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Background: I've been wanting to read Unwind ever since both Sherry Early and Abby (the) Librarian recommended it for my list of futuristic, speculative, science fiction or dystopian fiction titles aimed at young adults. I finally got my act together to request it from the library last week. And I read it in one sitting.
Review: Neal Shusterman's Unwind is a thought-provoking dystopian science fiction story for young adults. The premise is that after a second civil war in the United States over abortion rights, the Heartland War, a settlement has been reached. Under the settlement, abortion is completely illegal. However, parents have the option to have children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen "unwound". Unwinding involves breaking up the teen for parts, and donating virtually all of their organs to other people. The justification for unwinding is that if all of the parts are transferred to other human beings, then the teen isn't dead - just unwound into a new and different existence. The unwinding process is ritualized and mythologized to make it more acceptable to people (reminding me a bit of The Handmaid's Tale). But at its core, the process is about money -- body parts being a valuable commodity.
Unwind is told from the shifting perspectives of three teens, all slated to be unwound. Connor is a bit of troublemaker, and his parents decide that it's easier to get rid of him. Risa is an orphan living in a state home, put up for unwinding because of budget cuts. Lev, in contrast, grew up in a loving home, but is being unwound as part of his parents' religion (under which one of every ten children is a "tithe" to society). Through a series of circumstances (and Connor's bold action), the three teens find themselves on the run together, dodging the Juvey-cops, looking for a safe haven from a society that wants them unwound.
Unwind is a book that will make readers think. About when life begins and ends, what gives a life meaning, and the consequences to society of cheapening life. Shusterman doesn't come down on any one side - this no moral spoon-feeding - but he does use the premise of the novel to explore these questions in detail. Having a variety of viewpoint characters helps, too, since the characters have different answers to the questions. All of this questioning takes place in a fast-paced, suspenseful package that will keep readers turning the pages.
Reading the book, I wasn't sure what to think of some of the characters, or who to trust. Even the primary characters, the two boys anyway, are complex. Connor is the hero, a reluctant leader who loses his temper easily, and sometimes makes decisions rashly. He probably has ADHD. Lev, raised to know all his life that he's expected to be unwound, is fanatical, bitter, angry, and yet surprisingly loyal. Risa is a bit more idealized. She is the book's moral center, and the one who sees power dynamics the most clearly. There's also an intriguing character named CyFi introduced later in the book, but to discuss him at all would be a spoiler. Here again, the shifting viewpoints help, giving the reader different perspectives on the characters.
Here are a few quotes, to give you more of a feel for the book:
"Connor wonders how he can call the place he lives home, when he's about to be evicted--not just from the place he sleeps, but from the hearts of those who are supposed to love him." (Page 5)
"Deeper in the woods a girl sits up against a tree, holding her arm, grimacing in pain. He doesn't have time for this, but "Protect and Serve" is more than just a motto to him. He sometimes wishes he didn't have such moral integrity." (Page 39. This passage is noteworthy because the 'he" in question is a Juvey-cop, someone who chases down runaway teens, and delivers them for unwinding. I liked the understated irony.)
"These two Unwinds are out of control. He no longer fears that they'll kill him, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous. They need to be protected from themselves. They need ... they need ... they need to be unwound. Yes. That's the best solution for these two. They're of no use to anyone in their current state, least of all themselves. It would probably be a relief for them, for now they're all broken up on the inside. Better to be broken up on the outside instead. That way their divided spirits could rest, knowing that their living flesh was spread around the world, saving lives, making other people whole. Just as his own spirit would soon rest." (Page 68, Lev)
So what we have here is a book in my favorite sub-genre, dystopian young adult fiction, one that kept me guessing all the way to the end, and then had me thinking about the issues the next day. That makes Unwind a winner in my book. I'd give this one to fans of The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson, The Declaration and The Resistance by Gemma Malley, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It's also a book that fans of Margaret Peterson Haddix'sShadow Children series will enjoy when they get older, though I wouldn't offer it to middle grade readers (there's an unwind sequence that is particularly disturbing). Recommended, for teens and adults.
Good morning.Thanks for dropping in to see what is happening on Day 6 of my blog tour to celebrate the release of Pearl Verses the World. Today I am due to appear at Just Listen Book Reviews where the delightful Allie will be reviewing Pearl. I am also delighted to discover that, separate from the blog tour, Pearl has received two other wonderful reviews online. Susan Whelan has posted a
How to give a kitty -- especially a bad kitty -- a bath.
Since last year my reading was all about YA, I missed gems such as this one. Bad Kitty Gets a Bath is aimed at beginning readers, but doesn't talk down to them.
All too often, because beginning readers/early chapter books are about strengthening reader skills, they are simplistic, both in vocabulary and story. This book is perfect for that reader who is moving beyond basic readers, who wants something more interesting and entertaining, but who doesn't want a long, text-heavy book. Yes, it's all well and good that some kids are reading Chaucer in kindergarten; but the other kids deserve good stories, too. Bad Kitty Gets a Bath is a book that will make a reader of any age laugh. And it's not a book that looks young or babyish; other kids are not going to snicker at the child reading this book.
On to the book itself; as the title says, it's about giving a kitty a bath. Many reluctant readers like non-fiction; this book appeals to that need, with facts about cats and how cats clean themselves and baths, and even includes a glossary. The illustrations are wonderful, adding a layer of meaning and humor to the text. But, the book also works just reading the text; I think it would work very well as an audiobook.
I laughed out loud for most of this book; it's a Favorite Book for this year. How much did I love it? I bought my own copy. That's love, what with the spending the money and needing to find room on the shelves. The second bit probably won't be a real problem; I'm sure the niece and nephew will pounce on it and claim it as theirs and take it home.
Did you ever pick up a book that you couldn't put down? Well, Undercover by Beth Kephart is one such book for me. I started it last night and am half way through in a day.
Undercover is Elisa's story. She's a talented writer who uses her talents to write short love ditties for guys in her high school to give to the cute girls. Elisa feels like the ugly duckling and wonders whether anyone will be attracted to her.
Wwhen Theo asks Elisa to write poems to stuck-up, ditzy Lila, she is surprisingly sad. For some reason this is different. While she usually writes one or two poems for a guy, Lila is demanding, wanting more from Theo, so Elisa writes more poems which makes the hurt even stronger.
When Elisa begins studying Cyrano de Bergerac in English, the parallels between herself and Cyrano become evident.
Elisa has found a haven at a nearby secluded lake. There she views nature, writes her poetry and begins ice skating. One day Theo follows her to the lake. They begin a friendship and she starts wondering whether he like her as more than a friend?
Undercover is an engrossing book. I can’t put it down. The writing speaks to you. The descriptions are marvelous. Kephart’s characters are real. You feel Elisa’s family dynamics...her love for her father and the distance between Elisa and her mother and sister. You can picture Theo being led around by Lila and you want him to wake up and see the wonders of Elisa. You want her to be happy.
It took me one book, House of Dance, to become a major Beth Kephart fan. It took a second book, Undercover, to solidify that status. And I’m sure her upcoming book, Nothing But Ghosts, coming out in June will be a winner as well. Do yourself a favor and read all of Beth Kephart's books. You won’t be disappointed.
After reading A Cool Moonlight by Ms. Johnson I was eager to read more of her younger reader titles. In Heaven, we meet Marley. Marley lives with two loving parents and her brother, Butchy. There's never been any real drama in her life in Heaven, a small town that lives up to its name. Then one day, a letter from Alabama changes her life forever. Marley is devastated and angry. She feels betrayed. But her friend Bobby (a character from another Johnson novel, First Part Last) reminds Marley what hasn't changed: her family loves her and she has friends who support her. He says it must be really hard to hate people you've loved your whole life.
The revelation about who she is a big adjustment. Through a combination of fragments of her past shared in Jack's letters, memories and her mother's personal items, Marley processes the news of who her real parents are in her time in her own way. The intimacy of Jack's letters to Marley and the immediacy of the present tense translates the emotion and conflict here in a particularly effective way. This novel is geared towards older elementary, early middle schoolers. While the issues are complex, the reader isn't overwhelmed by the themes. An endearing story about love, family, adoption and identity. I highly recommend it. I'm looking forward to sharing it with our community of readers.
Mrs. Bennet wants to see her five daughters married; Mr. Bennet wants to see them survive the zombies. When rich Mr. Bingley appears to have feelings of matrimony towards eldest daughter Jane, all seems to being going as Mrs. Bennet plans. Alas, Bingley's good friend Mr. Darcy seems to not approve -- and also seems to be taken with second sister, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, the best fighter of the sisters, will not let the Bennet family honor be slighted and vows revenge.
Pride, prejudice, and zombies conspire to keep couples together (or apart) in this depiction of social class. One would think that fighting the zombie menace would erase class barriers and social prejudices. But alas, having a common foe does not change who people are or what they believe or how their brains taste.
A work of joint authorship, it is almost seamless as one wonders, which part did Miss Austen write? Which part, Mr. Grahame-Smith? Who writes the humorous sentences? Who, the description of zombies eating brains? Who thought of the fawning Mr. Collins? What mind dreamd of a Bennet daughter beheading zombies? Alas, I cannot tell. But I suspect that it is not Miss Austen who makes dirty puns about balls; or who dwells on loss of numerous nameless servants to the strange plague.
This title delivers exactly what it says it will: pride. prejudice. zombies. And there is more, that which is not said on the title. That, dear friends -- is ninjas. I know, I know. Because what better way to fight the zombies than by training in the Orient? Alas, even training cannot bring together people, as some are trained in the Japan, others, in China. Lady Catherine, needless to say, does not approve of those who are not trained as she was.
What else does a reader wish to know? A zombie book should always provide some helpful tips on how to survive, should the reader ever be faced with unmentionables breaking through the windows to eat dinner guests. We learn it is better to build on a hill, as zombies have trouble ascending heights; and that ground, the day after it rains, is soft, so that more zombies than normal rise.
One would think that a book of comedy, romance, and observance of society would attract one type of reader; and a book about eating the heart of an enemy another. This book proves that readers do not fall into such separate camps, never to meet. It is a truth universally recognized -- a lover of books will love a book that tells an intelligent, witty story.
For those of you who may want to read this at a book club, a reader's discussion guide is included, asking such conversation-starting questions as "Does Mrs. Bennet have a single redeeming quality?" and "Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?"
I read the last few pages of Script and Scribble by Kitty Burns Florey today while sitting in the warm sunshine on the deck in my backyard. The whole time I was serenaded by the worried meows of Waldo and Dickens who sat inside watching me through the screen door. They are strictly indoor kitties. I suspect though that Waldo’s meows were more because he was mad at me because I was sitting down and he was not on my lap.
Script and Scribble was a light, easy pleasurable read perfect for a Sunday afternoon. Though the pages are bright white and there was major glare bouncing up causing me to squint my way to the end since I don’t have tinted reading glasses.
It is a short book with very wide margins which frequently contain footnotes, or in this case, side notes. These notes are quotes, asides, or bits of information that is interesting but didn’t really fit with the main text. The only unfortunate thing about them is in the first chapter when somehow the numbering gets off so that the text superscription will say 20 but the footnote number on the side is 22. Since there aren’t scads of notes it isn’t a problem, only annoying and the issue is repaired in chapter two when the numbering begins again at 1.
Florey spends a chapter on the history of handwriting, a chapter on the great penmen/people, one on graphology, another one on handwriting in a digital age and how there are still quite a large number of people who are interested in the handwritten and fine pens. She winds up the book with a chapter on why it is still important to teach good penmanship to schoolchildren even though it is rarely done these days.
Cacography (poor penmanship) is rampant. Not that other time periods haven’t had their share of bad handwriting. But it seems that if children are taught cursive writing at all it is done as I was taught it in third grade (third grade apparently being the time when children have developed enough control over fine motor skills that learning cursive is possible, except if you are a boy because boys’ fine motor skills develop slower than girls’). The class is given an example of say, a capital and lowercase ’s’ and a sheet of lined paper and then you practice the letter over and over until you get to the end of the sheet. After you’ve learned a few letters then you get to start writing whole words. Not much time is spent on it and probably it isn’t even practiced over the course of the entire year. After third grade you are expected to be competent enough to never have to practice again. Right.
Florey suggests the idea that computers will save us from bad handwriting is false. There is plenty of evidence that good penmanship is still important. Not all children have computers at home. In fact a good many don’t. She also tells a couple of stories about businesses in which the power has been out and they were forced to write out retail transactions by hand but no one could read the handwriting afterwards because it was so bad. And of course there are doctors who are notorious cacographers. In one such case a person died because the pharmacist, unable to decipher the doctor’s handwriting, gave the patient the wrong drug (the pharmacist was also found guilty because he didn’t call the doctor to verify the prescription).
I found out an interesting fact while reading this book. Apparently, if you don’t know how to write a cursive script, you have more difficulty deciphering something written in script. Theoretically, it is possible that if we ever reach a point where no one handwrites anymore, handwritten historical documents and ephemera will no longer be readable by the average person.
There is a short bibliography with a few books and websites that I will be investigating. I had all but given up on my attempt to improve my handwriting but I’m going to try one of the manuals Florey suggests. My handwriting improvement difficulties are due to the fact that I was taught a Palmer script (without the Palmer Method) which has all kinds of loops in it. I can’t get rid of all the loops in my letters. I’ve been able to minimize them but not completely eliminate them. It is not necessary to get rid of all of them, only the ones that make for difficult reading. And letter joins are supposed to be sharp and angular but again, mine are round and loopy. Muscle memory is a hard thing to change especially when it is so well engrained that it is unconscious. But I will try again.
In the meantime, here are a couple of websites Florey mentions that you might find interesting:
Fontifier. For $9 (US) you can have your handwriting turned into a computer font. You can get a preview of your font for free. I am thinking of trying the free preview sometime just to see what it looks like.
IAMPETH. The International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting. They have an awesome website with examples of gorgeous calligraphy, lessons, and videos.
Omniglot. A website about different writing systems and languages from around the world including alphabets and scripts “made up” by everyday people.
In 2007, DC Comics launched an imprint called MINX. Promoted as "the first graphic novel imprint designed exclusively for teenage girls" and featuring new works by a variety of artists and writers, I had high hopes for the line. Sadly, it was cancelled in 2008.
I've listed the titles in order of publication. If I'm missing any titles or put anything out of order, please, someone tell me! If a title is bold, then I've read it. If a title is bold and italicized, then I really liked it.
The P.L.A.I.N. Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg Re-Gifters by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel Clubbing by Andi Watson and Josh Howard Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm Confessions of a Blabbermouth by Mike Carey, Louise Carey, and Aaron Alexovich Kimmie66 by Aaron Alexovich Burnout by Rebecca Donner and Inaki Miranda Water Baby by Ross Campbell The New York Four by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly Janes in Love by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston Token by Alisa Kwitney and Joëlle Jones
In Kimmie66, the character of Nekocat is described as "the excitable girl with the pigtails and the tutu-thing." Upon reading this, I laughed out loud, for I was backstage at a show, wearing a similar ensemble.
We've selected The P.L.A.I.N. Janes and Janes in Love by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg to be our books-of-the-month for readergirlz in June. Please join us for the discussions (and the art!) next month!
Background: In the interest of full disclosure, I bring yet another review in which I know and like the author. I met Laini Taylor briefly at the first Kidlitosphere conference in Chicago. I reviewed her first Dreamdark novel shortly thereafter (and I loved it!).
Then Laini was one of the organizers (with Jone MacCulloch) of the second Kidlitosphere conference in Portland. And not only did I work with Laini on scheduling a Cybils session at the conference, but I held a blogger/author discussion session with her (in which we discussed things like etiquette for requesting reviews, etc). Plus I spent some lovely time chatting with her at the Readergirlz party that night. So, ok, Laini is a friend. Take that under advisement as you read my review. But recall that when I reviewed Blackbringer (the first Dreamdark book), I scarcely knew Laini at all, and it was one of my favorite reads of 2007. On to the book!
Review:Silksinger is the second book in Laini Taylor'sDreamdark series, following Blackbringer. Silksinger picks up shortly after the first book left off, with faerie Magpie Windwitch, newly minted Djiin champion, on a quest with her crew to find the other long-hidden fire elementals. They need the elementals to save the world from falling into chaos. The reader soon learns that one of these lost elementals, the Azazel, is under the protection of a new character, a fragile young faerie named Whisper Silksinger. Another new character, a faerie named Hirik, is on a quest of his own. Hirik seeks to find the Azazel, and become its champion. The stories of Magpie, Whisper, and Hirik are told in alternating, and eventually intersecting, chapters.
Taylor weaves together the various strands of plot brilliantly, using the viewpoint shifts to create additional tension. I read quickly, because I was concerned about what would happen to characters I cared about from their first appearances. I was tense, worried, and not knowing what was going to happen (and I'm a tough person to surprise, in general). At more than one point, I was devastated by things that happened to the characters. Yet I also stopped often to flag passages that were beautifully written, or that gave particular insight into the characters. Here are a couple of examples:
"What would she do? She couldn't go home--the devils had found them there. Where could she go? She knew nothing of the world beyond her island. She couldn't fly, and she was no warrior--she had no weapon, and she wasn't even brave... Whisper knelt on the beach, pale and trembling, shoulders torn and bleeding. She hugged the warm kettle close, but it did no good. She was alone now, and she was as cold as a pit of ash after a fire has burned out." (Page 9, ARC).
"This was Hirik's first journey as a mercenary, and his first time away from his own forest. Zingaro had taken him onto his crew just a week ago at the remote outpost of Fishsplash, but only after raking him up and down with a critical eye. He'd declared him "a scrunty job of runtmeat," though he was tall for his age, and "about as fearsome as a biddy with a butter knife," though he wielded a scimitar far finer than any of the other murks' weapons. And it was true Hirik was only a lad without real battle experience, but after plenty of grunting and grousing, Zingaro agreed to give him a trial." (Page 65, ARC)
"Upcliff, the palaces of the noble clans clung to sheer vertical rock face one above another, like stacks of iced cakes. Below, the rest of the city cascaded down a sweep of stair-step tiers, making a pleasing pattern of rooftops and pavilions edged by wild orchid forests, with silver threads of waterfalls stitching them all together." (Page 212, ARC)
Without giving too much away, I thought that the special talents possessed by both Hirik and Whisper were engaging and inventive. Their vulnerabilities and their strengths loom large - making them immediately memorable. All of the characters in the book are fully rounded, and the interactions between them feel realistic. Magpie and her companion, Talon, dance around having a relationship, with Talon finding himself fiercely jealous of a faerie who pops up from Magpie's past. There's a nice, tween feel to their relationship - a boy and a girl who like each other, but are too young to admit it, and torment each other instead. I also loved Magpie's relationship with her crow "brothers", teasing and affectionate and as real as any family relationship between people. But with more entertaining dialog. For example:
""Slave?" hooted Calypso. "Slaves work, ye mad miscreant, so clamp yer moanhole. All ye do is point that twitchy finger of yers, eat all our food, and fart up yer caravan!"
Magpie pressed her lips together to keep from laughing." (Page 23, ARC)
The mix of informal, colorful dialog ("ye mad miscreant") and lyrical description ("silver threads of waterfalls") gives Silksinger's prose a distinct texture. Silksinger also features gorgeous occasional illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo (Laini's husband). (The illustrations aren't all included in the ARC, and I'll want to take a look at the finished copy to see more.) Jim brings the characters to life, through delicately shaded black and white images. I especially enjoyed a picture of Slomby (a pathetic yet sympathetic creature who also has occasional viewpoint chapters).
Fans of the first Dreamdark book, Blackbringer, will not be disappointed by Silksinger. In truth, I was a bit worried when I first learned that much of Book 2 would feature different characters, because I enjoyed Magpie so much. I should have trusted Laini. Whisper and Hirik are both delightful, and their differences from Magpie and Talon make Silksinger an even better, more nuanced, book than the first.
While fans of the first book certainly won't want to miss Silksinger, I would also recommend the Dreamdark books to people who aren't ordinarily fans of fantasy. Silksinger is beautifully written, suspenseful, heartbreaking, ingenious, and funny. In short, this book has it all. On closing the book, I felt utterly satisfied, like someone who had just finished an excellent meal. Silksinger has my highest recommendation.
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile Publication Date: September 17, 2009 Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Note that quotes are from the ARC, and may not reflect the final, printed book. Other Blog Reviews: I haven't seen any yet. See my review of Dreakdark, Book 1: Blackbringer, which links to many other reviews of that title. You really should start with the first book anyway, if you haven't read it. Author Interviews: Everead, Miss Erin, Squeetus (Shannon Hale)
If you're looking for a good mystery, check out When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. Want to read a good coming-of-age novel? Try When You Reach Me. Stead's novel combines mysterious notes appearing in 12-year-old Miranda's things with beautifully written relationships. The end result is an incredible novel that you won't want to put down. Read the full review here...
Trinity has lucid dreams. She doesn’t want them, doesn’t want to know other people’s secrets, but she can’t help it. Every night, she goes to sleep and dreams of “real places, real people, real events… Sometimes I’ll even meet people in my dreams right before I meet them in real life.”
Last year, for the first time, Trinity took action because of a dream. She helped police find murderer named Rafe Stevens, but Stevens’ lawyer convinced a jury to have Stevens committed to a mental institute instead of sending him to jail. And now that Stevens has somehow escaped, he is attacking Trinity, trying to kill her, through her dreams. The only one who can help Trinity is Dan, whose father is Stevens’ lawyer.
As I read Terri Clark’s Sleepless, I kept thinking that I should be enjoying it more. It’s a paranormal suspense romance with mature element and occasionally reminded me of Lois Duncan’s The Third Eye, in a good way. Having finished the book, I’m still willing to suspend my disbelief over the events/abilities. But what prevented me from really liking the novel is that Sleepless is a fun, escapist read.
Humor and horror or suspense can work well together. Some of the comedic episodes of Supernatural are among my favorites, not to mention Scream, anyone? And while it’s unfair to compare Sleepless to Scream or Supernatural because of the different mediums (and, by the time the comedic episodes of Supernatural aired, viewers were already invested in the characters, something that is impossible in a standalone novel like Sleepless), I have to say that I didn’t find the humor and horror/suspense in Sleepless to be well integrated. There are some of great pop culture references, like
“’Tis true I’m going to soccer camp, but I’m making it my goal to experience new things. Like in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.”
I gasped. “You’re going to lose your virginity to your soccer coach?”
“No! Well, maybe.” She grinned and waggled her eyebrows. “Depends on how hot he is.”
“I think I saw an episode of Supernatural like this,” I whispered too loudly. “It ended badly for everyone except Dean and Sam.”
Milt ignored my comments and started down the blackened stairs.
Dan and I exchanged anxious looks, but, really, what choice did we have?
“I’ll be Dean,” he said.
“No way,” I argued. “I’m prettier.”
“Fine,” he capitulated. “I can do smart and sullen.”
But the transitions from humor to need-to-escape-psychotic-killer were sometimes jarring. The tone of the novel seemed too glib and the characterizations too shallow to make the blend effective. While there were some funny lines and, later in the book, Stevens’ attacks on Trinity were suspenseful, these two elements did not come together in a cohesive whole. Likewise, the romance. I never felt like I had a good sense of who Trinity was, and at times it seemed like Stevens’ escape was more an excuse to throw Trinity and Dan together for an extended period of time than a source of suspense. And now that I think about it, *did* Stevens have to escape in order to attack Trinity, since it’s all through her dreams?
Maybe it’s because Trinity is narrating the book, so I was pretty sure she’d survive. (What’s that line from Barbara Michaels’ Wings of the Falcon? “Authors who write in the first person cannot expect their readers to be seriously concerned about the survival of the main character. A heroine who can describe her trials and tribulations in carefully chosen phrases obviously lived through those trials without serious damage.”) Maybe it’s that, despite loving Scream and Supernatural, when it comes to books, my preference is for spooky and scary, not funny. Ultimately, although there were parts of the book that I liked, the overall book did not work for me.
ETA 5/5/09: I should probably strike the penultimate sentence because I realized this morning that the spooky and scary is true about the books I read as a 10-13 year old, but not necessarily recent books like Rosemary Clement-Moore’s Maggie Quinn series. I think the difference is that in the Maggie Quinn books, Maggie’s voice is snarky and the humor comes across as organic to her voice. If that makes sense. The humor arose from her point of view and sensibilities, and I also had a better sense of Maggie as a character, of what kind of person she was, than I did Trinity in Sleepless. Trinity’s character building/development was lacking, a collection of traits and descriptions more than a fleshed-out character. I think, as individual elements, I don’t mind as much when a book is funny or scary without much character development (provided the book is funny or scary enough to distract me from the lack of character development), but the more elements an author tries to combine, the more I need stronger character development to serve as a foundation, so that having, say, funny and scary together seems natural because of the character’s worldview instead of seeming disjointed or forced when it doesn’t seem to fit with the character (whether because it’s out of character or the character wasn’t developed to the point/traits weren’t revealed early enough where it seems natural). That said, there was enough potential for me to be disappointed that the book wasn’t better, and for me to be intrigued by what Clark will write next.
The lure of outer space has existed since time began. People looked longingly up at the stars since the dawn of man. It has spawned great scientists such as Galileo and Copernicus. But, how do you get to outer space? That has been the age old question.
Well, Kenneth Oppel has supplied the answer in Starclimber, the third book featuring Matt Cruse and Kate DeVries. If you haven’t read Airborn and Skybreaker, you have deprived yourself an infinite amount of pleasure.
The book starts with Matt piloting a small aerocrane delivering material to the Celestial Tower, a tower being built in Paris with the goal of reaching the heavens. The Babelites are against this project and Matt’s ship is almost blown to smithereens by one of them, posing as a crew member.
Matt and Kate are approached by the head of an airship company and asked if they would like to join a space mission. Both immediately agree, although Matt must go through extensive training and may not make the cut. How do they intend to get to space? In a rocket climbing a 25,000 mile strand of incredibly durable thread..the Astral Cable. I’ll tell you no more, because you NEED to read it yourself.
Starclimber takes you through the rigorous training program. You follow Matt, Kate and a colorful group of travelers as they climb the Astral Cable. You know it won’t be smooth sailing. You also know you’ll meet unbelievable creatures.
A lot of fantasy and a little bit of romance makes for one fun read. I highly recommend Starclimber, Airborn and Skybreaker.
Okay, I lied. My next post was a poem. But I'm ready to share book reviews and book review sites again.
I am surprised and distressed that I have not written about Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas. This is one of the books I found on "Read It First". I'm SURE I wrote about this already. But where?
Okay, so Hennie is 86 years old and her daughter, Mae, wants Hennie to leave Middle Swan, a gold mining town in Colorado. The year is 1936. As winter approaches, a new couple moves into town and the young wife stops by Hennie's fence where her late husband hung a sign, as a joke, that reads "Prayers for Sale." This meeting leads to friendship and stories, lots of wonderful stories.
I loved the way the book was structured. Dallas drops hints about the events of the last few chapters in a way that piques interest but doesn't intrude on the story at hand. When all the puzzle pieces fall in place, there is a sense of release and relief.
So here's the short version. Gold mining town, the Depression, Old Woman, Young Woman, friends, love, friendship, lots of local color and some hard choices.
Here's a new book review site I found on one of my other book review sites, Twenty by Jenny. Jenny has been a book editor, and a teacher and a mother. She reviews books and book related toys that she considers the best for different age groups. Her reviews link to an online bookstore in case you just have to have the book.
My best experience with BookReporter.com was when I won a Christmas gift basket during their Christmas book giveaway. (Now, I KNOW there is a Santa Claus.) The site is text heavy with links to dozens and dozens of book reviews, some of the Best Seller/Hot Author variety, some more unusual. The people behind BookReporter also fuel the book review sites Teenreads and Kidsreads. I subscribe to those two newsletters so I don't visit the sites that often but the sites offer some great features, such as a link to reviews of Great Books for Boys.
So, I have kept my promise to share some more book review websites, though a post late. My work here is done.
The Plot: Kyra Carlson is almost 14; as the oldest daughter in her family, she will be the first to be "chosen", to be married. She is one on the "The Chosen Ones," who live on a compound, secure in their knowledge that they live the way God wants. Outside the gates, it is Satan's world.
But Kyra has always wanted to know about the world outside the fence, a world where children like her eldest sister, Emily, aren't ignored for being different and slow; a world where there aren't multiple wives; a world where she isn't expected to marry a man over fifty years older than herself.
Williams' writing is as sparse as Kyra's world; and conveys how limited the choices are of "The Chosen. "It's still early and there is the promise of the sun. The sky to the east lightens, and everything around us seems like an old photo, kind of gray. The way I feel, I think, worn out and gray."
The writing doesn't drown the reader in description; it's brushstrokes, hints, but it's enough to feel the heat and cramped trailers of the ordinary people, like Kyra's family, versus the luxury of the Prophet and the Apostles. It's enough to paint Kyra finding freedom in her thoughts, in music, in discovering a mobile library full of worlds to explore, in falling in love with a teenaged boy.
Longtime readers know this is exactly the type of writing I adore; each word carefully chosen, none wasted, no extra words. It's Kyra's words and emotions; and we are with her always, whether it's hiding in a tree, reading forbidden books; caring for a sister; realizing her parents are complex and flawed.
We, the reader, know that Kyra has few options: conform and accept the marriage; run away; or die. This is a story where Kyra can never, ever, change how the Chosen are. At best, Kyra can save herself. At worst... yes, it can be worse than Kyra can imagine.
Williams creates a sense of anxiety and suspense as we wonder what Kyra will chose; as we realize the consequences her family will suffer if her choice is anything other than what her Prophet and community demands; the suspense quickens the pulse, pages are read faster and faster, dreading what is coming, but having to find out what happens next.
Williams never identifies the polygamist sect as any one religion (other than Christian -- they read the Bible, talk of God, Heaven, Jesus). And, interestingly enough, it's not a condemnation of polygamy; it is a condemnation of fundamentalism, misogyny, and dictatorships. It is a condemnation of giving up freedom and the ability to make one's own choices. It is a condemnation of child abuse masked as something holy.
The current Prophet is the son of the previous Prophet; under his leadership, the Chosen Ones have gotten more extreme. Yes, thirteen year old girls were married off before; but they were not married to old men. Yes, there was a Compound; but there were no fences, and people could freely leave and go to town. Kyra doesn't know if she would want to share a husband with other wives; but the evil described in this story is not evil from multiple wives, but rather evil from unchecked power and a leader having total control over every aspect of his follower's lives.
As one reads this -- as Williams' reveals the total control the Prophet has, the stranglehold on all the Chosen One's lives -- one cannot help but wonder at the parents and adults who allow this to happen. Williams does not paint Kyra's father or three mothers as bad people; but they are people who have slowly ceded away their responsibility for their children's happiness and safety; just as others have chosen to try to share the power (and therefore the rewards) of being an Apostle or "God Squad" member.
Red Glass by Laura Resau, our May selection for readergirlz, takes readers on a journey with Sophie, a teenage girl scared of change but full of sisterly love for a little boy her family took in after a tragedy. Pablo is only five years old - and the only survivor of a group that crossed the Mexican border in search of a better life in the United States of America. A year later, when they discover Pablo has living relatives still in Mexico, Sophie, her great-aunt Dika, Dika's boyfriend and his son, Angel, accompany Pablo back to his hometown. It's a trip that will change all of their lives - and their families - forever.
Lorie Ann Grover: I was so happy to find Red Glass as I was reading works with Latina content and those authored by Latinas. The book's 3 starred reviews made me jump to find a copy. I love the content it is bringing to our group, from a girl finding her freedom from fear to life in a small Mexican city. However, the individual, vivid characters are what ring so powerfully to me.
Little Willow: Anyone want to share their background or nationality? Are there any immigration stories in your immediate family?
Lorie Ann: I know my German grandfather left Germany right before WWII. The other side of my family came from Switzerland.
Shelf Elf: On my mom's side, we've been in Canada for a bunch of generations, but originally from Britain. My dad came here on his own from Belfast in his twenties.
Holly Cupala: My side of the family has been in the U.S. for generations (originally from Wales), but my husband's parents immigrated from India in the 70's. Their story is fascinating to me.
Little Willow: Who were your favorite characters in Red Glass?
Lorie Ann: Dika and Nola. Weren't these ladies such great examples of loving your body shape and being comfortable in the world?
Little Willow: Indeed they were. I admired Nola's strength and determination. I liked Sophie as the narrator because she was seeing everything with open eyes and she had such an open heart. I felt for her whenever she spoke of her fears and worries.
Shelf Elf: I admired Dika a lot, the way she continued to love life and see reasons for joy even after having lived through war. I agree that Sophie had such a good heart. She'd be a great friend.
Holly: I think Dika, but I felt so close to Sophie, seeing the world through her eyes. Pablo reminded me of someone I know. It's hard to choose one.
Little Willow: What was your favorite scene?
Lorie Ann: I think the graveyard scene will linger in my mind most. There's such resolution and beauty. I find rather than whole scenes I carry striking images: light streaming through red glass, Dika's abundant folds, Nola as a rag pile, the white dress, underwater jewels, mirrored sunglasses. Also, what struck me, were the sensory details of man. There's an acceptance of dirt under nails, urine, mustiness, and sweat. Laura embraces what most consider unattractive as simply aspects of a rich life.
Shelf Elf: I agree, Lorie Ann. So much of this novel stayed with me long after I finished. For me, one of the most memorable scenes was the description of one of the "Midnight Parties" in Sophie's backyard when her family came together to help the immigrants who needed food and a safe place to rest. This scene revealed so much of this family's strength and integrity and love. I loved the fact that Sophie kept the broken eggshell to remind herself that it hadn't all just been a dream.
Little Willow: What did you think about Sophie's aunt Dika?
Lorie Ann: I absolutely love Dika. I need her in my life!
Shelf Elf: I think Dika is such a complex character, so full of lightness but she is also vulnerable. She seems wise. Someone I'd like to listen to.
Holly: Yes! She is the kind of influence I think everyone could benefit from - loving and wise.
Little Willow: Sophie and the book at large definitely benefited from Dika's presence, her history, and her boldness. Dika is a refugee from the Bosnian war. Has any war touched your family or yourself, personally?
Lorie Ann: My husband served in the army in our early marriage. I thank and support our soldiers and family who serve for our freedom.
Little Willow: My grandfather served in World War II as well. Sadly, he passed away a decade before I was born. I wish I had had the chance to know him, and apparently, I have some things in common with him. Just last year, I learned that a special day in my life (not the year, obviously, but the month and day) matches one of his service milestones, and that made me smile.
Shelf Elf: Both of my grandfathers were active in the Second World War. One was a pilot and the other built aircraft engines. My grandmother lost her first husband in that war. Thankfully, my family has not been directly affected by war since then.
Holly: My grandfathers were both too young for WWI and too old for WWII, but my dad served in Vietnam. My brother and sister's father (they are technically my half-siblings) was killed as a pilot when my mom was really young, just 22 with two little kids. I'm proud of my mom for her strength and faith and compassion through what must have been incredibly difficult circumstances (love you, Mom and Dad!).
Little Willow: Pablo is not related to Sophie by blood, but she quickly becomes his surrogate big sister. I have two close friends I call my brother and sister-in-law. Do you have any surrogate siblings?
Lorie Ann: The rgz team members are sisters!
Shelf Elf: Here, here!
Little Willow: (breaking into song) Sis-ters! Sis-ters!
Holly: Yes! I love that. My friends, definitely. Being a transplant, it's been important to me to grow a family around me.
Shelf Elf: Since I was a kid, I always wanted a "bosom friend," ever since I read Anne of Green Gables. After a lot of years of waiting and wondering, I found that friend. She is as close as a sister to me.
Little Willow: That's wonderful, Shelf Elf. Anne and Diana's friendship was so strong. In Red Glass, Sophie becomes extremely close to Pablo and starts to call him "Principito," or Little Prince. Do you have any nicknames for your siblings or other loved ones? Do they have any for you?
Lorie Ann: My brothers never gave me a nickname! Although my dad called me Dumplin' Spinner. No explanation. I didn't name my brothers either. I do call my daughters Bean and Bologna.
Shelf Elf: Same here, Lorie Ann - no nicknames from my sister, but my dad was a crazy nicknamer. I was "Lizard," for Elizabeth, my middle name.
Little Willow: I have a zillion nicknames - some from my family, some from my friends, some obvious, some silly.
Holly: I have accumulated nicknames, too! Many of them silly or personal or just plain weird.
Little Willow: Sophie feels out of place when they first arrive in Pablo's country, as he must have felt when he arrived in hers. Have you ever been to a friend's family reunion or family gathering? Were you uncomfortable, or did you immediately feel like one of the family?
Lorie Ann: Yes! [I felt] totally out of place at my husband's family reunion. Eek! The key is to ask people about their stories. You'll find you are soon woven into the fabric.
Shelf Elf: I'm pretty good at settling in with a group of strangers. I find that I'm sometimes less inhibited with people I barely know than I can be with family.
Holly: Being a somewhat shy person, I always feel a little out of place in any large gathing, whether it's my family or someone else's! It's gotten easier as I get older, but there's always an element of terror for me. I love Lorie Ann's advice!
Little Willow: I have never been outside of the country. Have you ever traveled far from home or immersed yourself in another culture?
Lorie Ann: Yes! I lived my first year of married life in South Korea, fifteen minutes south of the DMZ. Later I gave birth to our first daughter in Puerto Rico and lived there a year. They were very different experiences!
Shelf Elf: I'm mostly a homebody, but I have done a little traveling - Europe, US, parts of Canada - just nowhere very exotic. I guess one of the most unusual travel experiences I've had was when I was a little kid, we took a train way up north in Ontario to a town called Mooseonee, with a mostly Native Canadian (Cree) population. It was so remote. I remember being amazed by this completely different community, and how isolated it was. I was kind of stunned that my parents would choose the place for a vacation. But I sure remember it. The only way you could get there was by train or plane.
Holly: I would really love to live in another country someday. Husband and I have talked about it. India, Greece, Australia, England...
Little Willow: Let's talk about the origin of the title, the symbolism of the red glass . . .
Lorie Ann: I love the hope, forgiveness, light, future, and past that Laura blew into the red glass. I really related to Sophie feeling there was a piece of an object in her innermost self, whether twisted metal, light, or even hummingbirds. Angel's search for his mother's jewels corresponded perfectly with Sophie's search for her true spirit. And it's Sophie that uncovers them. "The red sheres were bursting with light. There was something magical about this, finding jewels in the darkness." The examples of beauty beside or within darkness were rich and full. "And yes, there were bones beneath our feet. Land mines and ashes of homes. But around us were crickets and fruit trees and flowers and sunshine and warmth." Brilliant!
Shelf Elf: Laura created such a memorable metaphor with the red glass. I thought that the glass suggested the idea that often the things in life that keep us going, that inspire us and help us remember true beauty are so fragile.
Little Willow: Sophia, like me, is easily worried. I wouldn't say that I fear things like she does, though. How do you work through your fears?
Lorie Ann: I could relate to Sophie and her fears. My mind seems to travel on similar paths, and I have to work to redirect fears. Ultimately it is my theology that puts them to rest.
Shelf Elf: Oh, yes. I'm one of those worrying types. If something can go wrong, chances are I will have imagined it. I've found that putting myself out there and trying to do the things I find scary really helps me to realize that almost all of the time, everything works out fine in the end. Surrounding yourself with calm folk is another good strategy.
Little Willow: Feel the fear and do it anyway! Courage comes when you face a fear, stare it down, and push through it.
Holly: I try to think about where the fear is coming from, and if there is truth in it and if what I know and believe is stronger than the fear. It seems like I revisit fears in life, but every time it's a little different, and I learn a little bit more about how to respond to it.
Lorie Ann: "Your heart in my heart" - Does this ring true for you? Absolutely [for me]. I feel I carry my family, present and deceased. I carry my friends. Even my pets. My heart has many pockets. :~)
Shelf Elf: I love that sentiment. To me, it's one of the best things we can aspire to as human beings, to care so deeply about other people and creatures that they become a part of who you are always.
Holly: Beautiful. I hope it resonates with other readers, too.
Little Willow: Does anyone else have a special relationship with the book The Little Prince?
Lorie Ann: It brings my grandfather to mind who first showed me his copy. It seemed magical to me!
Holly: The first time I read it was out loud to my husband. I look forward one day to reading it to our little one!
Little Willow: Enjoy each and every book you read together, Holly. Closing thoughts on Red Glass? Lorie Ann?
Lorie Ann: Kudos and thanks to Laura for being brave and sharing a culture not specifically her own, and then to doing so with such beauty, honor, and care!
To learn more about Red Glass, read the May 2009 issue of readergirlz. We hope that the website and this roundtable will encourage you to pick up the book and give it a read. We invite you to the readergirlz blog, where other readers and the author herself will be discussing the book's plot, themes, and characters all month long!
Today marks a milestone. Today is the official release of Invisible Sisters, a memoir by my good friend Jessica Handler. Her home-town launch party is tonight at A Cappella Books in Atlanta (she'll also be at the Margaret Mitchell house next week). Please visit their site for details, but to quote the write-up:
Jessica Handler grew up in Morningside in the 1960s as one of three daughters of a progressive Jewish family. By the time she was nine, one of her sisters had been diagnosed with a rare blood disease that would kill her at a young age and the other had died from Leukemia. From this unimaginable family tragedy, Handler emerged and now shares her stirring story in Invisible Sisters, a memoir published by Public Affairs Books. Based on a Pushcart Prize-nominated essay, this clear-eyed, candid work portrays the immense emotional toll that two daughters' illnesses take on a family living in Atlanta. The family's move to Atlanta in 1965 allowed the father to support labor unions, and Handler, as the oldest, was alerted to the importance of demonstrations and even taken to the funeral of Martin Luther King. However, with Susie's diagnosis (compounding the worry over Sarah's chronic sickliness), the parents "began the slow and terrible turning away from one another that erodes families facing the death of a child." Atlanta Magazine's Teresa Weaver compares the book's "lyrical elegance and cool remove" to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking-- "the highest praise possible for any memoir of loss."
I had the great honor of being one of Jessica's readers as she struggled through writing this epic and moving story. It's personal and scary and Jessica and I enjoyed lots of lunches out as she worked through the angst of its creation. However, it's all paying off now and I am so happy for her. Critical response has been incredible as well as the attention she and the book are receiving. Of course, this is no surprise to me as I've been a fan for a long time now. CONGRATULATIONS JESSICA - well earned, my dear!!!
If you happen to know a tiny ballerina, this book is for her. In My Dance Recital, a small ballerina and her jazz-dancer sister prepare for their big show. Readers (and the read-to) are sure to adore the many novelty features, such as pop-ups and lift-the-flaps, that accompany their story.
I had heard about feral (see: wild) cats before last spring, but I didn’t take much notice until I discovered a pack of them living in my backyard. Nowadays, if you’re talking feral (approximate percentage of the population who are “talking feral”: 0.01%), I’m all ears. Indeed, subjects take on new meaning when there is a personal connection. Banking on this truism, Dinosaurs in Your Backyard sets out to school readers on the dinos that once roamed close to home, in the United States. Not a universal source for all things prehistoric and reptilian, Dinosaurs in Your Backyard successfully narrows the focus.
The first thing readers need to realize is that the United States of America (or the land on which it would one day stand) looked quite different 70 million years ago. This difference is described up front, establishing the context for the dinosaur details that follow. Each two-page spread tackles a different group of dino, beginning with Tyrannosaurs and continuing through ocean dwellers, duckbills, horned dinos, and points in between. The book concludes with more big-picture information, with sections dedicated to dinosaur extinction, a nice timeline , glossary, and recommended reading guide.
The information presented is solid, making this title worthwhile for student reports and general fact-finding. The absence of a table of contents is a slight hitch, but not a major blow to its usefulness.
Barnard does well in creating illustrations that are visually interesting, but occasionally a stiffness creeps in. I realized while reading that the illustrations in nonfiction dinosaur books never seem to really wow me. I’m not sure if it’s the artist’s focus on making the depictions as accurate as possible, but the stiffness I mentioned is a fairly common trait among books in this category.
By keeping things local, Dinosaurs in Your Backyard will make a nice addition to your dino section and will work well for pleasure reading. Now if they would just come out with Feral Cats in Your Backyard, I’d be all set.
I had originally planned to write about another book today, until, late last week, skimming some headlines in Google Reader, I saw the name Michael Oher and decided it was time I revisited Michael Lewis’ 2006 book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game instead.
In football, the blind side is most often the right side of the field, the side the quarterback cannot see and is therefore vulnerable to. The Blind Side the book is part biography, part football history, and altogether an engrossing read. It’s an account of opportunity and necessity, how left tackles became so important to football teams and how one left tackle in particular, Michael Oher, suddenly appeared on the radar of every Division I football team in the country.
According to Lewis, there are two main reasons left tackles are so important: Bill Walsh and Lawrence Taylor. Walsh, because he developed the West Coast offense, in which precision passing (and hence, protecting the quarterback long enough for him to deliver the ball to his receivers) is of utmost importance, and Taylor because of the ferocity of his pass rush and his ability to change the outcome of a game singlehandedly with his combination of size and speed. The influence of Walsh and Taylor spread throughout the NFL, as other teams started to throw the ball more while trying to find some way to stop Taylor and the linebackers or defensive ends who had the ability to disrupt their passing attacks. The need for a skilled left tackle, protector of the quarterback’s blind side, suddenly became paramount.
As NFL coaches moved to the college level, bringing with them their NFL schemes, college teams needed a left tackle who could do more than run block. And so college coaches would scour the country, looking for high school players to recruit, athletes who could successfully play left tackle in college.
Which brings us to Michael Oher, who grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. The bad side of Memphis, Tennessee, until a series of fortunate events landed him at Briarcrest Christian School. In telling the story of, to quote the subtitle of the book, the evolution of football, and left tackles in particular, Lewis also gives us the story of Oher, formerly a poor black kid, “one of thirteen children born to a mother who couldn’t care for them, and so had more or less raised himself on the streets of Memphis,” and the Tuohys, the rich white family who takes him in (p. 292).
I’ve read at least one article disagreeing with Lewis’ account of football history, but The Blind Side is still worth reading. Fascinating, especially if you’re a football fan, with great anecdotes from legends like Bill Parcells. The human interest side of the story is pretty good, too. Lewis has such a conversational way of describing events and a knack for capturing the little details in brief turns of phrase that tell you more about a person than other writers can manage in a paragraph, that you are immediately drawn into the narrative, and the intersecting lives of Oher and the Tuohys.
As Dorothy mentioned in her review of Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes, she doesn’t think about death very often. I don’t either, there being so much about life that keeps me occupied. But between reading this book and having my dog euthanized, I’ve found myself thinking about death quite a bit lately.
The book is far from being depressing, however. In fact, I found myself smiling, or giggling frequently or at the very least, appreciating irony and Barnes’s wry wit. At the same time the book was completely serious. I don’t know how Barnes managed to do it, but he found a perfect balance in his discussion of death.
Nothing to Be Frightened Of has a quiet conversational feel to it. Barnes weaves in an out and around topics and stories, takes off on a tangent, comes back to where he was before only to follow a different lead and away we go to find it comes back again but this time things look a little different.
While the book is about death, it is also about memory and religion. Barnes describes himself as a “happy atheist” and begins the book “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him,” a statement his philosopher brother declares “soppy.” The frame of religion plays a big part in how people view death. Barnes makes some intriguing observations and comparisons of viewpoints you’ll have to read the book to discover since I am not feeling up for starting a debate on religion. Maybe another time.
The elements of the book that touch on memory struck a chord with me. I have often thought along the same lines as Barnes:
Memory is identity. I have believed this since–oh, since I can remember. You are what you have done; what you have done is in your memory; what you remember defines who you are; when you forget your life you cease to be, even before your death.
To me, this seems even more terrible and tragic than death.
Barnes tells stories about his parents and their respective deaths. He has much to say about his older brother who insists that memory is not reliable. Barnes persists in comparing what he and his brother remember about certain events and people and often they are so wildly different you have to agree with his brother. I must say though that I really enjoyed the parts in which he talks about his brother. They seem good friends but yet there is hint of sibling rivalry and teasing running beneath it and I will wager that when they argue it can get loud.
Barnes thinks about death often, he can’t help himself he says. But in writing about death it isn’t all about him. He balances the family memoir with anecdotes about the deaths of famous writers and composers and the occasional philosopher. He gleans much from Jules Renard whose diary I read not long ago–or I should say that I read part of his diary since there are a thousand plus pages of it.
I can’t do Nothing to Be Frightened Of justice. It really is excellent reading and I highly recommend it. Don’t let the subject scare you off. It is, as I mentioned earlier, not depressing by any means. I would say it is the most enjoyable book about death I have ever read.
The Plot: Auden spends the summer after high school graduation at the beach with her father, stepmother, and new baby half-sister. She discovers things about her father, her family, and herself.
The Good: Dessen delivers again.
Teenage girl? Check.
Discovering who she is? Check.
Realizing the good and bad, flaws and strengths of those around her? Check.
Making new friends of both sexes? Check.
Love interest? Check.
Did I mention it's at the beach?
While their is a romance (and I would confidently hand this to anyone looking for a love story), it's not a classic love story. The real story is the classic YA one -- coming of age. Auden has always lived under the shadow of her mother, being "too grown up" as a way to deal with her parents' divorce. Visiting her father and seeing him in a new light, while being out of the influence of her strong mother, gives her a chance to find out who she is and what she wants.
The love interest begins as a friend -- and the love is awkward, hesitant, and shaky. Auden has hidden herself away in books and school work, and love, friendship, and relationships don't come easy to her. Auden may be a bit more like the readers of Dessen's books, than past main characters (Lock and Key has uberdrama, Just Listen has the pretty model girl, etc.)
It wouldn't be a Dessen book without some mentions of her other books: here, Auden briefly attended the private school in Lock and Key; the jewelry from Lock and Key is also mentioned; and the beach town is the one in Keeping the Moon, with a couple of characters making brief appearances. Hey, speaking of the Lock and Key jewelry, Tiffany is making key necklaces!
Applauding Saller's "good advice," Safire notes that "the editor of The Chicago Manual of Style Online's Q&A has written a book out of her Web experience, in contrast to those who take to the Web to blog-flog a book." That said, Saller's famous (among editors, at least!) online presence stretches from long before to, we hope, long after her new book's appearance.
But this is The Subversive Copy Editor's moment, and we, like Safire, can't help but give her the last witty word: "There's no end to the amount of fussing you can do with a manuscript, whereas there's a limit to the amount of money someone will pay you to do it. At some point it has to be good enough, and you have to stop."
(Before we stop, though, we should point out that at our Web site you can sample and listen to Saller read from the book. And, if you happen to be in Minneapolis, Chicago, or Paris next month, you can hear her talk about the book in person.)
Seven years ago, there was a string of murders on isolated Harper's Island; John Wakefield was accused; killed by the Sheriff; and the survivors left to pick up the pieces.
Henry Dunn and Trish Wellington both spent summers on the island, he working, she as a rich tourist; and now that they are getting married, it seems perfect to get married back at Harper's Island. To put the past behind them.
Two episodes in... and the murders keep piling up. Now, I don't want to give too much away. CBS has the episodes available to view online, so new viewers can quickly catch up.
Harper's Island is a delicious mix of murder mystery, suspense, and horror. I like horror; but I don't like gore. Harper's Island provides some nasty murders without turning it into a splatter-fest.
This is a classic English country-house mystery; you know, the ones were all the suspects are staying at the English manor, a murder takes place, so it has to be one of the people... Except here it's an isolated island off the coast of Washington, with locals and wedding guests as both suspects and victims.
If people are dying like flies, why doesn't anyone get the hell off the island? So far, the viewer knows about the murders; no one on screen has found a body, except for one that looks like a suicide. But honestly, if I were attending a friend's wedding and I disappeared, I hope someone would notice.
Harper's Island gives us all the standard characters: good girl, old boyfriend, controlling father, etc. Part of the fun of a show like this is trying to figure out who will be next and who did it and how the next one will die. Could it be X? Where was s/he when the last murder took place? Uh oh, that person is dead, take them off the list.
Also good? This is only thirteen episodes. Which means it is tightly plotted; no meandering, no network inspired sudden changes. It tells a story that is complex -- multiple characters, backstory, interesting relationships, hidden secrets -- a story that could not be told in only a few hours. A story that would suffer if drawn out over multiple seasons. YAY, it will have an ending.
Note to Supernatural fans: it has Bobby. And Original Ruby. What more do you need?
Extra feature: an online companion series, Harper's Globe, that so far is creeping me out much more than Harper's Island.