Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Resolution Number One.......

I read, therefore I am ... happy.
However I am unhappy not to have the extra time after I finish a book to post about it!
So, to begin the New Year, some quick takes on recent reads....

Before I Die - Young girl dying of cancer who wants, more than anything, to experience love and sex before she shakes off her mortal coil. A touching and wrenching book - it nonetheless has some of the most accepting parents in history as well as one of the most steadfast and tender boyfriends ever conceived in literature.

Chloe Doe - Young prostitutes in a group home setting attempt to make sense of their former lives and make decisions about their futures. Unsettling, and very sad.

Frannie in Pieces - Coping with the unexpected death of her adored father, Frannie discovers a hand-carved jigsaw puzzle he made that transports her to a time before she was born. Again, the sense of loss is palpable - and the surprise about the mystery of the puzzle a good one.

Spanking Shakespeare - Shakespeare Shapiro -- how can you not already be rooting for this book's main character with that moniker? And he lives up to the hope - a wry, social misfit who is penning a memoir of his high school days... hilarious and memorable.

13 Reasons Why - Great premise -- a girl who has committed suicide sends a box of audio tapes to those who she supposedly holds at fault for her decision. Happily, it is not as "I know Who You Are" as it sounds -- possibly because it is narrated by the only person mentioned on the tapes that she does not hold directly accountable. Painful, chilling and very sad.

Life on the Refrigerator Door - A mom and daughter who inhabit the same house, but never at the same time due to their busy lives, communicate via notes on the fridge. Be forewarned, this breezy sounding premise evolves into a study of how these two lives are transformed by terminal illness......

Zen & The Art of Faking It - Jordan Sonnenblick can do no wrong. In this thoroughly engaging tale, a young misfit decides to present himself as a Zen master. The ensuing complications, rewards and life alteration are pure Sonnenblick. Don't miss this one.

Deadline - Chris Crutcher's take on "what would I do with my life if I knew I had only a short time to live?" - In the case of Ben Wolf, it means telling no one (not family or friends), going out for football (even though he is a little guy), and making a play for the girl of his dreams. Along the way, he learns a lot about himself, his relationships, and the consequences of his decision to keep his imminent departure a secret. Good stuff.

Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume - A fascinating collection of essays by a variety of authors detailing the effect Blume's books have had on their lives and their own writing. I was taken aback by the number of titles referenced by the essayists. A warm tribute to a true trailblazer.

If A Tree Falls at Lunch Period - Two newbies at a prep school - one white female and the other a black male discover they have a shocking personal connection. I didn't dislike this book, but I came away thinking that I have not loved a Choldenko book as much as I loved "Al Capone". Maybe the next one?

Leap of Faith - I enjoyed this look at a young woman who decides to become Catholic. At first, her decision is mainly to needle her parents, but as the book goes on, she discovers a real desire to believe in something larger than herself - and despite her uncertainties, makes the proverbial leap of faith and joins the church. An interesting and insightful journey.

My Mother the Cheerleader - I really disliked this book. I found it housed in the children's room of the public library, which seems a dicey fit. I felt hopeless for the narrator, I saw no real reason to make the mother a tramp, and I cringed at the martyred Jewish writer. Send readers off to a book about Ruby Bridges instead.

The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney - Born into a psychic family and living in Lily Dale (a real life town full of mediums), Sparrow Delaney refuses to acknowledge her own psychic gifts and experiences - until a young male ghost refuses to allow her to ignore him until she has helped him right a wrong. Clever, funny and honest about the ambivalent place spiritualism holds in an age of reason, this is an engaging read.

What-The-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy - I enjoyed this tale of a lost sprite who is grudgingly accepted into a band of tooth fairies. The bookend quality of the story-within-a-story is appealing and the collision of the seen and unseen realms is sketched out very nicely.

Glass - I did not read the first book in what I understand is to be a trilogy - but did not feel that I was at a loss for it. This is a stunning anguish of a tale - made more so by the author's note at the end revealing it to be based on the personal story of her daughter. The use of free verse is perfectly suited to this unfolding tale of addiction and its toll on a young life. Unforgettable.

Olivia Helps With Christmas - Ah, Olivia. The cover art alone on this one lights up the holiday season! Ever the resourceful and forceful presence, Olivia puts her very special stamp on Christmas in this wry picture book...

Delicious - I loved reading Pumpkin Soup back in my Story Time days, and so was powerless to resist picking up this new tale about the three cooking friends. I did not get the same kick from this new outing, however - though the illustrations are still a delight.

Duck & Goose - Illustrations to die for, but a story that fell flat for me. For much better stories in a similar vein try Zinnia & Dot or Guji Guji.....

Little Moon Dog - Again, I love the style of these illustrations, but they have never worked for me as well as my first encounter with this author-illustrator duo as in The Tin Forest. In that storyline, the tale and the visuals connect perfectly....

Lily Dale - Yep, the author's notes and research listings in Sparrow Delaney sent me straight out to find this book about the history of the spiritualist enclave that is the setting for Sparrow's tale. A fascinating and balanced look at the town of Lily Dale, it made me want to visit it myself to draw my own conclusions....

Boy Toy - Well, here's a book you'll not soon forget reading. The story of a young male student who begins a sexual relationship with his female teacher - this book paints a believable portrait of the psychological and physical progression of the connection between these two people and the relentless repercussions for the young man as he tries to get on with his life and his attempts to forge more age-appropriate male-female bonds. A book to ponder long after finishing the read.

Society of S - Another "what? we're vampires?" sort of tale - but with a fun twist: the family is in the clandestine business of providing a "blood substitute" to other vampire families around the globe. Not a must-read, but a fine way to spend a few hours.

Paint the Wind - Pam Munoz Ryan takes a spoiled, lonely rich girl and heals her heart and soul by plunking her down with her horse-raising relatives. A love letter to the beauty of horses and those that love them - particularly the wild ones - this is a great book to put into the hands of any horse fan.

Pieces of Georgia - Georgia is missing her mom and the life her family had before her mom's death. Tagged as at-risk at school, she begins writing a journal as a low-key mode of therapy, but what really opens her heart and mind to a possible path to the future is a mysterious gift membership to a local museum where her artistic abilities find inspiration. This is a small book with a lot of heart and Georgia is a heroine to root for....

Remembering Raquel - Young girl's meaning to the community only realized after her tragic death in an accident tale. Didn't really like this one - butterflies and all.

Billy Creekmore - Plucky young man faces all the misfortunes life can throw at him and still manages to inspire those who have even less than he does. From a horrific orphanage to the harsh conditions of a mining town to the rough and tumble work of a traveling circus, our hopes and dreams ride along with Billy as he keeps on doing his best in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. A memorable tale.

The Castle Corona - Perhaps a bit too precious, it is still a fun twist on a tale within a tale plot lines. The odd characters, the outsider/insider intrigue, the expected (and unexpected) outcomes are all fine - just wasn't one of my favorites of late.

When Dinosaurs Came With Everything - This, on the other hand, I loved so much I immediately bought a copy for my bookshelf at home. One of those delightful books that marry humor, plot and illustration to create something delectable that is even more than the sum of its parts! I long to read it aloud -- and to share the wonderful illustrations -- but as I have no Wednesday Story Hours in my current life -- I will implore you to get a copy and experience it for yourselves as soon as possible!!

No Talking - Another Clements school story - this time with the guys against the girls in a no-talking contest. The two main characters get the lion's share of the attention and the plot twist that ends the contest keeps this from becoming too predictable.

Taken - When a wealthy young girl is kidnapped, she believes she has only to fall back on the training she has received in how to survive such an ordeal - as it is almost an expected occurrence among her set of friends. But nothing about this kidnapping is by the book, and by the time it reaches its conclusion, her life will have been changed irrevocably. I followed this through to the end, but found myself longing to read "The Ear, The Eye & The Arm" again instead.....

The Breakup Bible - After being devastated when her beau wants to see other people, Jen's grandmother gives her a bright pink self-help book called The Breakup Bible. Despite her initial revulsion, Jen finds herself taking some advice from the book, and indeed moves on to see that her hero worship of her former flame was truly unjustified when she and another reporter on the school paper stand up for a story about racism in the community. A solid story lurks beneath this Pepto-Bismol colored cover....

What I Call Life - Placed in a group home when her mother has a psychotic break at the public library, Cal and the other girls are brought together by the serialized story told by the old woman who runs the home. Tough truths and slowly developing camaraderie help these broken girls to see hope in the face of their devastated lives. The finale of the old woman's tale is a perfect finishing touch to her ministrations and we long for happy family lives for each of the residents we've come to know.

The Rules for Hearts - Battle decides to move out to live in a rooming house full of eccentric theater folk before her freshman year of college - not to get a feel for the place as she tells her folks, but to live in the same house as her brother, who ran away from home years before. During the span of the summer, Battle falls for one of the other women in the house, stars in a play, and learns a great deal about herself - and a few unpleasant truths about her brother, as well. I want to read this book again, but I want to read her brother's story. He remained a mystery throughout the novel and that is the tale I was left wishing had been told.

The Sweet, Terrible, Glorious Year I Truly, Completely Lost It - Oh, this fabulous tale from Australia is a hoot and a half - I laughed out loud frequently - but was also moved to tears in sections. Gemma's sister is marrying into a family of military nuts and the families do not seem destined to mix well. And when Gemma is thrown together for a class project with Raven, a mysterious boy with a violent home life - she finds her world changing in ways she never anticipated. The experiences and growth that all of the characters manage in the course of this novel are hilarious, gut-wrenching and sometimes heartbreaking - but altogether quite satisfying. One of my favorite recent reads, to be sure.

The Entertainer & the Dybbuk - A mysterious Holocaust title in which the spirit of a murdered child overtakes the body of a ventriloquist to hunt down his Nazi assassin. An odd and disturbing book, it was nevertheless impossible to put down until I had finished. It was shelved in the children's room of our library -- not sure that is the spot for it....

The Aurora County All-Stars - Deborah Wiles always manages to take a small town tale and turn it into a little jewel. From the spooky opening scene where a young boy sits by the bedside of a dying man, to the moment when an unlikely hero emerges to save the day in a do-or-die baseball game, this charmer is full of heart, ideas and ideals that resonate long after the book has been devoured. An added bit of fun is had when a couple of the characters from other of Wiles' novels put in an appearance: Ruby Lavender and Comfort Snowberger to name two! Another home run for this author...

The Mailbox - Working from the shaky premise that a young boy would continue to live in a remote cabin with the dead body of his uncle, this novel turns out to have a memorable point to make about the sometimes haunted and mistrustful lives led by returning veterans of war. I probably would not recommend this book - but wasn't sorry I stuck it out myself.

Breathe My Name - A taut tale of a yong girl who narrowly escaped death when her mother methodically smothered her three siblings. Adopted by another family, she learns that her mother has been released from jail and is now living in an unsecured halfway house - news that sends her (and her adoptive parents) into a tailspin of worry. With one of the most (unbelievably?) supportive boyfriends ever to grace a page, Frances goes on an unsanctioned road trip to find and confront her mother. Though the plot goes into an unnecessary and unwelcome twist near the end, it is still a can't-look-away-story of the bogeyman living inside the house....

Epic - Though I am not a role-playing gamer, this book was nontheless fascinating. Well-written and intriguing, it posits a society that rewards and punishes its citizenry not through mortal combat, but through role-playing a computer game. A wonderful tale of misfit teens from the lower class taking a new tack toward playing the game of Epic and succeeding in vanquishing the crooked leaders, this is a satisfying fantasy with a promised sequel in the works.

General Winston's Daughter - I truly enjoyed this book. A privileged young girl and her companion travel to a distant outpost where her General father and her soldier fiance are stationed. On the journey she befriends a soldier onboard ship who is a native of the area they are traveling to reach. On the surface, this is a classic old-school romance novel, but it evolves into a very thoughtful musing about the reasons for war, for conquering a distant nation, the clash of cultures and the qualities that truly matter in a life partner. I found Averie a complicated and realistic heroine and found much to discuss and ponder in her adventures abroad.

Kissing the Bee - A slim tome about falling for a friend's boyfriend. Three can be a dangerous number for a triangle of compatriots and this is one of those slippery slopes. The best scenes in the novel are those at the bee farm. Every second of those scenes are written in a way that takes you there body and spirit. Those scenes alone make this worth reading.

Slam - A young skateboarder who worships Tony Hawk and has a mom who is young enough to be his older sister falls into a relationship with a girl and soon finds himself facing fatherhood. An unsentimental look at teen fatherhood, Sam's thoughts and feelings are revealed in interesting "time shifts" in which Sam sees glimpses of his future. Not heartwarming and redemptive, nor preachy and condemning, this is a frank and quirky book about teen pregnancy and its aftermath.

The Poison Apples - First off, this book LOOKS great -- with its poison apple red page edging - lovely! A tale of three disparate young women all sent off to the same boarding school by scheming stepmothers/stepfathers and their plots for revenge. I was tired of it before I finished, but it did have a few good moments with unexpected character development - especially in the evil stepmonsters.

The World Without Us - Just what would happen to the Earth if we were all spirited away tomorrow? Would it ever recover from the abuse we've heaped upon it? This fascinating non-fiction tome sets out to explore those very questions and the result is both sobering and hopeful. In time (a LOT of time in some cases) the Earth would likely be able to repair much of the damage we've wrought - which is heartening even as your heart is breaking at the litany of horrors we've perpetrated. The part of the book that really stuck with me, though, is the final section that discusses what tangible proof of our accomplishments would survive us. The notion of our collective human hubris eroded into dust still echoes inside my head weeks after finishing the book.

T is for Trespass - I love a good Kinsey. This time she is out to save a crotchety old neighbor from being swindled and/or murdered by an unscrupulous hired nurse. Another good addition to the series.

The Legend of Zoey - An odd time travel adventure set during the New Madrid earthquakes, this tale does have a satisfying twist at the end that makes it come together - but as with all such plot lines, a willing suspension of disbelief is imperative. Living in the Midwest, it did make me want to learn more about the current state of the New Madrid faultline - not sure I have any interest in seeing the Mississippi run backwards for myself!

Hurt Go Happy - The cover doesn't really work for this book, and I am not sure about the choice of title. Nonetheless, it is an intriguing and moving book about hearing loss, societal norms and animal abuse. How is that possible? A young girl who lost her hearing at a young age (the cause is mysteriously kept shrouded until late in the novel) has a mother who refuses to let her learn to communicate in sign language for fear she will be an outcast in "normal" society. A chance meeting with an old man who is raising a chimpanzee that communicates through sign language opens Joey's world in unimagined ways - and forms the catalyst for the remainder of the novel. Unsparing in its condemnation of using animals for testing (I defy any reader not to wince in this section of the novel) and unwavering in its support for ASL as a means to open the world to the hearing impaired and to communication between species - this is an unlikely but winning tale.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - I am always afraid of a book that has too much high praise heaped up before I read it -- but this one lived up to its advance press. Absolutely devastating in its depiction of reservation life and the internal and external struggles faced by modern Native Americans, it is not hopeless or self-pitying. Instead, in his honest telling of his life's story, Arnold Spirit is an inspiring soul. Determined to find a better life for himself, he chooses to attend a school outside the reservation - winning a few new friends along the way, but alienating many of his reservation neighbors - particularly his best friend, Rowdy. Scenes of harsh violence are told in a matter-of-fact voice or through insightful comic book style panels that speak more eloquently than a thousand words. Through it all, I felt connected to Arnold and his quest. I still do. A must-read.

Quaking - An incorrigible teen girl is sent to live with distant relatives who are Quakers. The expected clash of ideas and behaviors ensue, but along the way, an appreciation for their quiet simplicity and commitment to peaceful values alters Matilda's world view. An interesting look at lives that are focused on peace and willing to take action to make that view known to others - particularly in these days of war and terrorism.

Boot Camp - I just barely managed to get through this. I believe that such horrific places exist, but I had experienced enough sadism by the fifth chapter to last a lifetime.

Freak Show - It took a while for me to get with the groove of Billy Bloom's speech patterns, but once in, I was unable to look away as he works to find a place for his drag queen self in the most redneck of southern high schools. Flamboyant, creative and big-hearted, it is not easy to watch the torture and degradation heaped upon Billy - but as in all great fish-out-of-water tales, all's well that ends well and the guy gets his dream boy.

Heaven Looks A Lot Like the Mall - A quirky little last-look-around-before-death tale in which Tessa falls into a coma after being smacked in the head with a dodgeball in gym class and then wanders a heavenly version of the mall where both her parents work - discovering life lessons from memories associated with the various stores in the mall. Ultimately redemptive, this is, however, a journey of a young woman discovering that she has not always made the right or the decent choices in her life - but still deserves to believe in herself as a good person capable of making better choices in the future. I was so-so about the novel - the free verse is fun style choice and I enjoyed the keying of memories to the different mall locations, but it is not a book that I expect will stay with me.

Whew! Nearly an hour to go on January One and my first New Year's Resolution is completed - catching up on posts for the books I've read in the past 7 weeks! Yay!

Here's to 2008 and a whole new batch of amazing books to savor! Hurrah!

1 comment:

Jordan Sonnenblick said...

Wow, thanks a ton for writing that I "can do no wrong". I think I'll put that statement on the fridge; my wife will get a huge kick out of it!!!