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

Thursday, April 1, 2010

When You Reach Me (2009)

Rebecca Stead's book received the 2010 Newbery Award and is quite different from winners of past years. Miranda is a 12-year old girl who lives in Manhattan with her single mother in the 70s. She has the intelligence and common sense that most latchkey kids get with the responsibility and freedom of getting around a big city on one's own. She is given a copy of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, and she ponders the complications and contradictions of time travel. In the meantime she deals with the typical sixth grade stuff like stuffy friends, bullies, homeless guys, and not so typical stuff like finding notes referring to events that have not yet happened.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving there was no school, but Mom still had to go to work. I'd been trying hard not to think about them, but I spent a good chunk of that morning worrying about your notes. I held one in each hand and read them over and over. The part about writing a letter wasn't too scary. The scary parts were "I'm coming to save your friend's life" and "Oh, by the way, where do you keep your keys?" and "P.S. Don't ever tell anyone about any of this." Seeing my name written out on the second note was also pretty creepy, because I was still trying to pretend the notes weren't really meant for me. And also where you wrote "I won't be myself when I reach you." I didn't like that part at all.

But of course, we the readers are looking at all of the characters trying to figure who it was that came back in time and which kid was the one to come back. It was refreshing to read a book about a young city dweller that wasn't involved in drugs and gangs but maneuvered around city life with confidence.

My rating for this book: ++++

Equal Rites (1987)

This is the second book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series (thanks, Lucien) and I liked it even better than The Color of Magic. This time Eskarina, Esk for short, was given the power of a dying wizard moments after she was born and moments before we learn that she is not a boy. Oops! Granny Weatherwax, a local witch failed to mention that little fact when she brought the baby to the wizard.

When Esk is older, Granny takes her to the Unknown University where wizards get their training. It is not easy because everyone knows girls can't be wizards, only witches, even though boys can be wizards and warlocks. Granny helps her get into the building but Esk shows her worthiness as a wizard, not by showing what she can do but more how doing nothing is sometimes the right thing to do.

As Esk tried to work out how to move the staff the ripples spread out in the magical ether, changing the Discworld in thousands of tiny ways. Most went entirely unnoticed. Perhaps a few grains of sand lay on their beaches in a slightly different position, or the occasional leaf hung on its tree in a marginally different way. But then the wavefront of probability struck the edge of Reality and rebounded like the slosh off the side of the pond which, meeting the laggard ripples coming the other way, caused small but important whirlpools in the very fabric of existence. You can have whirlpools in the fabric of existence, because it is a very strange fabric.

Pratchett has an amazing ability to turn words and the lesson I see in this book is not to assume. Anything. Ever. Not even how a sentence will end. Fabulous fun.

My rating for this book: ++++