Thursday, June 30, 2011

Picture Book Thursday: Hopper and Wilson by Maria van Lieshout

This cute little book showed up on my doorstep earlier this week. My five year old asked to read it right away.

Hopper (the elephant) and Wilson (the mouse) are the best of friends. One day they wonder what they will find at the end of the world. So they set sail in a boat made out of newspaper and all they packed is their red balloon. When they reach the end of the world, they wish to find an endless supply of lemonade and to be able to touch the moon. It is smooth sailing until they run into a storm and end up separated from each other. After searching high and low for each other, they do find one another again and end up "at the end of the world" which is actually right where they began: home.

This is a very cute book with simple text. One you'll be happy to read at bedtime! ;-) My five-year old liked it quite a lot. She was a little concerned in the middle when Hopper and Wilson couldn't find each other, but I assured her that it would be okay by the end. The illustrations are lovely. Hee hee...the only thing I can say that bothered me at all is the choice of Wilson for the mouse's name. All I could think of when Hopper was yelling, "Wilson!" into the middle of the ocean...Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away yelling for his pet volleyball. But, of course, small children would never think of that. :-)

Source Disclosure: This book was sent to me by The Penguin Group unsolicited in the hope that I would review it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Reads

Okay, yes, I will fully admit, this post will seem like filler because once again, I am waiting to finish my current book before I write up a "real" book review. But I was reading Shelf Awareness ("Pro"--because apparently they have a "Reader" edition now too) this morning and they listed two articles about Summer Reading. There were some books that really jumped out at me and I want to remember them so I'm posting their book covers. :-)

From Nancy Pearl:
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

From The Huffington Post:
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
South of Superior by Ellen Airgood
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai

Flashback Friday - Tess Gerritsen

I admit it, I did not read Tess Gerritsen before I became hooked on RIzzoli & Isles on television. I apparently have some sort of weakness for female medical examiners, because even when the R & I dialogue makes me cringe (several times an episode!), I can't stop watching. I watched the Jill Hennessy one, too, and now the Dana Delaney. I've knocked out the eight books currently in the series in the last week or so, and really enjoyed them. The next book, THE SILENT GIRL, is due out July 5. If you watch the show and you're one of those people driven mad by differences between page and screen (a la BONES and Kathy Reichs), well, you're going to want to skip this series, but I enjoyed it. Complex plots, interesting investigations, and medical detail are excellent, but what really makes this series shine is the friendship between Rizzoli and Isles. Fun, if sometimes dark, summer reading.

Here's the series in order:

THE SURGEON: Jane Rizzoli (no Maura Isles until THE APPRENTICE) and her partner, Thomas Moore, are on the trail of a serial killer. Jane is not always likable - she's gone to great lengths to prove herself as a female cop, and she can be unreasonable, oversensitive, and belligerent. This is what makes her a standout character, actually, because there's more to her than a competent cop, and Gerritsen deals with the issue of sexism head-on, but not in a preachy way. The descriptions of violence were sometimes unnecessarily brutal, but the mystery is interesting, the plot twisty, and the investigation absorbing.

THE APPRENTICE: The second book introduces Maura Isles and continues where THE SURGEON left off. A new serial killer is in town, with some eerily familiar habits. This one dragged a bit for me at first, but quickly veered into unputdownable plotting. This one explores Rizzoli's character more, which is really enjoyable, as Rizzoli, Isles, and FBI agent Gabriel Dean hunt down a new killer.

THE SINNER: The series is really hitting its stride in the third installment, which focuses on a brutal attack on two nuns in a convent. Rizzoli and Isles are both lapsed Catholics, which gives their investigation complexity and allows Gerritsen to explore the theme of blind faith. The case becomes more and more complicated, as do the personal lives of the main characters.

BODY DOUBLE: This entry opens with Maura Isles arriving home from Europe to find her street filled with police cars, responding to her death in a car outside her own house. The woman looks eerily similar to the adopted Maura, so much so that she confronts the possibility that she had a twin. Meanwhile, a very pregnant Rizzoli is on the trail of a killer who targets pregnant women, giving her an uncharacteristic vulnerability. Maura's private life becomes even more complicated, between an unlikely attraction and revelations about her birth mother.

VANISH: A woman in Isles's morgue wakes up and takes a group of hostages that includes pregnant Jane Rizzoli. This one was fantastic, with Gerritsen exploring sex slavery and post-9/11 security measures that give the government frightening power. An excellent entry. My only complaint is that I could see a key plot twist coming from a mile away, but it was still worthwhile to watch it unfold.

THE MEPHISTO CLUB: A grisly murder/dismemberment with Satanic overtones sends Rizzoli and Isles to the Mephisto Club, an odd group of scholars dedicated to fighting demons. Yes, demons. They contend that some people can commit hideously evil deeds precisely because they are not human. The skeptical Rizzoli would like to write the group off as a bunch of weirdos, but they prove too helpful to dismiss entirely. The main action takes place in the United States, with some jaunts to Europe thrown in. Burial practices and mythology round out a complex plot.

THE KEEPSAKE: Isles is involved in the x-ray examination of Madame X, a mummy unearthed in the basement of the Crispin Museum. When a bullet and modern dental work are found on the mummy, Rizzoli investigates. More "keepsakes" turn up, leading to a search for a stalker with ties to a museum employee. This one stretched credibility maybe a bit more than other Gerritsen books, but I still found it enjoyable, and the museum/archaeology angle is an interesting one.

ICE COLD: This entry was an excellent thriller, though it takes a while to hit its stride. Maura Isles, reeling from personal issues, heads to a medical conference, where she encounters an old friend. The rarely spontaneous Isles joins him, his teenaged daughter, and his friend Arlo and wife, on an ill-fated ski trip. Lost in a snowstorm, they seek shelter in an empty house whose residents seem to have vanished entirely. This one gave me the creeps, and I started to wonder if Gerritsen was wandering into paranormal territory.

THE SILENT GIRL comes out next month, and I've preordered it on the Kindle.

Source disclosure: I purchased these books.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Picture Book Thursday: Art Project Book Reviews

And now for something slightly different from my normal Picture Book Thursday post (and some shameless promotion besides).....I have started an art project blog to keep track of the projects I do with my girls during the summer months. I may not be able to read a ton of fiction these days or update the book blog often, but I felt like I could commit to updating an art blog weekly for the summer months. :-)

I plan out lesson plans each week by picking an artist, an artistic style, or a theme. I show my kids images of famous paintings that go along with the subject and then they work on an art project related to that.

We also have been making weekly (sometimes even twice a week) trips to the library this summer. And my oldest daughter has been into borrowing "How to draw...." books. So I've visited the 700-750 range in the nonfiction section of the library often. And I've found some GREAT books relating to art and kids. I decided I was going to put up a few reviews of these books on the art blog. Since they were BOOK REVIEWS, I figured why not cross post on the book blog as well. I'm sure there are some mom book bloggers out there who might be interested too! :-)

I found this book, Art in Action(1) by Maja Pitamic this week at the library as well as its counterpart Art in Action(2). Oh my, these are FANTASTIC books relating art and kids' art projects! I will be purchasing them. They break down into chapters by a certain theme like "Color", "Shape", or "Portraits". And then an artwork is profiled that fits within the theme. The artwork page shares interesting yet simple information about the artist or style and then the following pages depict project ideas.

Below shows the artist page for Henri Rousseau's jungle image: Surprised. We actually did a project related to this painting last year. You can see our project here. This page in Art in Action shows a fun collage you could do with the kids' handprints.

The images above show what the artwork page in the book looks like and the finished project.
In the "Nature" chapter of the book (below), you can see an image of Jacopo Zucci's Pergola with Birds and then create the following projects:

You can see from the images I took that the projects come with very visual instructions, also a supply list and most of them are very easy to do. The bird rug project could be applied to other imaginative play as well. Your kids could make rugs for their dolls. My daughter has a kitchen setup for her American Girl doll, this would be a perfect thing for her to make for that too.

What really impresses me about these books are the ease of the projects, the relatively "normal" supplies that can be found around most households easily, and the creativity behind the project ideas. These are things I have not really seen before (at least not all in one book). And I love that I'm interested in more than one project in a book. Sometimes, I find books where only one or two things appeal to me.

This last one is a Cezanne painting and a 3-dimensional box sculpture.

I would love for any of you to head over to Holly's Arts and Crafts Corner and become a follower! I have a few more books I may review of this sort. Please leave a comment and let me know if you might like to see more reviews of this sort here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Teaser Tuesday - Stephanie Plum

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Okay, for fluffy summer reading, it's hard to beat Janet Evanovich. Even if the Stephanie Plum series has had its ups and downs, it's moments like these that make me keep reading:

"'Vinnie had court business, and then he couldn't fit the dancing bear in his car, so Lula and I picked him up in Mooner's bus.' The expression didn't change on Ranger's face."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

YA Weekend

I like Gilda Joyce, thirteen-year-old self-styled Psychic Investigator. She's plucky, both a throwback to Harriet the Spy and Nancy Drew and a thoroughly modern girl. Frankly, mysteries were more interesting before the Internet and cell phones, so Gilda's quirky preferences for a typewriter and outrageous costumes over constant texting and Googling are very welcome. And very well-explained, as she uses her father's old typewriter to share her thoughts and feelings with his spirit, and to type up her investigation reports. Her father's death was also her impetus for becoming a psychic investigator, as she years to talk with him again. In this, the fifth book, Gilda is headed to St. Augustine (the nation's oldest city!) for her mother's wedding. Yes, Mrs. Joyce has met a man on the internet and decided to marry him. Gilda is highly skeptical of Mr. Pook, as her letters home to her friend Wendy Choy demonstrate. Gilda knows there's something wrong with Mr. Pook...or is she just resistant to any man not her father? She must uncover the truth about Mr. Pook, help teen neighbor Darla embrace her talent for seeing ghosts, and plan her mother's ideal Southern Belle Wedding. In addition, she must do an extra assignment - a travelogue for Mrs. Rabido's class.

This is a fun entry in the series. The setting of St. Augustine is unique, and Gilda's hilarious reports to Mrs. Rabido provide historical background for the area. Gilda's over-the-top costumes take on a new dimension in the South, and her frustration with Darla's reluctance to see ghosts rings true. The mystery provides some genuine chills, and Gilda, as always, is up to the task of solving it.

Start with the first book, GILDA JOYCE, PSYCHIC INVESTIGATOR.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


What to say about Alfred Buber, charming miscreant, buttoned-up attorney, purveyor of ethically questionable sexual services, a man reminiscent of both Henry Higgins and Humbert Humbert? The unreliable narrator is a tricky thing to pull off, but Schmahmann does it brilliantly, right from the opening words: "These are the chronicles of the starship Buber, noted bibliophile, late night television addict, keeper of sordid little secrets so appalling he dares not breathe a word of them to a soul." Buber gives the reader fair warning that he's a complex character, likable despite his proclivities, much like the charming Humbert. He either has or has not brought a young prostitute home from the east and he alludes to the his inevitable downfall early in the story, though the reader does not yet know its exact nature. After becoming strangely attached to young Nok, whom he "met" in the Star of Love Bar, after visiting her village, and sending her monthly wire transfers, does he send for her? Bring her to his ostentatious yet barren home as his wife? Teach her the joys of channel-surfing, shopping, air conditioning? Or does he not?

Alfred Buber is an odd duck. Brought up in Rhodesia by communist parents who send him to England to live with a relative, it is perhaps not surprising that he holds convoluted opinions on social class. He first approaches Nok as a "client," but relates to her as a tutor as well. He becomes a lawyer and spends all of his money buying a plot of land on which to build his dream house, a cold, imposing mansion that signals that Buber has arrived. Image is very important to him, which makes it unsurprising that he would fabricate trips to Europe for the benefit of his law partners, who must never know that his vacations are sex tourism jaunts to Asia, not rambles through Paris museums. There are so many ways to tell this complex story, and Buber attempts several openings before hitting his stride. After all, how he presents himself will dictate how the reader views his actions. This dipping into first one part of the story, then another, sets up perfectly the multifaceted character of Buber, a portrait that makes unfolding events seem plausible, even rational. But then, we see events and characters only through Buber's eyes. We have no idea what Nok thinks about all this. Is Buber a likable, flawed man through her eyes? Or is that only the cast Buber's own point of view has overlaid on the plot?

Schmahmann has created an unforgettable lens through which to examine questions of love, obsession, exploitation and obligation. Buber, like Henry Higgins, like Humbert Humbert, is a character for the ages.

Source disclosure: I received a galley courtesy of The Permanent Press.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Graphic Novel: Charlaine Harris' Grave Sight, Part 1

I've decided that I wish every book on the planet came in graphic novel format. Then, I would actually be able to finish a book in a reasonable amount of time! :-) I read an e-galley of Charlaine Harris' Grave Sight graphic novel in a day! The experience was fantastic. It's taken me three weeks to try and get through the current book I'm reading and it frustrates me that I can't find the time to read it more, and it's a good book.

I have read Harris' second Harper Connelly book, Grave Surprise and I liked it. I've had the paperback edition of Grave Sight sitting on my shelf for a couple years and haven't been able to get to it. I was very excited to receive an e-galley of the graphic novel. The only downside, it was was just Part 1! Harris' book seems well adapted for graphic novel. And for me, someone who only has a few minutes a day to read, it's kind of nice getting to the nitty gritty of the story and bypassing all the extraneous description.

In this series, Harper Connelly was struck by lightning as a child. This event caused her to be able to have conversations dead bodies. She is able to find them by "listening" to them. They are also able to tell her how they died. This proves very helpful in missing persons and cold cases. Her brother Tolliver comes along for the ride as her manager of sorts and bodyguard. She has created a business out of finding dead bodies. She is hired either by the police or random people who are looking for loved ones.

Definitely recommend this for a speedy read for adults. Just wish I had Part 2 in e-galley as well!

Source disclosure: I received e-galley from the publisher through

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser is from the most recent installment in a middle-grade series about Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, a fun, plucky heroine with interesting fashion sense.

"Besides, you know how I love the theater, and let's face it -- a wedding is like a big show followed by a cast party. Of course, the bride and groom have to stay together the rest of their lives after everyone else goes home to recover from the big day."

GILDA JOYCE AND THE BONES OF THE HOLY by Jennifer Allison, pp. 58-9

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mystery Monday: THE SNOWMAN by Jo Nesbo

And it's another candidate for "The Next Stieg Larsson!" A thriller set in Norway (all those cold countries are the same setting, really), THE SNOWMAN enthralls when it isn't bogged down in cliche. It opens with possibly the worst sex scene in the history of thrillers, but once that's over, it captivates with the creepy statement from a child: "We're going to die." Unusually for me, especially in a book filled with red herrings, plot twists, and misdirection, I figured out who The Snowman was almost immediately and was unswayed by the multiple times the killer was "caught." I'm not sure if this was a lucky guess that took hold, or if it really is that obvious. At any rate, I enjoyed, for the most part, the unfolding to the reveal. There are excellent moments of creepiness that made me keep turning pages (or, rather, hitting the "next page" button on the Kindle), and Harry Hole skirts the edge of the "alcoholic brilliant detective" cliche carefully enough that I grew to quite like him. What I enjoy about serial killer novels (is that a genre on its own?) is the process of the detectives putting together clues to unravel the mystery, not the point-of-view of the serial killer (yes, yes, you're psychotic and your mother wasn't nice to you...we get it already), so a chapter near the end detailing the killer's rationale and process was so unbearably tedious I mostly skimmed it. I'd rather have the detectives uncover the details than have the killer's actions from childhood summarized for me.

The plot: Harry Hole is about to come up against a serial killer who kills with the first snow, leaving a creepy snowman behind. (I suspect Nesbo is trying to do for Frosty what Stephen King did for clowns.) An examination of missing-women statistics reveals that not all the bodies may have been found. Some of the murders are absurdly complicated, but that's not unusual in serial killer novels. It was an amount of suspension of disbelief I could live with. The wide pool of suspects and the revelation that it is someone with a connection to Harry makes the pages fly by. Even being certain of the killer, I enjoyed the process of Harry and his team chasing down leads to get closer to the truth. Besides a Scandinavian setting, THE SNOWMAN has nothing in common with Stieg Larsson's trilogy. It reminded me more of Michael Connolly or Jonathan Kellerman, but the setting is a compelling part of the novel, almost another character. If you're looking for a summer thriller, this is a decent one overall, with some flickers of brilliance. If you read it, come back and tell me if you guessed the killer. From the Amazon reviews, I'm not sure it's as obvious as I think it is.

Source disclosure: I purchased the Kindle edition of this book.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Flashback Friday - Kay Scarpetta

I often get it into my head to reread old favorites, especially long-running series. The profusion of medical examiner dramas on television made me want to revisit Scarpetta. I hadn't read the last couple of books, having been disappointed in more recent installments, but Port Mortuary was suggested as a good Scarpetta novel, and I enjoyed it. I decided to start the series from the beginning. How fun! First, DNA testing is still relatively new at the start of the series, and the first few books provide a brief history of forensic science, with DNA results taking weeks in the first book, and pre-DNA database, only serving a purpose when there's a suspect for comparison. Soon, PCR testing has made DNA testing much faster (and therefore more useful in solving crimes), and DNA information begins to be stored. I was able to pinpoint the book at which my interest began to wane: BLOW FLY, in which Patricia Cornwell switches to the third person and seems to hate her main character. I was happy to see that by THE SCARPETTA FACTOR, Cornwell seems somewhat less hostile toward Scarpetta (though I still miss the first-person narrative) and PORT MORTUARY is almost even enjoyable. There are some major character inconsistencies throughout the more recent books, but PORT MORTUARY sort of made up for those. At any rate, even if you don't hang in until the end of the series, the first few books are well worth reading.

The books in order:

Postmortem (1990)
Body of Evidence (1991)
All That Remains (1992)
Cruel and Unusual (1993)
The Body Farm (1994)
From Potter's Field (1995)
Cause of Death (1996)
Unnatural Exposure (1997)
Point of Origin (1998)
Black Notice (1999)
The Last Precinct (2000)
Blow Fly (2003)
Trace (2004)
Predator (2005)
Book of the Dead (2007)
Scarpetta (2008)
The Scarpetta Factor (2009)
Port Mortuary (2010)

Thursday, June 09, 2011

More Thursday!

ONE OF OUR THURSDAYS IS MISSING by Jasper Fforde: This is the sixth book in Jasper Fforde's brilliant metafictional, science-fictional, litmystery, and otherwise uncategorizable series about Thursday Next. I hesitate to post a real review of this one, actually, as Fforde's world builds upon itself and the plot doesn't make much sense without prior knowledge of the series: Real Thursday has gone missing and Fictional Thursday must pursue her by unraveling the most sinister plot yet in the BookWorld. Wait, I'll just post the blurb, swiped from Jasper Fforde's website:

"It is a time of unrest in the Bookworld. Only the diplomatic skills of ace literary detective Thursday Next can avert a devastating genre war. But a week before the Peace Talks, Thursday vanishes. Has she simply returned home to the Realworld or is this something more sinister?

But all is not yet lost. Living at the quiet end of Speculative fiction is the written Thursday Next, who is attempting to keep her own small four-book series both respectful to her illustrious namesake and far from the grim spectre of being remaindered.

Despite her desire to stay away from the spotlight, written Thursday is asked by Jurisfiction to investigate a novel that has suffered an in-read breakup and deposited a narrative debris-field halfway across the Bookworld. It's not quite so straightforward: Someone has ground the ISBN numbers from the wreckage, and all of a sudden the mysterious Men in Plaid want her dead.

As the hunt for answers takes her from the Council of Genres to Fan-Fiction and from Comedy to Vanity publishing, written Thursday realises that Real Thursday had been investigating a plot fiendish enough to be killed for. But who is responsible? Only a trip up the Mighty Metaphoric river and a visit to the hideously frightening Realworld can provide the answers.

With her clockwork butler Sprockett and her Designated Love Interest Whitby Jett, Thursday has to get to grips with her inability to match up to her Namesake's talent, and prove herself to the one person she respects more than anyone else: The real her..."

Got all that? Good. If that sounds intriguing, go read THE EYRE AFFAIR, the first in the series. Don't even think of starting with this one. Your head might well explode. It's best to ease into the worlds of Thursday. THE EYRE AFFAIR will introduce you to the alternate-1985 Swindon, in which the Crimean War is well into its second century, zeppelins are the preferred method of air travel, cheese is subject to ridiculous duties and is traded in a brisk black market, Will-Speak machines offer a Shakespeare quote for a coin, the ChronoGuard regulate time travel, and LitCrime is on the rise. Spec Ops Literary Detective Thursday Next is on the case of the fiendish Acheron Hades, who is stealing original manuscripts with evil in mind. Next must read herself into JANE EYRE in order to save the novel, and possibly the world. From here, the adventures only get more chaotic, improbable, and surreal. The next five books in the series spend variable amounts of time in the Real World and the Book World, and we learn much more about the surprisingly banal yet bizarre bureaucracy rampant in the Book World in subsequent books. If all this sounds weird in an off-putting way, you should probably skip it. It's not for everyone, but it's one of my absolute favorite series.

Source disclosure: I have happily purchased this series in multiple formats.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

First line: "These are the chronicles of the starship Buber, noted bibliophile, late night television addict, keeper of sordid little secrets so appalling he dares not breathe a word of them to a soul."


Monday, June 06, 2011


THE INFORMATIONIST by Taylor Stevens: Something about summer inspires me to read thrillers. Perhaps it's a fast-moving plot to counter the slow-moving summer. At any rate, my thriller kick continues with this novel by Taylor Stevens, whose own life, growing up all over the world after being born into a cult, reads like a novel. Is Vanessa Michael Munroe really "the next Lisbeth Salander"? What does that even mean? She's a damaged, resourceful woman who often finds posing as a man useful in her line of work, which is collecting information. She's a chameleon, picking up language without effort, understanding the nuances of culture at a glance, so she is extremely successful at obtaining information no one else can get. What she doesn't do is find people like a private detective, but she can't resist the mystery behind Emily Burbank, who was last seen in Namibia, nor the millions offered by Emily's oil tycoon father. Hostility to her search is immediate and strong, and she ends up enlisting the help of the gunrunner with a heart of gold whom she abandoned years before. We learn more about Monroe's dark past and her reluctance to form attachments (she is horrified to find herself with a partner). As a tortured character, Monroe can't be favorably compared to the more nuanced Lisbeth Salander, but this is a solid thriller that keeps the action going and the reader guessing. I had difficulty putting it down. Highly recommended as a vacation read!

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

YA Weekend - WSJ article

The Wall Street Journal is taking shots at YA as a genre, dismissing it as too dark and violent. On Twitter, the response has been the #YAsaves hashtag, in which members post their stories of YA literature's positive influence in their lives. YA author Laurie Halse Anderson wrote an excellent rebuttal, but there are irate, yet well-written, responses all over the Internet.
Edited to add Jackie Morse Kessler's excellent response.

I grew up before the YA explosion. Once I'd read all the kids' books in the library, I started in on Stephen King and Dean Koontz, as well as assorted classics. That was in sixth grade. Not to knock adult horror, but it would have been nice to have had books reflecting my experiences, fears, and struggles. Because not talking about problems does not make them go away. I have a four-year-old daughter, and I'm not looking forward to the tough conversations we'll have to have, but I am glad there is literature available for her to gain perspective. No one wants to talk about rape, abuse, suicide, cutting, teen sex, etc. But they exist. Being a teenager is horrible and confusing and dark, and for many teens, complicated by very real trauma beyond the usual growing pains. Bringing these issues into the light, showing troubled teens they are not alone: how are these bad things?

I find it difficult to take seriously a journalist who separates her reading recommendations for teens into "Books For Young Women" and "Books For Young Men," but I especially find statements such as this utterly absurd: "Yet it is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures." Really? Has this "journalist" talked to readers of YA? Or documented incidents of a teen reading, say, a book about cutting and deciding to give it a try? I'm trying to get through this commentary without using the word "idiot," but it's becoming a challenge.

What are your thoughts? I do believe that parents should read what their children read for perspective into the teen experience as well as to find points of discussion that need to happen. I do not believe in censorship. Teens, like all other readers will read books they find of interest and find relevant to their lives. Would we prefer they not read? Or see reading as an activity devoid of personal meaning? Or not know that others have experienced the trauma they have? I find it absolutely hilarious that the "journalist" lists FAHRENHEIT 451 for young people. Or, at least for young men. I'm not sure what about it is unsuitable for the delicate minds of the young women.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Flashback Friday - Barbara Kingsolver

THE LACUNA by Barbara Kingsolver: My book club chose this novel. It had been years since I'd read Kingsolver (THE POISONWOOD BIBLE), and I remembered that it always takes me at least a hundred pages before I connect to her characters, but once I do, the bond is absolute. Her plots are so complex and sprawling that being dropped into the middle of a world she's written is disorienting, even off-putting. But that world is so rich that it seizes the reader's imagination and won't let go. I emerge from a reading session forgetting for a moment that I am not in the kitchen of Diego Riviera and Frida Kahlo's home, where a meal for an exiled Trotsky is being prepared. This sprawling novel takes place between 1929 and 1951 and addresses Mexican history and art, the rise of Communism, the Red Scare and HUAC, American internment camps during World War II, and Jim Crow laws.

The novel is made up of the notebooks kept by quiet, unassuming Harrison Shepherd, product of a discontented Mexican mother and rather boring American father. His mother leaves Washington, D.C. to follow her oilman lover to Mexico, where Harrison primarily grows up, shadowing the kitchen. The skills he acquires in making pan dulce translate eerily well to mixing plaster for muralist Diego Riviera, and he soon becomes a part of the Riviera household, befriending Frida Kahlo and typing for Trotsky, who is in exile. At night, he works on his own novel, set in the Aztec kingdom. After Trotsky is assassinated, Harrison is sent back to the United States, where he becomes a well-known novelist just in time for McCarthyism to mark him as a Communist.

In less capable hands, this could have been an utter mess that no amount of suspension of disbelief could clean up, but Kingsolver is a master. She deftly blends fact and fiction and her insertion of the quiet Harrison into major world events brings them to life. Frida Kahlo and Trotsky, in particular, are rich, complex characters. Harrison is a perfect counterpoint to his larger-than-life companions, and his life, in its own quiet way, is just as compelling. A lacuna can refer to the underwater cave that challenges Harrison as a boy on Isla Pixol, or to a section of missing text, like the notebook from Harrison's childhood that has disappeared. Harrison himself is something of a lacuna, lifted from his rightful place in American literature by HUAC. As the underwater cave opens up into a sinkhole in the jungle, a place of ancient sacrifices. Harrison begins as a cook in Mexico, but emerges a literary force in America, only to be pushed back into obscurity.

This is a glorious novel of history, revolution, and culture, an incisive commentary on modern society, and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Very highly recommended.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Flashback Friday

I have done this sporadically in the past, but I am going to try to use Flashback Friday as a weekly look at a book from the back list. I read a lot of current fiction, but I often dip into old favorites or discover an older work that I'd like to review. For the most part, my reviews on the blog look at newish releases or soon-to-come reads, so I will be reserving my reviews of older books for Flashback Friday. Holly, you are welcome to join me!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –

And Frigates – in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands –
Presuming Me to be a Mouse –
Aground – opon the Sands –

But no Man moved Me – till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe –
And past my Apron – and my Belt
And past my Boddice – too –

And made as He would eat me up –
As wholly as a Dew
Opon a Dandelion's Sleeve –
And then – I started – too –

And He – He followed – close behind –
I felt His Silver Heel
Opon my Ancle – Then My Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl –

Until We met the Solid Town –
No One He seemed to know –
And bowing – with a Mighty look –
At me – The Sea withdrew –

- Emily Dickinson

STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG by Kate Atkinson: Kate Atkinson's fourth novel about semi-retired private investigator Jackson Brodie. Brodie has discovered Emily Dickenson, an appropriately melancholy muse, and echoes of longing, of nostalgia, of isolation, reverberate throughout. Although the Jackson Brodie novels appear to a mystery series, Atkinson has never really left her literary novel origins. Yes, Jackson ultimately solves murders, but at their heart, these novels are about finding the lost (especially lost girls), the connections between human beings, and the way the past is never really gone. This novel opens with the story of a murdered prostitute in 1975. Rookie cop Tracy Waterhouse (who has eradicated all traces of femininity in an attempt to break the glass ceiling) is deeply moved by the small child who spent three weeks with his mother's corpse before discovery. When she tries to find out what became of the child, she is told to forget about it. Fast forward to present day. Tracy is now retired from the police, and in her capacity as a mall security guard, she finds herself purchasing a mistreated little girl from a prostitute because she can't bear to leave the child to be abused. Meanwhile, Jackson Brodie is a vagabond searching for a con woman and hints of the origin of his adopted client. At the same time, he is ticking ruined abbeys of Yorkshire off his "must visit" list, and improbably adopts a small dog. His search will cause his sphere of events to intersect with Tracy's. Also in the mix are Tilly, an aging actress slowly succumbing to dementia, Tracy's former colleagues, a social worker, and another private investigator named Jackson whom our Jackson is starting to view as his doppelganger. All these barely connected stories are about to collide, pushing the events of 1975 into the light of the present day.

Kate Atkinson is a master of creating a cohesive story from distinct and apparently unconnected events, of bringing together characters who appear to have nothing in common, of drawing together past and present. STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG has the feel of a Dickinson poem; it moves more slowly and embraces elegiac pauses. For all the searching for lost girls, all the nostalgia as Jackson and other characters wonder how the world reached this state, Atkinson's wry, piercing humor prevents excessive melancholy.

While this novel could be read on its own, I highly recommend beginning with CASE HISTORIES.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.