a team.

Adventurers and action lovers will enjoy this book.

My rating for this book: ++++

City of Bones (2007)

I have to admit I was attracted to this series by Cassandra Clare by the bold and gilt tinged covers and the hope of another fun trip with new characters but I got as far as page 272 (out of 485) and got so angry at the author I shut the book and rued the wasted hours reading it.

"Another vampire pushed her way throught the crowd to stand at his side - a pretty blue-haired Asian girl in a silver foil skirt. Clary wondered if there were any ugly vampires, or maybe any fat ones. Maybe they didn't make vampires out of ugly people. Or maybe ugly people just didn't want to live forever."

Or maybe people ugly on the inside are cursed to live forever. In an era where teenagers are so conscious of looks, and advertising and the media pushing overly thin examples of "beauty", I was furious at the author for these words. And since I was less than whelmed by the quality of the writing, I have no qualms about saying that this book is a total waste of time.

My rating for this book: (no stars)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Marcelo in the Real World (2009)

Marcelo talking about himself in the third person is one of the manifestations of autism that he shows. In Francisco X. Stork's book, he is a very intelligent boy who has attended a school for kids with special needs and has developed a real talent for working with the school's therapy ponies. At the end of his junior year he is looking forward to a summer working in the school's stables but his father informs him that instead he will work in the mail room of his law offices with a young woman named Jasmine. This job will help Marcelo develop the ability to "read" people's facial expressions and learn how to interpret the many expressions that can flummox autistic people.
A cross between a John Grisham novel and A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, this book gives us a story of a young man who lands in a situation that's way over his head. His father's firm represents a company that sells car windshields that splinter when broken into jagged pieces instead of harmless pebbles. Marcelo comes across the picture of a girl whose received a chunk of glass in her face, not only disfiguring her, but serious enough to interfere with her eating and talking. Should he persue trying to help her or keep his mouth shut to protect his father?
Mystery readers and readers the Haddon book about an autistic boy will really enjoy this book.
My rating for this book: +++