Friday, September 28, 2012

Return to Titanic series by Steve Brezenoff

Over the course of four books, a couple of young adventurers repeatedly time-travel to the Titanic (by illicitly touching artifacts in the back room of a museum where the boy's mom works). By the time the series is finished, readers know the whole story of the mighty Titanic's sinking from the perspective of those on the oceanliner.

Comparison to American Girl books seem suitable - both try to make history come alive for contemporary kids, and both use protagonists similar in age to prospective readers in order to place you in the character's shoes. Super short chapters and liberal pencil-sketch illustrations pitch the books even to reluctant readers. Unlike American Girl books, which have an unabashedly female audience, since the main characters here are a boy and girl (friends, not siblings) you may be able to entice boys to read the books.

I really liked the way they involved you emotionally in the historic drama; the reader and the main characters all have the luxury of historical perspective and understand the clock is ticking down until disaster. But I was annoyed by the every-other-page "will they escape" plot points - an extended effort to keep kids interested, but overly dramatic and tiresome.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Borden Tragedy: A Memoir of the Infamous Double Murder at Fall River, Mass., 1892 by Rick Geary

Based on an unsigned journal, this black-and-white graphic novel presents the facts and speculation surrounding this infamous turn-of-the-century murder and media spectacle. Lots of research is pulled together here; fans of true crime will find this brief volume concise yet thorough.

Geary's illustration style is both gothic and contemporary, and works beautifully for his subject. He presents maps, diagrams, portraits and rumor in a simple, yet detailed manner. The gruesome murder scenes are depicted without being overly sensationalized - he couldn't really shy away from it, since actual pictures from the murder scene were widely published at the time and easily obtainable today.

And I like the fact that the unsolved mysteries aren't wrapped up here, either - he offers multiple theories and options, but draws no conclusions for you.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Narrator Jim Dale does an astounding job with this novel of fantasy and magic, where a young man and a young woman are bound by their mentors in a competition with vague and unknowable rules. Le Cirque des Reves is their competition arena - a remarkable black and white circus where the illusions are real.

The book has a steampunk aura, without the gears and mechanics. Perspective shifts in time and character, from the magicians to an artistan clockmaker, from circus entertainers to boy entralled by the the circus, and even an odd occasional third-person narrative telling "you" where you are and what you see. It all ties together, but the shifts (like magic) put you off-balance and allow the reader to view the wonders from all angles.

The novel takes place all over the world, with a true multi-cultural cast of characters - the kind of narration Jim Dale has made his calling card. I was captivated, and the myriad possibilities of the fantastic setting allowed me to wander wherever the story led without anticipating the finale.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

When Bee's mom disappears, the super-smart middle-schooler gathers up all the pieces (emails, faxes, correspondence, a magazine article, police police reports, and more) in an attempt to determine what really happened. So, what really happened? Her mother Bernadette's artistic frustration, amplified by a chain of chance encounters and epic irritations, boils over in a series of cacophonous misunderstandings - all before the book begins. Once Bee's on the case, it gets even more mysterious and strange when Bernadette is found, then lost again.

The darkly funny novel is told through disjointed bits of writing - since it's made up of all the information Bee has gathered. Some of the sources are wildly untrustworthy, and everybody's got their own prejudices and biases. Your perception of Bernadette shifts as you uncover more and more of her illustrious past and unrealized potential. Bee is a heartbreaking conduit for the story; she's a kid who really just wants her mom back.

I loved the digging-through-the-files way the story unfolds, and I adored the crazy, vindictive characters involved. The city of Seattle is practically a character, too, and the eccentricities of the nerd micro-culture at Microsoft Corporation are well featured. While I'd like to say the story's a bit improbable, I know that truth is often stranger than fiction ... and it's probably not all that improbable.

Friday, September 14, 2012

37 Things I Love (In No Particular Order) by Kekla Magoon

Ellis may be falling apart around the edges. She's almost at the end of the school year, but who cares about sophomore year when your mom wants to discuss pulling the plug on Dad?

Perhaps the only way Ellis is keeping it together is by visiting her dad in the nursing home: holding his hand, telling him about her day, sitting next to him. He's certainly more supportive than her supposed best friend, Abby - who's having her own kind of drunken, slutty teenage crisis.

I loved this book. It's got a heavy theme, but is drawn with a light hand. By the end, Ellis is figuring out that  when you loosen your grip, others will be there to take your hand. She's blocked out a lot of people (including her mother), but she's not as alone as she thinks.

(Also - this is not a "big gay book" as I was led to believe it might be. I absolutely loved the way that it's actually totally NOT a big deal of any importance really, in this book. I'm not even tagging this post for LGBTQ - so there.) 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Kitty Cornered by Bob Tarte

I found this book when I was looking for cat psychology. This is NOT the help I was looking for ... but it is an entertaining, light look at the six (yes, 6) cats in the Tarte household: their personalities, their eccentricities, and their interactions.

If you're a "pet-person" you know every critter has a personality - some adorable, some annoying, a few terribly independent and others needy and attention-starved. Somehow, Tarte thought he knew what he was getting into with each of their cats and yet each time he's amazed and thwarted by the actual animal.

Tarte is making himself a writing career about the crazy goings-on of his critters. Not a bad gig if you can get it - and his giant brood of cats, ducks, geese, chickens, parrots, parakeets, rabbits and more provides plenty of fodder for his self-deprecating humor.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield

Yes, I am that big a font nerd - I not only paid for this book, but also savored it in little bites so as to draw it out almost three months.

If you love typography, then you don't need me to tell you how fascinating this is. For the rest of you - fonts and their good/bad selection affect nearly every part of your life. Imagine if road signs were hard to read - you'd crash trying to read them, or drive past your intended destination and get hopelessly lost and then be eaten by a bear. Either way, you die. And it would all be the font's fault.

The history of type goes back more than 500 years, to woodsmiths carving out EVERY SINGLE LETTER, backwards. Can you imagine: it makes you appreciate the simplification of drop-down menus in Word, now, doesn't it?

This is a really good book about an invisible art. You know, if you're into that kinda thing. :)