Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush - Luis Alberto Urrea

Artwork by Christopher Cardinale
for: YA - Library says "TEEN" I'd say for older YA & adults
Graphic Novel
Cinco Puntos Press, El Paso, 2010
Paperback $17.95
Rating: 4.5

"When I remember my village, I remember the color green.
A green that is rich, perhaps too rich, and almost bubbling with humidity and the smell of mangoes."

Mr. Mendoza was the unwanted graffiti king of all Mexico.  His platform was social justice.  In beautiful handwriting he would comment on the sins of the world.  And when it came to leaving this world, he had his own way for that, too...

This was a really cool story, told by a young man whose hormones are zapping and illustrated in what looks like black scratchboard.  It is funny, bawdy, and takes us into rural Mexican village life, based on Rasario, Sinaloa, Mexico.  It's a quick read, and I highly recommend it.  I love the author's voice!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

30. Don't Look Back - Karin Fossum

Translated from Norwegian by Felicity David
A Harvest Book; Harcourt, Inc., 2002
$14.00 paperback
295 pgs.
Rating:  4.5

I'm not even sure why I didn't rate this a 5, because I liked it very much.  The translation was wonderful, she used outstanding words, out-of-the-ordinary vocabulary which was delightful, I reread a number of passages for the beauty of the words alone.  At first I thought it was going to be easily solved because a few seemingly blatant clues were included, but I was very, very wrong.  Perhaps this is why I didn't rate it a five, the first fourth or fifth of the book I was so sure I knew what was going to happen that I didn't pay it enough heed.  Big mistake.

Chief Inspector Konrad Sejer is the crime solver in this story.  He works in a small town in Norway, near enough to Oslo that they can drive.  He is aided by his curly-haired young sidekick named Skarre who is learning as he helps and watches Sejer.  We get to know many people in the small town, and most of the people that live near the neighborhood where the victim in the story resides.

Young Annie Holland has been found murdered, but not assaulted, by the tarn. Only 16, everyone only has kind words to say about here.  She was pretty, athletic, kind, and a babysitter for many of the families that lived nearby.  She had a very nice boyfriend and no enemies.  But as Sejer begins asking questions and putting pieces together, he finds that her happy-go-lucky attitude changed at a certain time in the recent past.  Now he has to discover why, and if this had anything at all to do with her murder.

The book also begins and ends in a way that keep you guessing, seals everything up, then keeps you guessing again.  Good storytelling.  I didn't realize how strange-to-English-speaking-ears Norwegian names would be.  Annie, Konrad, Raymond, okay.  The rest weren't:  Ragnhild, Thorbjorn, Snorrason, Halvor, Solvi, interesting.  Really puts you into the setting even more.  But I still couldn't quite picture the place, that was the one weakness for me.  I could only picture some of it in my mind.  But really good story.

Monday, June 20, 2011

MOVIE - Midnight in Paris

Charming and delightful!
Released 6-10-11
PG-13 (1:34)
6/18/11 at El Con by myself (Saturday afternoon, packed theater)
RT:  92  cag:  98 (my highest rating in recent memory)
Director & Writer:  Woody Allen

Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates & a series of great actors doing quick spots as famous writers and artists that lived in Paris in the 1920s and 1890s.

Owen Wilson was PERFECT in the role of Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter who wants to finish his first novel and be considered a serious writer.  His fiancee, Inez (McAdams), is not enamored of the idea.  She feels he should stick with the known.  They are vacationing in Paris with Inez's parents, who are there on business.  Neither Inez or her parents really care for Paris.  Gil loves it. 

When I went in to the movie I really didn't have a clue what it was going to be about.  I loved that I didn't have a was so delightful finding out what was going to happen.  I usually loved previews, but I'm SO glad I didn't see one for this!  So if you haven't seen the movie, perhaps you might choose to not read on. 

When the young couple meet up with another couple, one that Inez knows and likes and Gil doesn't care for,Gil's idyllic Paris vacation takes a nosedive.  The pretentious, "pedantic" Paul drives Gil crazy. So he wanders off alone...and at the strike of midnight is claimed by a group of people driving a 1920's car.  He is soon meeting Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Dali,  Cole Porter, and Gertrude Stein, played wonderfully by Kathy Bates.  I just loved it!

There are many references to writers, artists, and playwrights of the 20's.  I was happy to know who almost all of them were, but there was one guy I still need to look into.

Yearning for another time.  Nostalgia.  Learning to live  your own life in your own time.  Finally understanding your time, your life, you goals, what will bring you happiness.  Good story.

Friday, June 17, 2011

"When Grandma Comes" - Eileen Spinelli

I was flipping through the September, 2010 issue of Highlights when I came across this poem.  The illustrations by Debbie Palen are great, but I still haven't figured out how to scan and transfer to the computer.  So I surfed for awhile, and came across the Highlights page, complete with illustrations AND a young lady reading the poem!  So cool!    Palen has illustrated some books:  The Period Book by Karen Gravelle, and the Andrew Lost series by J. C. Greenburg, among others.  Here's the link.  You can hear it read AND see the illustrations!

When Grandma Comes

When Grandma comes, she likes to bring
a little bit of everything—
a puppy toy, some yellow thread,
a tasty square of gingerbread,
thick homemade soup, a knitted hat,
a can of tuna for the cat,
a couple pairs of woolen socks,
chocolate cherries in a box,
a picture book, a string of beads,
a bag of crunchy pumpkin seeds.

When Grandma comes, she likes to sing
And push me on the backyard swing.
And rock me in the rocking chair.
And read to me. And brush my hair.
She likes to dance me round the floor.
And walk me to the candy store.
And feed me soup by candlelight.
And tuck me into bed at night.

When Grandma comes, my parents grin.
The puppy barks. I laugh and spin.
The cat meows. The whole house hums.
On Saturday, when Grandma comes.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today at the Blue-Bird Cafe - Deborah Ruddell

a branchful of birds
Illustrated by Joan Rankin
Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, 2007
32 pages
for:  Kids
Rating:  3.5
Endpapers:  Whimsical kids and animals and all sorts of things hanging down by strings, held on to by birds claws, trying to fly.

I scrounge the poetry sections of the libraries and bookstores, but today found a few that I've missed.  This one was fun because I've become so enamored of the feathered guys outside my window recently.  Some of the poems anthropormortize the birds a little too much for my taste, but many are pretty cool.  Illustrations are watercolor-y and whimsical. 

Love the rhythm to this one:

Today at the Bluebird Cafe
It's all-you can-eat at the Bluebird Cafe,
a grasshopper-katydid-cricket buffet,
with berries and snails and a bluebottle fly,
a sip of the lake and a bite of the sky.

and this one's funny....

The Woodpecker
If you thnk that his life is a picnic,
a seesawing day at the park,
I ask you just once to consider
the aftertaste
of bark.

no blue jays in Arizona, but this brings good memories of my grandmother's take on a jay:

Blue Jay Blues
Blue as a bruise
on a swollen knee,
ruling the world
from a maple tree.

Squawking out orders,
getting his way,
hogging the feeder,
and having his say.

Raising a fuss,
causing a flap,
a flying complainer
in need of a nap

and this so reminded me of summer nights at camp on Abram's Pond:

The Loon's Laugh
No tweedle-dee-dee on your windowsill.
No sunshiny tune from the top of a hill.
No chirp.  No coo.  No warble or cheep.
No bubbly twitter or sweet little peep.
The kind of a laugh in the purple of night
that makes you sit up and turn on the light.
A wail.  A chuckle.  A shriek at the moon.
You pull up your covers.  You hope it's a loon.

And there are many more, including the cardinal, eagle, hummingbird, toucan, puffin, vulture, hoopoe, crow, robin, mockingbird, kingfisher, ibis, quail, great horned owl, cockatoo, bobolink, swan, and penguin!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

28. Numbers - Rachel Ward

Chicken House/Scholastic, 2010
$9.99 (library)
325 pgs.
For YA
Rating:  2

I saw Chaos in the bookstores, which is the next book in the series.  The premise sounded good, so I got Numbers to read first.  Interesting idea, but the plot was slow and the characters were not very interesting or likeable for me.  I just never felt like I could get into either Jem or Spider's heads at all, and the foster mother certainly needed more fleshing out.....

Jem's a foster child, her mother overdosed when she was very young.  She's been shuffled from foster home to foster home since, making no friends, living with a huge chip on her shoulder.  She doesn't look many people in the eye, because when she does, she sees a a list of numbers that's a date.....and she figured out quite young that the date signifies when they are going to die.  There's nothing she can do about it, so she's become a loner.

She meets Spider, a tall, smelly, black young man that's in one of her school classes, and despite the fact that he doesn't have long to live (she never tells anyone about this), they become friends.  Then an unexpected incident sets them both on the run from the authorities..  As they set off across the countryside together they end up closely bonding.  It was very s s s l l l o o o o o w w w w for me.  Not enough going on, including conversation.  Just didn't sit right with me. 

So I guess I won't be reading Chaos, which I think is about Jem's son, sometime in the future.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

MOVIE - Amreeka

Another good one!
Released in theaters 9-4-09
This was a free presentation as part of a special 10-city tour
PG-13 (1:32)
6-9-11 at the Loft with Sheila, Kate, Ronnie
RT:  87  cag:  90
Written and directed by Dherien Dabis
in English and Arabic with subtitles when needed

A Palestinian banker and her teenage son move to Illinois after it becomes more and more dangerous to live in Palestine.  Because of two checkpoints and huge walls, her 15 minute drive from their home in Bethlehem to work now takes 2 hours. They will live with her sister and brother-in-law, a doctor, and their three daughters.

Of course, it's not easy.  Bullies make fun of Fadi and confrontations escalate.  Muna can't find an administrative job, so takes a job at the local burger joint, pretending to her family that she is working at a bank.  But even as awful, unforeseen things happen to them, they make friends.  She is a bit overwieght but clever and has a sense of humor, so nothing that is thrown at her keeps her down for long.  And there are even some laughs along the way.

The families still miss Palestine.  They miss Arab food.  They are a family.  Good movie.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

MOVIE - Source Code

Released 4-1-11
PG-13 (1:27)
Wed. 6-8-11 at Crossroads, alone
RT:  91, I'll go with the same
Director:  Duncan Jones

JAKE GYLLENHAAL (need I say more?) Michelle Monaghan, Vra Farmiga

Great movie.  Air Force Captain Cotter Stevens wakes up on a train heading for Chicago, sitting across from a young woman who keeps calling him Sean.  As the train approaches the city, it blows up.  Stevens "comes to" in some sort of a dark, cold, weird underground holding room.  He can't remember anything that's happened to him, but the woman who he can see and talk to on a screen tells him, slowly, what he needs to know.  He has 8 minutes to keep returning to the same situation to discover information about the bombing so he can stop the next one that is going to take place. Most of this is shown in the first fifteen minutes, its the roller coaster ride after that  that I won't retell.  It's an interesting story, and if you can put aside wondering how being able to go back and forth works, you'll progress right through the movie understanding almost everything that happens.

Gyllenhall is his usual wonderful, handsome, athletic, smart self.  Michelle Monaghan as the girl on the train and Vera Farmiga as the person on the other side of the screen are both very good.  It's the story that works here, at least for's a good one!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

29. Touch Blue - Cynthia Lord

2010, Scholastic paperback
186 pgs.
for:  middle grades
Rating:  4.5

I was able to obtain six copies of Touch Blue for the last literature circles of the year, but offered it without having the time to read it. I’d read ABOUT it, and enjoy (very much) Cynthia Lord’s blog. I know – and trust her – as an author. And it’s set in Maine, for crying out loud. Six kids were in the group. Six kids loved the book

Well now I just finished reading it myself. It’s a perfect book for fourth graders. It covers all sorts of things to talk about: living on an actual island that is only accessible by boat, what a “family” is, believing in superstitions, good luck/bad luck, and how it might feel not to be able to live with your own parents. It has a token bully to ponder. Content-wise, music and lobster fishing also have big parts in the novel. Monopoly, talent shows, irritating little sisters and the Boston Red Sox….I could go on and on.

When a family with many kids moves from Bethsaida Island to the mainland, the state of Maine decides there aren’t enough children to keep the island school open. So some of the families decide to take in foster kids. Tess’s family gets Aaron, a red-headed, 13-year-old gifted musician who has already been shuffled around in Maine’s foster care system. Tess’s dad, a lobster fisherman and her mom, the school’s only teacher, open up their home and their hearts; and both Tess and her little sister, Libby, are greatly looking forward to having a brother. Of course things are very rocky. Small town gossip and the local bully don’t help matters, either.

Since the story is told in the first person by Tess, the reader can get inside her head and see what her fears, her hopes, and her miseries truly are. It’s a lovely story with an ending that looks to the future and might give kids a reason to look beyond the surface in the lives of other kids and not always take everything at face value.

(‘Course, it doesn’t hurt that I lived for 30 years on an island – the kind you can drive onto – on the coast of Maine.)
 Loved this:
“Summer is short and changeable in Maine – like the weather can’t make up its mind. One day it can be ninety degrees, so hot in the sun that rivers of sweat trickle down my spine and my rubbersized hauling pants stick to my skin wherever they touch it. A week later, it can turn so chilly and foggy that I’ll need jeans and a sweatshirt. The talk at the store is always the weather and the Red Sox – starting with whichever one is doing worse.”
“Yup, it’s a good one, Burt…..”

Cynthia Lord’s website
Cynthia Lord's blog (She includes lots of photos she takes wherever she goes, I really enjoy it.)

25. Forced Out - Stephen Frey

audio read by L. J. Ganser
BBC Audiobooks America, 2008
10 unabridged cds (12 hrs.)
480 pgs.
Rating:  I'll settle for 2: see below

Hard to rate – the ending is bizarre and the characters are a bit ridiculous at times....

Jack Barrett, 63 years old…the “old” age thing is brought up over and over and over again, by him and by all sorts of people that he meets. Tiring. And ridiculous. He’s a grouch and way too proud, very unlikable through the first half of the book. He has been fired after many years as a scout for the NY Yankees. He’d been framed and let go but the whole story only comes out in bits and pieces. He now lives with his daughter, Cheryl, in Sarasota. They scrape to get by. She’s in her early 30’s and somehow keep picking lousers to fall in love with. She’s pretty desperate, but loves her father….for some reason…unconditionally.

At the same time, a hit man for a mafia family in NYC has discovered that the young baseball player who SUPPOSEDLY hit and killed the boss’ grandson has discovered his whereabouts and is after him. The story flip flops between characters, adding interesting, yet odd, bits and pieces along the way. Some are left unmentioned and unresolved, and the author throws in information about activities without detailing them…they just “happened,” while others are described in painful detail.

I’m not really thrilled with the writing or the plot. I almost stopped listened three or four times, but wanted to see how it was resolved. I wish I hadn’t wasted my time. Why Mr. Frey added the twists at the end are a mystery to me. Oh well. On to another story.

27. Painted Ladies - Robert B. Parker

Spenser #39 (published posthumously)
Audio read by Joe Mantegna
Random House Audio, 2010
5 unabridged cds (5.5 hours)
304 pgs.
Rating:  5 (though I missed Hawk)

I don’t think, when I first heard Joe Mantegna read the Spenser books, I liked his rendition of the Spenser I had in my head. Apparently his voice has grown on me, because I loved the reading of this story. Mantegna’s voice is now Spenser’s voice for me. I noticed in Barnes and Noble yesterday that the very last Spenser that Parker wrote before he died is now on sale. So sad. What a fantastic writer, storyteller, humorist, even!

In this, the 39th Spenser, Pearl falls in love! Nice touch, and a great way to end the story. Pearl, by the way, is Susan and Spenser’s dog. Romping in the Public Gardens with Otto is a riot. Such infused humor throughout the story.

Spenser is hired by Ashton Prince as a body guard during the payment of a ransom for a unique Dutch painting, Lady with a Finch. When Prince is blown up during the exchange, Spenser feels he didn’t do his job well enough and joins the team of Belson, Quinn, and all sorts of others that Parker has introduced throughout the years. Hawk is absent – somewhere out of the country, but Susan is very much a part of this story, including helping in unique ways throughout Spenser’s investigation.

Excellent story. Parker just kept getting better and better.