Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Ear, the Eye, and The Arm

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

The year is 2194, and Tendai, his brother, and his sister--the children of Zimbabwe's chief of security--have escaped from their father's estate to explore the dangerous city of Harare. When they disappear, the children's parents call in Africa's most unusual detectives--the Ear, the Eye and the Arm--who have powers far beyond those of other human beings. The children must avoid the evils of the past, the technology of the future, and a motley assortment of criminals in order to return home safely.

Though I'd heard good things about The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (it's a Newbery Honor Book and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults pick), I only just got around to reading it for the the first time. I thought it was a very good book, I enjoyed it very much and I'd definitely give a copy to a young person in my life, but I have to admit that I wasn't blown away by it. I've read quite a few books set in futuristic Africa in the past few years so that aspect of it the story wasn't particularly novel (for me). The story itself was interesting, especially the fact that while the children sneak out longing to experience and explore the world that their parents inhabit, they get much more than they bargained for as they are forced to encounter both the seedy underbelly of their city and a spiritual realm. I also like how Farmer incorporated a traditionalist community into her future world. I guess my problem--if I could put a finger on it--is that I never for a second doubted that the children would make it home safely.

Monday, June 29, 2009

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Nothing much has changed from last week. I just haven't had all that much time for reading.

Books finished this past week:
- How Nancy Drew Saved My Life (audio) by Lauren Baratz Logsted (post)
- The Manny by Holly Peterson (post)
- The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

Books I'm currently reading:
- Absolutely American by David Lipsky (will be the book of the month for July)
- Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (no progress since last Monday)
- Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (for lunchtime reading on days when there's no knitting)
- Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss (for Library Journal, review due this week)
- The Hidden Diary of Marie Antionette by Carolly Erickson (audio)
- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (no progress since last Monday)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Manny

The Manny by Holly Peterson

The Manny is one of those books that is perfect for summer. It's light and lighthearted, but not without substance.

36-year-old Jaimie Whitfield has a perfect life. She has her ideal job, a high-powered (but often absent) husband, 2.5 kids, and a house on Park Avenue. But when her 9-year-old son Dylan starts struggling (with school and being around other kids) for lack of a male role model, she has to admit defeat that she can't do everything herself and hire a manny.

The manny charms more than just Dylan and as other areas of her life begin to spin out of control, Jaimie must make some hard choices.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How Nancy Drew Save My Life

How Nancy Drew Saved My Life by Lauren Baratz Logsted

Broken, smashed and stomped in the mud. That's how Charlotte Bell's heart ended up the last time she let her emotions heat up on a nanny assignment. So taking a new position in frigid Iceland, working for Ambassador Edgar Rawlings, might be just what Charlotte needs in order to heal up--and chill out. This time, she's determined to be intrepid and courageous. She's even read all fifty-six original Nancy Drew books in preparation. Unfortunately, she's neglected to find out anything about Iceland or to look into the background of her oddly compelling employer.

When Charlotte stumbles onto the trail of a mystery that only she can solve, she'll need every shred of Nancy's wisdom to keep her life--and her heart--safe!

I listened to the audio version of this book, read by Elenna Stauffer. How Nancy Drew Saved My Life is very chick-lit-y, but I did like it quite a bit. Stauffer was a very good narrator. Protagonist Charlotte is a sympathetic character, more relateable (to me) than I normal find chick lit heroines to me. The storyline was interesting and somewhat realistic. My only real criticism is that there are a number of things that the author never gets around to explaining like why the Icelanders (are people from Iceland really called Icelanders?) like Nancy Drew so much.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

book clubbing in June

This month the book club took on Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. Having enjoyed the book so much myself (see my comments in this post) I was really looking forward to hearing what the other book club members made of it.

I wasn't able to reread the book for the meeting so I kept quiet for the most part not wanting to accidentally spoil things that happen in the later books in the series.

Overall it seemed like most of the book clubbers enjoyed the book and appreciated being made to read it since it wasn't something they would have picked up on their own, but we didn't have the depth of discussion we had last month.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee

Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal

"Like my mum's always said, Life isn't all ha ha hee hee, so if you know there's going to be a few tears, you might as well try and enjoy them" (Chila, 25)

Childhood friends Chila, Sunita, and Tania are as different as three (second generation Indian women living in the UK can be. Tania is a high-powered producer, who snagged a gorgeous white man; Sunita, a mother of two who's let her career take the backseat to her husband's; and Chila, naive enough to believe that, now married, she is going to live happily ever after.

Told alternatively from the perspectives of Chila, Sunita, Tania, and British observers, Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee recounts a turbulent period in the friends' lives. In their mid-thirties, Chila, Sunita, and Tania seem to have settled into the slots they will occupy for the rest of their lives for better or worse. Everything changes, though, when Tania makes a documentary, starring both Chila and Sunita, about contemporary urban Indian life.

I enjoyed this book very much. Chila, Sunita, and Tania are all such full-bodied characters. Their struggles, both those revolving around balancing two disparate cultural expectations and those pertaining to their relationships (romantic and friendly), are real. Syal does a wonderful job of bringing to life the characters, their community, and their personal struggles. I also loved the glimpses Syal gives readers of the British outsiders' view of the Indian expatriate community.

I have Syal's other novel, Anita and Me, on my bookshelf. I tried reading it once, but couldn't get into it. I think I'll have to give it another go.

Monday, June 22, 2009

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Nothing much has changed from last week. I just haven't had all that much time for reading.

I have an audio book on the menu:
How Nancy Drew Saved My Life by Laur Baratz Logsted

Other than that, this will look very similar:
- Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (no progress since last Monday)
- Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (for lunchtime reading on days when there's no knitting, making progress on this one)
- Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (no progress since last Monday)
- The Manny by Holly Peterson (reading while on the bus)
- Miss Zukas and the Island Murders by Jo Dereske (another book set aside for lunchtime reading)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Among the Mad

Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear

Its Christmas Eve 1931. On the way to see a client, Maisie Dobbs witnesses a man commit suicide on a busy London street. The following day, the prime ministers office receives a letter threatening a massive loss of life if certain demands are not metand the writer mentions Maisie by name. After being questioned and cleared by Detective Chief Superintendent Robert MacFarlane of Scotland Yards elite Special Branch, she is drawn into MacFarlane's personal fiefdom as a special adviser on the case. Meanwhile, Billy Beale, Maisies trusted assistant, is once again facing tragedy as his wife, who has never recovered from the death of their young daughter, slips further into melancholia's abyss. Soon Maisie becomes involved in a race against time to find a man who proves he has the knowledge and will to inflict death and destruction on thousands of innocent people. And before this harrowing case is over, Maisie must navigate a darkness not encountered since she was a nurse in wards filled with shell-shocked men.

Among the Mad is the sixth installment in the Winspear's award-winning Maisie Dobbs series, following Maisie Dobbs (2003), Birds of a Feather (2004), Pardonable Lies (2005), Messenger of Truth (2006) and An Incomplete Revenge (2008).

One of the things I usually say about this series is that although the books are mystery novels, they are less page-turning whodunits than well-crafted period pieces that happen to be mysteries. Among the Mad is an exception because, while it is a well-crafted period piece, it is also a page-turner. While all the Maisie Dobbs books are psychological (Maisie is both a psychologist and a PI after all), Among the Mad is more of a psychological thriller. This--coupled with the subject matter of its storyline--may bring a new audience to the series.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Houdini Girl

The Houdini Girl by Martyn Bedford

When his live-in girlfriend dies under suspicious circumstances, professional magician Fletcher (Red) Brandon is surprised to learn just how little he knew about Rosa and her life before he met her. His grief fuels his desire to truly understand Rosa if only posthumously, leading him into a world he never knew existed.

I really didn't know what to expect from The Houdini Girl. It's quite hard to go into any detail about the book and its plot without including any spoilers. Suffice it to say that The Houdini Girl was much more substantial than I expected it to be. Readers follow Red on his quest to understand the mystery behind her death, discovering as he does the secrets in Rosa's past and the world of which she was once a part.

The Houdini Girl is layered and well-researched. The characters are fullbodied and Red, even at his most unsympathetic, is entirely relateable.

It's Monday! What are you reading?

I've known about "What are you reading? Mondays" (hosted by J. Kay's Book Blog) for a while, but only just decided that I need to play along.

I've been doing an atrocious job of keeping track of what books I've read so I'm going to skip the books-completed-last-week part for this week.

I'm currently actively reading
Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (just started last night) and
The Manny by Holly Peterson (its fluorescent cover wore me down).

On the back burner I have:
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (for lunchtime reading on days when there's no knitting),
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (slowly slogging through this one - I want to like it so much more than I actually do), and
Miss Zukas and the Island Murders by Jo Dereske (another book set aside for lunchtime reading).

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Best Friend's Girl

My Best Friend's Girl by Dorothy Koomson

Kamryn Matika doesn't need anyone. She's always done a good job distancing herself from other, but after she found out that her best friend slept with her fiance, Kamryn made the wall around her heart impenetrable. A card from her estranged best friend, however, turns her life upside down. Adele is dying and needs Kamryn to take custody of 4-year-old Tegan, the result of the infamous one night stand.

I'm not sure what I was expecting -- maybe something more chick-lity -- but I found the novel both substantive and charming. It deals with issues like friendship, death, betrayal, and forgiveness, while simultaneously warmhearted and realistic.

The only thing I wasn't crazy about was the focus on Nate (the former fiance) in the middle and end of the novel (and Kamryn being so conflicted). But, I can't really complain about that, as I think that Koomson was trying to be true to her protagonist.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Penelopiad

I decided to feature The Penelopiad on the student services blog this month mostly because I love talking up the Myths series. In pulling together that post, however, I was disheartened to find that the library only has a few of the Myths series books in its collection. The Penelopiad, A Short History of Myth, and Weight and were the only ones I could find in the catalog.

Anyway, here's a quick little write-up.
If you want more of me on the Myths series, check out today's book of the month post and this October 2006 post.

The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus by Margaret Atwood

In The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood retells the story of Penelope--daughter of Icarius of Sparta, cousin of Helen of Troy, wife of Odysseus--using both the classic narrative of Homer's Odyssey and less well-known versions of the tale. In Atwood's tale, Odysseus is very much a secondary character, with pride of place given first to Penelope and second to the twelve slaughtered maids. This perspective forces readers to consider the other stories contained within a tale we know so well.

In all honesty, I didn't have strong feelings about The Penelopiad. I like Atwood (I can't say "love" here as while I love some of her books, I'm not crazy about others), I appreciate The Odyssey, and I love the Myths series, but this title didn't do all that much for me. I thought certain parts were very strong (particularly the portrayal of Penelope and Helen and the way that all the characters interact with each other in the afterlife), while others were somewhat weak or nonsensical (mostly the sidebars like the courtroom drama).

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Booking Through Thursday - Niche

Things have been so busy lately that I've been having a hard time even getting around to posting about the books I have managed to read. Hopefully things will be calming down a bit so I can catch up. In the meantime, it's Thursday...

There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.)

But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that.

What niche books do YOU read?

I really like this question and I'm looking forward to blog surfing to find out about all the weird and wonderful niche books everyone else reads.

Unfortunately I don't have anything terribly exciting to report. I have a bev of knitting pattern books and vegetarian cook books as well as some book binding manuals.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Enchanted, Inc.

Enchanted, Inc. by Shanna Swendson

I really liked Enchanted, Inc. in fact I'll go so far to say that I was enchanted by it. It was exactly the right book for me to read this weekend as I tried to relax before a very hectic week.

I thought protagonist Katie was sympathetic, much more so that I usually find chick lit heroines to be. I liked the concept and the way that Swendson incorporated the paranormal into the story.

I definitely look forward to reading the other books in the series (when I get my hands on them). It will be interesting to see how things play out with the love interests as well as how the overall storyline develops.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Supernaturalist

The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer

In the not-too-distant future, in a place called Satellite City, thirteen-year-old Cosmo Hill is unfortunate enough to come into the world unwanted by his parents. And so, as are all orphaned boys his age, Cosmo is dipped in a vaccine vat and sent to the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys, where he and all the other orphans are used a guinea pigs.

Cosmo knows that he must escape, even though he has no idea what might be waiting for him on the outside. He plans for the moment when he can make a break. When that moment finally comes, he nearly dies while escaping. But he is rescued by a gang of "Supernaturalists," a motley crew of kids who all have a special psychic ability — one that Cosmo is about to learn he has as well.

This was a fantastic read. Definitely more mature than the Artemis Fowl books (I heard Colfer interviewed on NPR years ago in which he spoke about how he intentionally did not kill of characters in the Artemis Fowl books. This was when the interviewer was talking about the similarities--or not--to the Harry Potter books). Similar, in many ways, to Scott Westerfeld's Uglies.

I'm not sure if Colfer is planning on writing a sequel to The Supernaturalist, but he definitely leaves open the possibility and does it in such a way that the sequel could be different enough from the first to be successful.