Saturday, October 31, 2009

2009 book 225

Roald Dahl's The Witches
Flipping through the channels tonight, I came across the movie version of this, which always annoyed me for the unnecessary minor changes it made to the book (ie, the witches' shoes). I reread the book instead of watching; it was much more satisfying.

2009 book 224

Megan McAndrews' Dreaming in French
Lovely, lovely novel about a girl growing up in France w/ her American expat parents, and how her life ends up taking some unexpected turns. Had some mixed feelings about the end but on the whole totally enjoyed it. A/A-.

Friday, October 30, 2009

2009 book 223

Jacqueline Kelly's The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
A girl growing up in Texas in 1899 loves learning about science from her grandfather, but as the only girl of seven children, she's under pressure to pursue more traditionally feminine activities. Nothing unexpected happens, but I really enjoyed reading about her relationships with her brothers. B.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

shelf discovery challenge!

Reading Shelf Discovery (scroll down a bit for comments) made me want to reread some of my favorite YA books, so imagine my glee at discovering that some intrepid blogger has instituted the Shelf Discovery Challenge, where you pick 6 books covered in SD and (re)read them!!

Here are my 6 (this list is tentative, based on books I believe are still in my childhood bedroom that can be reclaimed over Thanksgiving):

-Stranger with my Face--I loved this book and it creeped me out!
-Homecoming--I believe I read this for school, but then I read all the others in the series. Maybe I liked being depressed, or knowing about survival tactics?
-A Little Princess--I genuinely like this book and think I reread it fairly recently, maybe? Should that count?
-Cat Ate my Gymsuit--was it a cop-out that she gets skinny and thus merits a boyfriend in the sequel?
-Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler--this is the book I most wanted to reread immediately after finished SD, but it's not available on the Kindle. :)
-My Sweet Audrina--I read my first VC Andrews at summer camp--isn't that always the way?

I probably will also reread the Westing Game, b/c it's one of my all-time favorite books, and doesn't need to be reclaimed since I proudly have it on my bookshelf here! Same for A Wrinkle in Time. Those don't really count as nostalgia fests since I consider them abiding excellent literature.

Anyway . . . who else wants to read awesome (and awesomely bad) YA books with me?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2009 book 222

Jonathan Carroll's The Ghost in Love
When this came out a year or so ago, it got great reviews and I checked it out of the library, but never got around to reading it b/c the description made it sound like a dead dude was chilling, in love with his ex girlfriend, a la The Lovely Bones. Then an awesome friend recommended it to me and so I gave it a shot, and realized I had a totally skewed perspective on what it was actually about. Which is: a few people are supposed to die, and don't, and one of them is this guy Ben Gould, and the Angel of Death sends a ghost (Ben's ghost really, but Ben is still alive) to watch him and figure out what's going on, and the ghost is in love with the girlfriend, and there's a really great dog, and things get totally metaphysical. So, a pretty good read! A-.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 book 221

Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton
This was one of my favorite books of 2008, so when my dad sent me an Amazon gift certificate, this was one of the books I got for my Kindle! It's still just as good on rereading--can't go wrong w/ lake monsters, ghosts, illicit love affairs, literary history, and research into one's family origins. If you haven't read this yet, you should. A.

Friday, October 23, 2009

2009 book 220

Lizzie Skurnick's Shelf Discovery
Skurnick's book--a collection of her Fine Lines columns from Jezebel (with a few introductory essays, as things are organized by rough themes) celebrating the awesomely crazy YA lit of the 70s and 80s--made me want to reread all these hilarious classics (dangerous while using a Kindle). I did have a few problems, but they were primarily editorial--lots of typos/sentences missing key words in the first half; not all essays had the contributor's name (not all are by Skurnick) and I hated flipping back to the table of contents every time there was a textual clue that someone else was doing the writing.

Anyway. This is a must-read if you grew up in the 80s and were a reader--or you could just find the essays online, as they're not much different.

Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 book 219

E.L. Doctorow's Homer and Langley
A generally uninteresting and heavily fictionalized account of the Collyer brothers, this book just didn't do anything for me. B-.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2009 book 218

Francine Prose's Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife
Prose's point in writing this book seems to be to defend Anne Frank's diary from a literary perspective--she presents plenty of compelling evidence to show that Anne considered herself a writer and meant for her diary to be read (which isn't new information, but I imagine Prose's book will reach people who didn't know that). That's all well and good, but it's only the first half of the book. Prose then goes on to recount the troubles with bringing the diary to Broadway and to film, and then briefly discusses its educational uses and people who think it's a hoax. So I guess she was going for an all-encompassing book about the diary? I'm honestly not sure. She did make me want to read a Philip Roth book, which is commendable, since I'm not really a Roth fan.

I can't grade this--it's a book about Anne Frank, for goodness' sake.

Friday, October 16, 2009

books and such

I liked this piece in the Guardian on Roald Dahl in light of the awesome-looking Fantastic Mr. Fox movie.

Also book-related--I just started reading Francine Prose's book on Anne Frank. It somehow manages to touch on all the recent Anne Frank news--bits of her tree being planted in the US and the only known video coverage of Anne. I'm enjoying it so far, though my track record with non-fiction isn't great.

Re: that tree thing--I really admire the Anne Frank Center's various efforts to spread knowledge and tolerance and whatnot. The Anne Frank House/Museum in the Netherlands recently published a couple of comic books about the Holocaust (intended for educational purposes, but fairly good reads) and they're very well-done. The art is Tintin-esque, and the stories (aimed at an early teen audience, I think) don't shy away from the horrors of the Holocaust while still exploring other wartime themes. The first one, A Family Secret, involves a modern-day Dutch boy searching through his grandmother's attic when he discovers a scrapbook from her childhood and learns the story of her best friend, a Jewish girl who was deported. This one nicely explores the Dutch WWII experience (though in an effort to show different reactions, one of the protagonist's brothers joins the Nazis, the other joins the resistance, whcih is not entirely realistic). The sequel, The Search, highlights what happens to the Jewish friend and her family. Anyway, like, I said, I thought these were well-done and would be perfect for classroom use (or personal reading use, if you're interested in that sort of thing).

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2009 book 217

Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry
So remember how Niffenegger got a five million dollar advance for this book by virtue of having previously written a runaway bestseller? Well, this is not a five million dollar book. It's not even really a five thousand dollar book. Starting with the lazy, lazy title, moving to the complete lack of logic in her ghost world, then to the completely illogical decisions her characters make . . . I did enjoy the first half, as the characters were all interesting (a woman leaves her apartment to her twin nieces, and there is lots of twin drama in various generations, and romances, and family secrets, and a great upstairs neighbor crippled by OCD), but something that I think is supposed to be a big secret is way too easy to guess, and the characters all turn into idiots. C-.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

2009 books 215 and 216

Yes, I read two books today--suck on that, New York Times! (I could easily make it through another, but only have two left and still have lots of airport time tomorrow).


Bill Willingham's Peter and Max
Willingham, the author of the amazing Fables comic series (seriously, go pick up some of the graphic novels, they are awesome and cross all audiences), has written a novel set in his fictional comic book world (where fairy tale characters live in exile in New York). The titular Peter is Peter Piper (and he's married to Bo Peep!) who gets the news that his wayward brother has returned to our world and must go find him. Peter's travels, and reflections on his current life, are interspersed with the story of the two brothers and their childhood, and the different paths they took. But you know, they're fairy tales, so there are thieves and witches and magical flutes and things. This is another great take on stories from Willingham and I highly recommend it, even if you've never read the comics (though you should also read those). A/A-.

Nick Hornby's Juliet, Naked
I think if you like Hornby, you'll like this story of a woman in an unfulfilling relationship who strikes up an unlikely correspondence with a former rock star her boyfriend's obsessed with. Parts of this are fairly unbelievable but I do like Hornby so found it a good read while on an airplane. A-/B+.

Monday, October 12, 2009

2009 book 214

Irene Sabatini's The Girl Next Door
Great, great book about an African girl in Zimbabwe in the 80s just after independence, and the white boy next door who may or may not have murdered his stepmother, and their interrelations throughout the 80s and 90s during all the political upheaval. It went places I wasn't expecting, taught me more about a country I know little about, and had believable and sympathetic characters. A.

I have a post brewing about some of the many, many graphic novels I've read--and neglected to blog about--lately, but it's been a long day and I'm tired. Stay tuned, or whatever?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

2009 book 213

James Fuerst's Huge
This novel has a lot going for it--for one thing, the narrative voice is stellar. The narrator is an emotionally disturbed 12-year-old who's really into detective books, and he tells the story in a totally hard-boiled style (with hints of the 12-year-old creeping through). For another, it's just a great slice of life story, where the kid is trying to solve the mystery of who defaced the sign at his grandmother's retirement home while dealing with local bullies, being thought of as crazy by everyone in town, and his older sister, all in 1980s New Jersey. Anyway, I really enjoyed this. A.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

ny times

There's some good stuff in the NY Times Book Review this week--this review of A.S. Byatt's new one echoes some of my own complaints:

While Byatt’s engagement with the period’s over­lapping circles of artists and reformers is serious and deep, so much is stuffed into “The Children’s Book” that it can be hard to see the magic forest for all the historical lumber — let alone the light at the end of the narrative tunnel. The action is sometimes cut off at awkward moments by ponderous newsreel-style voice-over or potted lectures in cultural history. Startling revelations are dropped in almost nonchalantly and not picked up again until dozens or even hundreds of pages later. Byatt’s coda on the Great War, dispatched in scarcely more pages than the Exposition Universelle, is devastating in its restraint. But too often readers may feel as if they’re marooned in the back galleries of a museum with a frighteningly energetic docent.

There's also a stellar review of Catching Fire, which I was very pleased to see, along with one on Francine Prose's book on Anne Frank and her literary legacy, which is in my library pile, and which I am now quite eager to read.

Friday, October 09, 2009

2009 book 212

A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book
It's taken me all week to read this, partially b/c it's almost 700 pages long, partially b/c it's so insufferably boring. (I'm not sure why I kept reading, except I remembered liking Byatt's books and thinking it would get interesting.) Here are just a few of my problems with this book:

--There are 4 core families of characters, all with multiple children and hangers-on to keep track of, which Byatt doesn't handle well.
--For a book where so many people talk about and have illicit sex, it's completely unsexy.
--Even when a Deep Dark Family Secret is revealed, it's somehow boring.
--WAAAAY too many interludes on early 1900s art, theatre, and politics that have nothing to do with the story and feel like chapters from a history book.

It's also interesting to me that one of the central characters is a woman who writes children's books (and there is so much pontificating on children's literature), after she wrote that big essay where she's all jealous of JK Rowling's success.

Anyway, this book was dreadful and I can't believe it was nominated for a Booker. Honestly, I'm sure the British have better books if they want to learn about this time period, and I hope they're not reading it for the vague and inconsistent characters. D.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Man, I've been reading the new AS Byatt book all week and am still only 2/3 of the way through. Until I manage to finish it and blog about it, here are some links and things to tide you over!

Victor might be leaving Young and the Restless! Nooooooo!!!! (But maybe now he can do more guest shots on HIMYM.) (I think everyone has one soap opera they started following as a kid home sick from school, and Y&R is mine.)

I'm totally going to read this Twilight parody.

I also want this book. Yum.

Monday, October 05, 2009


A tribute to Betsy-Tacy! I love that series and own them all! Sometimes I toy with writing an article on them (there are surprisingly few in academia), but who has the time?

Are these the best books of the 2000s (so far)?

Troop Beverly Hills is still one of my favorite movies from the past 20 years. I always sing the "It's Cookie Time" song.

Awesome Lego lantern.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

2009 book 211

Victor Lodato's Mathilda Savitch
A profoundly sad book about a young girl struggling to come to terms with her older sister's death by investigating her life and generally having issues. I had some problems with the narrative voice and with the conclusion but mostly I was just sad. B+.

Friday, October 02, 2009

2009 book 210

Tim Wynne-Jones' The Uninvited
For ages I've thought Tim Wynne-Jones was somehow related to Diana Wynne Jones, but that's not the case at all, it turns out, which is just to say that I wasn't expecting a book quite this dark and intense. At first I wasn't sure if it was going to turn out to be more of a thriller or a character study, but thankfully it was the latter. Anyway, it's about a college student who flees to her artist father's abandoned shack in Canada after things go awry in her lovelife--only to discover someone's already living there, and he's her brother, and someone's been leaving scary gifts on his doorstep. The main plot was fairly easy to suss out, but there were a few twists and turns, and the characters are interesting enough to keep the story working. A-.

2009 book 209

Charlaine Harris' A Touch of Dead
Harris and her publishers, probably in an effort to further capitalize on True Blood's success, have collected the five Sookie-related stories that have appeared in various anthologies. I picked this up so I could finally find out what the deal was with Sookie's cousin Hadley (as I noted here, this short story is important to one of the books), but it was disappointingly bereft of further details. Actually, all of these stories were pretty boring. D.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

partially read

Pete Dexter's Spooner
This has been getting great reviews, but I just don't care enough to read past page 253. It starts off pretty well, telling the story of a troubled young boy and his relationship w/ his family, especially his kind stepfather, in a fairly chatter manner. But then the story jumps ahead to the boy's adulthood and I totally lost interest.