28 February 2009

Secrets of Greymoor; Clara Gillow Clark

Secrets of Greymoor Secrets of Greymoor by Clara Gillow Clark

My review

rating: 1 of 5 stars

Where to begin? The jacket made this book sound like a mystery (akin, say, to Treasure of Green Knowe, and when I read the words "Utica Insane Asylum" in the first few pages, I thought that this would be a very different type of book.

Instead, I got a short, historical fiction book about Hattie, who has a penchant for lying and losing her temper, and whose Grandmother (once part of Society) is about to lose her house through non-payment of taxes. There is no real mystery, no "secret" of Greymoor, nothing thrilling or in keeping with the jacket blurb or the cover.

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When the Whistle Blows; Fran Cannon Slayton

When the Whistle Blows When the Whistle Blows by Fran Slayton

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Told through a series of stories about All Hallow's Eve in Rowlesburg WV, James Cannon's life appears to be set: he'll leave school and start working in the railyard, just like his older brothers, his father, his uncles and his forebears. By the time he's a senior in high school, though, diesel engines have replaced steam ones, and the railyard has closed down.

The other constant in his life is The Society, a mysterious group that he longs to join. In the last section, he's inducted - it's his father's funeral, and he's helping Do Unto His Father. Problem is, the stories the other members are telling seem like they're about someone completely different, and James wishes he had stories to tell. Then he realizes that the past years, the past All Hallow's Eves, have been his stories.

I liked this - the simplicity of the stories and the relationships between James, his brothers, his father and his friends all worked. And the historical fiction part wasn't heavy handed, just a natural part of a tale that wouldn't have been easy to tell any other way.

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Peace, Locomotion; Jacqueline Woodson

Peace, Locomotion Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

This epistolary novel is written by Lonnie (aka "Locomotion") to his sister Lili - both are foster children, raised apart after their parents died in a Christmas-time fire.

Locomotion feels real: his language, his emotions, his 12-year-old-ness. Lili is more of a cipher, because you only see her through his eyes (and on rare occasions at that). My first thought was that they were never going to meet, and luckily I was wrong. Miss Edna, his foster mother, has two sons, one of whom gets injured fighting (Iraq? Afghanistan?). Again, the reactions to his coming home felt real.

I think boys will enjoy this, despite the conceit of the letter writing.

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Along for the Ride; Sarah Dessen

Along for the Ride Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not quite my cup of tea, but I can certainly see why Sarah Dessen's so popular with my students. This felt like a Joci Picault/Maeve Binchy/"AGA-saga" for teen readers - and that's not a bad thing.

There's no graphic sex, or language, which makes these more palatable than, say the Gossip/Clique/A-List books, and the plot (while predictable) is interesting enough to get girls reading more.

Biggest quibble? There's nothing equivalent for boys, a group that really needs the new Harry Potter to keep them reading.

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26 February 2009

The Believers; Zoe Heller

The Believers: A Novel The Believers: A Novel by Zoë Heller

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

What do you believe? In religion? In Causes? In family? In marital fidelity? In drugs? In helping others?

These are some of the areas covered in Heller's newest book. Joel Litvinoff, a Kunstler-esque lawyer, is felled by stroke at the start of the book and spends the rest in a coma. How will his family (wife, daughters, adopted son, mistress) and friends react to their loss, and will their beliefs change is the question?

One daughter questions her marriage, her desire for children and starts an affair... the other explores Orthodox Judiaism (after four years in Cuba). His son goes in and out of drug rehab. His wife must decide how to react to being his soon-to-be widow, and what to do about the "other family" he's also left. By the end, I felt that all of them had had their belief systems shaken, and most had, in some way, changed as a result.

The exception was Audrey, Joel's British-born wife. As a mother she truly made me angry at times, and cringe at others. There were times I wondered how much of her was put on, and how much was her real personality. In some ways, though, Audrey felt like another version of Barbara Covett (from What Was She Thinking.
Sadly, not every character was as well drawn, and there were moments when I felt exasperated with them for not being better characters. I wish Jean had been stronger, and that Rosa had been less one-dimensional. Had that not been the case, this would have been a five-star read.

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18 February 2009

The Weight of Heaven; Thrity Umrigar

The Weight of Heaven: A Novel The Weight of Heaven: A Novel by Thrity Umrigar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An American couple, Frank and Ellie move to India to try to restart their lives after the loss of their son.

Sounds so simple, doesn't it?

Yet The Weight of Heaven is anything but simple. The depth of their loss - not just of Benny, but of their lives as a couple, as a family - overshadow everything. At no point in the book did I truly feel that they were making their way back to each other. In part, this is because Frank has taken under his wing Ramesh, the son of their servants. In Ramesh, Frank thinks he's found another son... but Ramesh has parents, and it's never clear if the feeling is reciprocated.

The American/Indian differences in terms of class and status, Big Corporation and village tradition, etc. are all played out, with rather predictable results.

When I heard the Harper rep. talking about this book, he came to the pivotal plot point and looked at us and said, "Who does that?". I won't give away what that plot point it, but, really, who does that???

Read this. You won't be disappointed.

16 February 2009

You or Someone Like You; Chandler Burr

You or Someone Like You You or Someone Like You by Chandler Burr

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

A difficult book to read - perhaps it's one that's trying too hard to do too much? What I mean is, there are four things going on, and in some ways they all get short shrift. A marriage disintegrates over religion... a woman finds herself suddenly to be "important" in ways that she doesn't quite expect... a son comes out to his parents... how to understand literature in a world that doesn't quite read any more. Any one of those would overwhelming, and as a group it just feels like there's something not quite There.

Ostensibly this is the story of Anne's book club(s), but the choices she makes for the groups are deliberate Messages Choices. Because we only get her take on the books, rather than the groups reactions to them, there's nothing to counterbalance her opinions. When Howard decides that being a cultural Jew is not enough, we see this through her rather cool, non-Jewish, half-British eyes. There's almost a sense of mocking that this could, for anyone, be important (totally in character for Anne, but still...).

Over all I liked it, but the didactic nature of the dismissal of religion niggled; Anne's voice was not always easy to read, another niggle.

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15 February 2009

Need; Carrie Jones

Need Need by Carrie Jones

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Part Twilight series/part Wicked Lovely/part Stephen King/part Monk... were beings and pixies and humans all mixing together. Maybe I'm reading too many of these types of books (because if one book sells, 50 others like it must sell just as well, right?) but, well, meh.

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The Moonflower Vine; Jetta Carleton

The Moonflower Vine: A Novel (P.S.) The Moonflower Vine: A Novel by Jetta Carleton

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Harper Perennial is re-releasing this 1963 NYTimes Bestseller, with a foreward by Jane Smiley. Having read it, I'm not sure why: yes, it's a good read, but it's quiet (like Plainsong or Gilead, and it's very old-fashioned in terms of theme (not to mention setting: the farm doesn't have running water!).

The story takes place mostly during the years between 1900-1930, set within the bounds of a visit by the three Soames girls to their family home during the Korean War. Each gets their own story, told in the third person (except the very first bit, told in Mary Jo's voice), and even the story of Matthew has a decidedly female tinge to it. Lots of description, and a strong backbone of Rectitude on the part of Matthew and Callie, make this a different read than one might otherwise expect from a family saga. While the stories are all about different people, exploring their inner lives and motivations, you don't get that sense from reading the book: it's too much of the same piece.

In Smiley's preface, she says "[n]ovelists who write a single, excellent novel area a rare breed." I'm sure that for some, this will be that single, excellent novel; just not for me.

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14 February 2009

TMI; Sarah Quigley

TMI TMI by Sarah Quigley

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is definitely one of those Message Books: Do.Not.Make.This.Mistake. ... but it's done in such a way that I think the target audience can relate to and perhaps get, message-wise. It falls into that group of books that includes Good Girls, or Story of a Girl, with less drastic issues. It also falls into the Girl Starts Blog/Diary genre. Or the G-rated version of an ABC Afterschool Special.

I liked Becca, and while her habit of TMI was (at times) cringe-worthy, her story did ring true. I was less happy about her blog, which seemed to be less about TMI and more about TMI+a strong dose of fantasy. Still, the results of her blogging are predictable, as are her attempts to change and make amends.

It'll be interesting to see how real teens (ok, pre-teens/tweens and young teens) respond to this one.

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13 February 2009

Fire; Kristin Cashore

Fire Fire by Kristin Cashore

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

When is a sequel not a sequel? When it's a book like Fire, set in the same world as Graceling, but with none of the previous book's characters or plot. I'd call it the second in a series, rather than a sequel.

Anyway, this opens with a brief prologue that introduces us to a character and the new-ish world we're going to explore, then the book proper starts. The first character, Leek, doesn't reappear for quite some time - over halfway through, in fact - which niggled at me more than I can say. As a matter of fact, it niggled at me so much I gave this a 4 instead of a 5!

That's not to say I didn't very much enjoy this trip to Cashore's imagination, or that meeting Lady Fire, Archer, Brigan, Hannah, and all the others wasn't fun. It was. So was reading those great tried-and-true themes of finding yourself, not letting your parents define who you are/will be, everyone is part monster/part human, everyone will find someone to love (and be loved by), etc..

Part of me feels sorry for those that will have to wait until September to read it; part of me envies them the enjoyment they will experience.

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05 February 2009

Fragile Eternity; Melissa Marr

Fragile Eternity Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was feeling unsure about this series, because I loved Wicked Lovely but felt "meh"-ish about Ink Exchange. Fragile Eternity is a return to the former, but without the wonder (probably because I know that world now).

Seth's journey to be closer to Ash, despite the presence of Keenen and the approach of Summer, is at the heart of this book; the choice he makes is not unexpected, but the ending did take me by surprise. And I have to say I never liked Keenen, so his little "oops" that cost him Donia and Ash made me happy. Just wish Niall was a larger part of this one, but perhaps in Book Four?

A friend asked if you had to read these in order; my advice is if you haven't read Wicked Lovely, you can't read Fragile Eternity. But in terms of continuity, you won't have missed that much if you skip Ink Exchange

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01 February 2009

Bone by Bone; Carol O'Connell

Bone by Bone Bone by Bone by Carol O'Connell

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ever since reading Judas Child I've been a fan of Carol O'Connell's. The darkness at the heart of her mysteries is, for some reason, appealing.

Bone by Bone is lighter than Judas Child or Stone Angel, more akin to a book like Shell Game or Winter House . The characters are what make this book shine, with incredible descriptions of their physical presence as well as details about their psychological state. Unfortunately, that also means over explication in some areas, and by the end of the book there's very little left to our imaginations.

O'Connell doesn't quite follow the "the reader should be able to figure out the criminal from textual clues" approach, but she doesn't stray far. The murderer here was not unexpected, but the evidence did seem to come from some hidden bit of plot that, even if I went back and re-read, was so minor you wondered how the crime got solved.

In the end, the only remaining mystery is why Oren left the military just shy of his 20 years - was it Harriet's doing? was there another reason?

Part of me hopes that we'll meet him again.

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