Tuesday, July 31, 2007


More Alphabet Challenge quickies...

Three Bedrooms in Chelsea by Liz Ireland - I believe I took this one on our trip to Minnesota last year - I seem to recall reading it on a plane. When actress/waitress Edie Amos's reporter boyfriend suddenly leaves on an extended trip to Uzbekistan, she doesn't know how she'll keep up the rent on their shared (but really his) Chelsea apartment. After all, she's just been fired from her only acting job as a dancing fava bean. The only thing to do is find a roommate. First she gets tall, blonde, and scary Greta Stolenbauer, who has a crazy ex-boyfriend yelling in the street for her and whose idea of exercise is smoking while watching the Yoga channel. Then a tiny bit of storage space becomes a third bedroom for Danielle Poitier (actually Porter, but she thought the extra i's sounded classier), a Texan princess who begs for the room because she's determined to make a go of a writing career without her daddy's money and influence. Goodbye privacy, hello club-hopping, dodging the landlord, and chasing dreams. I don't remember a lot about this one - it's fairly standard chick lit, especially Edie's approaching- 30-but-not-settled-with-a-guy-or-a-job problems. But Greta, with her sad German childhood and attempts to live a better life is interesting and silly Danielle grows up a lot. Typical Chick Lit with a misfit friends theme and some character development and humour.

The Bachelorette Party by Karen McCullah Lutz - More Minnesota memories - I picked this one up super cheap from Barnes and Noble at the Mall of America. Zadie Roberts is a high school teacher who finds herself fantasizing about the young Abercrombie model in her English class as the rest of her friends pair are getting hitched. Her last attempt at monogomy was with her now-famous soap opera star fiancee, who left her at the altar. When she learns her best friend Grey is going to marry her perfect cousin Helen, Zadie feels like her world is ending. To make matters worse, Zadie has to attend Helen's tea and yoga bachelorette party, planned by her equally dull friends. But when the party takes a naughty turn, and Helen sets out to prove that she uptight, Zadie doesn't know what to tell Grey about his bethrothed's behaviour. Will she save Grey from a future of unhappiness or ruin their friendship forever? Fluffy, girlie fun with big helpings of bitchiness, naughtiness, and laughs.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Review: Oh My Goth

Oh My Goth by Gena Showalter
3 stars

Summary: Jade Leigh values individuality above all else and has a small group of like-minded Goth friends who wear black and dabble in the dark arts. They're considered the freaks of their school, which is mostly very Gap-centric, but they're happy. But when Jade's smart mouth lands her in trouble once again, the principal decides to teach her and her arch-nemesis, Barbie-esque taunter of freaks Mercedes, a lesson. Taken to a remote location where they're strapped down and sedated, Jade and Mercedes wake up in a world where Goths (and therefore Jade) are cool and the norm and being preppy makes Mercedes a freak. Only Clarik, the mysterious new boy in town, operates outside the cliques. Jade and Mercedes have to work together to get back to their own reality but even if they do, will things ever be the same again?

Why'd I pick it up? It's a Something About Me book from
Stephanie's list. Plus I ordered it for our YA collection this year and thought it would be worth a look.

Who would like it? Just judging by its good circulation in my library system, it seems to be generally popular with teens. I don't think actual hardcore Goth kids who are in the throes of misery would like it, but "Goth lite" kids would enjoy it. And any teen who feels like a non-prom-queen type of freak. It would be great if some mean girls could read it and realize they're really only one fad away from being freaks themselves, though I doubt that happens very often.

Overall: Well, an episode of South Park sums up my general thoughts on the Goth thing. After being dumped by his girlfriend, Stan can't stand the pain and decides to dwell on it by becoming a Goth. It's pretty simple to join them - "If you wanna be one of the non-conformists, all you have to do is dress just like us and listen to the same music we do." And that's where the whole individuality thing breaks down for me - in the wide world, you may be in the minority, but you still have to conform to the Goths. As far as I can tell, you can't wear pink and have blonde pigtails yet still care deeply about pain and be a Goth. You have to do the whole black clothes/black hair/dark makeup thing. So really, you're just conforming to another way of thinking. I kept waiting for someone to point this out in the novel and thankfully Mercedes eventually did - it always seems like such an obvious point to me.

That's not to say there's anything wrong with the whole black clothing, etc. thing. People should be free to express themselves. And it does often require more effort and creativity than just throwing on something from the Gap - I really enjoyed Jade's descriptions of all the cool Goth clothes she and her friends wear. It just seems that to rage against cliques but still be in one yourself (even though it's a small and not very powerful one) is a bit ironic. The popular kids in the book are really mean to the Goth kids, but the Goth kids aren't a whole lot nicer to the people outside of their circle, either, and have no more respect for their lifestyle than the "normals" have for the Goth one.

And that's pretty much the message of the book, not to judge people by their outward appearance (Mercedes' life isn't all that picture-perfect, for example). It's the age-old walk a mile in someone else's shoes lesson (whether they're Manolos or combat boots).

What I learned about Stephanie: Well, she said it all in her blurb about the book - she enjoys being different and has a penchant for wearing black, so this is definitely a book about her. And that she enjoys a YA novel from time to time, which I'm always happy to see! :)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Review: Life's a Beach

Life's a Beach by Claire Cook

Summary: Ginger Walsh is 41 and can't seem to get settled into her life. She lives in a room over her parents' garage with a cat she calls Boyfriend - despite (or maybe because of) her too-casual relationship with glassblower Noah. As Ginger's big sister Geri gets anxious about her upcoming 50th birthday, their parents decide to sell the house, and Geri's second-grader Riley lands a small role in a horror movie being filmed in their quaint New England town. Ginger babysits Riley on the set and meets a gaffer who might make her forget about Noah.

Why'd I pick it up? I saw it on our new books display and couldn't resist the title or the summery look of the cover (particularly the fun flip-flops!).

Who would enjoy it? I think anyone looking for a quick summer read, but particularly sisters - especially if you're a younger, flaky one or an older, responsible one. Perhaps also anyone who enjoyed the movie Must Love Dogs (which I haven't seen), as Cook wrote the novel it's based on.

Overall: This one wasn't outstanding, but it was a fun, quick summer read with a good dollop of humour. The characters are well-done, particularly the supporting ones like wise-beyond-his-years Riley, an evil stage mother who spreads gossip about Ginger on the set, and especially Mr. Walsh, who talks like a 40's gangster (Toots, Dollface, etc) and is obsessed with the take it or leave it pile at the local dump (at first I thought he might be getting a bit senile, but apparently he's just eccentric). The descriptions of Noah's glassblowing and Ginger's sea glass jewelry-making, as well as the movie business, were interesting. I don't have a sister, but I enjoyed reading about their relationship - arty Ginger and businesslike Geri and the way they help each other (although I must say I didn't have a lot of sympathy for Ginger's lack of income/housing/a relationship at 41 - I must be more of a Geri type). And as a bonus, there's a funny ad listings section at the back with entries for all of the characters. If you need something to take to the beach this summer, I'd say pick this one up!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Review: Crispin: the cross of lead

Crispin: the cross of lead by Avi

Summary: Set in 14th-century England, this is the story of a 13 year-old peasant boy. After his mother dies, the boy known only as "Asta's son" is declared a "wolf's head" by his manor's evil steward (which means that anyone who sees him can kill him and collect a reward) for a crime he didn't commit. The village priest is prepared to help him escape, and lets him know that his name is actually Crispin and that there are things he needs to know about his mother and unknown father. But before Crispin can visit the priest again, he's killed and Crispin must flee for his life. He meets a huge juggler/mummer named Bear on the road and starts to learn that there's more to life than being a serf. Bear and Crispin's adventure continues as they enter the town of Great Wexly, where trouble for both of them ensues and the truth about Crispin's parentage comes to light.

Why'd I pick it up? For the Newbery Challenge. Although I also felt I should read some of the prolific and well-respected Avi (can't recall if I've read any of his others). This is his 50th book!

Overall: I think this would be a great book for teaching kids about the feudalism during the Middle Ages. It's good to have a perspective beyond the usual knights and castles stories for this age group. Avi really sets the scene well - he paints a clear picture of the tiny villages and also of the large market town. I was impressed with the way he really describes what life was like for peasants at the time. Crispin calls it a "living death" - nothing but work, poverty, misery, and the church telling them that if they follow the rules they'll get their reward in Heaven.

It was actually quite jarring to read so much about the Church in a kids' book, actually. My first thoughts were that I really couldn't see myself recommending it to many kids in our very multicultural city, but I think there's enough adventure, suspense, and violence in it that I can pull it off. :) And kids often need period-specific fiction for school, so now I have one for boys.

Crispin's Middle Ages-speak also put me off at first and I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy the book, but once I got into it, I discovered not only an adventure tale but a great story of a boy discovering that he can take charge of his own life.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Not sure if it's true, but they're sure pretty

Your Gemstone is Aquamarine

Intuitive, tranquil, and trusting.
You inspire others to have faith in themselves.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Review: Faking 19

Faking 19 by Alyson Noel
3 1/2 stars

Alex and M. (she started being called by only her first initial when she was little, since all of her clothes were monogrammed) are best friends trying to figure things out in their senior year. M. is beautiful and rich and seems to have it all, including a place at a posh university next year. Alex, the child of a single mom, is in different financial circumstances. Her deadbeat dad spends all of his time and money on his new girlfriend. Alex has always been a good student, but in her final year, she stops caring and instead drives into LA with M. to party with older guys.

This book has some Gossip Girl elements (as you'd probably deduce from the cover), but it's a bit more serious. There are some funny moments and I really liked the descriptions of Alex's thrift-shop chic style. But Alex really gets herself into some difficult situations and M.'s life isn't as rosy as it seems. A good choice for teen chick lit with some substance as well as style.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Well, it's certainly not mathematical

Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence

You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.

An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.

You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view.

A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Something About Me Reading List

Here are the books that I plan to read for this challenge. I have a feeling I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but we'll see how I do. Completed books are in blue, abandoned ones are in red.

  1. Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby (Athena)
  2. So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson (Vasilly, A Book in the Life, Sally)
  3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Kristin)
  4. Oh My Goth by Gena Showalter (Stephanie)
  5. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (Wendy)
  6. The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler (Nattie)
  7. Sixpence House: lost in a town of books by Paul Collins (Nattie)
  8. Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank Gilbreth (Raidergirl13)
  9. Evening Class by Maeve Binchy (Raidergirl13)
  10. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (Christina)
  11. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (various lists)
  12. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory (Margo)
  13. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (Soleil)
  14. Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan (Booklogged)
  15. Nantucket Nights by Elin Hilderbrand (LibraryLady)
  16. An Inconvenient Wife by Megan Chance (LibraryLady)
  17. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (SheReads)
  18. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (SheReads)
  19. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (Valentina)
  20. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (Juli)
  21. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (Faith)
  22. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (Kelly)
  23. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff (Historia)
  24. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Vasilly)
  25. Marley and Me by John Grogan (Lynne)
To see reviews, please click on Something About Me Challenge under Labels on the right side, that'll bring up a list (if I have to try and link every one as I do it, it'll take me til next year to fiddle with it!).

Books from others' lists that I've already read (and many of them are ones that I loved - everyone has such good taste!):

  1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  4. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (well, some of them, anyway)
  5. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  6. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
  7. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishigiro
  8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  9. Dairy Queen by Catherine Murdock
  10. Zel by Donna Jo Napoli
  11. The Red Tent by Anita Diamante
  12. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  13. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
  14. Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
  15. Chocolat by Joanne Harris
  16. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  17. Postsecret by Frank Warren
  18. Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
  19. Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
  20. Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
  21. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
  22. Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  23. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
  24. The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
  25. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  26. Can You Keep A Secret? by Sophie Kinsella
  27. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling
  28. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling
  29. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  30. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
  31. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
  32. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  33. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  34. No Coins, Please by Gordan Korman
  35. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
  36. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
  37. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
  38. Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl
  39. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  40. Anne of Windy Poplars by LM Montgomery
  41. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
  42. Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
  43. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  44. The Borrowers by Mary Norton

Review: The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
4 stars

Summary: The story is divided into 4 books. The first describes Despereaux's early life. He's not like other mice - his ears are too big, he was born with his eyes open, he can read, and he completely ignores the correct rules of conduct for mice, to his family's dismay. One day while exploring the castle, he hears music and is drawn to young Princess Pea's bedroom, where her father the King is singing to her. He falls instantly and deeply in love with her, his conception of love based on the only story he's read, about a chivalrous knight. This kind of un-mouselike behaviour gets him thrown in the dungeon by the other mice. The second book introduces Chiaroscuro, a rat who instead of loving the darkness of his home in the dungeon, loves the light so much he ends up in the castle in the queen's soup, with disastrous results. The third book describes young Miggery Sow, a dim-witted girl who was sold by her own father but still dreams of being a princess. The fourth book connects the lives of the mouse, the rat, the girl, and the princess with some surprising twists.

What made me pick it up? I confess, I read this one before the Newbery challenge officially started (same with Higher Power of Lucky). It was one of our picks for my library's children's book club. I also loved Because of Winn-Dixie, so I was happy to try this one out.

Overall: It's a lovely little book, with an old-fashioned tone, involving fairly complex themes of light and dark, good vs evil, and the power of love and forgiveness. Small, sweet, dreamy Despereaux is so fragile yet he manages to be so hopeful and brave, despite just about everything being stacked against him. His drama queen French mother, who gave him his unhappy name, provides some comic relief but is also awful. His entire family's treatment of him is so dreadful, it's heart-breaking, even for rodents. I enjoyed the clever intertwining of seemingly unrelated characters, which helps to lead to several happy endings.

My only quibble is the narrator frequently popping up to ask readers if they know what a word means. This device just irks me. It's also found to an irritating degree in the Lemony Snicket books, but that certainly hasn't hampered their success. So maybe it's just me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


The Alphabet Challenge has been going on so long that I'll never get each one fully reviewed. So here are some blurbs.

Bombshell by Lynda Curnyn - I read this one at the tail end of my Red Dress Ink phase, before they all started to seem like the same book. (I might go back to them, though. I just needed a break from all chick lit, all the time.) 34 year-old blonde bombshell Grace Noonan dumps her boyfriend Ethan after he reacts with horror to a pregnancy scare. And the cosmetic company she works for, whose motto used to be "beauty beyond 30," has decided to focus on the teen market, throwing her department into an uproar. Adding to the stress is the return of Michael, the founder's son and a former flame of Grace's - he's back in New York and is engaged to the teen campaign's project manager. It all has Grace wondering if it's time to give up on the single life and visit the sperm bank. I don't remember much about this one, but it was fairly good chick lit and Grace was an interesting character.

Chloe Does Yale by Natalie Krinsky - Natalie Krinsky writes a sex column for the Yale Daily News and so does her fictional counterpart,Chloe Carrington. It amuses some people and disgusts others. One of her critics is the mysterious YaleMale05, who sends her e-mails about the column and she embarks on an e-mail flirtation with him. He's not overly mysterious, however - his identity is actually pretty predictable once you're partway into the book. I think the audience for this book would be the same as the one for her column - college students. I felt a bit old for it. But it wasn't a bad bit of fluff. Again, I don't remember much of it, but I recall that some of the columns were pretty funny, including one where Chloe has to walk home from a party wrapped in a garbage bag.

It's a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod Murder by Rosemary Martin - My friend Cassie recommended this one and it was one of the first ones I read for the challenge, over my winter holiday in 2006. It's the first in a series called Murder-A-Go-Go, which I think is a fab title! Elizabeth "Bebe" Bennett, formerly of Richmond, Virginia, loves everything about 1960's New York, from the Peppermint Lounge to her pink sectional couch (I'd love a pink sectional couch!). She particuarly loves her sophisticated stewardess room-mate Darlene, and her job as secretary to the dreamy Bradley Williams at Rip-City Records. Unfortunately, when Philip Royal, lead singer of a Beatles-like band that Rip City wants to sign, turns up dead in his hotel bathroom (electrocuted by his own guitar) Darlene is a suspect, having become "intimately acquainted" with him on her recent flight to England. The scandal also puts Bradley's job on the line, so Bebe knows she must solve the murder to save her 2 favourite people. Southern Bebe is sweetly naive (she doesn't understand why womanizing Bradley has had so many secretaries leave) and she's so enthusiastic about her swinging New York life (and her clothes, in particular). The 60's details are lots of fun and, as I mentioned in my review of The Room-Mating Season, I love me a 60's setting. A light, groovy mystery.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Review: The Room-Mating Season

The Room-Mating Season by Rona Jaffe
2 stars

Summary: The novel follows three women - Leigh, Cady, and Vanessa - who start out as room-mates in New York City in 1963. There was a fourth room-mate - mousy, annoying Susan, but on the weekend she was supposed to move out (the disgusting case of warts on her feet was the last straw), she dies from an apparent suicidal fall from the roof. Her death casts an intermittent pall over the next 40 years as Cady and Leigh have relationships with married men while Vanessa's unplanned pregnancy finds her heading unwillingly to the altar.

Why'd I pick it up? I'd read something about it and it sounded chick-litty and fun. So it was on my TBR list when I needed a J author for the Alphabet Challenge.

Overall: It wasn't really the light chick-lit romp I expected. Apart from Leigh, the women weren't very likeable and their lives seemed awful. Leigh was the only one who managed to have what I'd consider a happy life - her married man married her (so even her happy life has a stain on it) and she was able to have a career as a casting agent and be a mother, too. Vanessa loves her children but not her husband - she spends her marriage cheating, just so she can keep feeling desirable, which gets harder as she gets older. Cady spends 40 years trying to get her older, married lover Paul to marry her. I found her truly pathetic - she basically gave up her entire life for Paul. She also spent most of her life being bitter about Leigh's happy life, despite their friendship. And their male friend Charlie carries a torch for Vanessa for 40 years, so he's not happy, either. I enjoyed the 60's part at the beginning, the single-gals-in-New-York stuff. But these characters seemed to bring a lot of misery on themselves and not a lot else happened, apart from a semi-surprising twist at the end. Vanessa, Charlie, and Cady each get a little bit of happiness at the very end, but it took them 40 years to get there.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Review: Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind by Ann B. Ross
5 stars

Summary: The story of Julia Springer, a proper Presbyterian wife in a small North Carolina town, who finds her true self after the sudden death of Wesley Lloyd, her husband of 44 years. It turns out that Wesley Lloyd was a millionaire and Julia never knew it - he didn't think women should have any knowledge of finance and he seemed to think he'd take it with him, anyway. Julia is just getting used to the role of rich widow (and finding it very much to her liking) when Hazel Marie Puckett appears on the front porch with a nine-year-old boy in tow who is the spitting image of Wesley Lloyd. Hazel Marie is on her way to beauty school in Raleigh and since Wesley Lloyd left her nothing, she decides to leave Junior with Miss Julia. Meanwhile, Miss Julia's fortune has attracted a variety of opportunists, particularly Pastor Ledbetter, who insinuates that her departed husband planned to leave his money to the church and then goes on a campaign to have Miss Julia declared incompetent. In the end, Miss Julia comes into her self marvelously, after years of being told what to think by her husband and her church.

Why'd I pick it up? I had about the newest one in the series in a review journal and it indicated it was a popular series and it sounded good, so I added it to by TBR list. And then along came the Southern Reading Challenge, so it was a perfect time to read it!

Favourite quote: Miss Julia makes so many wry observations, it's hard to pick one. But one that sticks in my mind is this one about the slimy Brother Vern, as he sits down, "his thighs bulging like hams. I don't normally notice such intimate details of a man, but polyester makes for a snug fit."

Overall: It was absolutely not what I expected. I was thinking it was either going to be a Murder, She Wrote type of mystery or the story of a small town busybody. It was much, much better!

I don't want to give too much away - there are lots of twists and turns and people popping up. The supporting characters are very well-done and colourful. Julia's black maid, Lillian, is a very wise friend (though, as one review mentioned, she talks like someone out of Gone With the Wind), the polyester-clad Brother Vern is every inch the oily televangelist, and Pastor Ledbetter is so insincere while trying to be caring I wanted to slap him. The ending is a happy, if unconventional one, and I look forward to reading more of Miss Julia's adventures.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Read on!

Check out this post by Maggie, the Ultimate Southern Librarian, about the importance of librarians reading. It seems completely bizarre that it needs to be said, but apparently it's becoming common for librarians to not enjoy books! I know of one librarian in our system who admits to not liking reading much, and we were quite shocked when she said it. But Maggie's story in the post and those of people commenting are dreadful. The access to books is my main job perk, for heaven's sake! And one of the main reasons I wanted to be a librarian. I blame library schools - they seem to be taking the library out and putting "information professional" in and it makes public librarianship seem second class. Just my opinion, of course, but I definitely noticed it when I was in library school 8 years ago and I bet it's worse now.

So, read on, librarians and other booklovers, read on!

Sounds about right...

What Kind of Cult Movie are you?

You are a cheesy children's movie. You love holidays (especially Christmas),are still young at heart.
Take this quiz!


Make A Quiz More Quizzes Grab Code

(Thanks for posting it first, Marianne! )

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Review: Rumble on the Bayou

Rumble on the Bayou by Jana DeLeon

3 1/2 stars

Summary: Deputy/game warden Dorie Berenger doesn't see much crime in Gator Bait, Louisiana. Gators get into the shrimp house, Maylene Thibodeaux is usually drunk and not wearing enough clothing, and maybe a few guys get out of hand at Pete's Bar. But when a gator that's high on heroin turns up in Maylene's pool, Dorie knows she's in for trouble. And that trouble takes the form of DEA Agent Richard Starke - uptight, demanding and trying to take over her turf. The folks of Gator Bait aren't about to tell this city slicker anything, so he and Dorie team up (reluctantly) to catch the drug smuggler.

Why'd I pick it up? The title and rather cute gator in the pool on the cover caught my eye.

Favourite scenes: Maylene's horrifying beauty treatment (I won't spoil it for you). The bad-guy-catching climax.

Overall: I somehow ended up taking 2 mystery-romances set in the South with alligators as supporting characters on holiday with me! But that was okay, because this one, like Don't Look Down, was a good read.

The setting plays a big part - Gator Bait, with its small-town folks who look out for one another and the surrounding gator-filled bayous is almost a character itself because Dorie loves it so much ("I can't breathe anywhere else" she says) and Richard comes to love it, too, because the town loves Dorie. I think it would be nice to have such a caring extended family, even if some of them are bordering on crazy.

Despite Richard and Dorie initially rubbing each other the wrong way, the romance blossoms nicely. And just when you think there can't be any more decades-old secrets or plot twists, another one appears.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Review: Don't Look Down

Don't Look Down by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
3 1/2 stars

Summary: When Lucy Armstrong, an ad director (dog food commercials, mostly) gets a call asking her to finish directing a movie down in Savannah, she figures it'll be easy money and a chance to see her sister, Daisy (a script supervisor) and niece Pepper. When she arrives, she discovers that the cast and crew are lackluster (or have already left), her sister's a mess, and the stunt coordinator is her ex-husband, Connor Nash. When Bryce, the star (a comedian who's decided he's now an action star) hires Special Forces Captain JT Wilder to be his military consultant and stunt double, Lucy is both attracted to and frustrated by him and Nash is angry at having another alpha-male around. But JT comes in handy when "accidents" start happening during stunts, particularly the ones in the swamp inhabited by a one-eyed alligator.

Why'd I pick it up? I noticed Jennifer Crusie's name on the cover and thought "How did I not know about this one?" Plus I was going on vacation and needed another paperback to take with me.

Favourite stuff: 5-year-old Pepper. Smarter than a lot of the adults around her and totally into Wonder Woman. The way she had everyone on the set wrapped around her finger (especially strong, silent JT) was sweet and her delight over wearing altered "WonderWear" lingerie was a hoot. Also, I had fun discussing the military and weapon parts with my husband, particularly Bryce's attempts to be like Rambo.

Overall thoughts: At first the combination of these two authors was really jarring. Mayer writes thrillers and is a former Green Beret and my fave Crusie writes romantic mysteries. So there would be a lot of talk about weapons and military stuff and I'd wonder where Jennifer was and then...oh, steamy love scene, there we go! But once I got used to it, it was a real page-turner.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Review: The Higher Power of Lucky

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

Summary: 10 year-old orphan Lucky lives in a trailer in Hard Pan, California (population 43) with her Guardian - her absent father's ex-wife, Brigitte. She's constantly searching for answers to life's questions and she finds some of them by eavesdropping on the local Anonymous meetings. Thanks to these meetings, she gets it into her head that she needs a Higher Power - if only she could figure out what that meant. Lucky is accompanied on her quest for knowledge by her non-beagle dog HMS Beagle and her best friend, Lincoln (so named because his mother hopes he'll become President some day). Lucky has always been jealous of Brigitte's affection for her home country of France and one day it looks as though she might go back. Rather than be sent to an orphanage that won't take dogs, Lucky decides to run away. Good thing she always carries her ultra-heavy survival backpack.

What led me to pick it up: Before I knew it was a Newbery nominee (later winner), I read a review that mentioned the recurring theme of government cheese in the novel and was intrigued.

So what about that "bad word?" I think the whole scrotum controversy got so out of control - I was a bit embarrassed on behalf of my profession. I did feel it was an odd choice of word - I found it hard to believe a recovering drunk from a flyspeck town would use the word scrotum rather than balls or nuts. But then, balls or nuts would have actually been inappropriate for kids. It does fit in with Patron's intent (at least what I got out of reading her
response to it) that Lucky is trying so hard to get information about life, but she doesn't always understand the adult world.

As an aside, I visited a library technician Children's Services class and the instructor had passed around a copy to the class before I arrived. At the break, a student came up to her and said he "couldn't find the bad word." :-)

Favourite scene: Hands down, the "Slow Children at Play" scene with Lincoln. I found it very touching.

Overall thoughts: I really enjoyed visiting Hard Pan - the quirky characters and the desert landscape were so well done it really did feel like a visit. I loved wise, knot-tying Lincoln and enjoyed little cookie-addicted, "Are You My Mother?"-toting Miles, even though he was rather a pest. Lucky's habit of jumping to conclusions and "meanness gland" were a bit much at times, but I could still sympathize with her.

At first, the presence of Anonymous meetings in a kids' book was a bit of a shock, but they're certainly a fact of life, especially in the part of town I work in. I was really amused by the description of how all the groups are upset by the debris of the others - the cigarettes upset the smokers, the cans upset the drinkers, the food wrappers upset the overeaters. I did think it was hilarious but also a bit scary that there were well-attended meetings for every vice in a town of 43 people.

I did find, as I often do with award winners, that it might have been a bit more enjoyable for adults than kids. Not that I think we should talk down to kids, but sometimes I think award committees and kids look for different things in a good read. For example, there's quite a lot of briefly revealed backstory to take on board about how Lucky became an orphan (her mother's death, exactly what role her father plays in her life and why he sent Brigitte). But for a sophisticated reader, a trip to Hard Pan could be just the thing.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Review: Zara

Zara by Mary Hooper
Rating 2 1/2 stars

Zara and Ella are best friends because they were both 2 weeks late starting school and everyone had already found their groups. Ella comes from a fairly normal 2-parent family, even if her dad is a bit strict and embarrassing, while Zara's mother is a drunk. When Zara decides that she's a psychic, she convinces Ella to join her in a quest to fool the other girls at school by doing things like guessing their star signs and reading tarot cards. But soon Zara's taking her newfound medium-hood too seriously and exploiting people's secrets to get attention.

This was a pretty good book, though not one of my YA favourites. I think teen girls who are interested in astrology and tarot cards would find it interesting. It also showed how shallow teen friendships can be (the weak basis for Zara and Ella's and the fact that they don't actually seem to like each other much, plus the way rumors ruin another friendship in the book).

Review: Goodnight Nobody

Title: Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner
Rating: 3 stars

I was so looking forward to this book and I'm sad to say I was a bit disappointed. I still love Jennifer Weiner, but this is the second book by a fave author this year that has unpleasantly surprised me by being a mystery (the first being Size 12 is Not Fat by the fab Meg Cabot, also a bit disappointing). I don't really like mysteries (with a few exceptions) and I wasn't expecting this to be one, so I was kind of let down.

Now, it's not a bad book. It's just not as great as her previous ones (In Her Shoes is my fave). From the brand-new moms of Little Earthquakes, who I loved and really empathized with even though I'm not a mom, she's moved to the (in my opinion) overdone theme of the bored suburban housewife/mother. Kate Klein has given up her career as an NYC reporter to become a mother of 3 preschoolers in Upchurch, a posh Connecticut suburb. All of the other mommies are like Bree from Desperate Housewives and she just doesn't fit in. She's bored, her husband's hardly ever home, the same old, same old. When Kate is invited over by Kitty Cavanaugh, the most perfect of the mommies but also the one with the best friendship potential, to discuss a mysterious mutual friend, Kate arrives to find Kitty dead on the kitchen floor.

So, because she's so bored and can't be a reporter anymore, Kate sets out to find the killer. One of the best parts of the book is her best friend, Janie, who fabulous, rich, and truly a wonderful friend. Janie is still a reporter and she uses both her connections and feminine wiles to help Kate investigate and also to look after the kids while she's off playing Nancy Drew. The mutual friend turns out to be the former love of Kate's life, Evan McKenna, a private eye. He helps out, too, but the subplot of will she-won't she have an affair with him is out of place. And, of course, add in the requisite husband (Ben) who just doesn't understand and tells Kate to get a hobby and lose some weight. The other best part is 5 year-old Sophie, who is very sophisticated for her age and insists on bringing her Uglydoll from Janie everywhere she goes, dressed in costumes, each with its own backstory.

Of course, Kate discovers the killer in the eleventh hour and there's a dramatic scence where she's almost killed herself. The denoument finds Kate, her semi-estranged mother, Janie and the kids staying at a house on Cape Cod, with the Evan vs. Ben dilemma and her apparent unhappiness with her life unresolved.

Again, it's not a bad book. It's still got lots of Weiner-ness in it, especially in Janie and Sophie and the stories about Janie and Kate's life in New York before Ben. And If you like mysteries, you'll probably enjoy it a lot more than I did. I just didn't think it was in the same league as her earlier books.

(As a side note, I'm ashamed to say that children's librarian me didn't get the Goodnight Nobody title unti Kate was reading Goodnight Moon to Sophie and even then I'd forgotten the blank "Goodnight nobody" page until I came across our copy while weeding. Bad, TLL, bad. But isn't Goodnight Moon one of the most soothing books ever? I sat and happily read it in my office and felt much less stressed at the end.)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Review: Second Hand

Second Hand by Michael Zadoorian Rating: 3 stars

I chose this book solely for the Alphabet Challenge - not too many Z authors out there! And I'm glad I did.

Hipster Richard (aka "Junk") owns a junk shop in Detroit and he's obsessed with obtaining more and more of it. We follow him to estate sales, Salvation Army stores, and yard sales in pursuit of the perfect items. The descriptions of the items are some of the best parts of the books - a bowling-ball shaped liquer dispenser, 50's Formica dining sets, a lighter shaped like a tiny camera, just to name a few.

But when his mother dies from cancer, Richard is in charge of getting the "junk" out of his childhood home (while his "normal" responsible sister Linda arranges for the actual disposal of the house) but he finds that it's different when it's his own dead mother's stuff and not someone else's. After years of (involuntary) celibacy, Theresa, a "junk goddess" with a horrific job at an animal shelter, a tempestuous personality, and a thing for skeletons, walks into his store and Junk is smitten. But both of them are facing life crises (Richard finds himself overwhelmed by junk and Theresa's job is getting to be too much to bear) and they can't make the relationship work.

After much drama over their breakup and a drastic cry for help from Theresa, Richard decides to make her dream of attending the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico come true. There, in a very touching scene that I won't give away, they both find themselves healed.

A note of warning, if you're a big animal-lover, the descriptions of Theresa's job might be too much for you - Zadoorian doesn't pussy-foot (pardon the pun) around the horrors of how some people treat animals. And Theresa and Richard's spirals into despair were almost a bit too much, but that part was redeemed by the trip to Mexico. But overall, I found it a quick, quirky read with both humour and heartache. And it made me want to go out and buy some junk! :-)

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Review: The Wives of Bath

The Wives of Bath by Wendy Holden
Rating 3 1/2 stars

The original chick litters seem to be moving into Mommy Lit these days, and Wendy Holden is no exception.

Alice is a British lawyer for a magazine who returns from America after being fired because of insane, libellous celeb journalist Amanda. Alice is swept off her feet by Jake, a hunky yet super-zealous eco-warrior with whom she has a one-night stand that leads to pregnancy. Amanda, also back in England, has decided that she and her husband Hugo need to have a baby because it's the latest fashionable accessory. The four end up in the same prenatal class, where Jake speaks for Alice about how perfect and ecologically sound their little family will be, while Hugo can't quite believe he's in this situation. After the babies are born (a comedy of errors by itself), things quickly get out of control and very over-the-top. Jake's environmentalism gets worse by the day and he forces their new family to live in a disgusting shack while he lives off her savings and refuses to use anything that isn't recycled (including human waste fertilizer). Amanda discovers that babies are really quite messy and noisy and not at all glamorous and basically abandons Hugo with their newborn son while she goes off to "have it all" and re-kindle her career. Jake and Amanda are pretty unbelievable, but entertaining. Hugo is probably the best-drawn character - he actually evolves into a loving father. There are a few unexpected twists and, of course, all ends well and very neatly. Which is what I want in a fluffy novel, really.

I read this on a trip to Scotland last year. My best friend had just had my honourary niece, who I was in love with already, so I could sort of relate to the pre and post-natal dilemmas faced by the characters, especially the description of the different types of people in the pre-natal class - it seems like there's always at least one of those know-it-all couples. All in all, this is a fun one - a good beach read.