Friday, April 06, 2007

Catch-Up Sunday (4/15/07)

It has been a crazy couple of weeks here - so the things I've read have just not gotten put "on paper" as it were. I have a tiny sliver of time this morning before heading in - again - to work and am going to try to at least get some quick comments down about these books....

Read this last night. I don't know what it is about these Bloody Jack books, but I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of them. I love Jacky Faber's spunk and smarts and sass. I love that there can be a rollicking adventure tale where - for once - the girl is the focus and the star of the story! From shore to shore, from deck to brig, from cannon battles to tavern singing ... these tales are jam-packed with one memorable scene after another. The minor characters are great foils for the heroine - the backdrop of history and geography illuminating - the way the true meaning of sailing terms (keelhaul, son of a gun) and techniques are woven into the story fascinating. Though fairly long, these books read like a ship with the wind in her sails -- and I was delighted to note the guaranteed set-up for book four and to discover that it is already out! (and the 5th and 6th adventures in progress!) Can't wait to see what Jacky gets into next!!

After having so recently read Drowned Maiden's Hair, it was intriguing to read How it Happened in Peach Hill last week. Not quite as melodramatic as Maiden, this does have a similar plot: mother and daughter con artist team travels through small town America fleecing the lonely by pretending to read palms and communicate with the dead. The mother is a vain beauty who cares nothing for her daughter Annie's happiness - not even registering the pain of making her child pretend to be mentally challenged to further their latest scheme. Annie eventually begins to determine her own fate by tweaking the scheme to her advantage - which sets up a dangerous power struggle with her mother. The ending is quite satisfying, as Annie releases herself from bondage without destroying her mother. A quick read, this is an intriguing look at the mechanics of a "family business".

This was an odd little read. It was sort of a quest tale without a clear quest to me -- or perhaps an escape story? Or maybe just a retelling of a tale from long ago that I am not at all familiar with - that of Tom Thumb. It made me sad, actually -- the tiny child leading his equally unfortunate siblings on a journey to the ocean to escape the impending brutality of their parents... which turns out to be a miscommunication? (Or deliberate deception on the part of the tiny brother in order to get assistance in his desire to travel to the sea?) I did enjoy the railway scenes with the tiny hand coming out from the luggage to grab a bit of food... but mainly, this one reads much like the take on a fairy tale from another land that it is ...

I am happy to be able to laud Adrien Fogelin again after being a bit harsh about the last book of hers I read. This is a really good novel about Fisher Brown - a uber-smart 16-year-old geek who lives alone with his father and longs for a break from the relentless academic expectations that shape his every moment. When an unlikely opportunity presents itself to break away and do something completely out of character, Fisher jumps at it. The road trip that ensues includes a wild cast of characters and experiences - and through it all, Fisher learns that there is much more to himself - and to life - than academics. This is a fine book with lots of heart.

This book was a surprise to me. I expected something sort of tabloidesque and instead got a thoughtful look at one young girl's slow self-redemption from shame and despair. Caught by her own father at 13 while having sex in a car with an older boy, Deanna's life seems to be caught forever in a freeze-frame of that moment. Seared into her father's brain, the moment completely alters his view of her - and his judgmental attitude seeps into the rest of the family dynamic. Her former lover's response - making the tale into a "legendary slut" tale at school, sears a similar picture into the minds of schoolmates and townspeople. Deanna begins to see herself in the same light -- only revealing a sense of hope and possibility in the journal she keeps. I liked the small moves of this novel. Deanna's climb up from darkness is all her own doing - no kindly therapist or teacher intervenes. Her confrontation of her feelings, her plans for a different future, and especially her showdown with her former lover are all painfully truthful in their telling. An insightful read.

And last, but definitely not least, I must add my kudos for Cures for Heartbreak. Mia's life is irrevocably changed with her mother's sudden and unexpected death from cancer and her father's ensuing heart attack. Her attempts to reconcile her present life to her old one are poignant, heartbreaking and at times hilarious. Her worries over her own health are so well-wrought and touched a nerve in me - I recall having many of the same feelings after my own dad's heart attack. (Though my hypochondriac side did not need to learn about calf pain as a silent precursor to sudden illness!) The writing is wonderful and the twists and turns of Mia's journey are felt in the reader's soul. I enjoyed it very much - and would have sat right down to read it straight through again had it not been on reserve for someone else at the library. Particular favorite bits: Mia and her dad on vacation at the heart health camp, Mia's attack on the figurines, and of course, Mia's budding relationship with "Cancer Guy". This is a must-read.
So what are you waiting for? Go find a copy!

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