Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence (2010)

This graphic novel is based on a book of the same name by Geoffrey Canada and is illustrated by Jamar Nicholas. It is a memoir of the lessons learned growing up on the streets of the South Bronx. There is a code that is passed on from older kids to younger kids as they emerge from their families' apartments out on to the street. If they don't adhere to this code the consequences are some form of violence and the older the kid, the more severe the consequences.

As he gets older, Canada finds that the means to defend himself increase in efficiency from the fist to the stick to the knife and to the gun. At first he feels he must carry a gun to defend himself but he eventually comes to the realization that the consequences of using the gun could mean taking a life. He decides that carrying the gun makes it too easy and convenient to shoot someone so he decides to get rid of the gun and rely on less violent ways to survive.

And yet, these are young men who because they are armed feel less inclined to avoid confrontations that could escalate into bloodshed.
The power of the gun is no less intoxicating to them that it was to me. The evidence of their need to carry a weapon for self-defense is made clear to them every day as they talk about who was shot, who was robbed, who was killed.
They are not going to swap their guns just for sneakers, or gift certificates, or small amounts of cash. And unfortunately for us all, many of them have not been raised in the church or with any moral teaching, so the fact that they might end up taking a life is not a persuasive argument for throwing away their guns.

Canada is very involved with the ambitious program, Harlem Children's Zone, so that children can walk to school and the store without fear.

The illustrations in this book are in black, white, and gray and are rough and stark. They add to the fear and intimidation that the writer grew up with.

I highly recommend this book.

My rating: ++++

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Well of Lost Plots (2003)

This is the third book in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. In this book, Thursday is in the Character Exchange Programme and is in hiding in an out-of-print book replacing a character that will spend some time in the real world. She is going to stay here until her child is born. In the meantime she is studying to be a Jurisfiction agent in the Book World with the help of her mentor Miss Havisham (from Great Expectations). Her grandmother, Gran Next, pops in to make sure that she doesn't lose any memories of her husband because that would indicate an attack by the mnemonomorph Aornis, sister to Acheron Hades, who was killed by Thursday in the first book. Another threat to books everywhere is the introduction of a new program called UltraWord which is supposed to create more than the eight plot lines that all novels derive from.

Whew! That's a lot in one book. Besides all this is the introduction of all sorts of creatures like the "vyrus" which changes the spelling of words with predictably dangerous results. One of my favorite parts was an exchange about the overuse of had had and that that and how it confused the reader too much.

"Take the first had had and that that in the book by way of example," explained Lady Cavendish. "You would have thought that that first had had had had good occasion to be seen as had, had you not? Had had had approval but had had had not; equally it is true to say that that that that had had approval but that that other that that had not."
"So the problem with that other
that that was that --?
"That that other-other
that that had had approval."
"Okay," said the Bellman, whose head was in danger of falling apart like a chocolate orange, "Let me get this straight:
David Copperfield, unlike Pilgrim's Progress, which had had had, had had had had. Had had had had TGC's approval?"
There was a very long pause.

I put Jasper Fforde in the same high realm as J.K. Rowling and Terry Pratchett for his ability to create a new world with original creatures and physics, he is that good.

My rating for this book: ++++

Arctic Drift (2008)

I know I said in the last entry I wasn't supposed to be reading but I actually had finished this book days ago and I am taking a break from writing to add it to the blog.

Wonderful action. Yes, it's the stereotypical testosterone-pumped thriller but Clive Cussler some how manages to come off less misogynist than other action writers like Clancey or Brown. Maybe I'm just swayed by the fact that most of the action takes place on or under the water.

Anyway, the action in this book takes us as far north as is navigable, the Northwest Passage. Bad guys are digging for oil and expelling CO2 in disastrous amounts. Rumors of an extremely rare element being found in the northern parts of Canada have the bad guys and the good guys rushing to locate whatever amounts already mined and any mines still undiscovered.

It is always necessary for the reader of books like this to ignore any inconvenient facts that are glossed over. For instance, only in these books can divers go down thousands of feet and not have to undergo decompression. Characters are, of course, immune to the bends. We can excuse the author however, since it is extremely unlikely that a reader would take it upon themselves to attempt a dive like that, suffer debilitating effects, and sue. It is much more likely that people will take a blow dryer with them into a bath and electrocute themselves so the dryer company has to place a warning on the cable and absolve themselves of any fault if the user is that stupid.

In any case, this is a real page turner.

My rating for this book: +++

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NaNoWriMo 2010

November is National Novel Writers Month!

I'm taking the big plunge and attempting to write a novel this month. It's six days into the challenge and I've written over 8,000 words. I'll have to see if I can make it to 50,000 words.

I'm writing a YA novel about a boy whose father left to work in Columbia three years previously and hasn't been heard from since. The boy gets some help from some very shy and rare creatures that somehow connect books across space.

My back up plan, in case the story ends before I reach 50,000 words, is to create inter corollary chapters about made up mythological creatures.

In the meantime, I probably won't get much reading done since that is pretty much viewed as procrastinating as is my writing here on my blog. Oh, well. Back to work.

Wish me luck!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Soulless (2009)

I really hope that the action and humor in this book by Gail Carriger continue with the rest of her series because I really enjoyed it! Alexia Tarabotti is a pretenatural, she has no soul. She is the oldest of three girls, 26-years old, a spinster. The BUR (Bureau of Unnatural Registry) has tried to keep her existence quiet but her files were stolen by the Hypocras Club, an organization trying to learn how to create their own supernaturals. The head of the club, Mr. Siemons, explains why she is so special.

Mr. Siemons stopped blowing smoke in Miss Tarabotti's face and blew it instead at the American scientist. "This young lady is a preternatural: a Homo exanimus. We have been looking for her since we first deduced her existence here in London. Which, I might add, was only shortly after finding out that preternaturals existed at all. Of course, if you follow the couterbalance theorem, her kind seems perfectly logical. I am surprised we never before thought to look. And, of course, we knew the supernatural set had ancient legends pertaining to certain dangerous creatures that were born to hunt them. The werewolves have their curse-breakers, the vampires their soul-suckers, and the ghosts their exorcists. But we did not know they were all the same organism and that that organism was a scientific fact, not a myth. They are startingly uncommon, as it turns out. Miss Tarabotti here is a rare beast, indeed."

Alexia shares her attraction to the head werewolf, Lord Maccon, and he to her, much to the shock and amazement of her family who had given up on her getting married. In this excerpt one can see the humor that comes with the Victorian setting.

"Well, my love" said Alexia with prodigious daring to Lord Maccon, "shall we?"
The earl started to move forward and then stopped abruptly and looked down at her, not moving at all. "Am I?"
"Are you what?" She peeked up at him through her tangled hair, pretending confusion. There was no possible way she was going to make this easy for him.
"Your love?"
"Well, you are a werewolf, Scottish, naked, and covered in fbood, and I am still holding your hand."
He sighed in evident relief. "Good. That is settled, then."

I am looking forward for to reading the rest of this series with great relish.

My rating for this book: ++++

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Age of Innocence (1920)

I read this book by Edith Wharton for several reasons. I had never read anything by her before, it was on the Banned Books List, and I am trying to catch up on many classics that I have not yet read.

It can almost be called historical fiction since she wrote the book in 1920 but it takes place in the 1870s. It is a biting look at high society in New York with all of its strict rules and conventions. Everything is so structured, in fact that the characters find they don't even have to speak to share their thoughts.

Archer Newland is a young man who, in the opening of the book, becomes engaged to Mary Welland, the neice of Mrs. Manson Mingott and cousin to the Countess Ellen Olenska. He encounters her in her family's box at the opera and "communicates" his intention to announce their engagement.

As he entered the box his eyes met Miss Welland's, and he saw that she had instantly understood his motive, though the family dignity which both considered so high a virtue would not permit her to tell him so. The persons of their world lived in an atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies, and the fact that he and she understood each other without a word seemed to the young man to bring them nearer than any explanation would have done. Her eyes said: "You see why Mamma brought me," and his answered: "I would not for the world have had you stay away."

Even though Ms Wharton was raised in this society, she is very biting in her descriptions of the people and their daily lives. The introduction of Mrs. Mingott had my jaw drop in disbelief it was so mean.

The immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life like a flood of lava on a doomed city had changed her from a plump active little woman with a neatly-turned foot and ankle into something as vast and august as a natural phenomenon.

I would have been really bad to be on Ms Wharton's bad side!

On the other hand, I found charm in the characters looking forward to the future, Ms Wharton's present, our past. In this excerpt, Archer has a rendezvous with the Countess in the now famous MOMA.

They had this melancholy retreat to themselves, and seated on the divan enclosing the central steam-radiator, they were staring silently at the glass cabinets mounted in ebonised wood which contained the recovered fragments of Ilium.
"It's odd," Madame Olenska said, "I never came here before."
"Ah, well --. Some day, I suppose, it will be a great Museum."
"Yes," she assented absently.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. Don't wait to read it like I did. Now that you have heard about it, don't delay.

My recommendation for this book: +++++

Mockingjay (2010)

This book is the third and last installment of the series by Suzanne Collins which started with the fantastic "Hunger Games". The violence in this dystopia fantasy was quite disturbing particularly since so much of it was teen on teen. In this last book, the rebellion is in full swing and everyone is involved, whole districts are being fire-bombed and the most dastardly traps are around every corner. Katniss, has been elevated as the face of the rebellion, Mockingjay, named after a pin she wore, given to her by her mother.

What they want is for me to truly take on the role they designed for me. The symbol of the revolution. The Mockingjay. It isn't enough, what I've done in the past, defying the Capitol in the Games, providing a rallying point. I must now become the actual leader, the face, the voice, the embodiment of the revolution. Ther person who the districts -- most of which are now openly at war with the Capitol -- can count on to blaze the path to victory. I won't have to do it alone. They have a whole team of people to make me over, dress me, write my speeches, orchestrate my appearances -- as if that doesn't sound horribly familiar -- and all I have to do is play my part. Sometimes I listen to them annd sometimes I just watch the perfect line of Coin's hair and try to decide if it's a wig. Eventually, I leave the room because my head starts to ache or it's time to eat or if I don't get aboveground I might start screaming. I don't bother to say anything. I simply get up and walk out.

I probably should have read the three books together because I found Katniss' character positively grating. I wasn't the only one. Even the other characters in the book seem to have a problem with her. One of the times she is recovering from wounds, she talks with Johanna.

". . . How about you, Mockingjay? You feel totally safe?"
"Oh, yeah. Right up until I got shot," I say.
"Please. That bullet never even touched you. Cinna saw to that," she says.
I think of the layers of protective armor in my Mockingjay outfit. But the pain came from somewhere. "Broken ribs?"
"Not even. Bruised pretty good. The impact ruptured your spleen. They couldn't repair it." She gives a dismissive wave of her hand. "don't worry, you don't need one. And if you did, they'd find you one, wouldn't they? It's everybody's job to keep you alive."
"Is that why you hate me?" I ask.
"Partly, she admits. "Jealousy is certainly involved. I also think you're a little hard to swallow. With your tacky romantic drama and your defend-of-the-helpless act. Only it isn't an act, which makes you more unbearable. please feel free to take this personally."

Another aspect of this book that bothered me was the use of drugs. It seems that every time Kat got agitated, like after seeing Peeta speaking for the Capitol on TV, someone was there with a syringe to sedate her. Also, it seems she was receiving a lot of pain medication for her many wounds.

I will have to give this series another shot, some day, and read them together. I may have more sympathy for Kat then.

This series is very imaginative and violent, but very readable. I suggest the reader tackle all three in a row.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Blank Confession (2010)

I have been enjoying Pete Hautman's books since I read his National Book Award winning book, Godless, and I was thrilled when we received this book yesterday. Short and fast, it tells the story of Mike and his sister, Marie who was dating a drug dealer named Jon, and a police detective named Rawls. The story reminded me of the old TV series, The Lone Ranger, where a mysterious masked man would ride into town, avenge the innocent victim, and ride away before anyone could thank him.

Our story opens with a young man named Shayne showing up at a police station to confess to a murder he committed.

He had seen that expression in other places too. The morgue. Funeral parlors. Murder scenes.
The face of the dead.
But this boy was not dead. Somewhere behind those eyes existed a spark -- a spark that had brought him here, to this building, to this bench, to George Rawls.
"Are you Shayne?" Rawls asked.
The boy dropped his chin. Rawls took that as a yes and sat beside him on the bench, feeling every last one of his forty-three years, fifteen of them as a cop. Despite having conducted hundreds of such interviews, he found himself at a loss. Something about his kid -- who could not have weighed much more than his Labrador retriever -- frightened him. Not fear for himself. The other kind of fear: fear that the universe no longer made sense, that everthing was about to change.
"So . . . ." Rawls cleared his throat, looking straight ahead, ". . . who did you kill?"

The chapters alternate between Shayne giving his statement to Rawls, and flashbacks of the events from Mike's point of view. Jon shoved a bag into Mike's backpack when police showed up at the school with dogs to perform locker searches. Fearing that he might be caught with drugs, Mike threw the bag into the garbage. The next day Jon demanded his bag back and since the garbage had been emptied, he told Mike to repay him $500 or suffer the consequences. Unable to pay and afraid more for what Jon would do to his sister than himself, Mike is in a real quandry. In rides Shayne on his white horse, er, BMW motorcycle, to save the day.

"Hi, ho, Silver. Away!!!"

This book didn't take much longer to read than watching an episode of the Lone Ranger. The reader is swept along by events fearing the worst would result in this situation. I highly recommend this book to anyone.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (2008)

David Wroblewski has written this retelling of Hamlet in a setting of a small dog breeding farm in Winsconsin starring the only son of Gar and Trudy Sawtelle, Edgar, who was born perfect in every way except that he was totally mute. Gar dies, apparently of a heart attack, and his brother, Claude, helps to fill in for the father, both in the business, and in Trudy's life. Understandedly, this does not please Edgar. Like Hamlet, Edgar plans a way to let his uncle know that he is under suspicion for Gar's death.

First, tell them the dogs see everything that happens here, he signed.
What?
Just say it. Say they see everything and they never forget. You'll understand in a minute.
He stood and waited. He thought his mother might ignore his request, but she turned to Mr. Benson and Claude and Doctor Papineau. "Edgar says to tell you that the dogs see" -- she faltered for a moment, then continued -- "That they see everything that happens here, and they never forget."
Edgar was standing before the dogs, looking down the line to make sure they didn't break. He touched Opal under the chin. She looked at him. He released her and she dashed down the aisle to the four of them standing by the workshop. Then he pulled one of the syringes from his shirt pocket. His hand was shaking and as the syringe came out, it snagged another which went clattering to the floor. He snatched it up and placed it in Baboo's mouth.
Tag, he signed. Then he turned to watch.
Baboo trotted down the aisle with the syringe in his mouth. Edgar kept his eyes on Claude, who had caught sight of the syringe. When Baboo reached them, he pressed his nose into Opal's hip, and Opal looked toward Edgar. He gave a small gesture with his right hand. She dropped to the floor and lay on her side.
. . .
Claude stood watching it all. He glanced at the open door, then back at the dogs, then at Edgar.


I have to admit I liked this book in spite of myself. It's not the sort I usually read but I found that frequently I would pick it up and lose a lot of time as I followed Edgar and his dogs through this tragedy. I learned about the Hamlet connection towards the middle of my reading and it added another level to the story, trying to remember Hamlet's story. It would be enjoyed by dog lover's for their major parts in the story.

My recommendation for this book: +++

The Eyre Affair (2001)

This book by Jasper Fforde was possibly the funniest and most clever I have ever read. One part was so funny I could hardly read I was laughing so hard. Imagine a production of Richard III a la the midnight show of Rocky Horror Picture Show with the audience participation.

Thursday Next is an agent in the Literary Detective Division of the Special Operations Network. She investigates events like characters missing out of classic works like Jane Eyre. An evil fiend, Acheron Hades, has stolen a contraption that allows him to enter original manuscripts and alter the stories in all subsequent editions of the story. Thursday's uncle, Mycroft, was the inventor of the Prose Portal.

"What? What did you say? Mad, did you say? Hmm? Eh? What? What?"

His fingers tightened on Mycroft's windpipe; the professor could feel himself start to sweat in the cold panic of suffocation. Acheron was waiting for an answer that Mycroft was unable to utter.

"What? What did you say?"

Acheron's pupils started to dilate as Mycroft felt a dark veil fall over his mind.

"Think it's fun being christened with a name like mine? Having to live up to what is expected of one? Born with an intellect so vast that all other humans are cretins by comparison?"

Mycroft managed to give out a choke and Acheron slackened his grip. Mycroft fell to the floor, gulping for breath. Acheron stood over him and wagged a reproachful finger.

"Don't ever call me mad, Mycroft. I'm not mad, I'm just . . . well, differently moraled, that's all."

Characters go forward and back in time and pop in and out of the stories in books. Characters from those stories may also pop back into the real world. Curiously, the description of time travel closely resembles the description in the book, The Anubis Gate, by Tim Powers where the analogy uses a frozen river.

". . . The barriers between reality and fiction are softer than we think; a bit like a frozen lake. Hundreds of people can walk across it, but then one evening a thin spot develops and someone falls through: the hole is frozen over by the following morning. . ."

I highly recommend this book for the adventure, the allusions to literature (which do not need to be read), and the humor. I have the next three books in the series and I am eagerly looking forward to reading them.

My rating for this book +++++


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Things Fall Apart (1959)

It's almost Banned Book Week so I picked up this book by Chinua Achebe which was on the ALA list of classics that have been challenged and/or banned. I admit I knew nothing about the book or the author when I chose it. It's a story about a man named Okonkwo in a village somewhere in Africa (Nigeria?) called Umuofia. A simple life, we are shown how they observe celebrations such as marriage, grieve for the dead, and respect the gods that provide them with food. Many events over generations have given rise to their system of justice which is strictly observed by all members of the village. For instance Okonkwo is banished from his village for a period of seven years because his rifle exploded and accidentally killed the son of his friend, Obierika.

Obierika was a man who thought about things. When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat down in his obi and mourned his friend's calamity. Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities. He remembered his wife's twin children, who he had thrown away. What crime had they committed? The Earth had decreed that they were an offense on the land and must be destroyed. And if the clan did not exact punishment for an offense against the great goddess, her wrath was loosed on all the land and not just on the offender. As the elders said, if one finger brought oil it soiled the others.

Unfortunately, as it has often happened in the history of our world, someone (white Christians in this case) comes along to civilize an already civilized people because they know better and in the process pride and self-respect is destroyed.

Why, he cried in his heart, should he, Okonkwo, of all people, be cursed with such a son? He saw clearly in it the finger of his personal god or chi. For how else could he explain his great misfortune and exile and now his despicable son's behavior? Now that he had time to think of it, his son's crime stood out in its stark enormity. To abandon the gods of one's father and go about with a lot of effeminate men clucking like old hens was the very depth of abomination. Suppose when he died all his male children decided to follow Nwoye's steps and abandon their ancestors? Okonkwo felt a cold shudder run through him at the terrible prospect, like the prospect of annihilation. He saw himself and his fathers crowding round their ancestral shrine waiting in vain for worship and sacrifice and finding nothing but ashes of bygone days, and his children the while praying to the white man's god. If such a thing were ever to happen, he, okonkwo, would wipe them off the face of the earth.

The end of the story is no surprise, it is just another tragic ending of imperial interference. I can well imagine that some Christians would be offended by the depiction of the missionaries and might challenge this book in some libraries.

This book begs to be read slowly. There is very little description, just bare action, so things can easily be missed if read too fast. It is a short book and well worth the time to read it.

My rating for this book: +++++

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Windup Girl (2009)

Like his other book, Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi's story takes place in the future when fossil fuel reserves are used up, sea levels threaten coastal cities, and genetic companies are creating new species of plants and animals to help mankind. Unfortunately, there are also new species of diseases to destroy food crops and people. This new world has calories as the basis of world trade instead of oil. Taking place in Bangkok, we follow an American with a mission to find a rare seed bank, his plant manager who is a Chinese immigrant, a leader in the Trade Ministry's White Shirts, and a member of the Japanese New People, a genetically created and lab raised human known as a windup girl.

By then they were only mopping up. AgriGen and PurCal and the rest were shipping their plague-resistant seeds and demanding exorbitant profits, and patriotic generippers were already working to crack the code of the calorie companies' products, fighting to keep the Kingdom fed as Burma and the Vietnamese and the Khmers all fell. AgriGen and its ilk were threatening embargo over intellectual property infringements, but the Thai Kingdom was still alive. Against all odds, they were alive. As others were crushed under the calorie companies' heels, the Kingdom stood strong.

The thing I really loved about this book is how the reader is immediately immersed in the language and life of the characters - there is not easing into the story with descriptions of the city and explanations of the foreign terms. This book was fantastic!

My rating for this book: ++++1/2

Dexter is Delicious (2010)

Another fabulous episode of life with Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. The blessed event has arrived and Dexter is now a daddy. This should be just the thing to banish the Dark Passenger and polish the new world that Dexter has created for himself with a house, wife, and children. Out of nowhere, his brother returns, seemingly sincere to be a part of this family. Can he be trusted? And will the bad guys stop doing bad things and distracting Dexter? We want Dexter to be able to enjoy his family but on the other hand, would he be as interesting a character?

I stood up. I just needed to move around, try to calm down, collect my thoughts, tame these weird and wild and brand-new emotions, before they carried me away on a flood tide of stupidity. I walked into the kitchen, where the dishwasher was already whirring away at the dinner dishes. Past the refrigerator, its ice-maker clicking. I walked into the back hall by the washer and dryer. All around me, through the whole house, everything was clean and functional, all the machinery of domestic bliss, in its place and ready to do exactly what it was supposed to do - all of it but me. I was not made to fit under the counter of this or any other house. I was made for moonlight gleaming off a very sharp knife and the soothing ratchet of duct tape purring off the roll and the muffled horror of the wicked in their neat and careful bods as they met their unmaker -

I doubt I would spoil the story by saying that Dexter decides he must keep the world safe for his Lily Ann. Yay!

My rating for this book: ++++

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Extraordinary (2010)

Is it fair that one person has to pay a debt for an obligation made by an ancestor many generations before them? Nancy Werlin gives us a story about a girl from a very wealthy family who has to face this dilemma. Phoebe's mother is a descendant of a man who made a deal with a fairie queen in order to create a financial dynasty. It seems that Phoebe will have to repay his debt.

Mallory appears at Phoebe's school one day, looking quite lost and wearing bizarre clothes. Phoebe turns her back on her priveleged friends and befriends her. Little does Phoebe know that Mallory has an alterior motive.

"Yes, Your Majesty. Phoebe - the girl - we are best friends now. That is what humans call it: best friends. With time I will be able to make her do exactly as we wish. But Your Majesty! I have tired you. Would you rest now? I can come back."
"I am only a little tired. I am not so sick yet, my child. Very well. You may have the time you say you require. It will not, after all, be the longest time that a faerie has ever masqueraded as a human."
"Thank you, Your Majesty. This is just a delay. I won't fail you or our people, I won't. You may rely on me. In the end I will do exactly as I have promised."

It is an intriguing question about how long a family can enjoy the fruits of an arrangement before they have to settle a debt. In this case, over 200 years pass before the opportunity arises for the fairies to collect and Phoebe is the price. Is there no alternative?

I liked this book except for some aspects which seemed forced and necessary only to make the story work. For instance, Mallory's "mother" is a mentally disturbed woman whose true daughter (named Mallory) had died. This Mallory moves in with her, helps her keep up with her drugs and Skittles addiction, and no one worries too much about the situation. Did the school not notice that someone is taking the place of someone they thought had died? Oh, well. It is a fantasy and we shouldn't worry about such details.

My rating for this book: +++

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Grimm Legacy (2010)

Polly Shulman has given us a book with a very interesting premise. A library in New York City loans out items instead of books and has special collections including one with items from the fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm. They hold magic and must be handled with respect and care since magic can be tricky.

Elizabeth is recommended for a job as a page at this library by her social studies teacher after writing a paper on the Grimm brothers and their fairy tales. She works hard and is eventually given the key to the special Grimm Collection. Unfortunately, someone is stealing items from this collection. Is it one of the other pages?

At one point in the book, Elizabeth and another page named Marc are shrunk down so they can sneak into a room. They get around by riding inside winged sandals.

He was gone for a while. I stroked my sandal's wing. While I waited, I took a minute to marvel at my position: six inches tall, riding a winged sandal through a storehouse of magical items. If anyone had told me a year ago I'd be in this position, I would have laughed and then edged away.

I really wish I liked this book more than I did. The last part of the book felt rushed and compressed like the author was running out of paper. In any case, it is a good read and fantasy readers should enjoy it.

My rating for this book: +++

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Spies of Mississippi (2010)

Subtitled "The True Story of the Spy Network the Tried to Destroy the Civil Rights Movement" I thought I had found a really interesting nonfiction book. Unfortunately, this one by Rick Bowers misses by a mile.

I'm not sure why this book misses but I found my mind wandering while reading and I frequently had to back up and read a section over. This exerpt is from a chapter about Clyde Kennard, a young black man who was trying to enter all-white Mississippi Southern College. He was framed for a burglary committed by a young white man named Johnny Lee Roberts.

Police searched Kennard's farm and came back with a couple of empty feed bags. Kennard was charged as an accomplice to burglary -- a felony. On the witness stand, Roberts gave a meandering, hard-to-follow account of the robbery that confused even the district attorney. Still, it took an all-white jury only ten minutes to hand down guilty verdicts. Roberts got a suspended sentence, and the co-op rehired him. Kennard, by contrast, was sentenced to the maximum penalty -- seven years of hard labor at the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

I can only hear Sgt. Friday of the LAPD narrating this in his "just the facts, ma'am" voice. I don't even think this book would be good for reference since there aren't that many facts or quotes or primary source references. What a shame!

I have to admit that I do not, as a whole, appreciate books about history so I can't really recommend this one.

My rating for this book: ++1/2

Monday, August 30, 2010

Identical (2008)

Ellen Hopkins pulls no punches in her stories. She uses words and words in shapes to tell her stories as novels in verse.

I don't want to say much about the plot of this book because I don't want to spoil it for anyone. Suffice it to say that it is a terrifically told tale about a very dysfuntional family.

Afraid to Die Loveless
Because
I think if
you die
without
knowing
love in
this life,
that's how
you'll
spend
eternity.
Alone.
Frozen.
Do you
think hell
is fiery?
I don't.
I think
hell is
frozen.

'Nuff said.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ship Breaker (2010)

I am a sucker for books that have anything to do with ships so it is no surprise that this one was a real page turner for me. Paolo Bacigalupi has created a dystopian world located in the Gulf of Mexico of the future and featuring high water levels and severe storms known descriptively as "city killers".

Whatever Nita thought of the scavenge opportunities, there was a lot of abandoned material spread out before them, and if Nailer understood correctly, this was just Orleans II. There was also the original New Orleans, and then there was Mississippi Metropolitan - aka MissMet - what had been originally envisioned as New Orleans III, before even the most ardent supporters of the drowned city gave up on the spectacularly bad luck enjoyed by places called "Orleans."

Nailer is a young man who works with a community of people who strip all materials that are recylclable from old ship hulks washed up or purposely beached.

He comes across a storm-wrecked sailing ship (there is no more oil) and while crawling around for possible salvage, he finds Nita, a girl who is barely alive. Having recently been abandoned by a fellow worker after falling into a tank of oil, he decides to try and rescue her rather than leave her to die. Now he has to protect her from his violent, drug using father and enemies of her father from whom she was trying to escape.

I would highly recommend this book to readers who also enjoyed the Hunger Game series.

My rating for this book: ++++

The Lark's Lament (2007)

Taking place in the early 13th century, this book by Alan Gordon takes us into the world of jesters (fools) who were organized into an organization known as the Fools Guild. In this series of mysteries we meet a traveling family of jesters. They are visiting a monk who is a retired member of the guild when a brutal murder of another monk takes place and a line from a song is written on the wall using his blood.

Theo and Claudia travel with their infant daughter, Portia, and young apprentice, Helga. Along the way they entertain with puppet plays, skits, and songs. They go around France following clues about who wrote the song and why.

"Let me get this straight," said Grelho when he returned from escorting my wife and apprentice. "You have traveled a hundred miles to track down an obscure song that may contain an obscure reference to an obscure someone who is probably dead because an obscure someone else killed another obscurity so he could splash some blood on some books."
"Yes," I said. "Although when you put it like that, it seems like a waste of time."

I really enjoyed this book. There are so many series of mysteries that take place in new venues, times, countries which give the readers a glimpse into a new world and this one is definitely a new world for me. I will definitely be looking for back episodes of this series.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Suite Francaise (2004)

This book by Irene Nemirovsky will be in my top favorite books of this year. It is in two parts; the first covering the exodus of people from Paris ahead of the Nazis in 1940 and the second is about the occupation by the Germans of a small village called Bussy. It is in no way a romanticized or sugarcoated view of people under extreme duress. In fact, I had an image in my mind of rats crawling over each other trying to escape a flooding sewer. Compassion and being polite were two things left behind as people struggled to leave the city with their family and as much of their belongings as they could manage.

I had chills reading the following excerpt especially when I remembered that the author was herself, a victim of Aushwitz.

There was no crying or shouting; even the children were quiet. Everything seemed calm. From time to time a face would appear over a lowered window and stare up at the sky for a while, wondering. A low, muffled murmur rose up from the crowd, the sound of painful breathing, sighs and conversations held in hushed voices, as if people were afraid of being overheard by an enemy lying in wait. Some tried to sleep, heads leaning on the corner of a suitcase, legs aching on a narrow bench or a warm cheek pressed agains a window. Young men and women called to each other from the cars and sometimes laughed. Then a dark shape would glide across the star-covered sky, everyone would look up and the laughter would stop. It wasn't exactly what you'd call fear, rather a strange sadness - a sadness that had nothing human about it any more, for it lacked both courage and hope. This was how animals waited to die. It was the way fish caught in a net watch the shadow of the fisherman moving back and forth above them.

The occupation of Bussy is seen through the eyes of several people including one woman whose (unfaithful) husband was a prisoner of war. Lucile lives with her mother in law, Madame Angellier and meets a handsome and charming German officer, Bruno, who is billeted with them. Lucile is very conflicted as she is drawn to this man knowing that he is married and represents the army holding her husband prisoner. We learn that there are no clear cut emotions in this type of situation.

I highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy historical fiction and character development.

My rating for this book: +++++

The Spice Necklace (2009)

This book by Ann Vanderhoof is a delightful tour through many islands introducing the reader to the ingredients and people she found on her sailing tour through the Caribbean. It seems that there have been more than enough books about eating through France, Italy, and the Far East but this is the only one I can think of covering this area. Recipes follow the chapters and highlight the ingredients and meals she enjoyed and learned to make herself.

While many of the ingredients are not available in my part of the country, the book was enjoyable to read because the people they made friends with were so beautiful and the tours of farms and kitchens were fascinating.

Reading this book reminded me of several things I enjoyed growing up in St. Thomas. Saba is a small remote island which produces a spiced rum called Saba Spice. My family was given some by a man who worked in our boat yard who came from Saba. One fact that she failed to include about Saba was how the people of the island used to hunt whales. Another culinary factoid that brought back memories was how various herbs are sold in bunches that are just enough to season a particular dish.

Readers who enjoy culinary tours will enjoy this unusual tropical treat.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sex: A Book for Teens (2010)

Subtitled An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex, and Safety, this book by Nikol Hasler is written for teens and was inspired by the online site called the Midwest Teen Sex Show. It is written in an uncomplicated, conversational tone, like talking to a trusted and knowledgeable friend.

One of the things that impressed me about this book was how the topic of sexual orientation is covered in the second chapter, not relegated to the end of the book like an afterthought. The writer is very familiar with the facts that frequently confuse teens and are addressed in a way that won't make a teen feel embarrassed that they didn't know the right information. Every effort has been made to make the teen feel that the feelings they are experiencing are perfectly normal.

At the end of the book, phone numbers and URLs are given to sites with more information such as Planned Parenthood and LGBT resources.

My only problem with this book is the cover. The bold silhouette of coupling cows is too recognizeable from a distance and might discourage a teen from picking up the book and risking being teased.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2

Sunday, July 25, 2010

From Dead to Worse (2008)

Another Sookie Stackhouse book by Charlaine Harris. Sookie has returned home after the disastrous attempt on the life of the Queen of Louisiana by blowing up the vampire hotel in New Orleans. She would like to just return to her job at Merlotte's and just be normal but this is not to be. Having just survived a vampire power struggle, now the weres are infighting.

Her current beau, Quinn, has not contacted her, and she doesn't know where he is. Bill is around and so is Eric who has regained his memory. All of it. Sookie also meets here great-grandfather and learns more about who and what she is. There are battles galore in this episode.

One more book and I will be caught up. I still love this series. Sookie is a brave, and sassy young woman who is totally loyal to her friends and family (until Jason screws up one time too many). She is admittedly not very educated but she visits her library weekly. One has to love that!

My rating for this book: ++++

Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)

This book by David Sedaris is a bunch of very funny autobiographical chapters about different aspects of his life. Particularly funny are his chapters about working for a moving company, learning to speak French, and eating in an expensive French restaurant. Since he didn't own a jacket, the maitre d' loaned him one. These loaners are usually particularly hideous to dissuade people from stealing them.

"And this would be...what, exactly? Hugh asks.
"This," the waiter announces, "is our raw Atlantic swordfish served in a dark chocolate gravy and garnished with fresh mint."
"Not again," I say. "Can't you guys come up with something a little less conventional?"
"Love your jacket," the waiter whispers."


I would use a favorite descriptor of mine, and call his style snarky. In any case, hardly a page went by without a smile or snort in appreciation. I highly recommend this book.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Book of Lost Things (2006)

This is a delightfully different book by John Connolly which reintroduces us to many of our favorite fairy tales in a story about a Narnia-style link to another world.

David is twelve years old and lives in London during World War I. His mother succumbs to cancer even after all of the twelve-year old things he can do to keep her alive. In short order his father remarries and David finds himself with a baby brother. One night a German airplane crashes in their backyard and David finds a hole in the garden wall that leads to another world. He meets many new people, many familiar from our childhood fairy tales, in his quest to meet the king and find his way back to London, including a sinister character called the Crooked Man.

By bringing all these characters together, Connolly has given us a new fairy tale. It has all the requisite parts - the "abandoned" boy, the evil stepmother, helpers along the way, evil at every turn. David takes all of the events in stride and rises to the occasion at the end and lives happily ever after, sort of.

There is an additional 120 pages at the end of the story where Connolly gives us versions of the fairy tales he incorporates in the book and their backgrounds. I found this extra stuff very informative and fun, especially since I haven't read fairy tales in many, many years. Connolly says,

One of the themes of The Book of Lost Things is the way in which stories and books feed into one another, in much the same way that I, as a writer, have been influenced by the books that I have read. In that sense, The Book of Lost Things is a narrative constructed not only from the books David has encountered, but also from the books and stories that have influenced me.

I wonder what books have influenced me.

My rating for this book: ++++

Death at La Fenice (1992)

This book is part of a series of murder mysteries by Donna Leon featuring Guido Brunetti in the marvelous city of Venice. In this story, the artistic director of La Fenice opera house, is found dead, apparently of poison.

One of the things that sets this series apart is that the lead character has a happy marriage and good home life. What a change! He also employs a deadpan sarcasm with his superior that adds a touch of humor.

"So you've finally come," Patta said, suggesting that Brunetti was hours late rather than on time. " Thought I'd have to wait all morning for you," he added, which Brunetti though was overplaying the role. When Brunetti made no response to either remark, Patta demanded, "What have you got?"
Brunetti pulled that morning's Gazettino from his pocket and answered, "The paper, sir. It's right here on page one." Then, before Patta could stop him, he read out, "'Famous Maestro Found Dead. Murder Suspected.'" He offered the paper to his superior.
Patta kept his voice level but dismissed th paper with a wave. "I've already read that. I meant what have you found out?"


I look forward to reading more stories from this series.

My rating for this book: +++

Shakespeare's Counselor (2001)

This is another in the Lily Bard series by Charlaine Harris. I didn't enjoy it much but I have to admit that I may not have given it the best of circumstances. I read it on my plane ride home. I was jammed in the middle of two seats, annoyed by the flight attendant, disappointed that they were showing a Miley Cyrus movie, and I was achy and cranky, coming down with a little bug.

Lily finds a flyer inviting anyone to join a group of rape victims to try and live with the mental anguish of surviving an attack. She decides to give it a try and meets other women from the town of Shakespeare who are survivors and the counselor, herself a victim of a stalker.

When it becomes apparent that the stalker has followed the counselor, Lily helps discover who he is and why he is torturing her.

I love strong female roles and Lily is one of the strongest I've come across in a while. I may not be fair in my assessment of this book which failed to move me as much as it might have, but it may just have been my mood. I'll will try more of the other books in the series.

My rating for this book: ++ 1/2

My Summer Vacation (2010)


No, this is not a book cover and this is not a review.
Erin and I spent two weeks here in St. Thomas. It was a rough life, but I grew up here and we came down to visit my father. My family moved here in 1961.

Magen's Bay is 1 1/2 miles long, pure white sand. It is a public beach and is beautifully maintained.














This is the "view" from the front of Dad's house. The Royal Palms block the view of the harbor but they also block hurricane force winds. At his age, 79, the shelter is a little more important than being able to see which cruise ship is in. I'll have to give that to him. ;-)









This is me, in the beautiful, clear, warm water of Magen's Bay in St. Thomas. Aaaaaaaaaah!

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Magicians (2009)

I think Lev Grossman wrote this book for the adults who have read Harry Potter, Narnia, and other classic fantasies. Magic in those worlds was taken for granted and the question about where it comes from is not considered. The young people who find themselves in the Brakebills School take the training in stride but when they graduate they question what they can use their skills for. One of their instructors named Fogg asks them this question.

"Sometimes I wonder if man was really meant to discover magic," Fogg said expansively. "It doesn't really make sense. It's a little too perfect, don't you think? If there's a single lesson that life teaches us, it's that wishing doesn't make it so. Words and thoughts don't change anything. Language and reality are kept strictly apart - reality is tough, unyielding stuff, and it doesn't care what you think or feel or say about it. Or it shouldn't. You deal with it, and you get on with your life."

The central character, a mathemathically brilliant young man named Quentin, has always been fascinated by a series of books called Fillory and Further about two brothers and their two sisters who discover a hidden world called Fillory (sound familiar?). Throughout his time in Brakebills he hopes to be able to access Fillory which, he is convinced, is real and where he feels he will find a home. After their graduation Quentin and his friends embark on a vacation to find adventure in Fillory.

The reader will enjoy nods to several fantasy classics. The venture of these young people is difficult and painful at times but the reader is carried on to see if they succeed in finding Fillory and their place in this or any other world.

Fun quote: The thick plottens.

My rating for this book: +++



Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Ape Who Guards the Balance (1998)

This is the tenth book in the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters about a family of archaeologists at the turn of the 20th century. Amelia is the matriarch, Professor Emerson is her husband, Ramses is her son, Nefret her niece, and David, an Egyptian who is as close to Ramses as any brother could be. As I read this book I thought that all of them were always aware of each others' location and occupation like our body is aware of the location and occupation of each of its parts. The point of view alternates between Amelia's and "Manuscript H" which lets us see what is going on with the family members when she is not there to observe.

There was no warning, not even a knock. The door flew open, and he forgot his present aches and pains in anticipation of what lay in store. The figure that stood in the door was not that of an enemy. It was worse. It was his mother.

They are all very proper and very British in their actions and interactions with others. The Professor is given permission to dig in a location that does not hold any promise and he must use all of his best control to not interfere with another archeologist's more exciting dig especially since he knows that the other dig will not be correctly recorded in the rush to unearth new riches. They are all on guard for a master criminal known as Sethos who, despite his six foot height, is also a master of disguise. There is another villain, Bertha, who takes advantage of Amelia's crusade to educate Egyptian girls to better their circumstances.

I really wanted to like this book. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I started with the beginning of this series. After all, it has an undeniably intriguing mix of mystery and Egyptology. I think I will try to find the earlier adventures to see if I like the series better.

My rating for this book: +++

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2007)

This book is the third of the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson and brings us to the close of one part of Lizbeth Salander's life. At the end of the last book, she had just extricated herself from a grave where her father had left her with a bullet wound in the shoulder, her hip, and her head. She returns to the house where he is in hiding and manages to land an axe in his face. We start this book with the two of them in the hospital, two rooms away from each other, with Lizbeth being accused of his assault and two other murders.



Mr. Larsson does not let us miss the main point of these books. He introduces many new characters, many of them women, and intercorollary chapters which told us about women warriors. We certainly get the message that men are pigs and that women are at their mercy. It is only when women join their talents and abilities together that they are able to get out from under mens' thumbs. And do they ever come out in force in this book!

This trilogy has been quite a ride. The "Girl" has been an amazing character to get to know. The consummate underdog, she used her unique talents and abilities when the moment arrived, to clear herself and set herself up for a new life. We can only hope that she is still able to find peace and some semblance of normalcy. Or at least, pick up the crusade and help other women trapped in testosterone hell like she was.

This whole series has extreme violence and sexual abuse but not gratuitously. The intrigue and computer hacking seems, at times, to be a little too convenient and easy. The individual books are very large (the paperback version of this book had 746 pages) but they read fast since they are mostly comprised of conversations and emails. I am glad to have met the character, Lizbeth.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Little Bee (2008)

This short but powerful book by Chris Cleave is about two women, one middle-aged, one young; one white, one black; one educated, one self-educated; one English, one Nigerian; one free, the other not. The chapters alternate between the two of them as their stories converge, separate, and converge again.

It is a short enough book that giving facts about the plot would give up too much of it. Here is an excerpt from the book:

Three weeks and five thousand miles on a tea ship - maybe if you scratched me you would still find that my skin smells of it. When they put me in the immigration detention center, they gave me a brown blanket and a white plastic cup of tea. And when I tasted it, all I wanted to do was to get back into the boat and go home again, to my country. Tea is the taste of my land: it is bitter and warm, strong, and sharp with memory. It tastes of longing. It tastes of the distance between where you are and where you come from. Also it vanishes - the taste of it vanishes from your tongue while your lips are still hot from the cup. It desappears, like plantations stretching up into the mist. I have heard that your country drinks more tea than any other. How sad that must make you - like children who long for absent mothers. I am sorry.

Two cultures come together and try to help each other as they are able, not enough for either in the end. I highly recommend this book.

My rating for this book: ++++

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

Most of us walk around all day unaware of the stories of others around us. We have no idea who they are or how their lives intersect with ours. Colum McCann wrote this book about a small group of people whose lives intersect on one auspicious day - the day Philippe Petit pulled an amazing stunt. He and a group of friends stretched a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center and tightwalked 140 ft., 1368 ft. above New York City. Most of the characters of this book were unaware of the feat but were involved in the momentous (or not) events of their own lives.

One of the people we meet is Claire, a mother who is suffering the death of her son in Viet Nam. She is hosting a meeting of other mothers who have lost their sons in Viet Nam that morning and they arrive with the news of Petit's escapade in progress.

But death by tightrope?
Death by performance?
That's what it amounted to. So flagrant with his body. Making it cheap. The puppetry of it all. His little Charlie Chaplin walk, coming in like a hack on her morning. How dare he do that with his own body? Throwing his life in everyone's face? Making her own son's so cheap? Yes, he has intruded on her coffee morning like a hack on her code. With his hijinks above the city. Coffee and cookies and a man out there walking in the sky, munching away what should have been.

(This excerpt follows one of those paragraphs that takes your breath away in its passion.)

Her husband, Judge Soderberg, sits in an arraignment court and gets the case of the tightrope walker to decide which charges he will face.

The theater began shortly after lunch. His fellow judges and court officers and reporters and even the stenographers were already talking about it as if it were another of those things that just happened in the city. One of those out-of-the-ordinary days that made sense of the slew of ordinary days. New York had a way of doing that. Every now and then the city shook its soul out. It assailed you with an image, or a day, or a crime, or a terror, or a beauty so difficult to wrap your mind around that you had to shake your head in disbelief.

This book felt so intimate in the way it portrayed a handful of citizens in a city that can feel so impersonal. The character portrayals pulled me in so deeply I felt like I could hear the ambient city noise, smell the odors, and feel the pain of the characters. It was truly moving.

I highly recommend this book. My rating for this boo: +++++

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Flight of Shadows (2010)

A walled-in city known as Lynchburg separating the Influentials and Invisibles from the Industrials and Illegals is the setting of this book by Sigmund Brouwer. Away from the city is Appalachia, rural and oppressive, and ruled by a religious leader. Caitlyn was brought to Appalachia by her father but wants to return to the city. She needs the assistance of a surgeon to correct a congenital deformity that was the result of genetic engineering.

As the story opens we find Caitlyn and friends escaping to Lynchburg in the hope of contacting the surgeon. Along the way she meets a shadowy character named Razor who can get her into the city. The problem is that they are being chased by a bounty hunter and others eventually join the chase. It appears there is more to her genetic makeup than meets the eye.

The story was very dark, being a dystopia, and even our glimpses to life inside Lynchburg are not that rosy. The action is non-stop. Chapters vary in length and switch locales so the rhythm is choppy. I have not read them but this books makes me think of the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson in that some of the characters have wings.

Some fantasy readers might enjoy the book, but I really did not.

My rating for this book: ++ 1/2

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Double Comfort Safari Club (2010)

This is the eleventh book in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. We return to Botswana, the home of the recently married Mma Ramotswe and her secretary, Mma Makutsi who is engaged to Phuti Radiphuti.

Mma Ramotswe helps a lawyer in the U.S. find the recipient of a legacy, a friend who suspects her husband of infidelity and her husband who suspects her of infidelity, and Mma Makutsi. Phuti suffers a terrible accident and his doting aunt refuses her to visit and care for him.

One of the charms of this series is the slow, quiet dignity of Mma Ramotswe and life in Botswana. However, this book seemed to start off slower than previous books. It seemed that the first half of the book gives us Mma Ramotswe pondering things over a cup of her favorite red bush tea. Patience is rewarded, however, as events unfold and her assignments are resolved to almost everyone's satisfaction.

This series should be read to give the reader an idea of life in modern Africa. The traditional greetings when people meet, and the respect shown to family and friends is genuine and touching. While we enjoy modern conveniences, I wonder if we are truly better off. Without the assistance of television, radio, computers, libraries, etc. Mma Ramotswe is able to find solutions and settle even the touchiest of matters.

My recommendation for this book: +++1/2

The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009)

Another thrilling masterpiece by the late Stieg Larsson, we are again treated to amazing characters and non-stop action. Having transferred a fortune from the offshore accounts ofWennerstrom, an industrial billionaire who sued her friend Blomkvist, Lizbeth Salander took time to travel, recuperate, and stay out of sight. Lizbeth is a terrific heroine in that she is smart and fearless and sexy. "Salander was the woman who hated men who hate women."

During her absence, the magazine publisher, Mikael Blomkvist tries to publish information about sex trafficking both in his magazine and as a book. The authors of the article and the book are killed as is Salander's guardian, an odious man who raped her and would have continued to abuse her if she didn't tape the abuse and threaten him with it. Found at the scene was the guardian's gun which Salander handled and left her fingerprints. A man hunt was out for her.

Blomkvist, sure of her innocence, and Salander both launch their own investigations. Knowing her ability with computers and hacking, Blomkvist finds an ingenious way to communicate with Salander. They discover the identities of the murderers, clear her name, and discover more about her history in the meantime.

The action is high for the whole book and the reader will fly through the 724 pages and by thirsty for the third and last installment.

My rating for this book: +++++

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Going Bovine (2009)

Libba Bray has certainly deserved the Printz Award for this book. It is a twist on Don Quixote where Cameron, a young man suffering from mad cow disease, takes his hospital roommate on an amazing adventure.

One of the places they visit is CESSNAB.

"What's CESSNAB?" I ask.
"It's this place." Daniel spreads his arms wide.
"It stands for Church of Everlasting Satisfaction and Snack 'N' Bowl."
"So it's a church" I say quickly.
"It's everything. Stores. School. Bowling alley. We've got everthing we need right here. Cool, huh?"
Sounds nice until we find out that you never bowl less than a perfect score, the only flavor of milkshake is vanilla, and everybody is happy, happy, happy. They also visit an Infinity Collider and end up in Daytona, Florida in time for spring break.

We follow Cameron and Gonzo on their desperate quest and meet many different characters like an angel named Dulcie and a talking lawn gnome named Balder.

I give this book as high a rating as I can and recommend it to everyone.

My rating for this book: +++++

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2008)

It is always a little odd reading a book that just about everyone has already read and went totally gaga over. One wonders if they are OK if they don't like it as much as everyone else. Well, this book by Stieg Larsson, did not fail to meet expectations. For me, it was as riveting as everyone says.

Lisbeth Salander is the girl in the title and she is a fascinating character.

Blomkvist was watching her. With her slender body, her black camisole, the tattoos, and the rings piercing her face, Salander looked out of place, to say the least, in a guest cottage in Hedeby. When he tried to be sociable over dinner, she was taciturn to the point of rudeness. But when she was working she sounded like a professional to her fingertips. Her apartment in Stockholm might look as if a bomb had gone off in it, but mentally Salander was extremely well organised.

Blomkvist is the other main character in this book. He was the publisher of a business magazine and was sued for libel over an article he published about a billionnaire business man and lost the suit. He was approached by another billionnaire, Henrik Vanger, with a proposal to write a story of his family. In reality he was most interested in the disappearance of his niece, Hariet.

This book is a murder mystery as well as a story about business intrigue and espionage, sexual abuse, and maybe one of the most dysfunctional families portrayed in a long time. I highly recommend this book to readers of thrillers.

My rating for this book: +++++

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors (2010)

I thought for sure this book by Francisco X. Stork was going to be a tear jerker. Right off the bat we meet a young man with terminal cancer and another who has lost all of his family. D.Q. and Pancho are brought together by one of the monks who work in the small orphanage for older boys. Pancho arrives after his sister dies of undetermined causes. As all boys are expected to take on tasks, he is assigned the task of helping D.Q. who has terminal cancer and is pretty much confined to a wheel chair. It turns out that D.Q. helps Pancho as well.

D.Q. is writing a manifesto for "Death Warriors" and he shares it with Pancho.

1. Who is a Death Warrior?
Anyone can be a Death Warrior, not just someone who is terminally ill. We are all terminally ill. A Death Warrior accepts death and makes a commitment to live a certain way, whether it be for one year or thirty years.
.
.
.
4. What are the qualities of a Death Warrior?
A Death Warrior is grateful for every second of time given and is aware of how precious each second is. Every second not spent loving is wasted. The Death Warrior's enemy is time that is wasted by not loving.
5. Why should you become a Death Warrior?
So you can live and die with truth and courage, and because life is too painful when you're wasteful with the time given to you.

D.Q. is an amazing young man, indeed! One of the things Pancho has to do to help him is to protect him from his over-protective, well-meaning mother. Pancho performs his duties to D.Q. as he tries to find out what really happened to his sister.

I would recommend this book to readers of buddy stories. By the way, it was not a tear jerker.

My rating for this book: +++

Monday, April 19, 2010

Revolver (2009)

This is a marvelous historical fiction story by Marcus Sedgwick. It have me the uncomfortable, krizzly feeling in my stomach when reading about mean, awful adults bullying kids, the icky, shivering feeling when reading about the brutal cold of the polar regions, and the uneasy, creepy dread when it becomes apparent that a kid has to use violence to defend himself.

Does God turn his eyes away when bad things happen? Or does he watch, wondering at how his creation unfolds? Does he shake his head in sorrow? Or does he smile?

A miner named Wolff suspects Sig and Anna's father has a stash of gold and he wants half or he will reveal the theft. Sig and Anna have no idea what he is talking about and are dealing with the fact that their father just died after falling through river ice. Will the lessons they learned from their parents carry them through this dangerous time?
I highly recommend this book to readers of action books and historical fiction.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dead as a Doornail (2005)

Sookie Stackhouse's adventures with supernaturals continues in this book by Charlaine Harris. This time she meets her guardian fairy who saves her from a person who is trying to reduce the population of weres and shifters.
In the world I lived in, the world of human people, there were ties and debts and consequences and good deeds. That was what bound people to society; maybe that was what was what constituted society. And I tried to live in my little niche in it the best way I could.
Joining in the secret clans of the two-natured and the undead made my life in human society much more difficult and complicated.
And interesting.
And sometimes. . . fun.
Sookie is shot and her kitchen is torched but she is protected and saved by the supernaturals and she is embroiled in the new leadership of the weres. All through this book she is trying to understand her feelings for Bill, Eric, and Alcide. New men catch her eye, too, which makes things even more complicated.

Still a fun series.

My rating for this book: +++

Forget Sorrow: An Ancestral Tale (2010)

An autobiographical graphic novel by Belle Yang, this book reminded me of the books by Pearl S. Buck which also took place in China.

Xuan (translated to Forget Sorrow) is the only daughter of Chinese immigrants. As a typical teenager she was embarrassed by their old world ways and accented English. She had the bad fortune of falling in with an abusive man and went to China to study traditional art, travel, and meet her grandparents. She returned to the U.S. right after the massacre at Tiananmen Square. In order to fix her relationship with her father, she listens to stories of his family.
I love Baba's stories. I want to be able to give voice to people who were forgotten.
Rotten Egg silenced me with his fist when I disagreed. The Chinese government silenced its citizens with tanks. I have a voice in America. I won't waste it.
Rotten Egg has reduced my world to these four walls, but I won't let him waste my life.
I'm going to work with Baba until I put in the last period...and send it out into the world.
Xuan's great-grandfather, his four sons, and the rest of the extended family lived in an enclosure in Manchuria off of the rent of tenant farmers. The story follows them through invasions, famines, revolutions, and intense family politics.

I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in life in 20th century China.

My rating for this book: ++++

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag (2010)

This is the second book in the series by Alan Bradley about the highly intelligent 11-year old Flavia deLuce. She continues to follow her passion for chemistry and poisons and befriends a puppeteer and his assistant after their van breaks down in her town of Bishop's Lacey. While their van is being repaired, they camp out on the grounds of a neighboring farm and promise to put on two shows for the residents of the town. At the end of the second show, the puppeteer is electrocuted. Flavia uses her unique knowledge to help the local constabulary find the guilty party. She is able to flit about the village and learn stuff because few take her seriously.
"You are unreliable, Flavia," he said. "Utterly unreliable."
Of course I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself.
Eleven-year-olds are supposed to unreliable. We're past the age of being poppets: the age where people bend over and poke us in the tum with their fingers and make idiotic noises that sound like "boof-boof" -- just the thought of which is enough to make me bring up my Bovril. And yet we're still not at the age where anyone ever mistakes us for a grown-up. The fact is, we're invisible - except when we choose not to be.
They are starting to take notice of her, however.
"Dammit!" Inspector Hewitt shouted, leaping to his feet. "Sorry, Vicar. But why haven't we found these things out, Sergeant?"
He glared from one of his men to the other, including both in his exasperation.
"With respect, sir," Sergeant Woolmer ventured, "it could be because we're not Miss de Luce."
Now the long wait for the third book in the series.

My rating for this book: ++++

Friday, April 16, 2010

Push (1996)

This novel by the author, Sapphire, is about a sixteen-year old girl who, when we meet her, is pregnant, illiterate, and being kicked out of her school. This is her second child, both from incestual relations with her father. Her mother, jealous of her husband's attention to Precious, abuses her physically, emotionally, and sexually.

Precious knows the only way out of this is to get her G.E.D., find work and accomodations for herself and her child. Luckily, she enters an alternative school and starts to learn to read and write.

I big, I talk, I eats, I cooks, I laugh, watch TV, do what my muver say. But I can see when the picture come back I don't exist. Don't nobody want me. Don't nobody need me. I know who I am. I know who they say I am -- vampire sucking the system's blood. Ugly black grease to be wipe away, punish, kilt, changed, finded a job for.
I wanna say I am somebody. I wanna say it on subway, TV, movie, LOUD. I see
the pink faces in suits look over top of my head. I watch myself disappear in
their eyes, their tesses [tests]. I talk loud but still I don't exist.
As Precious shows remarkable progress in her classes and learns she is not alone in her support groups, we see her language improve and see her learn she is not alone in her experiences.

This is a very tough read because of the suffering this girl has been through. Readers should be warned that there is sexual content and that it is raw and not pretty.

My rating for this book: ++++

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Creating Currents of Electricity & Hope (2009)

This autobiography was written by William Kamkwamba with Bryan Mealer. William is a young man who lived with his family on a farm in Malawi. He completed the state sponsored primary school and was looking forward to attending secondary school when his country felt the devastating effects of a drought. With all of his family's savings gone to buy food necessary for his family to survive, he could only go to the library where he studied books. He thought that he would try to keep up and be able to rejoin classes at a later time. His favorite subject was science, in particular, physics. While reading the section of the book on electricity he started to design a wind generator so his family could have light at night.

William gives us a view of his day-to-day life as well as introducing us to his family and friends. We also see how his family exists from crop to crop and when they have a poor season, how the entire country suffers. We see how civilization breaks down when there is no food and how governments in third world countries like Malawi increase the suffering with rampant political corruption.

This bright young man fashioned his windmill using parts of machinery left in scrap yards. He gets his light working and then works on improvements such as a brake to stop the rotors when the wind was too high and a circuit breaker so his make shift wiring wouldn't cause a fire in the thatched roof.

His work was finally brought to light when people visiting his village school's library noticed the structure and reported it to their superior. After he saw it with his own eyes he told the national radio station about it. Since then, William has visited England and the United States and has become a spokesman, not only of wind power, but also HIV/AIDS.

This book is a true inspiration and a testament to the benefits of an education.

My rating for this book: ++++

The Dogs of War (2010)

This mystery by Conor Fitzgerald takes place in modern Rome and starts with the murder of an animal activist who had recently produced a film about illegal dog fights. He was discovered by his wife, a senator, and his young son shortly after his murder. His mistress, the daughter of a crime boss, left minutes before the murderer arrived. Alec Blume, an American born Roman police detective, is called in to supervise the investigation. He reminded me of another literary detective, Arkady Renko in the book Gorky Park who was also non-native born, single, singularly dedicated to his work, and skating through the politics of various different police agencies.

The story is told from the viewpoint of the murderer as well as Blume so the reader knows who the perp is but not his motive. The intervals between the alternate POVs is a little awkward and disorienting even though the date and time is given at the top of each chapter. Another small gripe I had with this book is that I was not given an explanation or translation of the names of the agencies or the titles of individuals. Since Blume was originally English speaking, it would have been easy to give us a tour of Roman crime fighters.

It was a rather dark mystery punctuated by Blume's sarcasm and occasional lack of respect for fellow policemen and interviewees. We get a view of the dog fighting world and the repulsive manner they keep and train dogs and we are introduced to a very old dog breed, Cane Corso, a kind of Italian pitbull bred strickly for fighting and consequently antisocial. It is no surprise that the case is solved but there is a rather unexpected and satisfying twist at the end.

This book is for serious mystery readers.

My rating for this book: +++ 1/2