Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Review: Girls in Trucks

Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch
4 stars

Reasons for reading: Southern Challenge II; recommended by Vidalia; my ongoing crush on South Carolina

Book description: Sarah Walters is a less-than-perfect debutante. She tries hard to follow the time-honored customs of the Charleston Camellia Society, as her mother and grandmother did, standing up straight in cotillion class and attending lectures about all the things that Camellias don't do. (Like ride with boys in pickup trucks.) But Sarah can't quite ignore the barbarism just beneath all that propriety, and as soon as she can she decamps South Carolina for a life in New York City. There, she and her fellow displaced Southern friends try to make sense of city sophistication, to understand how much of their training applies to real life, and how much to the strange and rarefied world they've left behind. When life's complications become overwhelming, Sarah returns home to confront with matured eyes the motto "Once a Camellia, always a Camellia"- and to see how much fuller life can be, for good and for ill, among those who know you best.

First line: "If you are white, are a girl or boy between the ages of nine and twelve, and, according to a certain committee of mothers, are good enough to associate with Charleston's other good girls and boys, then Wednesday night is a busy night for you."

My thoughts: The word that came to mind as I started reading this book was crackling. It's sharp and witty and not at all fluffy. I definitely recommend it, but don't expect typical chick lit.

The book is mostly about Sarah, but some chapters focus on her fellow Camellias - Bitsy, who married a rich cheater; Annie, a fat girl who seems to get men solely via cooking and blow jobs; and Charlotte, the heroin addict. Sarah is not particularly likeable - she drinks and smokes pot too much (like, right before her sister's wedding), she's addicted to cruel men, she's unambitious, and she's not a great friend. I wanted to shake some sense into her as she kept messing up her life over and over again. It made me think perhaps the belles should've stayed down South.

And as I was reading the description of the Southern belle's transition when she goes up North to college (she suppresses her accent, wears beaten-up clothes instead of the dresses her mother packed, hooks up briefly with boys rather than expecting regular dates) and how she's happy to shed the South, I couldn't believe it because I'm so very intrigued by the South and (okay, on the basis of my Charleston visit) would love to live there! These days everything northern seems so drab, cold, charmless, and impolite to me. (And I would love for my eventual children to have drawls, y'all!) But my friend Vidalia, who was a full-fledged debutante, explained to me that it's about escaping from the constraints and constant pressure of a society where you're expected to be a Camellia or deb or member of the Junior League. So, I guess I can see that. And the young do always want to escape from their parents' world.

So does Sarah escape, that's the question. She is "always a Camellia," but New York is now part of her, as well. The ending isn't a cut-and-dried, happy one, but it has some hope and at that moment, things are good. And for a crackling but not fluffy book, that's sometimes the best ending you can hope for.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Review: The Tail of Emily Windsnap

The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler
2.5 stars

Jennie asked: From what I know, The Tail of Emily Windsnap is about being a mermaid. However, I've only read the back of the book. What else is the book about? Are you interested in reading the sequel? It's also a children's book. Would you recommend it to adult readers?

It's basically about a mermaid. :-) It's also about interspecies breeding and wrongful imprisonment, how's that for a children's story?!

Here's how School Library Journal sums the book up: "Seventh-grader Emily Windsnap has never learned to swim, in spite of the fact that she and her mother live on a houseboat. When she finally takes a swimming class at school, her legs turn into a fishtail. She tries to hide her strange affliction, but something draws her to the sparkling surf. Soon, she is secretly gliding through the water as a mermaid. Below the waves, she meets Shona, also 12, who takes her to mermaid school and leads her on several adventures. When Emily learns the intriguing history of the Shiprock community and of illegal marriages between humans and merpeople, she begins to look for her merman father. Danger, humor, confrontation, and even a trial before Neptune all play a part in her search. Eventually, she finds her dad and comes to understand the truth about her oddly controlling neighbor, Mr. Beeston; her mother's dislike of water; and her parents' love affair. All ends well when the family is reunited and swims away to live a new life on a secret merfolk island."

I wouldn't not recommend it to adult readers, but it's definitely a younger kids' book with not a lot to it. It's not a bad story, but there's not a whole lot of character development and I rather found the way the mer-people had been controlling her mother for 12 years pretty creepy. I won't be reading the sequel. I read this one because I had to do a booktalk on it (and I do love mermaids) and I don't regret it, but I don't really care what happens to the Windsnap family.

But I'd recommend it to 7-10 year-old girls and their parents, it's a fun little story and I'd say it's certainly better than reading the latest Hannah Montana paperback or whatever type of fairies Daisy Meadows is up to now.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

3.5 stars

Wow, folks are really interested in this one, based on the Weekly Geeks comments! I'll do my best to answer them.

From the publisher: Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14: Debate Club. Her father's "bunny rabbit." A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school. Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15: A knockout figure. A sharp tongue. A chip on her shoulder. And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston. Frankie Landau-Banks. No longer the kind of girl to take "no" for an answer. Especially when "no" means she's excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society [The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds]. Not when her ex-boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places. Not when she knows she's smarter than any of them. When she knows Matthew's lying to her. And when there are so many, many pranks to be done. Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16: Possibly a criminal mastermind. This is the story of how she got that way.

Becky asked: What can you tell me about The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks that would make me move it up in my tbr pile?
I can tell you that E. Lockhart is very, very funny and she writes very well about interesting young women who experience issues we can all relate to like first loves, heartbreak, friendship troubles, and coming into their own.

If you've read E. Lockhart's other books, how does this one compare? Better, worse, bout the same?

This kind of goes with the next question...

Jennie asked: I haven't read the Disreputable History... yet, but it's on my list. Have you read other works by E. Lockhart? Are you tempted to now seek them out?

I have read all of E. Lockhart's previous books and I've loved almost all of them. My favourites are the the pair The Boyfriend List and The Boy Book but Dramarama is also wonderful. If I hadn't read the others, I don't know if this one would have made me seek her out. It might have, as there were parts I really enjoyed, especially the funny and clever Basset Hound pranks. But I didn't find it as funny as the others - it didn't click with me like those ones did. So while I wouldn't say it was "worse" I'd say it was less my thing - I really found Ruby's lists and footnotes in the Boy books hilarious and I loved the musical-lovin' drama queens (both male and female) in Dramarama.

There were 2 things that I didn't love about it. One was the extended scenes of word play when Frankie decided to use words such as "gruntled" after reading PG Wodehouse and how it irritated her copy editor boyfriend and confused her friends. I thoroughly approve of that, being a Wodehouse fan, but it went on a bit long for me. The other thing was the device of the book itself being a dossier of some sort on Frankie, indicating she'd gone on to a rather notorious, exciting life. It was an interesting way of presenting it, but as we don't know what that exciting life was, it got a bit tired and made me wish I was reading about her being an international woman of mystery or whatever she turned out to be, rather than her school days

This is a book marketed to teens. Would adults enjoy it? I think they would. The pranks and school days-ness might cause some happy nostalgia and Frankie is both wise beyond her years and still a teen struggling with the universal issues I mentioned in Becky's question. I always find E. Lockhart's writing to be excellent and to engage me as an adult reader.

Biblioatrist asked: How is the history of Frankie Landau-Banks a disreputable one? Did you learn anything from this person's story?

The "disreputable" part comes from the title of the Basset Hounds' secret notebook, it's called their Disreputable History. But Frankie is disreputable in that she doesn't accept the status quo. She doesn't want to settle for being a nice, sweet, quiet girlfriend of a popular, rich boy. She wants the lifestyle of her wealthy peers, but she wants to get it by thinking and acting for herself. She wants to make changes when she sees something she feels is wrong and she wants to make other people think, too. Her family, friends, and boyfriend don't understand this, they think she should be "Bunny Rabbit" - the quiet little girl she'd been as a child.

I learned that while we've come a long way, it can still be difficult for girls to break into traditionally boys' only spheres and that it's not just boys who may look askance at those who try, but family and friends, as well. And I think that it's a good message to have out there for teen girls - to think for themselves, act on what they believe in, and to be "disreputable." (And to read PG Wodehouse!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Weekly Geeks #12

I kind of dropped off the WG radar but I'm back now. This week's challenge is to post a list of books you've read but not reviewed and then ask readers to ask you questions about any of the books and then use those questions in reviews. Sounds fun and there are a few books I haven't reviewed yet, so let's give it a try!

Here are the books:
1. Housekeeping vs The Dirt by Nick Hornby
2. Down the Nile: alone in a fisherman's skiff by Rosemary Mahoney
3. Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not really) Family Jewels by Toni McGee Causey
4. The Black Sheep by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout
5. Odd Man Out by Sara Ellis
6. Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
7, The Tail of Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler - now reviewed!
8. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart - now reviewed!

So, if you're curious about any of those, leave me a comment! I'm off to see what other Geeks haven't reviewed yet..

Numbers Challenge Wrap-Up

Hooray, another challenge completed! Thanks to Callista at SMS Book Reviews for hosting this fun one.

The rules were simple, 5 books with numbers in the title between January 1st and August 1st. 3 titles could overlap with other challenges, 2 had to be unique (which I didn't realize until I was almost done, so I'm glad she extended the date til August!).

My books were:
1. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
2. Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham
3. One of those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies by Sonya Sones
4. 21 Proms by various authors
5. Second Chance by Jane Green

Favourite book?
Well, I gave 2 of them 4 stars - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and One Of Those Hideous Books... I'd say my top fave was the Detective Agency because I found it really charming and it brought back my faith in McCall Smith (the last couple of his I'd read hadn't wowed me as much as 44 Scotland Street).

Least favourite book?
I gave the other ones all 3 stars, so none of them were bad books. I'd say it was probably 21 Proms just because I'm not really that big a fan of short stories, but I don't regret reading it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Woo hoo, I won somethin'!

Big thanks to Annie and Debi over at the What's in a Name? Challenge! I was their monthly winner for June, just for having read at least 3 of my challenge books, yay!

Check out the Mr Linkys for each theme for tons of reviews from challenge participants and also a teaser about the What's in a Name? II Challenge for next year! I know I'll be joining.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Review: Second Chance

Second Chance by Jane Green
3 stars

Reasons for reading: I've enjoyed her other books; last title for the Numbers Challenge

Book description: The story of a group of people who haven't seen each other since they were best friends at school. When one of them dies in a terrible tragedy, the reunited friends work through their grief together and find that each of their lives is impacted in ways they could have never foreseen.Warm, witty, and as wise as ever, this is a story of friendship, of family, and of life coming full circle.

My thoughts: This book isn't my fave of Jane Green's (I think that would be Jemima J.) but it was a good story. When I discovered it was about someone dying in a terrorist attack, I braced for morbid, post-911 gloom, but Green avoided that, thankfully.

The second chances in the book are not just for romance, as I'd expected, but also second chances with old friends, which was something rather novel. Tom, the deceased, stayed in touch with all of his old group, but they didn't stay in touch with each other much. With his death, actress/AA member Saffron, mum/illustrator Holly, animal lover/recent dumpee Olivia, and scruffy journalist/husband of a Swedish fashionista Paul come together to mourn Tom but also to help each other with the type of problems you don't imagine when you're in high school. Along the way, new people join their circle - Paul's gorgeous wife Anna and Tom's younger brother Will.

Each character got their own story arc. I think Saffron was my favourite - despite her alcoholism and affair with a famous movie star, she was glamorous but also sassy yet caring. Plus I like her name! :-) Holly provided the dose of unhappy wifehood that I've come to expect as the chick lit authors have gotten a bit older (from not being able to find a man to not wanting the one you've got). While I did think her husband was a jerk, I got a bit tired of her "discovering herself" by becoming emotionally intimate with Will. Paul and Anna's futile quest to have a child was touching - I could relate to Anna, who had always gotten what she wanted by putting her mind to it and was floored when her general good luck and work ethic couldn't be applied to pregnancy. Unlucky in love Olivia seemed a bit on the sidelines, but did get thrust into the spotlight after a 4-night stand.

While not a knock-it-out-of-the-park book, if you're a fan of Brit chick lit, this is a solid effort.

Other reviews:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Review: Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
3 stars

Reasons for reading: enjoyed another Charlaine Harris book recently; have heard good things about the series; Vampire list for Triple 8 Challenge

Book description: "Sookie Stackhouse is a cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana, but she keeps to herself and doesn't date much because of her "disability" to read minds. When she meets Bill, Sookie can't hear a word he''s thinking. He's the type of guy she's waited for all of her life, but he has a disability, too--he's a vampire with a bad reputation. When one of Sookie''s coworkers is killed, she fears she's next."

First line: "I'd been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar."

My thoughts: I liked this book, though not quite as much as I thought I would. I enjoyed the small-town Louisiana setting of Bon Temps. As Maggie suggested, it would have made a good one for the Southern Challenge, but my library didn't have a copy when the challenge started, so I didn't put it on the list.

Between the mind-reading and being not quite as bimbo-esque as she seems at first glance, Sookie is a rather interesting character. She sometimes seems very smart but sometimes seems pretty dumb. But hey, I probably seem the same way. Her love for her grandmother and her dedication to her waitressing job really speak to her character. And the way she deals with her mind-reading abilities is interesting - often that type of thing just comes in handy when needed in books and movies, but it truly affects her everyday life and actually is a "disability."

I do enjoy different takes on vampire lore, but I really couldn't get behind the theory that has made vampires "okay" in society in this book - that they're victims of a virus that makes them seem dead and then "come back to life" allergic to sunlight. At first I thought it was just something everyone was saying to avoid the truth, but it became apparent that most people had actually talked themselves into believing it, which was just too implausible for me.

The mystery element wasn't really all that mysterious. Or at least, it didn't drive me to read on. Apart from not wanting Sookie's brother to get blamed for the murders, I didn't really care who was committing them.

Bill isn't my favourite vampire ever. First off, Bill just doesn't cut it as a vampire name! I know that's the point, that he's not a Lestat or an Angel (mmm...Angel) but I still wanted him to have a less humdrum name. He does do the evil-at-heart-but-trying-to-be-good thing well, but I don't think I'd have fallen for him. But I guess it would be a major plus to not have to shut him out of your mind 24/7.

Overall, though, I'm getting the impression that Charlaine Harris is pretty neat. I definitely plan to read more of her Lily Bard series and I might even give the second Sookie book a whirl. Maybe now that the scene is set, I'll find that the ball gets really rolling.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mini Review: Stop in the Name of Pants!

Stop in the Name of Pants! by Louise Rennison
3.5 stars

Reason for reading: I lurrrve Georgia Nicolson!

Quick Summary/my thoughts: Yet another book in the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series. If you haven't read it, you must start at the beginning with the hilarity of Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging. If you've read the others, you'll be glad to hear that Angus, crazy toddler Libby, dreamy Dave the Laugh, Masimo the Italian Lurrrve God and the ace gang and their disco inferno dancing (complete with a new Viking hornpipe) are all present and accounted for. Despite being very self-centered and having some slight homo-phonic tendencies and being a bit mean to her friends, Georgia is always vair vair funny.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review: Mistik Lake

Mistik Lake by Martha Brooks
3 stars

Reasons for reading: I wanted a Canadian author for Canada Day for the Every Month is a Holiday Challenge and the lake setting sounded summery

Summary (from School Library Journal): In a prologue, readers learn that in 1981, three teenagers died while joyriding on frozen Mistik Lake in Manitoba. Sally was the sole survivor. The story then alternates between Odella, Sally's oldest daughter, beginning when she is nine; Sally's Aunt Gloria, Odella's beloved great-aunt; and, later, Odella's boyfriend, Jimmy. Summers are spent at Mistik Lake, where Gloria has a cottage that she never uses. There, Odella, a perceptive girl, becomes attuned to her mother's sadness and alcoholism. Sally leaves her husband and daughters for an Icelandic filmmaker when Odella is 15, and the devastated family struggles to function without her. However, they continue to vacation at the lake, where Odella meets Jimmy, leading to a romance that helps sustain her in the aftermath of her mother's sudden death. Much of the mood is pensive as characters suffer but eventually break through. Gloria, whose homosexuality has been kept a secret, eventually brings her partner to meet Sally's girls; and Odella starts to forgive her mother and begin an adult life. Jumps back and forth in time and perspective make reading somewhat bewildering at times, but they do allow more intimate characterization. Smooth writing contributes much to a story that will enable readers to care about Odella's coming of age.

First line: "On a stone-cold night in 1981 a carload of teenagers went joyriding out on frozen Mistik Lake."

Favourite part: Odella's romance with Jimmy - he's a really lovely boy.

Pet peeve: The word nipple was used far too often! It just kept (sorry) popping up and I found it irksome for some reason.

My thoughts: This book seemed to me to have a little too much going on. I'm not really a fan of back-and-forthing and there was a bit too much of that. The whole subplot with Gloria, both her involvement with the family and her secret of being a lesbian, just seemed tacked on. Apart from the fact that she owned the cabin and was one of the people who knew the mother's secret revealed at the end, she didn't really seem neccessary.

I did like the way the family relationships were portrayed - the father and the sisters all really loved each other, but they weren't perfect. They got annoyed with each other, acted out, suffered together and separately, but remained a solid family, even when things got really hard.

The town of Mistik Lake and its inhabitants play a big role. Many of its residents are of Icelandic descent and that adds even more to the small-town feeling of community. In the afterword, Brooks describes her family's settlement in Manitoba from Iceland - I wasn't aware there had been such a large settlement of them in that part of Canada, so that was interesting to read about. As the scene of her accident, Odella's mother feels sad about the town, but its people still see her and her daughters as their own.

There is a fair bit of sex in this book, so it's definitely for older readers. But the sex isn't too graphic and handled well (apart from my pet peeve above), both the sex Odella has because she's grieving and the loving relationship she has with Jimmy.

Overall, a well-written coming-of-age story that explores the connections between the past and the present and between family members, especially sisters.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Review: The Sugar Queen

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I loved, loved Allen's Garden Spells; 2nd book for The Southern Challenge II

Book description: Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini... has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker... Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey’s clandestine closet is the safest place to crash. In return she’s going to change Josey’s life—because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey is soon forgoing pecan rolls and caramels, tapping into her startlingly keen feminine instincts, and finding her narrow existence quickly expanding. Before long, Josey bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and—most amazing of all—has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush.
As little by little Josey dares to step outside herself, she discovers a world where the color red has astonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time—even for her. It seems that Della Lee’s work is done, and it’s time for her to move on. But the truth about where she’s going, why she showed up in the first place—and what Chloe has to do with it all—is about to add one more unexpected chapter to Josey’s fast-changing life.

First line: "When Josey woke up and saw the feathery frost on her windowpane, she smiled."

My thoughts: I didn't find this one quite as charming as Garden Spells - I didn't think the magic element was quite as seamless in this one. But it was still great fun - each chapter is named after a type of candy, there are some very funny exchanges with the Cirrinis' supersitious, Englishly-challenged maid, and there's still definitely some magic - my favourite part by far were the books that literally follow Chloe around (Finding Forgiveness, which wants her to forgive her cheating boyfriend, gets completely battle-scarred as she tries to get rid of it and it has to team up with another self-help book). I'd love to have the problem!

There is also great pain in this book - Josey's mother has been suffering for years because she fell in love too late and she is unkind to and demands a lot of Josey because she reminds her so much of her husband, powerful Marco Cirrini who put Bald Slope on the map with his ski resort. For most of her life, Josey's only sources of happiness have been an unrequited crush on the mailman and her sugary treats. The townspeople think she must be happy because her father was "a great man" and they're rich, but they don't really know her and base most of their opinion of her on what a brat she was when she was a child. So it's wonderful to see her starting to break free of those constraints, with the help of Della Lee and to start to be her true self - which includes being a real friend to Chloe (Josey seems to have never really had any friends) and coming into her own, romantically. The ending is definitely satisfying.

I didn't get much of a Southern vibe from this one, mainly because it boggles my mind to associate the South with snow and skiing! I don't know much about North Carolina, but a quick Google reveals that there indeed ski areas there. So, I learned something from this book! It does definitely have a small-town feel you often have in Southern books, though, with everyone in Bald Slope knowing about the Cirrini family's history.

Definitely a worthwhile read and I hope Sarah Addison Allen (who, just as an aside, looks to be as cute as a bug's ear from her photo on the jacket, just like a character in one of her books) keeps on writin'!

(If you've reviewed The Sugar Queen, leave a link in the comments!)