29 January 2009

Strange Angels; Lili St. Crow

Strange Angels Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strange Angels inhabits the same world as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Wicked Lovely (and a host of others). Dru (short for ?? - we never learn exactly) is special, seeing and hearing things in the Real World that the rest of us cannot see or hear. She and her father move a lot - so often that Dru doesn't always unpack when they get to a new home.

The only school class we see includes a very nasty teacher (and Dru's telling the teacher off is one of those "I wish I'd said that to my witch-teacher" moments) and a guy, Graves, a half-Asian Goth boy. Their partnership seems unlikely, but in one of those seemingly in-fiction-only twists they become friends, partners and (perhaps in the sequel) something more.

Suffice it to say that I can't wait to see what happens to Dru, Graves, Christophe and how they fare in the Schola.

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Peace, Love and Baby Ducks; Lauren Myracle

Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Myracle's previous book, Bliss didn't do it for me, but this one is a good read I can honestly recommend to my students.

The sisterly relationship in the book feels real, much like the relationship in Laura and Amy did: there are good things, and bad things, about being/having a sister. It's also good at showing how relationships between friends change, and how people change as they grow. The only thing that didn't ring entirely true was the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, but that's not something that I think younger readers will pick up on.

The only other book I've read about Buckhead, Peachtree Road, described the same type of life, only a few decades earlier. It feels like this book could be set any where (well, in any very rich suburb), which is actually a good thing - there's a message about friendship and how complicated it can be in high school that probably couldn't be told in another setting, but because Buckhead feels like a place you've been to before, you're don't feel that the message is forced. I'm not saying that well, but readers will understand what I'm saying when they get to that point in the book.

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26 January 2009

Wintergirls; Laurie Halse Anderson

Wintergirls Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, I really do think in terms of books linking to others (it helps when students ask for another book like xxxx). I'd put Wintergirls in the same box as Lisa bright and dark, Cut and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden along with other "gone crazy/on the way to mending" books. In this case, Anderson's powerful prose really sets the book apart, as do some interesting typographic elements.

Lia is 17 and has just learned that her BFF, Cassie, died in a motel room. She and Cassie hadn't spoken in a number of months, ever since Lia's second release from the clinichell on the hill (see what I mean about interesting typography? her real thoughts are crossed out and replaced by her conscious thoughts). Read further, and you learn that Lia and Cassie made a pact to never be fat, which then developed into a contest to see which could be thinner. First prize? No guesses here.

I know many girls struggle with body image, and that anorexia and bulimia are rampant in many schools. The pro-ana life is explored without calling it by name.

What finally brings about Lia's crisis moment? Realizing that her stepsister Emma will be taken away from her for ever, coupled with the recognition (by her therapist) that there's more than just body image to contend with - like Lia's talking to Cassie's ghost.

Very powerful book and difficult to read in places.

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25 January 2009

If I Stay; Gayle Forman

If I Stay If I Stay by Gayle Forman

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I heard about this book, my first thought was "oh, ok, something for the people who loved Elsewhere", but then I realized it was more like The Innocent's Story.

One snowy day in Oregon (ok, it's snowy if you consider a few flakes snowy; being from the Snow Belt in NY, I don't), Mia and her family decide to take a trip. Somehow, there's a massive car accident and Mia realizes that her mother and father are dead, and she... well, she's gravely injured. Except for the whole out-of-body thing she's now got going. And she's not sure what happened to her brother Teddy.

The rest of the story is told between her Other Body's watching/experiencing the reactions of her family, her friends and her boyfriend to her condition and her memories of what her life was before (learning to play cello, meeting Adam, her friendship with Kim, Teddy's birth, etc.). And, of course, deciding if she should stay or go.

This isn't the weepy I thought it'd be, but by the end there were a few sniffles.

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20 January 2009

Darling Jim, Christian Moerk

Darling Jim: A Novel Darling Jim: A Novel by Christian Moerk

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to thank my friend Lisa for blogging about her ARC and that more were available - I immediately wrote away and asked for one for myself.

Wow. What a great, dark mystery. It's the story of three women, found dead in a home in Ireland. Police discover that the older woman appears to have been killed by one of the younger ones; the younger girls seem to have been poisoned and kept prisoner. There's also a missing third person.

The rest of the story is told by Neill, who finds one of the women's diaries in the dead letter box (he's a postal worker, but not for long). His fascination with the story leads him into trouble with his job, trouble in the town where this all started, and trouble as he searches for the ending of the story.

I did get that "the ending was rushed" feeling, but not to the extent I did when reading, say, The Lovely Bones or The Da Vinci Code. Beyond that slight (and I do mean slight) niggle, the tale and the mystery were well written. The diary device was not as annoying as it might have been, and the surrounding "search for the full story" was well written. Yes, there are a few loose ends, but I'm not a huge believer in wrapping everything up - let the reader have some fun imagining things for themselves.

Deeply psychological, deeply dark, and deeply satisfying as a read.

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18 January 2009

The Taqwacores; Michael Muhammad Knight

The Taqwacores The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really don't know what to think about this book. I'd asked for the ARC because of all the buzz - a Catcher in the Rye for Muslims was one of the things I'd heard. Now, I didn't like Catcher, but that doesn't mean I'd hate this.

Perhaps my problem is that I don't have any background for this book. All the Arabic, all the prayers, all the Muslimness made me feel very much like an Other. I'm also not really up on punk rock, so again - I'm the Other.

Having said that, I did recognize that the majority of the characters were stereotypes, there to symbolize some facet of Muslim-American culture. And I've got a semi-working vocabulary of Islamic terms now, thanks to the book.

Will students like it? I think if they can get over being an Other reading it, yes.

(oh, and it felt slightly more like The Outsiders than Catcher. But that's just me -- YMMV.)

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17 January 2009

The Cloister Walk; Kathleen Norris

The Cloister Walk The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
An odd mixture of contemplative thought, memoir and discussion of life in the world of the Benedictines, but an interestingly odd mixture.

I wish Ms. Norris had discussed more the why and how of her life there (I confess I was confused that she spent so much time at a monastery, among monks), as well as what had really led her there. What is it that an oblate does, for example, is missing. I suspect this was written expecting the reader to have more knowledge of Christianity, let alone Catholicism, than I do.

On the other hand, her thoughts about life and death, religion and "real life" are fascinating. It is difficult to imagine having read this book and not viewing the Psalms differently than before.
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08 January 2009

The Knife of Never Letting Go; Patrick Ness

Knife of Never Letting Go Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

My review

rating: 1 of 5 stars
I heard about the book (forget where, exactly) and requested the ARC. Since then I've heard "buzz" about this book and was happy when it got to the top of Mt. Bookpile.

And then I read it. I think the concept is good (what is it that makes a man? what happens to a society where you can hear what's in people's minds? what is good? what is evil?), but the execution seems unnecessarily violent. I actually had to stop reading for a few days because it was disturbing to read, over and over again, about Aaron. I also very much disliked the teasers as to what happened to/in Prentisstown, and why Todd was special. It seemed as though everyone was complicit in keeping the secret (not just within the town, but in other communities), and I never really felt that it was resolved.

Granted, this is Book One of the Chaos Walking series, so perhaps things are better in Book Two. Thing is, I disliked this so much I'm not reading Book Two.

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03 January 2009

The Crow Road; Iain Banks

The Crow Road The Crow Road by Iain Banks

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Not the easiest of Iain Banks' novels to get in to (Whit and Dead Air are probably better starting places for his work), but worth it.

The "Crow Road" is both a physical place (a road in Glasgow) and a state of being, namely, dead (apparently there is an old Scots saying, "he's awa' up the Crow Road"). And one of the characters/narrators, Rory McHoan, lived on one and is presumed to be on the other. The mystery of what happened to Rory is in some ways the centerpiece of the book, as is the next Great Work Rory was supposed to be writing when he disappeared.

Prentice, one of our narrators, leads us through his life, loves (and lost loves) and an awful lot of drinking as he sets out to solve the mystery of Uncle Rory. Kenneth, Prentice's father and Rory's brother, plays another pivotal role (as a character and as a narrator), as do Rory and Uncle Fergus. It's the changing of narrators and time-frames that make this a difficult work; non-linear novels are difficult enough without trying to figure out whose voice you're hearing.

In the end, the mystery is solved and Prentice's seemingly aimlessly drunken walk through life has taken a turn for the sober and thoughtful. He's a character I wouldn't mind meeting again.

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