Tuesday, May 31, 2011
So Nickel isn't a normal kid--in fact, he's pretty much as far from normal as you can get, living on his own, earning money in a variety of illegal ways. When a girl hires him to find her missing sister, we find out just how unusual Nickel is. Now, let me just say that I loved the writing here--there's just a hint of noir in Nickel's personality--but this is kind of a deeply f-ed up book. Not in a bad way. But f-ed up. A-.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Did you know that Lovelace wrote other books set in the world of Betsy-Tacy? Neither did I, till the last ALA I went to, where I scored copies of both (actually, three, but this is two stories in one volume and one is short, so I'm just counting it as one book). These stories revisit friends of Betsy's (though she appears in both)--in the first, we find Carney on a summer visit home from college, and in the second, we go back to the characters at 8 as irrepressible Winona asks for a pony for her birthday. Both excellent additions to the series, and the Carney one picks up a plot point that the main series hints at quite a bit, which I've always wondered about.
So tongiht was the Audubon Park CD release show--loved hearing the new songs and some old favorites (Blasted Heath and Register especially!) but of course the highlight of the night was Aimee Argote (Des Ark) joining the AP boys (and Bob Wall) (and some other special guests) on stage to perform Springsteen's Born in the USA in its entirety. Sheer genius.
Lots more crappy photos at Flickr.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
I have like 20 sample chapters on my Kindle, but none were appealing, so of course I read a Harry Potter book instead. And you know what I wonder? Did Harry lose his ability to speak Parseltongue after the events of the last book? It seems like he would have.
Friday, May 27, 2011
It's the 1800s, and a young woman--who knows a bunch of languages and loves Jane Austen--gets caught up in a mystery involving mummies and Napoleon. Plus there's a little romance. Fun story, though really overwritten at times (a lone tear trailing down a cheek, way too much talking-not-showing re: romantic feelings). Still, entertaining, and I liked the end a lot. B/B+.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Whenever ABC Family does a Harry Potter Weekend, it makes me want to reread the books (b/c they are so superior to the movies! And b/c they are awesome!). So I've been reading this one in little chunks for the past few days (and I still love it, every time I read it, and still get teary when Neville gets his points at the end). During this read, a small part of me wished for a happier story, where Snape saw that Harry was a lonely little boy and told him stories about his mother. Of course, that completely negates the actual narrative arcs as written, but I wished it anyway.
This is one of those books where the backstory (see an interview with the author here) is almost more interesting than the novel itself. After finding out that her grandparents were actually Jewish (they emigrated to Canada in 1939 and decided to live as Christians b/c they were afraid), Pick was inspired to write a story about some other Czech Jews in the 1930s. Narrated mostly by the family nanny Marta, the story is at times riveting and at times very frustrating (I wanted to give several of the characters a shake on more than one occasion). I also thought the ending was kind of a narrative cop-out after the serious drama that came before, but otherwise the writing was solid--Pick moves back in time between the past and the present very effectively, adding an extra layer to the proceedings. B/B+.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I love the picture of a new marriage in this book--Betsy trying valiantly to learn to cook, while they both try and get their writing careers going. There's romance and stuff too, but it's a really nice and realistic portrait, I think.
In the second-to-last Betsy book, Lovelace has skipped ahead a few years--Betsy is now in her early 20s, and about to embark on a tour of Europe (to gain material for her writing, of course). And it's funny, if you asked when any of the Betsy books were set I'd just say, you know, the olden days--but this one is emphatically set in 1914. And now, time for the series' grand finale!
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
I've always found it interesting that in a series of mostly-autobiographically-based novels, the author inserted a character (the titular Joe) based on her husband into her high school years (when she didn't meet him until later in real life). Who cares, I love them together. Betsy and Joe forever!
Monday, May 23, 2011
One of the reasons I liked the Betsy books so much is that, even when Betsy is involved in dramatic romances, that's not the focus of her life--she's still centered on her writing and her future, being true to herself. Plus, there's more Joe Willard in this one! You have to love Joe. He's so Gilbert Blythe-y.
The 5th Betsy-Tacy book is an interesting entry in the series--Betsy starts high school and gets interested in boys and expands her social circle, but there's also some interesting stuff on the role religion played in small cities at the time. Plus an introduction by Laura Lippman!
Sunday, May 22, 2011
When I was little (and until fairly recently, really), I only owned the first three Betsy-Tacy books and read them over and over. I used to get the others from the library (I distinctly remember where they were shelved in the children's room) but hadn't read them in years and years until they came back into print in like 2006, so rereading this one was a real pleasure--I didn't remember most of the plot points until they started to converge in the last couple of chapters (and there are some great plot points in this one). These books are wholly charming and I'm so glad they're available again.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Haigh's latest--after 2008's The Condition--is going to be on a bunch of best of the year lists, I'm calling it now. It's the story of a family torn apart by a scandal involving a priest and a young boy--but not the story you're thinking, as it's narrated by the priest's sister. And it's beautifully written--not just in terms of language, but in how Haigh lets the story unfold, leaving the reader wanting more and then breaking her (my) heart. Great, great, great. A.
Friday, May 20, 2011
This book heavily features a subplot involving Little Syria, a depiction that, as an adult, I have mixed feelings about (on the whole, pretty much non-racist, though Lovelace does emphasize that the Syrians are Christians and really into becoming Americans).
Nova Ren Suma's Imaginary Girls
The story here involves two sisters and moves from somewhat sinister to downright weird in a heartbeat. I still haven't decided what I think about it. B.
If a book is described as a "sweeping, multi-generational epic"--well, you have a certain idea of what it's going to be like. And this book isn't like that at all--it's mostly about annoying teenagers doing drugs (I hate books about annoying teenagers doing drugs) and then turning into even more annoying straight-edge kids (it takes place in the 80s). Technically it's multi-generational--one set of parents is featured in a minor way--but I'd hesitate before calling it a multi-generational epic. Not to say it's a bad book--I liked the one character who was a girl, and I wanted to know what would happen to her--but it wasn't really my cup of tea. B/B-.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
I love these books and I love having them on my Kindle.
Holly Goldberg Sloan's I'll Be There
Keri texted me last night, all "girl, have you read this book???" and I was like, I didn't even know this book existed which clearly should be remedied. And though some parts are a teensy bit over the top, and suspension of disbelief is definitely required, the story--of a pair of boys living on the road with their actually-crazy father, and what happens when the older one meets a girl--was totally riveting and intense (much more intense than that description makes it sound, but I don't want to try and summarize more of the plot b/c it was a much better book than the official plot synopsis made it sound). A/A-.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
In this novel, Parker weaves together two true pieces of history--in the early 1800s, Aaron Burr's daughter disappeared while sailing from South Carolina to New York, and in 1970, the last three residents of an NC island finally left. In Parker's version, two of those three are Burr's great-great-etc-granddaughters, living a somewhat eccentric elderly life with only an even more elderly black man as the only other person around. I will admit that I was much more interested in the historical pieces (though a lot of narrative tension didn't pan out for me) and now want to read more about Theodosia Burr. Anyway, it was another appropriate beach read, since a lot of it takes place on Nag's Head. B/B+.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
It's the early 20th century (I guess) and a young girl growing up in a small town is giving testimony to something or other, and knows she's totally wicked and is secretly a witch, and is fairly open about both those things (making for a surprisingly likable narrator). Of course things are complicated by her odd twin sister and by the new boy in town. What's interesting about this is that the reader starts to figure out that something about the story is just not right (and probably will figure out the end long before the protagonist, but that's ok too)--so a pretty exciting read full of fantastic elements. B+.
Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy
YESSSSS the Betsy-Tacy books are finally all available for the Kindle!!! Thank you, Harper-Collins! And the illustrations totally look great (I was worried). These new editions feature all sorts of biographical information/photos of the author and her friends. But you don't need any of that to enjoy the story, which never stops being one of my favorites.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Very funny and action-packed story about a fast-food clerk who finds out he has the powers of a necromancer, leading him headlong into intense local fantasy creature politics, family secrets, and more. He has a great gang of friends and there's also a pretty cool fairy dog/werewolf hybrid girl who gets into the mix. I assume there's a sequel in the works, since there's one pretty big loose thread left at the end. A-.
In this great (but somewhat unsettling) novel, Valente retells some Russian folk tales--specifically, the story of Koschei the Deathless and the warrior woman Marya Morevna--and sets them during the rise of Communism. But this isn't just a simple fairy tale--like I said, at times it's unsettling. And at other times I was wholly caught up in the story--Valente's language is very poetic. OK, back to vacationing. A-.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
OK, I did just read this back in January, but is there a more perfect beach read than a book about a bunch of beauty pageant contestants stranded on a desert island? Plus hilarious corporate satire. It's out next week and was reviewed in this weekend's NYT book review!
Saturday, May 14, 2011
In the third Penderwicks book, Birdsall deftly changes the focus to the three younger sisters by sending them on a vacation of their own. And of course, again, things process just as you know they will--but, again, it's entertaining enough not to matter.
Now . . . what should I read on the beach tomorrow?
Friday, May 13, 2011
The second Penderwicks book is just as charming as the first, as the family gets involved in a variety of romantic foibles (with a large number of literary references). The four Penderwick sisters are delightful characters--this book particularly reminded me of Edward Eager's writing--and I giggled in more than one place. Of course it's pretty clear from the get-go what the outcome of everything will be, but that doesn't make the read any less enjoyable. A.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Very, very cute MG book about a family of four sisters, their father, and their dog, and their three weeks renting a cottage in the summer. The writing has a very old-fashioned/classic feel, though it's set in modern times. I especially appreciated the references to E. Nesbit and Edward Eager. A.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Look, Sarah Dessen always writes satisfying novels, and this one--about a teenage girl who moves with her father from place to place after her parents' scandalous divorce--is no exception. Sometimes it veers a little too close to cheesy/over-explanatory, but Dessen's characters are solid and often hilarious, so it all works out. Plus there's a guest appearance from a couple characters from her previous books, which I generally enjoy. A-.
PS. Great side note: according to this interview, the fried pickles that feature so prominently in this story were inspired by the ones at Tyler's! Man, are those pickles good.
It's just after WWII, and a Polish woman and her young son have just arrived in England to be reunited with the husband she hasn't seen in years. And they both have secrets, which are pretty easy to figure out (maybe they're supposed to be), and there's adjustment to modern life, and the story and characters are ok but it's just not super interesting in the end. B.
Monday, May 09, 2011
Kenyon grads on DFW's 2005 commencement speech there.
This is my favorite part of the pencil-necked/Neil Gaiman kerfuffle.
Similarly, I've been enjoying Jillian Tamaki's (she of the embroidered book covers) webcomic about a school of mutant-powered teens--this one is a highlight.
And also speaking of webcomics: First Second is serializing its upcoming graphic novel Americus--please go read it from the beginning--it's been one of my favorite things for a while now and I need to spread the love more.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
It's 1999, and Lincoln is an IT guy at a newspaper whose job is to monitor the company emails--and who quickly gets engaged in the semi-dramatic lives of Beth and Jennifer (movie critic and copy editor, respectively), one of whom has a musician boyfriend, the other of whom is ambivalent about starting a family. Of course he starts to fall for one of them--but things quickly become more complicated. I'm just going to say that I LOVED this book. OK, maybe it's not always entirely believable, but I didn't even care. The friendship between Beth and Jennifer is especially a highlight. GREAT read. A. Christina, I think you'd like this one!
Saturday, May 07, 2011
Nikki Glass is just your average PI, until she gets involved in a case that reveals she's one of the descendants of the gods. And infighting among those descendants is dangerous and stuff. I really liked the characters here and especially liked the relationship between Nikki and her sister. Totally serviceable urban fantasy and I hope the next book in this series comes out soon. B+.
Friday, May 06, 2011
Millie and Twiss are a pair of elderly sisters who live together and help rescue injured birds. Most of the book is a series of flashbacks to a pivotal summer in their lives, and the story of how they became a pair of spinster sisters. And that story bummed me out a lot. Not to say this isn't a good book, just man, I wanted a happy ending--even though I knew exactly how it would ultimately end! (The path wasn't entirely what I expected, however.) I dunno, B+.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011
Here are some of the ways I have started to write this entry: "Geraldine Brooks is one of those writers who reliably writes EXCELLENT books" "This is an early contender for my best-of-the-year list" "Brooks has once again written a completely immersive and engaging historical tale" and damn, I just want to tell you all that this book is GOOD. Brooks was inspired by the hazy historical facts of one Caleb Cheeshateaumauk, a Native American who graduated from Harvard back in the 1660s. She takes a good tack here, I think--she tells the story at a bit of a remove, as it's narrated by the local Puritan minister's daughter, who secretly befriended Caleb when they were children. Plus, this adds the awesome element of a super-smart girl thwarted in her intellectual ambitions because she doesn't have a penis (sorry, was that crass? Who cares, I was filled with righteous fury on narrator Bethia's behalf). And Brooks doesn't take the story where one might expect, which I supposed I should have expected, b/c she knows how to write a story. What else can I say, except that I am all punchy after reading this book. In a good way. Love it. A+.
Monday, May 02, 2011
Vaughn's latest novel (after Discord's Apple) centers on the estranged daughter of two superheroes, who has disappointed her parents by not having any powers herself. Now she's a forensic accountant, assigned to the case of a supervillain who once kidnapped her. Meanwhile, the city is dealing with a new crime spree, but who's behind it? Vaughn does a great job of making accountant Celia a likable character--who solves mysteries in a pretty cool way, to boot--with a complicated and interesting family dynamic. The answers to the mystery aren't too hard to winnow out, but the story is a funny--and fun--one, and I liked the ending a lot. A.