Thursday, December 30, 2010

No Girls Allowed by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Willow Dawson

This nonfiction graphic novel details seven stories of women who disguised themselves as men. The crisp black and white illustrations are strong yet detailed, and the author has carefully chosen the subjects to represent a broad range of historical eras.

Each woman had a unique reason for subterfuge - to become a king, to become a doctor, to escape slavery, to escape persecution. Some tales end happily, some have no real end - their conclusions were lost to time.

I really enjoyed the book, and I wish there were more history books written this way - with a common theme that spans eras. It helped to accent the similarities between the stories, despite the fact that one was from ancient Egypt and one from Civil War America.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor

Fans of Taylor's "Irish Country" series have come to love all the charming small-town characters that make up Ireland's Ballybucklebo community. But the good doctor's housekeeper, Kinky Kincaid, was once a girl with big dreams and a close-knit family of her own.

Here, Kinky tells her story through flashbacks, reminiscence, and even a ghost story for the kiddies who come a-caroling this Christmas day. Readers find there's much more to Mrs. Kincaid than we may have suspected.

This book is very different from the others in the series because it deals little with either the doctors or the village we've come to know and love. It's really Kinky's story, set in Cork and filled with a kind of ancient folkloric mysticism that Kinky has only hinted at in prior books. It's a good yarn, but an unexpected departure from the series' storyline.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

In this latest (and last?) book in the Tiffany Aching teen series, a dark and evil presence has spread through the country, creating ill will for witches. It's not enough to just help the elderly and infirm as a witch; it'll be Tiffany's true test and coming of age to conquer the darkness.

While the Nac Mac Feegle still provide a bit of comic relief, this book is darker than the others in the series. Tiff's about at the end of her rope - worn out and weary from too many long nights and missed meals. Just when she's at her worst, this dark force begins stalking poor Tiff. She's already proven herself to be a powerful witch - can she take one more challenge?

There's not as much dramatic tension in this book - the final battle is great, but it lacks a big buildup throughout the book. More, this book provides a glimpse of the day-to-day, overlooked jobs (like clipping toenails) that really make up Tiff's job - it's not all kissing the Winter and saving kidnapped boys!

I liked the book, and it could be a fitting conclusion to the series. I wouldn't recommend it as your first Pratchett book to read, but it's a great story none the less.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last minute gift ideas

For new readers: We are in a book by Mo Willems

For the little fashionista: Too Purpley by Jean Reidy

For the little boy who loves gadgets: Robot Zot by Jon Scieszka

A picture book for anyone who loves a silly song: Pete the cat, I love my white shoes by Eric Litwin

For the preteen who has always wanted superpowers: Savvy by Ingrid Law

For the teenage girl: One Day by David Nicholls

For the teenage boy: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

For the scientist in us all: The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

For the man who likes history: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

For the woman who reads everything: The help by Kathryn Stockett

For the fan of alternate realities: The Passage by Justin Cronin

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Book two of the Mortal Instruments series - Clary's got a whole new set of challenges on her hands.

Her mom's still in a coma. Her dad is still the evil overlord trying to destroy the world. Her best friend still wants to be her boyfriend. And the boy she's in love with is still her brother.

But she's discovered she's got a special superpower. And Simon's had an unfortunate accident with a vampire. And Jace is under Clave arrest, suspected as a spy for Valentine.

This one's got a lot of action - those Shadowhunters really enjoy a good fight - and dramatic tension as Clary learns more and more about her legacy. It's also got great moments of humor ... since nothing cuts the tension like a bit of sarcasm!

Friday, December 17, 2010

In the Land of Long Fingernails: A Gravedigger in the Age of Aquarious by Charles Wilkins

This nonfiction memoir isn't a gory tell-all about the cemetery industry: more so, it's a personal tale about one kid's crappy summer job, filled with crazy characters and trouble they find ... although you are certain to learn unsettling things about how cemeteries are run, too.

Gallows humor, half-assed slackers, and marijuana abound in this story. During summer break 1969, Charles lands a job at Willowlawn Cemetery. The boss is a drunk, it's really hot, and one of his co-workers - a philosopher/economist/gravedigger - has a hidden pot plot somewhere in the back section of the yard. It's amazing anybody gets planted properly.

It's a much lighter read than I'd expected, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Blood Song by Cat Adams

This one's a new book (2010), but also first in a new series of supernatural/vampire books. It's set in the now, but a slightly different "now" - one where the supernatural is commonplace and has become a very real threat. Everyone gets tested in grade school to determine their level of extra-sensory talents ... as much to determine their threat level as to help train their skills.

While the main character, Celia Graves, is a professional bodyguard, this book is really more squarely in the detective genre. When Celia is attacked and bitten by a vampire while on a big-dollar guard job, she becomes an "abomination:" not vampire, but not wholly human anymore either. She's determined to hunt down her sire and make him pay; that quest is complicated by both her physical changes and the fact that her attack seems to be part of a much larger evil.

I enjoyed the book immensely and pretty much read it in a sitting. Celia's tough but still feminine, and the supporting characters and their unusual skills kept me interested. While the book resolves its main plot, it also leaves an interesting cliff-hanger and a host of challenges and mysteries about Celia to carry us into the next book.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

I picked this one up because the movie looks good (Zach Galifianakisi as a mental patient? OK!), but I like to read the book first, if possible, before I see the movie.

Craig's not just a darkly mooded teenager - it's much worse than that inside his head. Taking the one good piece of advice he gets from the worst suicide hotline operator ever, Craig walks down the street to the hospital and checks himself in. The people he meets and the things he learns on the ward will force a true shift in Craig's head and in his life.

It's a good book; funny, and yet heartwarming. While the book's resolution is perhaps a bit too glossy and pat, much of the book rings true and many readers will find bits of themselves inside Craig's head, too.