Friday, February 26, 2010

Fire (2009)

I may not have been in the right frame of mind to read this book by Kristin Cashore and maybe I was too distracted but I found this book a real muddle of characters and it was hard to discern a plot. In this world there are regular humans and animals and "monster" humans and animals. It is easy to tell which ones are monsters since they are brilliantly colored and the regular humans are shooting arrows at them. Fire is half human and half monster. She has rainbow colored hair which she has to keep covered when outdoors to avoid attracting the attention of monster raptors. Since her scent is pronounced when she is menstrating, we are kept apprised of her cycles (ad naseum). She is able to read people's minds and persuade them to do things and perceive things like the fact that they have no pain from the arrow impaling them.

Fire is so beautiful that it seems that every male in her vicinity is head over heels in love with her, to the extent that it's a wonder any thing gets done since all they can do is stand around with their tongues hanging out.

There is a mysterious being called a Graceling who appears in the beginning and later in the book who can influence people with his voice but why he appears and then disappears is a mystery to me.

I am in the minority with my opinion of this book. The companion book Graceling has glowing reviews. Fantasy fans would probably get more out of this book than I.

My rating for this book: ++ 1/2

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Witch & Wizard (2009)

To say this book by James Patterson went by fast would be an understatement. I started this book at 7:00 a.m. and finished it at 10:30 a.m. I also made breakfast, read the paper and did the crossword puzzle during that time. 107 chapters in 304 pages go by very fast. It felt like I was reading a children's book (a poor one at that) or a comic book because it felt very empty of substance.

My eyes nearly falling out of my dead in disbelief, I looked over at my sister and realized she had just hit Byron with a lightning bolt.
Lightning. A small bolt, sure, but lightning! From her fingertips!
"More proof!" Byron squeaked, his voice sounding extracrispy and his face almost purple. He was rubbing his chest, obviously horrified by the burn mark on his shirt. "You are a witch! You'll be locked up forever!" He got to his unsteady feet and staggered from the interrogation room.
"You're throwing lightning at people now?" I asked Wisty. "I mean, whoa."

Whoa, indeed. It's unfortunate, too, because there are aspects of this book that merit more investigation. Maybe the continuation of the series will give us more. The best part of the book were the lists at the end of the book including "particularly reprehensible noise polluters" and "especially offensive books".

THE PITCHER IN THE WHEAT: An immensely corruptive "coming-of-age" tale about a youth who endeavors to infect the populace with his cynicism and world-weariness.

This book would be perfect for readers who aren't very confident. They would fly through this book without much effort.

My rating for this book: ++

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rainbow Boys (2001)

Alex Sanchez has written a series, starting with this book, about young gay men wrestling with different aspects of being gay in high school. The chapters are told from the viewpoint of three different young men; one openly gay (Nelson), one closeted gay (Kyle), and one closeted bisexual (Jason). They also have a variety of family reactions from very supportive and actively working for gay rights to an alcoholic and abusive father paired with a woman fearful for her own safety and unable to help.

They deal with coming out of the closet (when and how), gay bashing at school, losing one's virginity, and the fear of AIDS. This book does not gloss over any of these issues.

He asked questions for more than an hour and phoned the hot line three more times during the summer, speaking with different men and women. Each of them invited him to a Saturday meeting. No way, he thought. He wasn't about to sit in a room full of queers.
He pictured them all looking like the school fag, Nelson Glassman - or Nelly, as everyone called him. Even though a lot of people liked him, Jason couldn't stand the freak - his million earrings, his snapping fingers, his weird haircuts. Why didn't he just announce he was homo over the school loudspeaker?
I read this book because it is very popular and I wanted to see how these topics were handled. It shows the young men with all of the worries of straight teens with the added stress of being gay. I can only imagine how this book would, if not solve, at least let other young gay men know that they are probably not alone and that reaching out for help might help them. In the back of the book are resources that might be of use to them as well as their families.

I would recommend this book to gays in high school and their friends to help them understand what they are going through.

My rating for this book: +++

Thereby Hangs a Tail (2010)

This is the second in the series by Spencer Quinn about a P.I. named Bernie and his dog, Chet, who just missed completing police dog school. It is told from Chet's point of view which is endearing most of the time and annoying part of the time.

Back home, Bernie took the rifle out of the safe. I tried not to jump up and down. Loved the rifle, hadn't seen it in ages. We went out, got in the Porsche, Bernie sliding the rifle behind the seats. "Had a drill instructor once," Bernie said. "Know what he told me?" No clue. First mention of a drill instructor, as far as I could remember; didn't even know what one was. We had a drill in the tool kit, of course, but had anyone ever come over to show Bernie how to use it? Might be a good idea. "He said, 'Don't bring a spoon to a knife fight.'" Hmmm. I
thought about that the whole ride, once or twice got the feeling I was real close to figuring it out.
Chet excels at loyalty to his friend and is a good one to have on your side in a fight. One thing he did learn at the school was how to attack someone holding a gun. One thing he did not seem to completely grasp was the difference in importance between an edible item and something that would help in an investigation. At first it bothered me that he dug up a box of his favorite treats that had been buried right next to a car (VW bug) buried with a corpse inside. Then I realized that he was not trained as a cadaver dog and was able to forgive what I thought was a gaff. Luckily Bernie found the car.

I would recommend this series to lovers of dogs and mysteries. Good stories for both genres.

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Angry Management (2009)

Chris Crutcher has brought together characters from his previous book (without aging them) and put them together in an anger management course led by a retired teacher/cowboy who gives us a brief introduction of each of them as a way of reminding us of their previous history. Kids from foster homes, abused kids, black/gay kids, obese kids, and all of them mad.

Amazingly, the ones best suited to help them are other damaged teens. They understand what it is like to live in situations that most people can't understand and while they can't solve the problems, they can listen.


Montana grabs Tara and holds her tight.

Tara squirms a moment, then surrenders. How do you tell somebody that? How can she tell her mother that feeling bad feels right when everything in your world is wrong; that at first you need your foster parents to make things familiar, which in this case means f___d up. It makes such sense at a heart level, but even for a wordsmith like Montana West, it's impossible to articulate. It's so true, and it sounds so crazy.

The author is proud that his books have been challenged and removed from libraries because he puts in them things that many adults don't want to hear, or don't want their kids to hear. It is, of course, a shame, because what he has to say should be heard by every teen and every parent of a teen.

I highly recommend this book.

My rating for this book: +++++

Monday, February 8, 2010

Stitches (2009)

David Almond has given us his autobiography in a medium he knows well. This graphic novel is an example of how this genre is far from teenaged fluff and kiddy goofiness. This is an adult story that reads like a movie complete with zoom ins and close ups but without Foley sound effects and sound track.
Step inside your mouth with me for a moment, won't you?
Careful on the tongue! It's slippery!
Now, you see down there? Those folding screens over the tunnel of your thoat? Those are your vocal cords. When air flows over them they vibrate like the strings on a cello.
Your vocal cords make the sounds of your voice, your curses and your prayers.
When I woke up from operation #2, I had only one vocal cord, and with only one vocal cord the sound you make is...
Ironically, one of the family's major problems is a lack of communication. For instance, it was years after this operation before David learned that he had cancer which was caused by his father's dosing him with radiation to try and cure his sinus problems when he was very little.

This was a tough book to read since there were precious little happiness that David enjoyed as a child - namely using his talent to draw cartoons.

My rating for this book:+++

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006)

This book by Muriel Barbery was translated from French. It takes place in an upscale apartment building with a consierge named Renee and a 12-year old girl named Paloma. Both of them prefer to let others think they are dimwitted, uninteresting women and luckily for them, all of the people around them are so involved in themselves that they fail to notice that they are both very literate and fascinating people.

Lisette lived just long enough to give birth to her child. The infant did what was expected of it; it died within three hours. From this tragedy, which to my parents seemed to be part of the natural order of things, so that they were no more - and no less - moved by it than if they had lost a goat, I derived two certainties: the strong live and the weak die, and their pleasure and suffering are proportionate to their position in the hierarchy. Lisette had been beautiful and poor, I was intelligent and indigent, but like her I was doomed to a similar punishment if I ever sought to make good use of my mind in defiance of my class. Finally, as I could not cease to be who I was, either, it became clear to me that my path would be one of secrecy: I had to keep silent about who I was, and never mix with that other world.
From being silent, I then became clandestine.

Paloma studies her classmates to see how they answer their teachers' questions and mimics them so that she avoids detection. At home she avoids conversations and seeks out any quiet place she can find to ponder things.
All of this scheming is foiled by a new occupant of the apartment on the fourth floor, a Japanese gentleman named Ozu who picks up on the subtle clues dropped by both these women and enjoys their intelligence, as well as it deserves to be enjoyed.
A wonderful, delicious read. I will keep this on my shelf because I am sure I will want to read it again.

My rating for this book: +++++

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Raven Summer (2008)

Raven Summer by Englishman David Almond, is a powerful novel about a young man who learns about the people around him and himself one summer. It opens with Liam and his friend, Max, who follow a noisy and persistent raven and discover an abandoned baby. His parents are arty and rather distracted people but they fall in love with the child and become foster parents for her. In this child we see the beginning of a life story that has tragedy, mystery, and hope.

He is friends with a young scarred girl and a young Liberian man who run away from their foster home. Along the way he learns their stories and a bit about himself as well. Crystal is covered with scars, some are burns inflicted on her and some are cuts inflicted on herself. Henry (aka Oliver) has a particularly heart wrenching past and shares it with his friends. I will not spoil it for the reader by going into particulars.
He looks across the flames at me.
"Perhaps is will always be so," he says. "That fathers wish their children
to live their lives for them. Is it so, Liam?"
I think of Dad: Live like you're in a story, Liam. Live an

"Yes," I say. "It is true."

I highly recommend this book. It is a fast read and most everyone will get something out of it.

My rating for this book: ++++

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Red Glass (2007)

Laura Resau has written this story about a group of people taking a young orphaned boy to his home village in Mexico with adoption papers with the hope of finding any of his relatives to sign them. Sophie, her great aunt (Dika), Mr. Lorenzo (Dika's boyfriend), and Angel (Mr. Lorenzo's son) drive in a VW bus through Mexico to Pablo's village. Along the way we see the reasons why Pablo's parents made the desperate decision to sneak across the border to the U.S. After watching his parents die in the desert and being rescued after three days in the desert, six-year old Pablo was slow in trusting and communicating with his rescuers.

Pablo's grandmother, great grandmother and lots of friends are thrilled to see him return and welcome Pablo's new friends with open arms.

And once in a while she asked me to check on him, because he'd been a city boy
for a year and he wasn't accustomed yet to country life. I would find Pablo and
his cousins chasing lizards and playing hide-and-seek, yelling and laughing and
breathless from running. When I called them back for meals, they were always
rosy-cheeked, covered in dirt, loaded down with treasures they'd found in the monte and spouting off stories of animal encounters. Since we'd
arrived, he hadn't asked me once to read to him.

After Mr. Lorenzo and Angel make their way to their home village in Guatemala, Sophie learns that Angel was attacked and their passports stolen. She slips away from Dika with the copies of the passports Mr. Lorenzo had left behind and stikes out to Guatemala, regardless of the dangers of a lone, blond, teenaged gringa may encounter. Luckily she meets generous people who give her rides and run interference with bad guys. Yeah, right!

Reading about the countrysides, villages, and the warm, loving people of these countries makes reading this book worthwhile. The chapters are introduced by quotes from The Little Prince, one of my all time favorite books.

My rating for this book: +++

Monday, February 1, 2010

World Without End (2007)

Ken Follett has created another historical fiction masterpiece taking place in 14th century England. As in his other book, Pillars of the Earth, we become acquainted with people from the lowest to the highest, the best and the worst, men and women.

Our two central characters are brothers, Ralph and Merthin. Ralph is, to say the least, cruel. His only joy is inflicting shame, pain, and insult. Merthin, on the other hand, is intelligent and driven to build. His goal is to build the highest cathedral in England. His ideas for constructing bridges and hospitals are inspired but they don't jive with the goals of others, in particular the monks of Kingsbridge.

Women feature prominently in this book, in particular Caris, a bright and caring woman who saves more people from the plague than the aforementioned monks would like to admit.
Merthin went to work with speed and energy. He built cofferdams around the two
problem piers, drained the dams, and began to fill the piers with the piles of
large rough stones he had envisaged from the start. Finally, he would remove
Elfric's ugly iron braces and fill the cracks with mortar. Provided the repaired
foundations were sound, the cracks would not reopen.
But the job he really wanted was the rebuilding of the tower.
It would not be easy. He would have to get his design accepted by the priory the parish guild, currently run by his two worst enemies, Godwin and Elfric. And Godwyn would have to find the money.

Both of these books are massive. World Without End is just over 1000 pages. One feature that makes them fast readers is that the language used by the characters is modern and familiar to the reader. The reader will become intimately involved with the characters and their complicated interactions and feel totally satisfied when the book is finished. I highly recommend this book to readers of historical fiction.

My rating for this book: +++++