Saturday, June 05, 2010

Big Trouble at the SATs

What I usually do when proctoring the SATs is bring a big old stack of books to flip through as I watch the test takers. Sure, I walk the rows and look up frequently, but it is a nice cloistered environment where I can give each book a 20 minute test drive. I ditch the ones that are lame and keep the good ones to finish later. Usually it is about a 50/50 split.

Well today the unthinkable happened. I liked every book! Not only that, but every single one of them has me wondering what is going to happen next! I am very ticked off. I don't have time to read 10 titles in the next 2 weeks. I have a life! I have a family! I have a job! (Although I can justify the reading as part of my job, which is excellent...)

Furthermore, of these 10 books, 7 of them have the makings of excellent summer reading picks for next year. So here are my don't-take-my-word-for-it-because-I-haven't-finished-them-yet-but-I-have-a-really-good-feeling-about-these mini-reviews.

Golden Web by Barbara Quick. Allesandra wants to be a scientist, but since she is a girl in 14th century Italy, it seems like an unlikely dream. The first 19 pages have a smart, resourceful heroine, a dashing older brother, an evil stepmother and a medical experiment on a lecherous priest. What's not to like?

Sources of Light by Margaret McMullan. Sam is a freshman when she and her recently-widowed mother move from Pittsburgh to Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. She sees the Civil Rights Movements through an outsider's eyes. Her mother's new boyfriend gives her a camera and she uses that to express her emotions.The story may not be immediately accessible, but the writing is beautiful.

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. The hilarious account of Miss Penelope Lumly, a 15 year-old recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, and her work as the governess for 3 feral children who were found in the woods of a very grand estate. I predict a Series of Unfortunate Events-like success for this series.

Scars by Cheryl Rainfield. This one is a bit of a rough read, but very suspenseful.Slowly, memories of Kendra's childhood abuse have been coming back to her. She can remember the emotions and some aspects, but not her abuser. He had threatened to kill her if she ever told, and she is convinced that, whoever he is, he knows that she is not ready to keep this secret anymore. I totally skipped to the part where she remembers who it is and as soon as I finish this post, I am going to find out what happens to him.

The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander. I am a complete sucker for small-town stories and this is a good one. Set in East Texas, it is the story of Austin Gray who gets involved in the Future Farmers of America in hopes of being elected Sweetheart and getting to ride in the (no Jesus) Christmas parade. I know, it sounds pretty slight, but it is quite funny so far.

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams. Stephen King calls him "My favorite American Suspense novelist" and so far, I have to admit I am pretty hooked. Cody and Clea are two teenagers in love. When Clea's overbearing father sends her to boarding school in Vermont, Cody is heartbroken. When she disappears, he takes off across the country determined to find her. Of course, I am not up to that part yet. But so far, the characters are realistic and the story is gripping.

Princess for Hire by Lindsay Leavitt. This was supposed to be the guilty pleasure read that I told no one about, but it is so dang cute, I have to give it credit! Desi is a high school girl looking for a job that does not require her to dress up like a giant badger. When she is offered a job as a substitute princess she jumps at the changs. Hilarity ensues.

Thirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman. I didn't expect to like this as well as I do! The story is about a boy who finds that he is not only indestructible, but that he can pass this power along. Carman jumps right out of the gate with an action scene that hooks the reader hard. He also has a clever way of presenting a "bad boy" character in a safe-for-the-classroom (so far) manner.

Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah. Jamilah is the daughter of a tradition Lebanese Muslim family, but at school she goes by Jamie and her dyed blond hair and blue contacts keep her background a secret. Important issues of assimilation and racism are cleverly woven into what seems like a lighthearted book about being true to yourself.

Birth Marked by Caragh M. O'Brien. This one is the big winner for me. It is the story of a dystopian future What can I say? I am a sucker for dystopian futures! (In a "nice place to visit, wouldn't want to live there kind of way.) Gaia is the daughter of a midwife who has just delivered her first baby without her mothers help. She delivers the baby, against it's mother's wished, to "The Enclave" as the law demands. When she returns home, she finds that her parents have been arrested and she is the new midwife. Thirty-four pages in and I am HOOKED. As a matter of fact, I am out of here. I have too much to read!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Some Books I Read Recently!

My pal Pam emailed to ask me for some fresh reads. And I have continued to read stuff and NOT blog them. What am I thinking of??? Also, Saturday is SATs day and I will have a whole new pile on my desk. So I bring you the reads of the spring!

The Grift by Debra Ginsberg is about a girl who works as a psychic but has no psychic powers. Or DOES she? I didn't need to be psychic to see some of the "twists" in this book, but Ginsberg is a good writer and I did enjoy the ride.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfield
was a fantastic read! It is a thinly veiled roman a clef about Laura Bush. I really loved this book. I was expecting to be titillated and amused, but I was really touched by the story.

My Enemy’s Cradle by Sara Young was a fascinating look at the Lebensborn program in Nazi Germany. A Dutch girl, pregnant by her Jewish boyfriend ends up in a home for unwed Jungfrau having babies for the fuhrer. It was a nail biter!

Karma For Beginners by Jessica Blank
is the story of a girl in the '80s whose mom keeps dragging her from bad boyfriend to bad boyfriend. They end up in an ashram in the Catskills where she finds a place for herself. I put it to the side three quarters of the way through and it occurs to me that I didn't finish it! Better go dig it up again.

Lonely Heart’s Club by Elizabeth Eulberg was so much better than I thought it would be! It is the story of Penny Lane Bloom (I know, but her parents were obsessed with the Beatles) and how the club she creates of girls who have sworn off boys threatens the status quo of her high school. Standard girl power fantasy with a lot of cute music references and strong writing.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan freaked me the hell out! This is a zombie book, a genre that I usually ignore like a whining teenager, but I accidentally started it and couldn't put it down! So creepy, so good. The sequel, The Dead Tossed Waves, was something of a disappointment to me, but the person who recommended it to me in the first place liked it more than the first! She may be more of a zombie-girl than I am.

Gimme a Call by Sarah Mlynowski was a great concept and deftly written. Brokenhearted at 18 Devi accidentally drops her cell phone in a wishing well and that causes it to only dial one number - her 14 year old self who might be able to undo all the mistakes Deva feels she has made.

The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman is not at all for family viewing, but is an interesting (and funny) look at how Silverman became the comic she is today.

Three Junes by Julia Glass
was written for grown-ups, but has themes that anyone could relate to. Three interconnecting stories deal with a widower on a trip to Greece, his expat gay son in New York and the woman who befriends them both. Just a lovely book.

Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
presents the differences between parenting instinct and child development research. Fascinating stuff that made me retire the phrase, "Good job!" forever.

My Invisible Boyfriend by Susie Day
is an English YA novel about a girl at a boarding school who invents a long distance romance to keep up with her paired-up friends. It was loaded with British-isms and practically begs for a sequel.

Savvy by Ingrid Law is the story of Mibs, who on her 13th birthday will receive her "savvy" - a strange power. Her oldest brother manipulates electricity, her middle brother causes storms when he is upset. When her father is in a serious accident just before the big day, Mibs hopes that her savvy will be able to help him recover.

A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper has been compared to one of my all time favorites - I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - and it is not quite that good. But this story of a young girl growing up on an isolated island kingdom just before World War Two is a suspenseful and marvelously detailed story.

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
was a beautiful book about a reticent English gentleman who falls in love with the widow of the Pakistani grocer in his small town as he is trying to keep his money-grubbing relatives from selling a precious family heirloom.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake tells the parallel stories of a female war correspondent in Europe, the young wife of an American doctor who has gone to help victims of the Blitz and the postmistress in a sleepy Cape Cod town who holds a devastating secret as America edges closer to war.

And these three are the big summer reads I am most looking forward to:

Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, wherein CeeCee has to face the consequences of a rash decision she made years ago to raise the daughter of a murdered girl.

The Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald is the story of Henry who was a "practice baby" at a women's college just after WWII and went on to find himself in the center of the zeitgeist of the second half of the 20th century.

The Passage by Justin Cronin is the talk of the book world this summer. A cross between Stephen King's The Stand (one of my all time favorites) and Cormac McCarthy's The Road (I made it 10 pages before I had to put it down and take deep calming breaths) this doorstop of a book chronicles the carnage that occurs when a government plan to create super soldiers goes horribly, horribly wrong. If you hear screaming in the night, it is probably me ruing the day I got hooked on this one.

Happy reading!