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
I think if
you die
love in
this life,
that's how
Do you
think hell
is fiery?
I don't.
I think
hell is

'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