Monday, March 30, 2009

It's Monday (3/30)! What Are You Reading?

I was still sick most of last week, so I continued on my Pendragon kick from last week:
  • I finished Pendragon Book 7: the Quillan Games by DJ MacHale. Great book - the series just gets better and better. I went to the used bookstore and requested Books 8 & 9, too!
  • I hadn't had enough Pendragon yet, so I also read Pendragon Before the War: Book Two of the Travelers, created by DJ MacHale and written by Walter Sorrells. This was another prequel that provides background information on 3 Travelers. I've enjoyed the prequels very much and would recommend them to any Pendragon fan.
  • I finally depleted all the Pendragon books in the house and went back to the book I started before I got sick: The House At Sugar Beach: In search of a lost African childhood by Helene Cooper. It's a memoir of an American journalist who grew up in Liberia, Africa. It's entertaining but also fascinating. I'll review it here when I finish is this week.
  • Our family finished a fabulous read-aloud book last week: Alabama Moon by Watt Key. My husband's been reading it aloud to our sons before bed each night, and we all loved this book! It's the story of a 10-year old boy whose father has brought him up in the forest (he had some bad experiences in Vietnam and hated the government). When his Dad dies, young Moon is left on his own. It was an exciting, funny, heartwarming story. I'll review it later this week on my kids' book blog.
So that's it for last week - sorry I didn't post any new reviews, but I was just too sick...and reading mostly kids' books anyway! I did post a review of the Pendragon series on the kids' book blog.

What are YOU reading this week?

Monday, March 23, 2009

It's Monday, 3/23! What Are You Reading?

Best laid plans...

I ended up reading very different books last week than I'd planned on. You know how different kinds of books can fit different moods? Well, by Tuesday morning last week, I realized I was very sick (as were my two sons). Suddenly, the very good memoir I'd started on Sunday, The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper, just wasn't quite right for how I felt. When I don't feel well, I like to read something engaging but not too difficult or thought-provoking, something fast-paced and gripping that will suck me in and help me forget about how terrible I feel and all the stuff I should be doing. Adventure/fantasy books written for kids and teens are perfect for days like that.

So, I set down my memoir and picked up a new prequel just recently released from one of our family's favorite series, Pendragon by DJ McHale. Here's what I ended up reading:
  • Pendragon Before the War: Book One of the Travelers, created by DJ McHale and written by Carla Jablonski - the first of three prequels just published for the popular series. That reminded me of how much I enjoyed the original series, so I picked up where I'd left off with...
  • Pendragon Book Six: The Rivers of Zadaa by DJ McHale. I finished that book this morning - it was just as good as the first 5 in the series - and took another look at my memoir, but I was still not feeling well and so immersed in the world of Pendragon that I picked up the next book in the series...
  • Pendragon Book 7: The Quillan Games by DJ McHale
So, not a lot of variety in my reading last week but a whole lot of fun and great escapism! This week, I'll be posting a review of the Pendragon books on my Great Books for Kids and Teens blog, as well as a review of the new prequel.

What are YOU reading this week?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Fiction Review: Plum Spooky

Nobody will ever confuse Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels with great literature, but if you’re looking for pure escapist fun in a book, you’ve come to the right place.

Plum Spooky is one of Evanovich’s Between-the-Numbers books, featuring bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. The main series is numbered – currently up to fourteen – and new books are usually released in the summer. My mother buys each one, passes them onto me, then I pass them onto my husband. We all find them very entertaining.

Stephanie is not really a very good bounty hunter, but she usually gets her man in the end, leaving behind a trail of destroyed cars and laughing police officers. Her latest escapade begins like this:

Sometimes you get up in the morning and you know it’s going to be one of those days. No toothpaste left in the tube, no toilet paper on the cardboard roll, hot water cuts out halfway through your shower, and someone’s left a monkey on your doorstep.

My name is Stephanie Plum, and I’m a bail bonds enforcement agent for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. I live in a one-bedroom, unremarkable apartment in a three-story brick box of a building on the outskirts of Trenton, New Jersey. Usually, I live alone with my hamster, Rex, but at eight-thirty this morning, my roommate list was enlarged to include Carl the Monkey. I opened my door to go to work, and there he was. Small brown monkey with long, curled tail, creepy little monkey fingers and toes, crazy, bright monkey eyes, and he was on a leash hooked to my doorknob. A note was attached to his collar.

And right away, you know you’re in for a classic Stephanie Plum novel. Besides the appeal of Stephanie’s every-woman character, Evanovich’s books are populated with funny, eccentric characters. The monkey is only the beginning. In this case, Stephanie is joined by gorgeous but spooky Diesel in trying to find missing physics geek Martin Munch, who has to buy his clothes in the kids’ department. As always, Stephanie is assisted by her sidekick, Lula, who works as a clerk in the bonds office:

Lula is a former ‘ho, and she’s only moderately altered her wardrobe to suit her new job. Lula somehow manages to perform the miracle of squeezing her plus-size body into petite-size clothes. Her hair was blond this week, her skin brown as always, her spandex tube dress was poison green, and her shoes were four-inch, spike-heeled, faux leopard Via Spigas. It came as no surprise that the monkey was staring at Lula. Everyone stared at Lula.

Before long, Stephanie and Lula are off and running, chasing after bail skips who shoot at them and pummel them with fruit, while trying to find Munch. Their investigation takes them deep into the New Jersey Pine Barrens where they encounter Sasquatch, the Easter Bunny, and a lot more monkeys.

Stephanie Plum novels are a great cure for a bad day, with exciting mysteries, fast-paced suspense, and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Pure fluffy fun!

NOTE: Finger-Lickin' Fifteen is due for release on June 23.

Monday, March 16, 2009

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Another blogger suggested a weekly reading list, and it sounds like a good idea, so here's my first one.

Last week, I finished:
  • Plum Spooky by Janet Evanovich (review will be posted this week)
  • Things That Are by Andrew Clements
  • Things Hoped For by Andrew Clements (both sequels to Things Not Seen - reviews to come on my Great Books for Kids and Teens blog)
I just started The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood by Helene Cooper, a memoir that my husband gave me for Christmas. It's very interesting so far.

And I hope to start an audio book this week, too: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg, a classic kid's author.

So, what are YOU reading this week?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fiction Review: Magic Street

Orson Scott Card is one of my favorite authors. I didn’t think I liked science fiction much until I read his fabulous series that begins with the renowned Ender’s Game, which is also a favorite of my 14-year old son.

Card’s young adult novel Magic Street is very different from the Ender books but is still a worthwhile read for fantasy-lovers of any age. The central character of this unique urban fantasy is Mack Street, a boy who lives in an affluent African-American suburb of Los Angeles. Mack began his life in a very unusual way: he was found as a newborn in a plastic shopping bag, left in an empty field in the neighborhood where he would eventually grow up.

Another boy in the neighborhood, Ceese (short for Cecil), finds the baby and brings him to his next-door neighbor who is a nurse:

“What is it?” she said. “I got no time right now for – “
Seeing the baby changed her whole attitude. “Please God, let that not be yours.”
“Found it,” said Ceese. “Covered with ants up in that little valley on Cloverdale. Mama said take it to you.”
“Why? Does she think it’s mine?” said Miz Smitcher.
“No, ma’am,” said Ceese.
Miz Smitcher sighed. “Let’s get that baby to the hospital.”
Ceese made as if to hand the baby to her.
She recoiled. “I got to drive, boy! You got a baby seat in your pocket? No? Then you coming along to hold that child.”
Ceese didn’t argue. Seemed like once he picked that baby up, he couldn’t get nobody else to take it no matter what he said or did.

That’s the beginning of a unique bond between Ceese and Mack, who is adopted by Miz Smitcher and babysat each day by Ceese. They grow up like brothers, but when Mack starts to notice that his dreams have a strange sort of magical power, he keeps that to himself. As a young teen, Mack discovers an entryway to a magical world that only he can see, and his explorations lead him to discover things about himself. Ultimately, Mack finds himself at the center of an epic battle between good and evil.

Magic Street, like other Card books, is a suspenseful novel populated by memorable characters, but its urban setting in LA and Shakespeare-inspired fantasy set it apart. Card explains in his acknowledgments that he created this book especially for a friend who complained that there were too few African-American heroes in novels. While Card does create likeable and heroic characters in both Mack and Ceese, his black street-talk dialogue often seems artificial and silly, especially in the setting of a prosperous African-American community filled with professionals and middle to upper-class citizens. Despite this flaw, the book is a clever and compelling fantasy tale; both my teen son and I enjoyed it very much.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Fiction Review: The Reader

Most people know of The Reader as the movie for which Kate Winslet recently won a Best Actress Academy Award, but The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink, was a best-selling and award-winning novel in both Germany and the United States before it was made into a movie.

The novel opens with fifteen-year old Michael Berg, who gets sick on the way home from school and is helped by a 36-year old woman. Months later, when Michael goes back to thank the woman for her help, he finds he is attracted to her and can’t stop thinking of her. The woman, Hanna, notices his attraction to her, and the two begin to have a love affair that continues as Michael recovers his health and goes back to school.

They settle into a routine of meeting at her apartment, where they make love and he reads aloud to her. Despite their physical closeness and seeming love for each other, they remain emotionally distant in some ways, and Hanna’s words and actions are often mystifying to Michael.

Many years later, Michael sees Hanna again in a court, where he is an observing law student, and she is standing trial, accused of horrible crimes. Michael is fascinated by the ongoing trial, and once again mystified by Hanna’s behavior, as she seems unwilling to defend herself.

While the action of the novel is engrossing, the real meat of it lies in its exploration of emotional and moral complexities. Schlink explores issues of crime and punishment, of love and forgiveness, of guilt and absolution. The novel compares and contrasts Michael and Hanna’s past and present, with frequent foreshadowing and Michael’s ongoing emotional battles within himself, as indicated here in a passage that takes place during their affair:

Why does it make me so sad when I think back to that time? Is it yearning for past happiness – for I was happy in the weeks that followed, in which I really did work like a lunatic and passed the class, and we made love as if nothing else in the world mattered. Is it the knowledge of what came later, and that what came out afterwards had been there all along?
Why? Why does what was beautiful suddenly shatter in hindsight because it concealed dark truths?

I enjoyed this book very much – both the interesting and suspenseful story as well as the intriguing moral questions posed. As with all moral issues, there are no easy answers – for either Michael or the reader – but shades of gray that are thought provoking. I wish that I had read this book with one of my book groups because it would be a very interesting one to discuss. And, yes, I do plan to see the movie now.