31 May 2009

Catching Fire; Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire (Hunger Games, Book 2) Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I read The Hunger Games, I knew it was the first book in a trilogy. In a way, that upset me because the book was so fresh, so different from almost any other book I'd read that a sequel (or two sequels) seemed to buck the odds against matching the "magic".

If you're a friend of mine and we've talked about HG, you know my predictions for the sequels. Without seriously spoiling anything for readers waiting for Catching Fire to arrive in September, I can tell you that I was right... and wrong. Collins' "middle" book doesn't suffer from Middle Book Syndrome (as Inkspell did), and I got some of the plot right, but that's like saying that a 66 is a passing grade.

So don't worry about this trilogy losing its steam, and if we've talked, there's no way you'll figure out what I got right and what I totally missed.

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30 May 2009

How to Say Goodbye in Robot; Natalie Standiford

How to Say Goodbye in Robot How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars

Poor Beatrice - moving every few years, always starting over, never feeling really part of any school or clique. And then there's Mom, who seems to be losing it (the emergence of The Pinch, for example, or getting really, really upset when PeachesGoebbles dies). Leaving Ithaca for Baltimore (and Cornell for Johns Hopkins, for her biology professor Dad) isn't great, but there's only one year left of school so it's manageable. The fact that she's so calm, seemingly emotionless leads Mom to call her Robot Girl.

Beatrice meets, and sort-of makes friends with, Anne, AWAE and others but really becomes friends with Jonah Tate, aka Ghost Boy. Back in 7th grade, the Class Lothario decided to throw a funeral for Jacob and then pretended that the (still-living) body was, in fact, a ghost. Turns out, Jonah embraced that identity, much as he embraced the guilt that his twin brother had suffered birth defects to that Jacob could be normal.

Jonah introduces Beatrice to Night Lights, an on-air radio show peopled by the lonely, the cruel, the slightly off-center (and the occasional time-traveling alien). There, and outside school, the two bond over their outsider status. However, when Jonah learns that his twin, Matthew, is still alive (and not dead, as he'd thought for years), things start going awry.

Jonah takes the Ghost Boy persona to a degree that to me suggests some much needed counseling/therapy - removing all traces of himself from the high school yearbook, for example, refusing to take a photo and generally distancing himself from everyone, including Beatrice. That degree of alienation may cause teens already on the edge to emulate him; I would hope that they'd realize how extreme he's been.

I enjoyed this book, with the above caveat noted. I think teens will, too.

ARC provided by publisher

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25 May 2009

Three Cups of Tea (YR version); Greg Mortenson

Three Cups of Tea: Young Reader's Edition Three Cups of Tea: Young Reader's Edition by Greg Mortenson

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is probably heresy, but I didn't really like this book (to be more specific, I didn't like this version of the book). It is clearly written to promote the Higher Purpose of the Work rather than telling the story of Greg Mortenson, his schools and the CAI. Unlike some of the other remade-for-a-YA-audience books I've read, this just doesn't feel as real as the original did.

I'm also very unclear what age group "young readers" encompasses. At times, I thought perhaps 4/5 graders and at other times perhaps a little older. The glossary at the back is almost haphazard, defining words like "glacier" while leaving "clambering" alone. A better strategy would have been to only highlight those words that were not in English.

It's a pity that Mr. Mortenson's book didn't get a better adaptation.

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24 May 2009

The Blood Doctor; Barbara Vine

The Blood Doctor The Blood Doctor by Barbara Vine

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

What would you do if you found out that your great-grandfather was a monster? That's the question Martin Nanther is forced to answer as he probes into the life of the 1st Lord Nanther, Henry (physician to Queen Victoria, and expert on hemophilia). All his explorations are set against the House of Lords Act of 1999; fitting, in that Martin's place in the House is due to Henry's service and the Act banning most life peers from sitting somehow fits with Henry's fall from grace.

Vine is quite good at the dark, psychological mystery, looking at the reasons why and not being as crudely graphic as other writers. The "murder" here is so casual, so off-screen that it's almost impossible to believe that one has been committed - or that, in fact, many murders have been committed.

I also like the history she threw in: the Tay Bridge Disaster, the Act of 1999 and what was known in the 1800s about hemophilia all added to the sense that this was a normal world, a normal family, with something terribly wrong in its midst.

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22 May 2009

Jimmy's Stars; Mary Ann Rodman

Jimmy's Stars Jimmy's Stars by Mary Ann Rodman

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

This stateside historical fiction (set in Pittsburgh) of life during WWII was relatively realistic. The characters seemed real, from Ellie's love for, and faith in, her brother Jimmy to her "nemesis" Victoria's reactions to her letters from Jimmy, to Sal's desire to grow up, to the neighbors and teachers. Equally real was the sense of a time in which things were unsure, and in which people had to Make Sacrifices (roller skates, for example, or eating "ground meat" of unknown origin).

What felt less real was the seeming need that the author had to put in almost every kind of experience - Buddy's homecoming and resulting "illness", Toot's moving in, the kindhearted 4-F, etc.. It did help make the world slightly more real, but it also felt forced, as though the goal was to show a snipped of everything that happened back then in a mere 250 pages.

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20 May 2009

What I Saw and How I Lied; Judy Blundell

What I Saw And How I Lied What I Saw And How I Lied by Judy Blundell

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can understand why this won the National Book Award - it's one of those historical fiction novels that has a few messages, but none so heavy that they give you a headache. What messages? That growing up can be painful, that racism/antisemitism can be insidious, and that heroes can have feet of clay.

Evie's journey from "Sister Mary Evelyn" to an almost-woman feels real: her falling in love with Peter, her kissing (and regretting) Wally, her desire to look like her mother, and her realization that her self-absorption has left her naive and exposed all resonated with me. The adult characters felt, at times, as though they were there merely to serve her journey, although that could have been a deliberate choice.

As I read this, the image that kept coming to me was that of a black-and-white movie from the 30s-40s: the noir tones, the luminous visual of the heroine, the sense that Florida is steamy, etc. just seem made for that type of movie.

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18 May 2009

The Moviegoer; Walker Percy

The Moviegoer The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is so very much a product of its time (1961, New Orleans) - the attitudes, the actions, the characters are clearly from another era, one we've grown past in many ways.

The disappointment of the book is based on the title. I expected more movie in a book about a movie goer (although the dialogue always has that stilted movie-tone sound to it); instead you get a Lost Soul and his upper class New Orleans family, slightly decaying but still solid.

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17 May 2009

Goldengrove; Francine Prose

Goldengrove: A Novel Goldengrove: A Novel by Francine Prose

My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Nico's sister Margaret dies, her family's world crumbles. Sounds banal, right? Yet Prose does something slightly different with the story -- it's not just about grief and getting along with life after the death of a sibling. It's about finding yourself, about being less than your sister's paler shadow and more of a person that will grow old. The characters, even the minor ones, felt real, as though the book was peering into the lives of people that actually existed.

The interweaving of old movies/songs reminded me a little of Davies' The Cunning Man, which isn't a bad thing at all.

Even though this is told through the eyes of (mostly) 13-year-old Nico, I have a difficult time calling this a YA book...

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Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love; Lauren Tarshis

Emma Jean Lazarus Fell in Love Emma Jean Lazarus Fell in Love by Lauren Tarshis

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute... I can see where MS girls like this series. You don't need to have read the first book, although there's enough enticement to make you want to. The plot is a bit predictable (what is it with the outcast and the janitor being friends?), but overall it's a sweet book.

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Inkdeath; Cornelia Funke

Inkdeath (Inkheart, Book 3) Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Inkheart was such a wonderful book - the juxtaposition of the "real" world vs. the Inkworld that an author created to amuse his grandchildren, and the characters that Mo, a silvertongued storyteller/bookbinder read out of that world into the real one. Inkspell was very much a middle book, and now Inkdeath completes the trilogy. What a waste - had Ms. Funke shortened all three (and there's plenty to tighten up!), there could have been a great book and sequel, completing each other. As it is, Inkdeath continues the excess of Inkspell: too much description, action sequences inexplicably dragging on or being raced through, and an author who doesn't know how to end the books properly.

Granted, I'm no author, but this could have been a Mobius-strip of a book, with an Inkworld author writing about an imagined world we call home. The problems of an author giving birth to a world and watching it unfold, helpless to change it back to what the original intention was did get some play in Book Two, but by Book Three that was barely a concern.

I also resent books that hurt my wrists, and at 660+ pages, this book certainly did that. I found myself reading slower and slower, not really caring about the characters I'd so enjoyed in the first book.

Still, younger readers, those that love fantasy/adventure, will enjoy the series.

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11 May 2009

A Round-Heeled Woman; Jane Juska

A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance by Jane Juska

My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anyone who read the hype and is looking for a late-life sex manual will be disappointed as this book dwells more on the emotional side of sex than on the physical (although there's some of that, too). Juska explores her relationships with men (including the men she teaches at San Quentin) rather bravely, perhaps born out of her years in therapy, while glossing over the rest of her life. It's an interesting book for those inching ever older, particularly if you're female and single: beware - this may become you.

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08 May 2009

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle; David Wroblewski

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel by David Wroblewski

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don't know what it was about this book - the length, the trying to be Important, the plot (a mix of animal stories and Hamlet), or just the writing but it was just... meh. The parts about working with the dogs was fine (and the dogs had clear personalities). Edgar's life growing up was fine. The relationships between Gar and Claude, Gar and Trudy, Edgar and Henry, etc. were fine. But the style and tone of the writing, not to mention the glaringly obvious plot points, made it less than fine.

Interestingly, I've seen a few fellow readers have this on their hiatus piles; it took me considerably longer than it might have because I just couldn't force myself to care deeply about it.

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03 May 2009

Chains; Laurie Halse Anderson

Chains Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

For a few years now, our 6th graders have read Lester's Day of Tears and done a project on slavery. Part of the project is to decide what type of slave you were; the kids get the difference between house and field, city and plantation... but Northern and Southern? Not really. When I tell them that there were slaves in New York City, they think I'm kidding. After all, wasn't the Civil War fought against the slave-owning South?

In Rinaldi's The Color of Fire and now Anderson's Chains, students can learn that yes, indeed, there were slaves in the Northern states.

The story itself is relatively predictable: a slave promised freedom doesn't always get it, not all slave owners are horrible (but some are), not all non-slave owners are good (but some are), not all slaves help other slaves (but some do), etc.. Isobel/Sal can read and write (rare for a slave, but it helps move the story along), yet her internal monologue's voice belies her reading Paine's Common Sense. There are times that she, and the other characters, just don't ring true to themselves or to their era. And, of course, the fact that the last page advertises the sequel means that rather than imagining the ending (much as one does in a book like The Giver) you have to wait and read the next book. If there were to be a sequel, I'd have wanted it to be a surprise - it might have made for better conversations with students.

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01 May 2009

City of Ashes; Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes (Mortal Instruments, Book 2) City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Clare is trying to out-angst Buffy, but without including the humor of that series. Her twist on Vampire Simon (that he can go outside in the sun) is probably going to be explained in the next book (oh wait, it's got to do with Jace, right?) but it's nothing new - Yarbro's Count St. Germain can.

The plot is interesting enough to make for an entertaining read, but the lack of real originality makes this an 'if I happen across the next one' rather than an 'I'm actively seeking the next one'.

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