26 November 2008

Savvy; Ingrid Law

Savvy Savvy by Ingrid Law


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is one of the Potential Newbery Books that I'm reading and, well, as with The Wednesday Wars last year, I'm not seeing what others are.

To start with, I'm automatically prejudiced against any book that takes a perfectly good word and changes the meaning. In this case, it's savvy. "Savvy" actually comes from saber, the Spanish for "to know". But not in this book. Here it's akin to "special power/ability". Why Law couldn't have made up a new word, I don't know. She does when she talks about the ability to control or hide your "savvy", scumbling.

The rest of the plot was fine, albeit predictable. The characters didn't stand out in my mind as ones I'll remember years from now, which is too bad because with a little tweaking, I think I could have done.

So why is this one of the books that "everyone" says will get either the Newbery or an Honor listing? Possibly because it's one of the better books this year. Possibly because it does have a charm to it that I'm sure that the target age group (up to age 14) can see more clearly than this reader did.

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25 November 2008

The Fiction Class; Susan Breen

The Fiction Class The Fiction Class by Susan Breen


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
Not a bad read, but not a great one either. The plot was predictable, and at times the author was too enamored with her skills and vocabulary. The structure of the book is set on Wednesdays (mostly), during a Fiction Class and Arabella's visits to her dying mother in a Westchester County nursing home. After each of the classes, there's an Assignment. What would have made the book far more interesting is if each chapter showed the progress, or utilized the assignment. Also predictable, but less bland that what I actually read.


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22 November 2008

Worst Enemies/Best Friends; Annie Bryant

Worst Enemies/Best Friends (Beacon Street Girls) (Beacon Street Girls) Worst Enemies/Best Friends by Annie Bryant


My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm giving this five stars not because I really like it, but because it seems to be a perfect example of what tweenage girls need to be reading. I know, they prefer stuff like Gossip Girl, but really - this is closer to their real lives. It's not so goody-goody wholesome that they'll be put off and the girls' characters ring true-enough-to-life. The plot was pretty standard (new girl at school tries to make friends and, after misunderstandings and normal girl stuff, finally does; a group of seeming misfits becomes a clique, but in a good way). It really felt like Seventeen to The Clique's Cosmo.

No, I won't read the rest of the series (no real need) but I'm going to make sure that we have the books at work and that students know that.

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18 November 2008

The Angry Island; A.A. Gill

The Angry Island: Hunting the English The Angry Island: Hunting the English by A.A. Gill


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
This collection of essays starts with the premise that the defining characteristic of England is anger and looks at a number of things through that prism. At times this works better than at others - the essays on Political Correctness and Letchworth Garden City, to name two, fail to live up to their promise. Oddly, he's left out several topics that one would have thought were fertile ground for his anger (eg, Education).

The reality is that Gill is the Angry Essayist, albeit one with a sense of humour about his anger, and when he's deeply connected to his topic it's quite good. I'm not sure that this book will explain England to anyone, although some readers may assume it does.

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16 November 2008

The Witch of Exmoor; Margaret Drabble

The Witch of Exmoor The Witch of Exmoor by Margaret Drabble


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is my first Drabble since The Ice Age almost 30 years ago. While the plot was interesting enough to hold me, the tone drove me nuts. The entire book was written with an unseen, offstage narrator ("and now we look at the D'Anger family" or "here is Gogo") and all I could hear was a mash-up of the "Mutual of Omaha"'s narrator and one of those plummy BBC voices. Very distracting. Had that not been there, I'd have given this four stars.

It was also distracting - unintentionally so - to have a major character be from Guyana, and to have Rev. Jones and the People's Temple mentioned, during the 30 "anniversary" of the mass suicide. However, that shouldn't affect other readers, since this was the week of the retrospectives.

Overall, I liked the book. I've got The Gates of Ivory somewhere on Mt. Bookpile and I'm looking forward to reading it. That will be the true test of whether I continue to find, and enjoy, her works.

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08 November 2008

The Rose Labyrinth; Titania Hardie

The Rose Labyrinth The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie


My review


rating: 2 of 5 stars
Yet another in the "Da Vinci Code" genre: this one has more than a little reality poking in (the details of John Dee's interests, the Christian Zionists, etc.) but overall? Please. The cleverness of the riddles was lost in the denseness of the prose; the coincidences and synchronicity were just too perfect; and the time-travel device was ill-used. I was glad that the two main characters were not the ones continually bowled over by the incredible revelations, but their complete blahness struck me as false.


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07 November 2008

Bonk; Mary Roach

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was one of those books that seemed better while reading than after. It's a bit like fast food in that regard!

As one might guess from the title, Roach looks at the history of sex studies, ranging from Kinsey to Masters and Johnson to the modern era. She (and her husband) actually participate in one or two studies, in part so she can talk about how weird some of them are. And, since sex is a silly subject, she allows her sense of humor and whimsy to take over at times (sometimes to the detriment of the topic she's discussing).

While I really dislike the new trend in non-fiction for authors to allow themselves to become part of the story, in this case it almost worked.


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02 November 2008

The Paris Enigma; Pablo de Santis

The Paris Enigma: A Novel The Paris Enigma: A Novel by Pablo de Santis


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
I don't know quite what to think about this mystery. It feels like pastiche, with the primary forefathers being Conan Doyle, Stout and another author vaguely tapping at the back of my brain. The writing is plain, but perhaps that's more the translation than the original. However, when the blurb says "gripping", that's far from the case. Interesting, yes. Almost a cozy, with subliminal references to other mysteries, other detective series, yes. But not "gripping."


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The Private Patient; P.D. James

Rumor has it that this will be the last Dalgliesh mystery. If so, James has given her detective a fitting last case. The mystery, as always, is secondary to the interior life of the characters.

One of my quibbles about series books is that readers of later books are expected to know more about the usual habits of the characters than that book wants to give away. This book doesn't have a lot of that, which is to James' credit.