Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Okay, all you fans of TWILIGHT, I searched high and low for something that would even come close to satisfying your uncontrollable passion for slightly supernatural romance and excitement with an edge. I believe I may have found something here.

Aislinn is a normal girl in a small eastern town. She has been plagued her whole life by the unwelcome ability to see faeries. These are not Walt Disney's tiny happy faeries. These are not Shakespeares mischievous lovelorn faeries. These are troublesome often times cruel creatures that live side by side with the unaware humans. They are not to be trifled with.

Aislinn is drawn into a war between the different courts of fey. And here I am making this sound like boring fantasy Dungeons and Dragons stuff. No offense if that is your thing - but this book is firmly planted in our world, there are high school classes, night clubs, hot guys with facial piercings and abandoned railroad cars. (Okay, so maybe that isn't exactly my world, but you get that there is realism here...)

I went to Melissa Marr's website and found a lot of interesting stuff. There is already another parallel book to WICKED LOVELY in the works, which makes me incredibly happy. There is a great review by a teen reader at Book Divas that makes this book sound way more interesting than I apparently can. Give WICKED LOVELY a read. I guarantee you won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Beige by Cecil Castellucci

Cecil Castellucci has written a punk rock fairy tale for nice girls. Katy is a nice girl; well mannered and thoughtful. When her single mom goes to Peru on an archaeological dig, she is sent to stay with her estranged father in Los Angeles. Her father, a punk rock legend who goes by the name "the Rat", is planning his band's big comeback. How Katy overcomes her self-consciousness, looks past her prejudices and comes to terms with her new surroundings makes for an enjoyable and insightful book.

Katy has a realistic voice and is surrounded by interesting secondary characters who flesh out the slightly idealized Los Angeles she inhabits. There is a strong theme of how drug addiction affects families. It is not the kids who are dealing with drugs, but rather with the aftermath of their parent's addiction.

Castellucci writes as if she assumes that readers are familiar with the music that she mentions - some of which is more seminal than current. It is a nice touch that keeps the book from seeming dated as current music changes but the classics remain. She also names each chapter for a different song so that it is easy for readers to make a playlist that compliments the book.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Life As We Knew It

I can barely stand to be done with this book. Miranda is the sort of character I hate to say goodbye to and this is the sort of book that leaves me wondering what is going to happen next. Not that LIFE AS WE KNEW IT ends badly - it end's at an excellent spot for it to end - but I want to know what happens next!

The story is set in the present day. The action begins when an asteroid hits the moon and knocks it slightly out of its regular orbit. The changes cause world-wide tsunamis which lead to all kinds of trouble with fuel, food and other taken-for-granted things.

In a small town in Pennsylvania, Miranda and her family attempt to survive what begins to seem more and more like the end of the world.

This book made me think about so many things that I kept finding myself staring into space as I considered which books I would stockpile, how I would feed my family and if I would answer my door if people came looking for help. I am usually disturbed by end of the world stories, but somehow looking at it from a small town perspective made it easier to bear as well as more moving.


Last spring I read Malcolm Gladwell's THE TIPPING POINT on a bus full of seniors on their way home from Canobie Lake Park. They were soggy and noisy and having a grand old time. If I could ignore them to read a book, you know it had to be good. And here I went and read Gladwell's next book BLINK and I like it even better!

BLINK explores how we make snap decisions and how accurate they are. It is concerned with how we communicate when we don't even know we are communicating and how the biases we aren't even aware we have shape our decisions. It is written in accessible language and moves along at a nice clip. It is a very interesting little book!

What Happened?

WHAT HAPPENED TO CASS MCBRIDE is certainly worth finding out! Cass McBride is the most popular girl in her high school. She works her classmates like a first rate politician. Her big mistake is not paying attention to "the little people".

When she is kidnapped it will take all her people skills to save her life. And I will say no more in fear that I will give anything away!

This is a real page turner and well worth reading. Almost a shoe-in for summer reading!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dairy Queen

What is it with me and football lately? I started watching FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, the tv series because of the summer reading book and found out that it is the best show ever! Then I read RASH and loved it to pieces. And now I found myself smiling like a ninny the whole way through DAIRY QUEEN.

It is the story of a high school girl who is running her parents' dairy farm while her father recovers from an injury. She ends up training the QB of the rival team (QB is football talk for quarterback for all you non-FNL watchers. And everyone I know except my brother-in-law.) and decides to try out for her high school team.

The main character, D.J. is so realistic and accessible that I felt like I was familiar with the things she was describing even though they are completely foreign to me. Catherine Gilbert Murdock is a first time novelist, which means I am going to get cranky and impatient waiting for her next book! This could be an excellent choice for next year's summer reading. Who doesn't love a book with a cow in a tiara on the cover?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian

I will try to add a picture here at some point. But for now I will just say - remember this title, folks. For you will surely see it on the summer reading list next year. I just finished it and it was fantastic! I laughed so hard at one point that I fell out of my chair. It was embarassing, but fun.
And the book is really interesting. I am thinking of trying for a theme for this years titles - somthing along the lines of books that show unfamiliar ways of life - or faraway places - or other cultures. Just a sense of "othernes". We shall see...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


This book is perfect for next year's summer reading list! There is an excellent review of it on this lit blog, but my own brief thoughts are this:

This book is a look at a future that could happen. It is full of anger and football and I laughed out loud a bunch of times. There are teenagers being chased by polar bears and McDonalds rules the world. If you mixed Aldous Huxley, Kurt Vonnegut and Chris Crutcher's DNA together, you would get Rash.

I wouldn't be surprised if this became a classroom book - of course that would wreck it because then you would have to read it. So read it quick before some English teacher wrecks it! (I am kidding of course, I adore English teachers. Really!)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Born to Rock!

I just finished BORN TO ROCK by Gordon Korman and I really liked it. I always feel bad for people named Gordon because they have no good nickname. They are either called Gor (which brings to mind zombie carnage) or Gordy which makes them sound like a Scottish youth pastor. But I digress.

This here book is about a young Republican who finds out that his birth father is the angriest man in punk rock. Through a series of people acting completely unlike they do in real life - he ends up on tour with his birth-dad's band. It is a funny book that keeps your interest. Some of the characters (okay, all of them) are "types". You know how sometimes a writer will say "she was a goth girl" and tell you really nothing about her personality. Or "he was an excellent student" and you think, "Okay, that tells me one little bit about them - but who are they really?" Those kind of questions go unanswered. That being said - it's a fun ride of a book.

My favorite punk rock book has always been and will always be AND I DON'T WANT TO LIVE THIS LIFE by Deborah Spungen. Leave it to me to find a punk book by somebody's mom... But this tells the fascinating (and heartbreaking) story of Nancy Spungen, Sid Vicious' girlfriend who he stabbed to death at the Chelsea Hotel in 1978. Not the feel-good book of the year, but really interesting. I was also, in my youth, slightly obsessed with I'M WITH THE BAND by Pamela Des Barres which was recently reprinted. It is the story of a good natured groupie and was considered extremely filthy when it first came out. But apparently, not so much any more. I hope that by mentioning it, I don't encourage groupie-ism and bad behavior. Realistically, I think that, for the way Des Barres paints her life as adventerous, she also presents a clear-eyed view of the pitfalls of the "decadent rock lifestyle" particularly in the story of the sad story of Gram Parsons. However you slice it, it is a picture of a time when rock and roll was a completely different animal than it is today!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Some Brief Reviews

Here are some brief reviews. I am way behind in writing and since I am never ever going to catch up, I have decided instead to steal Melody's format. I am also stealing her cute little frog picture. I may steal her haircut next.

Possibilities for summer reading are up first:

Killing Yourself to Live by Chuck Klosterman - Boy, he loves the sound of his own thoughts. Good thing they are pretty interesting. Here the Sex,Drugs and Cocoa Puffs author travels across America to the sites of great rock and roll tragedies while meditating on his relationships with women, music and the meaning of life in a completely self-involved and hilarious way. 9/10

How to Ruin a Summer Vacation by Simone Elkeles - Amy, a spoiled girl who has been raised by her single mom, spends the summer in Israel with the birth father she never knew. She is irritating, but she gets better and the story is fun and interesting. 6/10

Into the Wild
by Jon Krakauer - "A young man from a will-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness...Four months later his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter..." Find out what happens before, after and in between those two sentences. Absolutely gripping - and I can barely stand nature! 10/10

Teen Idol by Meg Cabot - Okay, Meg Cabot writes a book about as often as I wash my kitchen floor (every other month whether it needs it or not) - but she is still awfully good at it. In this one a nice, responsible girl finds herself in charge of the hottest movie star in America who is attending her high school in disguise to prepare for a movie role. 7/10

Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Ph.D. - When someone has to put their degree on the cover of their book I wonder about their motives. Wansink does it to highlight the fact that he is a researcher, not a medical doctor. This fascinating book is all about the research on the hidden cues that determine how people eat. The silly illustrations are the only reason it isn't getting a 10, but a person has to have standards. 9/10

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst - After The Dogs of Babel (one of the best books ever!) I thought I would be disappointed - but not to worry. Parkhurst is still amazing. This is the story of a mother and daughter with a shocking secret who are taking part in a round-the-world reality show. The relationship between them is painfully true and the stories of the secondary characters are just as gripping. 10/10

And now books I read for fun:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
by Joan Aiken - I first read this in elementary school and I loved it! I volunteered to read it for the Briscoe summer reading and reading it again, I realize that it is a lot more sophisticated than I remember. It is the age-old story of little girls vs. evil governesses. Simply brilliant. 10/10

Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen - An elderly man remembers his years as a circus vet during the depression, complete with unrequited love, doomed carnies and a paranoid schizophrenic boss. 9/10

Evening by Susan Minot - This beautiful and moving depiction of the end of life was HARD! I loved it, though. Ann is dying of cancer. Her memories become more vivid than her reality and she is continually drawn to a weekend in Maine where she threw herself into love in a way she never could again. 9/10

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Three New Reviews

No pictures for these because frankly, they aren't interesting enough. Well, maybe THEY CAME FROM BELOW. I liked that one and it might be a summer reading pick for next year. Okay, I will post a picture. But not the other two. If you want to see them, come to the library and take them out. I wrote these reviews for the NMRLS book review blog so they are a little more detailed than I usually write here. Which is to say still significantly less detailed than a real book review!

Emma and Reese are two teenage girls summering on Cape Cod. They are interested in tanning, partying and meeting guys. They meet two somewhat odd language students who are not at all what they seem to be. Add some cute Australians, an undersea nuclear explosion, a not-very-mad scientist dad and some gung-ho intelligence agents and you have a fun summer read that gives you something to think about.

The book starts out with a news report about a nuclear accident and quickly jumps into a standard bored-girl-looking-for-summer-romance style story. Just when it seems like the main characters couldn't get any more clichéd, in come Steve and Dave, the strange foreign young men, to save the day. They are movie star handsome and can speak every language they hear. They need to be taught to eat and they seem to be able to bring people back from the dead. But surely that doesn't make them dangerous?

There is fun and excitement to be had in THEY CAME FROM BELOW and a feel of 1950's sci-fi paranoia mixed with 21st century environmental awareness.

THE EVERY BOY by Dana Adam Shapiro

If Amy Sedaris and Tom Perrotta are willing to write jacket blurbs for a book, it had better be good. THE EVERY BOY started out disappointing. Described as "Salingeresque" it seemed, at first to embody the worst of navel-gazing teen-boy sensitivity. The story seems too quirky and Shapiro tries too hard to make the reader aware that Henry Every is anything but normal. But after awhile the book (and Henry's voice) becomes more palatable. Eventually, you even begin to care.

The book revolves around Henry's parents dealing with his death with the help of his journal. Knowing that Henry dies at the end may leave the reader not wanting to get too attached. Fifty pages from the end, you may find yourself hoping that there will be a twisty "it was all a dream" ending because Henry does grow on you.

This is a dark little book where girls are untrustworthy at best and boys had better get their affairs in order because they are not long for this world. But the details in the descriptions of secondary characters and the charm of Henry keep it buoyant to the end.


Two boys from Miss Pitchell's third grade class in 1928 Cincinatti, Ohio grew up to be World War II pilots. John Leahr was one of the famed "Tuskegee Airmen" African-American pilots who flew for the United States even as they were being systematically oppressed. Herb Heilbrun flew bombers over Europe completing 35 successful missions. The parallel stories of these two men are told in BLACK AND WHITE AIRMEN: THEIR TRUE HISTORY.

Full of photographs and primary sources, this book is a fascinating look at the different wartime experiences of military men in the segregated armed services. Leahr and Heilbrun became friends later in life and currently speak to students about their experiences. Fleischman details their childhoods, education, service records and their lives after the war. The narrative is exciting with many details that will keep any reader with the slightest interest in flying, history or wartime interested.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Armchair Travel

A Travel Challenge - I blame Constance. I just went to her blog to take a look at pictures of Spectacle Island and I found a link to this reading challenge.

I always enjoy a challenge and if I commit myself I am much more likely to finish a pile of books that might be lurking around rather than just looking at them wanly and hoping that the stories they contain will just jump right into my head.

I took a close look at the rules and determined that if I could find 6 books that qualified in THE PILE then I could take part. (I am afraid that THE PILE is now of such epic proportion that it must be typed in all caps. Did I mention that I went to NMRLS and got a stack of freebies to review? Just throw another 10 titles on THE PILE Fecteau. You'll get to them.)

So here is the bit of rules that allow me to take part: Fiction or non-fiction works are fine, and do not need to be specifically travel related, as long as the location is integral to the book - I’ll leave that to your discretion.

And so - the list (all of which are possibilities for Summer Reading 2008):

INTO THE WILD by Jon Krakauer - The story of a young man who shucks off every bit of his identity to travel from Georgia, through Canada and into the wilds of Alaska.

COME BACK TO AFGHANISTAN by Said Hyder Akbar - An Afghan-American youth spends his summers with his father trying to help rebuild post-Taliban Afghanistan.

LOST AND FOUND by Carolyn Parkhurst - A mother and daughter try to connect while taking part in a round-the-world reality show.

DOES MY HEAD LOOK BIG IN THIS? by Randa Abdel-Fattah - An Australian-Palestinian girl decides to put on the hajib - traditional head-wear - at her snobby Australian prep school. (This one is kind of a stretch, but if she were in Palestine, it wouldn't be a problem. It is the whole story since she is in Melbourne!)

SUMMER AT TIFFANY by Marjorie Hart - Two young girls spend the summer in New York City in 1945.

BREAKOUT by Paul Fleischman - An all day traffic jam in Los Angeles is about as hellish as travel can get!

So there you have it. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I just saw HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX last night and enjoyed it immensely. And now I am fixated on the DEATHLY HALLOWS. Here is a link to an essay by Stephen King about the end of the series.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Pile

Here is a list of books that I am reading for my own pleasure, accidentally bought when I was looking over the summer reading tables at Barnes and Noble or that I borrowed from Mr Flanders' book stash.

Do you know that Mr. Flanders has the most amazing collection of young adult books at the high school? I am storing them for him over the summer and I really would like to replace them with old copies of Someday Man Will Walk on the Moon or The Career Gals' Guide to Dressing Smart! or other outdated books I keep in the backroom, but he would notice. Someday, when I can't control myself any longer I am going to raise an army of 10th grade girls and storm his classroom with torches and pitchforks demanding that he donate them to the library. But that's a story for another day.

Back to the book list. I have put them in three categories for your reading convenience. (And bear in mind that I have another 40 or so books that I bought for the library that I need to test drive this summer as well. Boy this job is good for having an excuse to read all the time.)

First up are the books I am reading for my old lady book clubs that look interesting anyway:
WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen - Circus, the Great Depression, murder, elephants; what's not to like?
EVENING by Susan Minot - It's a movie starring every great English speaking actress on the planet - plus a little girl from Beverly - and it is about love and death and that sort of thing.
LOST AND FOUND by Carolyn Parkhurst - A mother and daughter appear on a reality show. This is by the author of DOGS OF BABEL, which is one of my all time favorites and I demand you go read it right now if you like dogs, or trees or people or tattoos or anything. Go read it!

Next up is non-fiction:
THE BURN JOURNALS by Brent Runyon - A fourteen year old boy set himself on fire. Find out why.
INTO THE WILD by Jon Krakauer - This is the first paragraph of the author's note. "In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do East Coast family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. Four months later his decomposed body was found by a party of moos hunters." Way to hook a reader, Krakauer! I don't even like nature and I am dying to read this!
ELEVEN SECONDS by Travis Roy and E.M. Swift - Roy was a B.U. hockey player who was paralyzed in the first game of his freshman year. This is his story.

And of course I have plenty of fiction to read:
BREAKOUT by Paul Fleischman - This looks fascinating - it has two interweaving parts. In one a girl is trying to leave a lousy life in L.A. In the other she is looking back as an adult and performing a one woman show based on the events of the first story. And many students will love it because it is 137 pages.
HONEY, BABY, SWEETHEART by Dab Caletti - Take a quiet girl who likes to read and a thrill-seeking rich boy. Add a road trip, lost love and a book group of middle aged ladies! [Okay, I know I nearly had you until the middle aged ladies...]
BOY MEETS BOY by David Levithan - A romance by the amazing author of REALM OF POSSIBILITY.
SLEEPING FRESHMEN NEVER LIE by David Lubar. This looks hysterical. Also it has the word "freshmen" in the title so people will think it is easy and will be willing to read it!
LUNA by Julie Anne Peters - How did I miss this National Book Award finalist about a cross-dressing teen?

Did I mention that I have 35 books in my trunk to take camping? Plus I have to read EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck and GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens or Mrs. Cohen and Ms Lincoln are going to torment me for the rest of my life? Do you think there might be something wrong with me? Oh, and the new Harry Potter will need to be read, too. Good grief!

Friday, July 06, 2007

A NORTHERN LIGHT by Jennifer Donnelly.

Here is a possibility for next year. It is an interesting look at a smart girl in what appears to be a dead-end life. She lives in northern New York and helps out on her widowed Dad's farm, works as a waitress at a summer resort and longs to go to New York City to college. There is a mysterious death at the hotel where she works and the letters of the dead girl become entangled with Mattie's own complicated life.

I also just read P.L.A.I.N JANES by Cecil Castellucci which is a graphic novel about "art terrorism" which I liked very much until a friend pointed out a bunch of things about it that made me like it less. Mainly, that you barely knew anything about the secondary characters which was quite irritating now that I think about it . I still liked the story quite well.

But A NORTHERN LIGHT was far more rewarding a read. And it made me want to dig into AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, which shares the same murder as inspiration.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Now don't be thrown by all the medals on this book. I know that it used to be in elementary school that you had to read a Newbery winning book like Johnny Tremain or something of that ilk and it was usually deadly boring. That is not the case anymore. The committees who decide on these things are usually comprised of librarians (wonderful, wonderful people!) who actually want you to read books you like rather than books that are good for you. And sometimes they run across a book that is both.

Now I can say in all honesty that An American Plague is gross. It is about disease and death and mosquitoes and smelly seaports. I had my face scrunched up into an unpleasant moue the whole time I was reading it. (And I know I am kind of showing off by using the word moue, but do you know how often you get to use that word? Almost never!) But it is a fascinating look at how an entire city was brought low by a tiny germ. The thing that amazed me most about this book is that it drives home the fact that anyone who has passed high school biology has more actually medical knowledge than the doctors who were trying to fight this plague.

Now if you like your facts wrapped around a story you simply must read Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. Also The Pox Party: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Traitor to the Nation by M.T. Anderson is a simply magnificent and fascinating books that really shows how backwards scientific research was at that point in time. (Of course I wonder if people in 200 years are going to look at our medical practices and call us savages!) And finally an oldie but a goodie - Steven King's The Stand is the granddaddy of all plague books. It is about a thousand pages (you can build your upper body strength by lifting it as you read!) but you will get sucked in right away. I reread it every summer for about 15 years.

If you just like a true plague book, try Flu by Gina Kolata. It is a straightforward story of the 1918 influenza epidemic - well written and understandable.

Monday, June 11, 2007

I was a little concerned about The Tipping Point. I am not always a fan of what I consider to be dry academic non-fiction. This, however, was not that. Gladwell used lots to accessible examples to pinpoint how an idea or trend is adopted by widespread strata of society. (Wow, what a dull description!) As dull as I insist on making it it was really interesting. It explained why people buy really expensive shoes, why my kids got hooked on television, why teenagers still smoke and why sometimes people can do nothing in the face of evil.

Sometimes I like a book that attempts to explain everything in the world. My two favorites are Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything and The Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs which is the perfect book to keep in the car in case you are ever stuck in a drive-thru line behind someone who has never actually ordered an iced coffee in their life and is taking for-EVER to decide between toasted almond and hazelnut. It is the story of a guy who decided to read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and then writes what he learned. Again, I am taking a hilarious book and making it sound dull. What on earth is wrong with me? As for A Short History - you will fall down laughing. Bryson is the sort of writer who can make anything funny.

Friday, June 08, 2007

This is the story of Koren Zailkas who "fell in love" with binge drinking at the age of 14 and quit drinking at age 23. She wrote the book to reclaim the youth that she lost.

I don't usually like "recovery" books. There is not a lot of enjoyment for me in reading about people suffering and then getting better. I didn't read A Million Little Pieces even though people keep telling me to. I do have Dry on my personal summer reading pile. I do remember being really moved by The Late Great Me when I was in high school, but it is kind of dated now. Speaking of dated, Go Ask Alice is still really popular, even though it uses all kind of really dated language and seems kind of "scary on purpose".

I like memoirs, though. Funny ones. A Girl Named Zippy is my all time favorite. I also love Me Talk Pretty One Day and anything by Laurie Notaro.

There is a swirl of controversy lately about how true a memoir has to be because of James Frey, and David Sedaris is caught up in it too. It makes for interesting discussion.

Of course the point of this book is that binge drinking harms young women in all sorts of ways. Which is a good thing to remember.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Someone recently described The Beekeepers Apprentice to me as "a great way to learn vocab for the SATs" which makes a certain amount of sense. I would probably describe it first and formost as an exciting mystery that spans the globe (well, not all the globe, but some interesting parts) with characters both new and familiar.

I like mysteries and this is the first in a series about an intrepid girl who becomes the apprentice of Sherlock Holmes late in his career. It is cleverly written with lots of wordplay and suspense. It is set during WWI, although the war plays a peripheral part at best. It deals with acceptance, grief, intrigue, revenge, kidnapping and estrangement.

I like this era a lot. There is a relitivly new series out called the Maisie Dobbs mysteries that is similar but feels less fictional because of the lack of Sherlock Holmes. Someone just recommended the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries that I have not yet read, but also deal with British response to WWI.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I expected Never Let Me Go to be a cross between House of the Scorpion and Harry Potter but it was not. It is the story of a group of people who lived in a British boarding school who are trying to figure out their place in the world. It was very interesting, although very slowly paced. I knew what the specific "twist" of the book was before I read it and that kind of wrecked it for me. I would have preferred to go into it without any preconcieved ideas. And so I will say very little about it. It is sort of an alternative world kind of book, although you don't really get that until the end. I have already said too much!
It is written by Kazou Ishiguro who wrote The Remains of the Day which was brilliant and also a very quiet and ultimatly moving kind of book.
I love boarding school or dormitory books. Some favorites are Is That You, Miss Blue? by M.E. Kerr, They'll Never Make a Movie Starring Me by Alice Back, Daddy Long Legs by Jean Webster and - of course - the aforementioned Harry Potters.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

13 LITTLE BLUE ENVELOPES by Maureen Johnson

I will interject a quick "I loved this book!" before I give you the musings, once again, of Hannah Howard:

If only we could all have summers like the one Ginny, the main character of the book, has in Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes! In the book, Ginny, a naïve and shy seventeen year old is lead on a wild, whirlwind tour of Europe by envelopes left for her by her Aunt Peg. Ginny travels from London to Copenhagen to Rome and points in between, all the while managing to fall in love and discover lots about herself in the process. Yes, this would be the moment where the alarm clock goes off and we all wake up from bed.

It is a little implausible, but who cares? Johnson’s book is so entertaining and delicious it hardly matters that the situation is kinda unbelievable. Would you really wanna read a book about a normal summer anyways?

Plus, we can all see a little bit of ourselves in Ginny. She’s ready to change and tired of being a kid, but she’s afraid to grow up, too. But when she’s forced to do it, she finds a lot within herself that she never suspected was there.

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes is a great, quick read that is highly entertaining and leaves you wishing you had a wildly interesting aunt to send you on a trip to Europe, too. Pack it in your bag when you hit the beach, and who knows, you may just end up leaving impromptu for a beach halfway across the world.

Bob Dylan's CHRONICLES volume one

Since I haven't been posting even the tiniest bit in quite a long time, I have some catching up to do. To expedite this I am calling in some guest writers. The first is Hannah Howard who got me into this mess with her essay about A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY and how it is cruel to make high school students read books they don't like over summer vacation. So she brought this "guest blogging" upon herself. And here's Hannah:

Forget all those English class lessons about plot lines, because they’re totally and absolutlely nonapplicable to this book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book, just don’t read it expecting a plot line, because you’re gonna end up hating it. Chronicles chronicles (ha-ha) events in Dylan’s life, ranging from his experiences as a small-town folk singer to hardships he later has escaping the paparazzi. It time travels like there’s no tomorrow, and I’m really wondering whether Dylan has ADD or something. That said, I absolutely loved Chronicles. Somehow, Dylan makes all the weird and possibly annoying stuff work in this book.

What really saves it is Dylan’s prose. Dylan is a great songwriter and storyteller and that really comes out in this book. There’s so much quotable material, I had to restrain myself from underlining like a crazy person. He somehow makes the weirdest things make sense, how I don’t really know, but then again that’s part of his genius.

Dylan has had, hands down, one of the most interesting lives of the twentieth century and has got quite a bit of advice because of it, but the book never feels preachy or stuffy. Dylan remains, as always, the cool king of youth and revolution.

The only bad thing about this book is that it can get a little pop culture heavy at times. Dylan increasingly references musicians that I had absolutely no idea ever existed, but that’s really the worst of it. If you can get through that, then Chronicles is really worth reading. It’s a great book and an entertaining read, and I highly recommend it to everyone, not just the beat poets and political dissidents out there.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

This hysterically funny book is the story of Bryson – a writer from the mid-west who has just moved back to the United States from 20 or so years in England. He decides a great way to reconnect with his country is to walk the Apalachian Trail. The Trail runs 2,100 miles from Georgia to Maine. He brings his childhood friend the out of shape, cranky and somewhat recovering addict Stephen Katz. It is an epic journey – kind of like the Oddessy, but interesting.
I like a good travel book. Tim Cahill has written some very funny ones my favorites being PECKED TO DEATH BY DUCKS and ROAD FEVER: A HIGH SPEED TRAVELOGUE. Bryson has also written some good travel books. NOTES ON A SMALL ISLAND is his walking tour of England and IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY describes his travels in Australia. I also quite enjoyed his A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING. My favorite man in nature book is probably NEVER CRY WOLF by Farley Mowat which was on the old summer reading list and is excellent.

This book is a series of interrelated poems. At first it can be confusing – sometimes you can tell who the speaker is, sometimes not. But by the end of the book the amazing way these poems fit together is revealed and you realize that you know who all these kids are. As soon as I finished it, I went back to read it again and it was even better the second time – because it was easier to keep everyone straight in my mind. The language itself isn’t hard at all – these people talk like people really talk. And the way they relate to each other is fascinating.

I didn’t used to like books that were written as poems. It kind of seems like cheating. The writer gets credit for writing a whole book and they are using about a third of the number of words as a “real writer” would. But sometimes it really works. This is one of those times.

If you like this I would highly recommend KESHIA’S HOUSE by Helen Frost. Sondra Sohnes is another good poetry/novel writer. My favorite of hers is ONE OF THOSE HIDEOUS BOOKS WHERE THE MOTHER DIES. I also liked BURNED by Ellen Hopkins, but it is an emotional roller coaster of a book, so don’t say you weren’t warned!

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Zombie Survival Guide
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
When Zombies get their act together and start taking over the planet you are going to be really glad you bothered to read The Zombie Survival Guide! This tongue in cheek book gives you the best strategies for staving off zombie attack and keeping your brain out of the hands of the un-dead and in your skull where it belongs. There is no story to speak of, it reads like a guidebook. The fun lies in the serious tone that Brooks takes. There are little synopses of previous uprisings so you can compare them to your own zombie-related circumstances.

Brooks is also the author of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, so he knows whereof he speaks. If you like fake guides to crazy stuff you might also enjoy How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion and The Government Manual for New Superheroes.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Absolutely Positively Not...

Absolutely Positively Not...
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
This book is so gay!

I hear that sort of thing a lot from teenagers who should certainly know better - "gay" or "faggy" or "queer" used as an adjective to describe anything that the speaker finds distasteful or weird. In this case I am using "gay" properly using two of dictionary.com's definitions: "having or showing a merry, lively mood" and "of, indicating, or supporting homosexual interests or issues". See? That isn't so hard! And it makes me feel smart. But back to the book.

Absolutely Positively Not is the very funny story of Steven - a teenager growing up in Beaver Lake, Minnesota - "the hockey stick capital of the world." He is neat and considerate and enjoy square dancing once a week with his mom, even though he knows it is a little odd. But this absolutely positively doesn't make him gay. How Steven comes to terms with his sexuality is handled in a sensitive and often hilarious manner.

There are a lot of "coming out" stories out there, but few that have the light touch of this one. One exception is Totally Joe by James Howe. Alex Sanchez has written the Rainbow Boys books that share these books' light tone but are a little more direct about sex.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

7 Deadly Wonders

7 Deadly Wonders
Originally uploaded by barbfecteau.
Now here is a book that practically begs to be read in line at Water Country! It is not yet a lock for summer reading, but it is full of explosions, molten lava, world domination and a professional soldier with a heart of gold (and an arm of sliver thanks to the aforementioned molten lava) so I would think chances are good.

The premise is that whoever finds the McGuffin (the pieces of the top of the great Pyramid of Giza, as if it matters) will somehow rule the world. And just to keep things interesting, if it isn't found - the world will be destroyed. No pressure...

Our heroes are a rag-tag group of mercenaries from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Jamaica and a couple of other places that I could list if I weren't too lazy to get up and get the book from the dining room table. The bad guys are a bunch of "Old Europe" forces led by a really nasty classical historian from the Vatican. The second group of baddies is the U.S. special forces team that is trying to jump on the world domination bandwagon.

The search involves the seven wonders of the ancient world - two or three of which I could have named before reading this book. One of the things I really like about this book is that there are maps and charts all over the place. One of the reasons I rarely read this sort of Indiana-Jones meets DaVinvi-Code kind of fiction is because I can never picture the adventuresome parts. Reilly takes pity on people like me and actually charts out the fortresses, caverns and encampments.

I think the last really rousing adventure novel I read was Micheal Crichton's Jurassic Park which is to say that I am probably not the best person to recommend this sort of thing. I did really like Jackdaws, by Ken Follett which is one of those books where a disparate group of people get together for a cause. (Tough girls vs. Nazis) Every review I have read of this book mentions The DaVinci Code, so I suppose I should too. Although the shocking truth is - I haven't read it. I did read Dan Brown's Angels and Demons and liked it fine. 7 Deadly Wonders is a similar sort of fast moving ride.