Monday, June 29, 2009

Finger Lickin' Fifteen

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

Mmm... Ranger. OK, if I were Stephanie Plum, I'd be just as torn between the dangerous but surprisingly sweet, Ranger and the by-the-book (mostly) Joe Morelli. They've both got good points and bad. It's just too much fun that she gets to have it both ways.

This is one of the funniest books in the series. Good ole Janet kinda started to lose me for a little while, but I'm back as a big fan of these hilarious stories. Lula and Grandma have a little project going in this book and it's a doozy. Settle in with your own stash of tastycakes and enjoy a quick read.


Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

She's done it again. Anderson tackles not one, but two taboo subjects within the pages of her newest teen title. A gripping account of a teen who handles the world around her the only way she knows how.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon & Dean Hale

I've got a soft spot for good graphic novels, and this one is interesting for the pre-teen set: it's got action, a new twist on a familiar theme, and just a tiny bit of romance.

Expanding on the familiar story of Rapunzel and her famous hair, this story has the girl banished for impudence to a remote treehouse by her sinister, witchy adoptive mother. Since ol' mom's big trick is grow-fast magic, it explains the long, long hair.

Once Rapunzel busts out of the treehouse using her hair as a lasso, she meets up with another lonely soul and together they fight their way across the barren, rough western landscape back to the villa to get revenge. It's a great action story with little violence and lots of unique storybook situations. The banter between Jack and "Punzie" adds a bit of comic relief.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Blonde Roots by Bernardine Evaristo

This book flips all we know on its head and poses a what-if question: What if the Africans had enslaved the Europeans, rather than the other way?

As a child, Doris is stolen away while at play in the fields of England. She survives the horror of the slave ship, sale, and a new life where her pale skin and scrawny frame are mocked by her Aphrikan captors.

There are lots of interesting details sprinkled throughout the narrative: a house slave's hair is wired and coiffed into elaborate sculpture to make her less ugly, field workers toil while singing primitive chants like "Auld Lang Syne," and the common slur for Europanes is "wigger."

I actually think I would have gained greater insight if I had discussed this book while I was reading it - and a truly epic booktalk could result if you discussed this book in companion with my last entry, Chains!

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Isabel was promised freedom when her madam passed away, but the devilish, greedy nephew has other ideas - and really, what can a slave do about it anyway? Reluctantly, and then with more enthusiasm, Isabel gets wrapped up in an underground revolution. She spies, listens, and reports what she hears back to the Patriots, who have promised freedom when they come into power. It is with historical foresight that we know cringe and wish her to disobey, knowing that their promises will also prove hollow.

I guess it's not a stretch that Laurie Halse Anderson hits one out of the park with this book - she's hardly hit a clinker yet. But I was really amazed at the subtle, yet effective way she renders the subject of slavery. Touching, emotional & horrific - although perfectly acceptable (and even recommended) reading for middle schoolers.

(I'm not sure why I didn't blog on this title when I read it a couple months ago, but I've rectified that now I guess)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Do you ever really forget your first love? And what if it was taken from you?

Henry is 12 years old, and the only child of Chinese immigrants living in Seattle, when the US enters the war against Japan. Henry's father is delighted - he's always hated the Japanese for what they've done in China. But Henry's not so sure that hating all Japanese is that simple - especially since he's become friends with the only other "scholarshipping" student at his all-white school, a second-generation American girl of Japanese descent named Keiko.

The book's narrative flashes back and forth between 1986 and the war years. We see the elderly Henry and his difficulty communicating with his college-age son, contrasted with the young Henry and the impossibility of communicating with his father - despite the fact his parents have extremely limited English, Henry is allowed only to "speak his American."

I loved, loved, loved this book! I listened to the audiobook, read by Feodor Chin, and found myself wishing for more time in the car. It will be a great book for discussion in your bookclub, or just an excellent diversion yourself.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson

This is an inspiring book that goes to show that one person really *CAN* make a change in the world, if only they persevere.

Mortenson's story begins with a failed mountain climb. After getting lost on the descent, he bumbles into the remote Pakistani village of Korphe, where he is warmly welcomed and nursed back to health. The whole experience is so life-changing for Mortenson that he makes a vow to return and build a much-need school for the village; which is all fine and dandy, except once he's back in America, Mortenson realizes he has no money and no idea where to begin.

This book details his progress. Obviously, he's successful at his mission (or why would we have a book), and this project eventually becomes much more than just the fullfillment of Mortenson's original promise.

I'll predict that this book will change the way you look at world politics, especially in our post-9/11 biases. I know that I'll be more interested now when the news covers these Central Asian world hot-spots.

Toy Dance Party by Emily Jenkins

This the second book starring Jenkin's adorable toy characters Lumphy the stuffed buffalo, StingRay, and Plastic the ball. It also introduces several new characters, notably Spark the plastic Shark.

This time around, the toys experience tragedy, travel, jealousy, injuries, fun, and adventure. They hold not one, but two! dance parties in the basement with the do-wop washer and his backup singers, the towels.

These books have been highly lauded as the perfect bed-time stories for read-aloud - and I can see why. They're funny and heart-warming, with great insights (and oversights) provided by the toys' limited vision of the world. There's a fantastic innocence to these stories, and I'd highly recommend them.

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

Several times, I laughed out loud while reading this book. Long and loud laughs, enough I had to put the book down ... how's that for a recommendation?

Our lady Lula's really the star of this latest Stephanie Plum book. If you can believe her testimony, Lula has witnessed the beheading of a famous TV barbeque chef, and now she's being stalked by the giggling, cleaver-wielding killer.

Of course, she figures the only real plan is to enter the upcoming barbeque contest and find the killer herself. Lula deputizes Grandma as her assistant chef, and they begin looking for their own "secret recipe." Keeping in mind that the only Evanovich character that can actually cook is Mom Plum (who can only look on in horror), the cooking chaos in this book is terrific.

I loved this book because it's more Ranger and less Morelli. And yet, there's still NOT ENOUGH RANGER!

Things I Learned About My Dad (In Therapy) edited by Heather B. Armstrong

Since I was about 7millionth on the hold list for Armstrong's new book, I thought I'd give this old one a chance. Armstrong wrote 2 essays here, and her husband Jon wrote one also. For fans of her, it's just a bit more about her life.

Each contributor is a well-known blogger, and the theme of the book is fatherhood - be it as a father, having a father, or having a husband who's a father - any and all facets of fatherhood. Some essays are funny (actually, a lot of them are at least funny in part), and many are heart-warming. It was a perfect pre-Father's Day read.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Fans of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" will love this book too.

Ted, our narrator, is a high-functioning autistic boy who lives in London. He explains that he isn't sick or anything ... it's just that his brain runs on a different operating system. He works hard to navigate and understand a world that he sees slightly differently than others.

But that difference comes in handy when Ted's cousin Salim goes missing. While everyone else spends time crying, yelling, and worrying, Ted has been thinking through all the pieces of Salim's disappearance. And for once, Ted and his sister Kat seem to be on the same team.

Can they find Salim? Will anyone listen, even if they do figure it out? And what does a duck look like when it forgets how to quack?

I think kids will enjoy discovering the answers.

Gay America by Linas Alsenas

This juvenile nonfiction book came to our library highly recommended as not just niche "Gay History" but as simply American History. I agree, and the book is well done.

But the first half of the book - the "history" history section - is much, much stronger than the "current" history section. I understand that it's always a challenge to look at your own times and determine what will become important to history. But it seems to me that at a certain point the author decided to just throw in references to a bunch of people, just to make sure everybody was covered in case something becomes critical.

The sections dealing with the Victorian era, the Depression, and the early days of AIDS were certainly the strongest and most interesting. It really does help to frame current news items when you understand the origins of the struggle.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Dark Side of the Morgue by Raymond Benson

OK - so I got hooked after the first Spike Berenger book. This is the second in the series.

This time, Spike gets a call to help some old "prog rock" buddies in Chicago who are being one by one murdered - by a ghost! While this gives Spike the chance to fully immerse himself in his favorite kind of music, the musicians don't give him much to go: despite the fact they've identified the woman as 70's groupie Sylvia Favero, they won't tell him why she might be systematically picking them off.

Benson's a solid mystery writer, and the ending was a surprise to me (always a bonus). I really enjoy all the music references, and each chapter heading is a song title with some link to the action. The "prog rock" got to be a bit much in this book - while Spike enjoys it, I'm more in line with his employee Remix, who thinks this music's all way too pretentious.

Still, I'm anxious to see what Spike's up to next - but this was a March 2009 release, so I may have to wait a bit.