Monday, November 26, 2007

Review: The View from Mount Joy

The View from Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik
5 stars

Summary (from Publisher's Weekly): Landvik's latest light drama opens as Joe Andreson transfers into a Minneapolis high school as a class of '72 senior. Like everyone else, Joe has a major thing for head cheerleader Kristi Casey—a version of Reese Witherspoon's character in Election. Joe gets some action, but is estranged from Kristi by graduation. As the years pass, and they stay in touch sporadically, Joe, who narrates, can't quite let go of his infatuation. He becomes an innovative grocer, still unmarried at mid-book, and Kristi transforms into a Bible-thumping radio/televangelist. Joe builds solid relationships with his mother and her new husband, and reconnects with high school friend Darva Pratt (who returns to town with her daughter, Flora), while Kristi sets her sights on the White House.

My thoughts: Yay, Lorna Landvik is back! Well, she never really left, but her recent Welcome to the Great Mysterious didn't quite live up to Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons and Patty Jane's House of Curl (which gets a mention in this book, which was fun), in my mind.

I'm sometimes skeptical when female writers write male characters (and vice versa), but Joe is excellent - he's sensitive and funny, and though life has handed him quite a few lemons and things don't go as he planned, he ends up with a truly wonderful life. Kristi is the classic mean girl and the leopard never changes her spots. In less deft hands, I think Joe would've given in and had an affair with her, but he manages to resist, even though he's still fascinated by her decades later. I loved Joe's fun grocery store concept - random contests and musical performances. I'd definitely shop there.

PW describes him as "a man with real family values" and he is - his extended family includes his mom and stepfather, his lesbian aunt and her partner, his best friend (Kristi's brother) and his family, Flora, Darva, and some surprises along the way. This makes a very good contrast to Kristi who, despite her supposedly Christian ways, treats her own family dreadfully.

I loved it all - Joe, his story, the supporting characters (especially tres French Flora when she's a tiny child), and, as always, the Minnesota setting (I'm always way too excited to read about things I recognize from our visits there). Despite a lot of sorrow in Joe's life, he manages to find great joy and remind us that it's out there even when we can't see the view right now. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Google Images Meme

Wendy had this up and it looked like fun. I'm not going to do all the questions, but here are a few. The instructions were to enter the answers into Google Images and post them.

Place you'd like to visit - Ireland

Favourite object:

Favourite Food:

Favourite colour:
(I loved my pair of these when I was a kid and keep meaning to buy big-girl ones)

Name of past pet:

Screen name:

Grandmother's name:

Major in college:

Saturday, November 17, 2007

2 quick ones

Going Dutch by Katie Fforde

Another cosy bit of chicklit from Fforde. Dora has just left her since-school boyfriend and needs a place to stay. Her friend Karen's mom, Jo, is staying on a barge belonging to a friend because her husband has dumped her for a young, blonde floozy. They end up travelling to Holland with cute jack-of-all-things-boaty Tom and master skipper Marcus when it turns out the barge needs to go to drydock. Nothing surprising, both women end up with the guys and there's the usual Fforde-ish element of living/working in an odd place. I liked all the barge bits - it used to be my dream to live on a houseboat. Nice easy comfort-food type reading.

Guyaholic by Carolyn Mackler

I hadn't realized this was a sequel to Vegan Virgin Valentine when I picked it up. I found it a disappointing one. I remember really liking VVV and for me this just didn't do it justice. I think my main problem was that it's self-centred, badly-behaved V's sequel and I was more interested in her older cousin Mara, who's a very secondary character here. Guyaholic seems like a nice way of saying slut, though her trampy ways are supposed to be justified by V's feelings of abandonment by her mother and her mother's clinginess with men. When V finally meets a fab guy, Sam, she messes it up and ends up fleeing to her absent mother in San Antonio despite the fact that the woman has let her down her entire life. Thanks to a helpful waiter V sees the error of her ways just in the nick of time.There are some good bits (for example, she meets Sam when a hockey puck hits her in the head and knocks her into his lap) but overall this didn't really do it for me. But teens who either related to V or wondered what happened to her may enjoy it and it's a very quick read.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Review: Does My Head Look Big in This?

Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Summary (from Booklist): Amal is an Australian-born, Muslim Palestinian "whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens." At 16, she loves shopping, watches Sex and the City, and IMs her friends about her crush on a classmate. She also wants to wear the hijab, to be strong enough to show a badge of her deeply held faith, even if she confronts insults from some at her snotty prep school, and she is refused a part-time job in the food court (she is "not hygienic"). Her open-minded observant physician parents support her and so do her friends, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, secular. Her favorite teacher finds her a private space to pray. The first-person present-tense narrative is hilarious about the diversity, and sometimes heartbreaking. . . .Without heavy preaching, the issues of faith and culture are part of the story, from fasting at Ramadan to refusing sex before marriage. More than the usual story of the immigrant teen's conflict with her traditional parents, the funny, touching contemporary narrative will grab teens everywhere.

My thoughts: I agree that this goes beyond the usual second-generation immigrant story, which was good. I liked that Amal was such a typical teenager and that her strong faith was just one part of her life. I think it's really important for people, especially kids and teens, to be able to read about themselves, and despite some strides, there's really not much contemporary fiction for "ethnic" teens of any stripe. Indian and Latina girls are starting to appear, but this was the first book I've seen about a Western Muslim girl just trying to be a teenager.

While it wasn't preachy, I did think it tried really hard to cover all of the stereotypes about Muslims (and in some ways immigrants in general) - there's Amal's friend Leila whose Turkish mother is basically the Muslim equivalent of a hillbilly - all she knows to do is to try to keep Leila away from bad influences and get her married as soon as possible. Amal's aunt and uncle have given themselves and their children English names, wear Western dress and dye their hair, and try, to a rather painful degree, to be ultra-Australian. There's also an elderly Greek neighbour who represents the whole "old country" stereotype. But stereotypes usually become stereotypes because they have some truth and overall the supporting characters were well done, if a few were a bit over the top.

One thing that was interesting is that several people assume Amal's parents are forcing her to wear the veil, which I admit I've thought a few times when I've seen teen girls wearing it. So I obviously needed to be reminded that teens are capable of having their own strong religious beliefs (whatever the religion). I also thought that Amal's obsession with getting her hair right underneath it and selecting the right colour scarf to go with her outfit was a great illustration of being devout while still being a teenager like any other girl.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quirk Factor

There are definitely people who know how weird I am... :)

Your Quirk Factor: 40%

You have a few little quirks, but you generally blend in well with society.
Only those who know you well know how weird you can be.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Young Adult Challenge

Yes, another one! But with the crazy number of YA books that I want to read, with more coming into the library every week, this will be an easy one.

And here is the list (subject to change):

1. Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

2. Naomi and Ely's No-Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

3. 10 Things to do Before I Die by Daniel Ehrenhaft

4. The Poison Apples by Lily Archer

5. Aurelia by Anne Osterlund

6. Derby Girl by Shauna Cross

7. Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

8. Fancy White Trash by Marjetta Geerling

9. Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

10. Artichoke's Heart by Suzanne Supplee

11. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

12. Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Review: Life As We Knew It

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
4.5 stars

Summary: Sixteen year-old Miranda's normal life of swim team, friends, a crush, and life with her divorced parents and two brothers comes to a halt when a meteor crashes into the moon, throwing the earth's forces of nature off course and causing earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions. Her diary details her family's struggle to survive.

My thoughts: This one has been getting a fair bit of good press and one of my colleagues is simply crazy about it, so I thought I'd give it a go. Survival stories aren't usually my bag, but this one was really well done. I thought it was a pitch-perfect account of what life would be like - the dwindling food, fear, cabin fever, finding joy in small things, alternating between optimism and despair and between loving and hating the people you were trapped with. School Library Journal rightly describes it as "frighteningly plausible." It also blew my mind that a change in gravity would cause all of those disasters - what do we take for granted more than gravity?

The only off-note for me was a few references to an "idiot President" on his ranch in Texas who, it seemed to me, was obviously meant to be George Bush. I didn't think they were needed and they actually took me out of the book by being references to the present rather than this disaster in the (near) future. I think they might date the book a little in a few years (although there will always be people who think any president is an idiot, I suppose).

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Quill Awards

Via Sam Houston's Book Chase blog. You should visit him because he's a book-related news-collector extraordinaire!

But I started to comment on his blog and then found I had a lot to go on and on about, so I moved back here.

So, here's the blurb about the Quills (which were last month, I'm behind): "The Quills, an initiative launched with the support of Reed Business Information and NBC, is an industry-qualified “consumers choice” awards program for books. The Quills celebrates the best adult and children's books of the year in 19 popular categories, ranging in everything from biography to general fiction to cookbooks and graphic novels."

This came as something of a revelation to me - awards based on books people actually enjoy reading! Not just "worthy" titles that always seem like punishment-reading to me. I realize that it's probably too "commercialized" for literary artistes and I'm sure they're not all great works. But it's refreshing to see a list of books that I've a) heard of and b) actually read and enjoyed. Well, some of them. AND that there are categories other than "Worthy, Depressing Literary Fiction." Romances - gasp! Humor - oh my stars!

The complete list of nominees is here. I was impressed to find that I'd read:

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (romance) - it was indeed a charmer.

I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris (humor) - definitely funny; one of the most different and bizarre books I've ever read (It's also nominated for audio book, which I find weird, since it's got tons of illustrations and recipes scattered throughout, though it would be cool to hear her read it.)

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (current events/politics) - one of the most thought-provoking books I've read in a while.

Flotsam by David Weisner (picture books) - his usual stunning artwork.

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett (picture books) - one of my fave picture books of the year, adorable and deceptively simple. (I loved her Monkey and Me, too!)

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (YA) - Just finished this one, it was amazing! (Review coming soon).

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (debut author) - a fabulous debut, and I know lots of book bloggers agree!

Of course, that scary The Road won in General Fiction. I must say that one will never be for me. But others have really thought it was wonderful, I know, so I'm sure it deserved it. There are a few "worthies" on the list, but overall, I must say it's a nice change of pace.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Review: The Off Season

The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
5 stars

Summary (from Booklist): D. J.'s junior year starts off promisingly: she has finally been accepted as a valuable player on the football team, and Brian Nelson, quarterback for a rival school, is still coming around to see her. Storm clouds gather, though, as her close friend is bullied for being gay, money problems on the farm increase, and an injury forces D. J. to choose between football and basketball, which could net her a college scholarship. She also begins to wonder why Brian makes out with her but never wants to take her anywhere. Then brother Win is seriously injured on the football field, forcing her to gain some much-needed perspective.

My thoughts: I don't often like sequels as much as their predecessors - I tend to fall hard and then judge the next one by that initial thrill. They usually pale in comparison, even if I still like them. But this one broke that trend, it was just as excellent as Murdock's Dairy Queen. She's just an astonishingly good writer, I can't even quite put my finger on why - everything's just right, the words, the characters, the story.

Having a soft spot for Minnesota, I loved that part of it took place there (even if the reason for it was tragic). DJ is just such a great girl, mainly because she's real. She's so self-conscious (often hilariously so) and she comes off as a very real teen, yet she manages to deal with great family hardship, even when she doesn't want to or thinks she can't.

A girl in my teen book club loves these books and I was so excited that she did - I love it when kids find these great books amidst the crappy ones. She's mainly in it for the making out with Brian scenes, but that's okay.

Murdock's realistic characters, rural setting, sports backdrop, and family struggles are an excellent antidote to the Hollywood Hills/Mean Girls genre of YA fiction that's all the rage at the moment.

(Sorry, this one's way overdue, I read it in the summer, yeesh.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What people aren't reading

Via 3M.

These are the top 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users. Bold what you have read, italicize books you’ve started but couldn’t finish, and strike through books you hated. Add an asterisk* to those you’ve read more than once. Underline those on your tbr list.

Jonathan Strange & M. Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One hundred years of solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice*
Jane Eyre*
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel: the fates of human societies
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveller’s Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius
Atlas shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : the life and times of the wicked witch of the West
The Canterbury tales
The Historian
A portrait of the artist as a young man
Love in the time of Cholera
Brave new world
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A clockwork orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The curious incident of the dog in the night-time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes
The God of Small Things
A people’s history of the United States : 1492-present
A confederacy of dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The unbearable lightness of being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion

Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow

The Hobbit
In Cold Blood
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What's in a Name? Challenge

Oh my stars, another one! This is really getting out of control...

But Annie came up with this one and it sounds like fun. And heck, it's only 6 books...

So far my list looks like this:

1. A book with a color in its title
by Cecil Castellucci

2. A book with an animal in its title
Dear Sad Goat: a roundup up truly great Canadian tales and letters (with Triple 8 Challenge)

3. A book with a first name in its title
Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer

4. A book with a place in its title
Looking for Alaska by John Green

5. A book with a weather event in its title
Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy

6. A book with a plant in its title
Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes by Cathy Holton

Review: The Other Boleyn Girl

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
5 stars

Summary (from Library Journal): Before Henry VIII ever considered making Anne Boleyn his wife, her... sister, Mary, was his mistress... The sisters and their brother George were raised with one goal: to advance the Howard family's interests, especially against the Seymours. So when Mary catches the king's fancy, her family orders her to abandon the husband they had chosen. She bears Henry two children, including a son, but Anne's desire to be queen drives her with ruthless intensity, alienating family and foes. As Henry grows more desperate for a legitimate son and Anne strives to replace Katherine as queen, the social fabric weakens. Mary abandons court life to live with a new husband and her children in the countryside, but love and duty bring her back to Anne time and again.

My thoughts: Right after I finished it, I had this very un-courtly, modern reaction to this 16th century-set blockbuster: "Man, that was a crazy-good book!!" :-) It kept me on the exercise bike twice as long as usual so I wouldn't have to stop reading and also up into the wee hours last night.

So, I loved it. I'd enjoyed Gregory's The Queen's Fool earlier this year, enough to give the author another go and boy, am I glad I did! It had all the scandals and sex of a soap opera but was well-written and very well-researched. I've always been quite interested in Elizabeth I and this was a fascinating look at her mother and her mother's family. I hadn't realized how long it took Anne Boleyn to actually get Henry VIII to marry her - I thought he divorced Katherine of Aragon very quickly, but Anne actually had to keep him interested without bedding him for 6 years, quite an amazing feat considering he was so selfish and fickle. And I had no idea that her younger sister had had him first! It was quite a portrait of a complex sisterly relationship - the Boleyn girls seem to have a had love/hate relationship where they alternately hated and really needed it each. I found it interesting but sad that they kept alternating between being "the other Boleyn girl" and that their family really didn't much care which of them was doing what, as long as the family was advancing. So it was also a very interesting look into court life and how high-born women were nothing but pawns in men's plans, even after if they were Queen of England. After reading this, I can see even more clearly how incredibly smart Elizabeth I was to avoid marriage and remain queen in her own right.

The Tudors sure are hot these days and I'm on the bandwagon! I'd better get to the Elizabeth sequel and I'm looking forward to the movie based on this book. And I've only seen one episode of The Tudors so far, for shame, especially since it seems to be set at exactly the same time as this book, when the Boleyn girls first came to court. And I might just finally check out a biography of Elizabeth I, which I've been meaning to do for some time. And, ooh, I almost forgot, there's her newest book, The Boleyn Inheritance! I see a Tudor binge coming on...

Review: Bobbie Faye's Very (Very, Very, Very) Bad Day

Bobbie Faye's Very (very, very, very) Bad Day by Toni McGee Causey

Summary/review (from Booklist): Bobbie Faye Sumrall is a one-woman demolition derby, a certifiable spitfire with a mean mouth, meaner attitude, and a head-bashingly awful streak of luck. The one good thing in her life is her tenure as the reigning queen of Lake Charles, Louisiana's Contraband Days festival, an exalted title bequeathed to her by her late mother that entitles her to wear the tiara made by her great-times-four grandfather. It's a tacky thing, to be sure, but still the most precious possession she has. So when her lowlife brother is kidnapped and the tiara demanded as ransom, Bobbie Faye must figure out how to rescue him without relinquishing the crown. General mayhem ensues: banks are robbed, hostages taken, trucks shot, buildings blown up. Pretty much a normal day in the life of Bobbie Faye. For erstwhile Ya-Ya Sisters and readers who like their heroines hot-blooded, Causey's feisty and foul-mouthed but lovable party queen is a welcome new addition to the parade of plucky good ol' southern gals.

My thoughts: That pretty much sums it up. It's very over-the-top, but in a fun way. Bobbie Faye is quite the dame, as my mom would say. Her love for her family, despite that fact that they're nothing but trouble for her, is touching and admirable. I loved the whole Contraband Days Festival thing and that she was the Queen - it helped her out a few times, being recognized as such. Trevor the "hostage" and Cam the cop are both hunky book-crush material. It was my commuting book, so I read it in bits and pieces - I think it's probably a book best devoured at once, so you don't lose the action. Pick this one up for a funny, fast-paced adventure with a hell of a heroine.

(There's already a sequel planned for next year!)

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Review: Shiloh

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Summary: 11-year-old Marty Preston lives in the West Virginia hills with his parents and 2 sisters. He's pretty content to roam the hills along or hang out with his couple of friends. But one day a scared Beagle puppy follows him home and he sure looks scared. When Shiloh (as Marty's named him) keeps appearing, Marty decides not to let him go back to his owner, mean Judd Travers. Marty is sure he mistreats his hunting dogs and that's why Shiloh ran away. Marty hides the dog, but can't stand lying to his parents. When Shiloh is badly injured and word gets out that the Prestons have him, Marty gathers up his courage to keep Shiloh but discovers it's sometimes hard to separate right from wrong.

My thoughts: I spent the first third of the book sure I'd read it before and I'm still not sure whether I had or not. But it could be I just know about it because it's now a classic or that it's such an archetypal boy-and-his-dog story. I'm not a big dog-story person, but I can certainly see why it's so well-loved, as a dog is often at the top of a kid's list of desires. And it is a good kids' story, I can see why it won the Newbery.

The one thing that bugged me was that I felt (rather like Inkheart) that it should have been set in the past. The book was written in 1991, but the rural setting and dialect, in addition to the fact that there's no money to be had to keep a dog (even though Mr. Preston is a postman - hello, government employee! - and they seem to have a fair bit of land), really made it feel like it should have been set during the 30's or 40's. Now, maybe it's an accurate contemporary West Virginia dialect and I know nothing about the hardships of small, rural counties, but I found it quite jarring to read that the Prestons had a TV (yet couldn't afford a phone?) and Marty's friend David had a computer.

I was impressed that the book really showed that right and wrong can be shades of grey. Often in kids' books there's the one very clear right thing to do. But while Marty knows that saving Shiloh is right, he also has to deal with lying and with the fact that he's stolen another man's property. Plus in order to save Shiloh once and for all, he has to stand by while another animal is hurt. I thought the final words really summed it all up, "...I'm thinking how nothing is as simple as you guess - not right or wrong, not Judd Travers, not even me or this dog I got here. But the good part is I saved Shiloh and opened my eyes some. Now that ain't bad for eleven." I'd say it's not bad for people 2, 3, or 4 times 11, Marty! :-)