Friday, June 29, 2007

Review: Summer Reading

I'm stealing this book reviewing format (with permission!) from Dewey over at The Hidden Side of a Leaf. I have such a hard time knowing what to say, I thought having a format might help.

Summer Reading by Hilma Wolitzer
Rating: 3 1/2 stars

What led you to pick up this book? I think I read a blurb about it in Shelf Awareness. But basically, I liked the title - it is summer, after all!

Summarize the plot, but don’t give away the ending! It revolves around a "summer reading book club" (I didn't know there were such things) in the Hamptons called the Page Turners. Trophy second wife Lissy Snyder longs to be part of the glamourous crowd and is delighted to be invited to join the book club (even though she's dyslexic). Retired English professor Angela Graves supplements her pension leading such groups. And local girl Michelle Cutty cooks for, cleans up after, and resents the "weekenders". Each woman is struggling with something - Lissy is now the unwilling stepmother of her husband’s hostile children; Michelle can’t get her fisherman boyfriend to commit, and Angela still carries the shameful memory of a long-ago, disastrous love affair.

What did you like most about the book? I liked the "bookishness" of it. I enjoyed that it was three stories in one. I also enjoyed the Hamptons setting. Though I haven't made it there yet, I've been intrigued by the Hamptons since I read Further Lane by James Brady.

What did you like least? Even though they're important parts of the story, I didn't really like shallowness of Lissy or Angela's attitude towards her past behaviour. While it's not the author's fault at all, I also didn't like that I hadn't read any of the books mentioned. Maybe it will spur me on to read Villette.

Who would enjoy this book? Why? I think former literature majors would enjoy it, especially if they've read the books. And also people in book clubs. As a book clubber, I always get a kick out of books about book clubs.

Share a favourite scene from the book. I enjoyed Angela's attempts to teach the Page Turners about literature, such as the importance of "seeing oneself in the fictional other." It reminded me I need to be a more careful reader. And I was amused when, after being told by Angela that literature teaches us how to live, rich, shallow Lissy thinks all about her pretty, equally shallow friends and her beautiful home and decides "she didn't need anything else from literature, she already knew how to live."

Another scene that stands out is the very terrible play Angela attends and how she's so kind to the young actors afterwards.

What about the ending? Did it make you want to throw the book across the room? No, it was fine. But while I like happy endings, I do I agree with one review that noted all three characters got quick, happy endings to wrap everything up nicely. But then, that's what you want in summer reading, really. :-).

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Review: Scrambled Eggs at Midnight

Scrambled Eggs at Midnight by Brad Barker and Heather Hepler
Rating: 4 stars

(Note: I'm particularly partial to this one because Husband and I often visit the Minnesota Renaissance Festival when we go to visit his family.)

Last year I enjoyed the recent trend towards alternating boy-girl point of view books written by a male and a female author. Calliope has been following her drifter mother around Renaissance Faires and other short-term jobs for years. Every few months she has to pack fewer of her belongings into their hatchback and leave another town. She hasn't seen her father in years. Eliot's dad found religion a few years ago and it turned out that cashing in on Jesus allowed him to make even more money. He moved Eliot and his mom to a Christian fat camp for teens in the woods outside the small town that hosts the Faire. At the camp, Eliot's dad insists that his family devote their lives to God, fitness, and the pursuit of money. Cal and Eliot spot each other as she and her mom drive into town and run into each other later at the used bookstore. It's love at first sight, but Cal's mom doesn't want her to make any ties and Eliot's dad doesn't approve of "those people." Despite these objections, Cal and Eliot fall more and more in love over the summer, until one day Cal's mom makes her usual announcement - they're leaving, just when Cal's finally found somewhere and someone that feels like home.

This was a lovely love story and I enjoyed getting the male and female perspectives. The settings of the Renaissance Faire and the fat camp provide also lots of amusing details - encounters with wenches and jousters and "inspirational" messages like the 10 commandments of healthy eating. But it's also really touching. Cal's sadness over having to leave Eliot is heightened because she feels such a sense of futility - she can't make her mother understand how unhappy she is and she thinks there's no point in even trying. Eliot and his mom are really unhappy at the camp, but his dad doesn't seem to notice. But with the help of a Ren Fest rib chef, a special apartment, and the power of love, things might just work out.

Jousters, fireworks, recipes, love, sadness, paddleboats....this book has it all!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Review: Love, Cajun Style

Love, Cajun Style by Diane Les Becquets
5 stars

It's the summer before their senior year of high school and Lucy and her best friends Mary Jordan and Evie are hot and bothered. In fact, everyone in their small Louisiana town of Sweetbay seems enflamed by secrets and passions.

Lucy's sweltering is caused by two men - the new, married drama teacher who keeps making inappropriate advances and the new, sweet boy in town, Dewey, who just wants to get to know her. Mary Jordan is having problems with her boyfriend Doug and Evie's looking at an old friend in a new way. Lucy's parents aren't seeing eye-to-eye and her Tante Pearl is acting awfully secretive. What's going on in Sweetbay?

As you can tell from the Southern Challenge, I really enjoy Southern lit and I loved this book. Les Becquets has the best descripitive powers I've come across in a YA novel in ages - you can almost feel the sultry heat, sea the view from the beach, smell the flowers in the air, hear the fiddle music, and taste the Creole shrimp. There is some mature subject matter in this one (hard to have a sultry summer without some sex), but it's handled well - one of the girls' decision to have sex is shown to have actual emotional consequences, not something I've seen too often lately. This is really a coming-of-age novel - Lucy recognizes that it's happening and she's actually not all that happy about the changes, she realizes things will never be the same as they were in childhood. Lucy, Mary Jordan, and Evie's wonderful friendship can weather the growing-up storm, though. And to top it off, there are some great funny parts, including a nude bike ride and some improvising during a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

(Just realized this could be a good one for Southern Challengers who are looking for an extra, quick read!)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Review: Valiant

Valiant: a modern tale of faerie by Holly Black
4 stars

When Valerie Russell discovers she's been betrayed by two of the most important people in her life, she runs away to New York City. Emotionally and physically exhausted, she meets Dave and Lolli in a coffee shop. They take her back to the subway tunnel where they live. There she meets Luis, Dave's one-eyed brother who apparently has The Sight.

After spending the night in the tunnel, Val tags along with Dave as he delivers a mysterious bottle to a woman with goat hooves instead of feet. Intrigued, Val makes Lolli show her the secret lair of the creature they're delivering for - a troll named Ravus. When Lolli tries to steal from him, Val trades Lolli's life for a month of service to Ravus. As Val delivers more bottles, it becomes apparent that faerie folk are dying throughout the city and rumour has it that Ravus is responsible.

The tunnel gang has discovered something about the strange liquid - while it's a medicine for faeries, it can be smoked or shot up by humans, giving them the ability to make things change shape and to make people agree to their every demand. They've named it Never (as in Never Never Land) and Val becomes addicted to it. In the scenes where the kids are roaming around the city hopped up on it, you can really see why it's addictive - they can get anything they want and be anything they want.

Val also finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Ravus, who, after she saves his life, agrees to teach her the art of sword-fighting. The works its way up to a faerie-human struggle for the truth and for Ravus' life. Only Val, if she can clear her mind of Never, can save herself, her friends and Ravus.

I loved Holly Black's first novel, Tithe: a modern faerie tale, and this one didn't disappoint. Valiant is almost a sequel, with a few characters and events mentioned, but you don't need to read the first one for this one to be great. There are no Disney, Tinkerbellish faeries here - they're almost all amoral and cruel (and hardly any of them are cute). Black has clearly spent a lot of time thinking about faeries. Her descriptions of the different creatures - including faeries, a tree spirit, and a mermaid - are really vivid.

Better commenting

Sorry about that, gang, I didn't realize I had commenting set for Blogger users only. I've fixed it, I think, so please feel free to add your 2 cents!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Welcome, friend!

My dear friend Vidalia has just started book blogging, hooray! She likes it all, especially Southern lit and a healthy dose of Chick Lit. Please give her some traffic!

Review: Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman
5 stars

Enthusiasm sums up the way I feel about this book! It's a rooted-in-Jane-Austen one. Julie's best friend Ashleigh is "The Enthusiast" - when she takes an interest in something (whether it's candy making, a new band, or King Arthur), she becomes obsessed - living and breathing (and talking, dressing, and acting) it. When Julie introduces her to the novels of Miss Austen, Ashleigh is convinced that a) they shouldn't be showing their Lower Limbs and b) they need to find their own versions of Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley. Fortunately, the local boys' private school, Forefield, is having a ball - surely they can find some gowns and crash the party!

They manage to get into the dance with the help of vintage dresses from Julie's mom's shop and because two young gentlemen, Grandison Parr and Ned Downing, rescue them from the turkey-faced staff member guarding the door. After that, the boys are part of Julie and Ashleigh's lives, especially when the try out for the girls' parts in the upcoming Forefield play. But some miscommunications make Julie wonder who Ashleigh thinks is her Mr. Darcy - the divine Parr or friendly Ned. Ashleigh pines for Parr, but is convinced that he likes Ashleigh and vice versa, so she stays silent because she wants to be a good friend.

Enthusiasm is lovely, charming and old-fashioned. It was so nice to read a YA novel that wasn't full of drugs and raunch (it's just become so prevalent that it's getting tiresome). Kissing - just kissing - is a huge deal in this one. The boys are also well-mannered and courtly (except for one sleazy playboy who is regarded with disgust) - Parr even writes poetry!

Ashleigh is a wonderful character, so full of energy and zest. And she and Julie have such a wonderful friendship - there's no backstabbing or mean girlness. Just the thought of hurting the other, even if it's not the case, upsets each girl terribly. And I loved that they visited each other by climbing the tree between their houses and entering through their bedroom windows. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Here a critic, there a critic

With all this snobby fuss about literary critics vs. book bloggers, I thought this cartoon was appropriate - it's time to criticize the critics! (And yes, I know those two are movie critics, but it's
still funny.)

Thanks to Xine at Chicken Scratch for introducing me to the Savage Chickens.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Southern Reading Challenge, Book 1: Between, Georgia

Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson
Rating: 4 stars

This book was nothing at all like I expected. I don't know why, but I was thinking it would be fairly standard chick lit with a Southern twang. But it's definitely more than that. (There's actually more to it than I can include here, but I'll give you the gist.)

Nonny Frett is truly a native of the tiny town of Between, Georgia because she's caught between two families and two lives. She was born to the unwed, unstable Hazel Crabtree but deaf/almost blind Stacia Frett knew she was Nonny's mother as soon as she came into the world (in the middle of her sister's living room). The Crabtrees and Fretts have a long-standing feud and Nonny is caught right in the middle. She's raised by Stacia and her sisters - Stacia's fraternal twin, the nervous, sweet Genny and the steam-rolling, brash Bernese. Nonny learns sign language before she can speak and loves her mother wholeheartedly. But her biological grandmother, Ona - "half-crazy, all mean, perpetually drunk" - wants her to be a Crabtree. Nonny is red-headed and freckled like the Crabtrees and sometimes has their temper, but she feels more like a meticulous Frett. The Frett-Crabtree feud is at the heart of the novel - it causes some terrible events that change Nonny's way of thinking about her life and her family.

Nonny is also caught between her own life in Athens, GA where she works as an ASL translator and the need to come home on weekends and look after her now deaf-blind mother (not that Stacia needs much help, she's pretty amazing) and the fluttery, self-harming Genny. She's been trying to get divorced from her cheating, laid-back musician husband Jonno for a year now but she keeps putting it off and she keeps sleeping with him.

Jackson writes, there's "no such thing as a town smaller than Between" and it certainly seems that way - most of the action in the town happens in the town square, with its fountain and flowerbeds, surrounded by a few businesses in Victorian buildings - a B&B, a diner, a bookstore, the Baptist church, and Bernese's rather creey, roadside-attraction-like Dollhouse Museum where she combines displays of Stacia's famous porcelain dolls with her own obsession - butterfly farming. Right across from the square the quaintness ends - there lies the Crabtrees' squalid gas station/parts yard, complete with 3 vicious Dobermans.

I enjoyed this novel. Being adopted, I was really interested in the nature vs. nurture parts of Nonny's personality, particularly since she knew exactly where they both came from, which is rare. Stacia, as I said, is amazing - despite her lack of sight and hearing, she's the most level-headed of the sisters and the most eloquent, even though she can't speak. Her relationship with Nonny was one of the strongest, best-written mother-daughter relationships I've read about in quite a while. And there are other quirky Betweenians to enjoy, as well.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rest in Peace, Nattie

I just learned from the Something About Me blog that Nattie of Nattie Writes has lost her battle with cancer. She started the Newbery Challenge and was participating in Something About Me. I didn't know her at all, had just recently come across her in the blogosphere, but my thoughts are with her family and friends. She was my age and had children and it's just so sad.

Saturday, June 9, 2007


Dewey asked what qualified as Hiaasenesque-ness and I had to think about it, but I think I've got some things that are featured in many of his books:

- they're very funny - satirical, bizarre and darkly humourous

- they're set in Florida and are usually filled with the oddness of that state (which I haven't experienced first-hand but have heard many people - authors and regular folks alike - allude to)

- there's often a conservation theme such as saving an endangered species or the destruction of the Everglades

- the central problem of the novel usually happens to a tough, quirky female character and she's soon joined in her journey to solve it by a tough, quirky guy that she's just met (often, sometimes she already knows him) - they end up together in the end

- the villain is usually a slick con-man type who deserves what's coming to him

- the secondary villains are either his accomplices or part of a subplot and they're completely, hilariously brain-dead rednecks - they've often lost everything (including limbs) and are deranged and covered in filth by the end

Other Hiaasen fans - feel free to include anything I've missed!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Review: Rattled

Here's the second part of G...

Title: Rattled
Author: Debra Galant
Rating: 3 1/2 stars

Review: I had to work hard to find this book! I had seen it on our New Books shelf a few months before I read it and was struck by the blurb on the front: "In this wickedly satirical novel, Debra Galant does for the McMansions of New Jersey what Carl Hiaasen did for the swamps of Florida." I'm all about Carl Hiaasen, so I wanted to read Rattled, but had too much on my reading plate. But I was sure I'd remember the title, no need to write it down. Wrong! Fortunately, our New Books stay New for 3 months, so after much shelf surveillance, I found it again.

Uber-controlling and materialistic mom Heather Peters wants a nice house on a nice lot. She thinks she's found it in the new subdivision of Galapagos Estates. Of course, slimy developer Jack Barstad neglected to mention that the development is located on an endangered rattlesnake habitat. Heather and her overworked, henpecked husband Kevin move in and Heather sets to work decorating and volunteering to be class mom for her son Connor's class (Connor has just a few teeny behavioural problems, so starting ata new school is hard) like chasing kids with scissors). Unfortunately, just before Heather and her cut-and-bake cookies head off to Back to School Night, a timber rattler creeps onto her new patio and she has her "handyman" (local oldtimer and egg farmer Harlan White) kill it. Turns out it's illegal to kill the endangered snakes, and thanks to an implanted tracking device, hardcore animal rights activist Agnes (who has been deputized by the wildlife service) shows up at her door. Jail, fame, ridicule and eventually self-discovery ensue for Heather as she at first takes credit for being the snake-killer but eventually everyone from the enivronmentalists to her neighbours are trying to drive her family out of Galapagos Estates.

There's definitely some Hiaasenesque-ness going on in Rattled. Galant doesn't have the sheer hilarious bizarreness of Hiaasen (but who does?) and it's a bit broader in the farce department, but it was a fun read. I found myself thinking several times that it would make a good movie. Perhaps it'll be made into one - Hoot (or perhaps Hiss?) for grownups. :)

Saturday, June 2, 2007


Sorry for the lack of action this weekend - we moved on Thursday and are still recovering. The people who lived there before us were basically pigs, so we're having to do a ton of cleaning before we can even start putting things away. And then...the decorating shall begin!!!