Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Cowboy Night Before Christmas - James Rice

For: anyone, for fun
Published: 1986/2007
Pelican Publishing
Rating: 3.5 (uninspiring illustrations, great poem)
Read: sometime in November
Endpapers: White ! ! !

'Twas a cold Christmas eve
...on the Southwestern plain
And the north wind was blowin'
...through a broke winderpane.

So starts this rewrite of "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Every other two-page spread is in color, mostly brown and yellow hues, with the ones in between being pen and ink.

Santa's team had taken off, fled north, and he had "many a mile yet 'fore the sun hits the sky." The only help the cowboys could offer was some ornery longhorns to help pull his wagon:

While roping the longhorns
...they bumped and they stumbled
And numerous times
...from their hosses they tumbled.
It took all three working hour or more
To hitch up the wagon two rows of four.

And of course, they couldn't believe their eyes when the whole outfit took off into the sky and, shaking their heads in disbelief:

They reached the sod shanty
...and opened the door
And they couldn't believe
...what they saw on the floor.
Two pairs of new boots
...with spurs made of silver,
With a note but not clue to who was the giver.

Willy and May: A Christmas Story - Judy Schachner

For: Kids 5 and up (a lot of text)
Published: 1995
Rating: 4.5
For Caroline and Andrew
Endpapers: oops, forgot to write it down and it's wrapped and ready to be sent
Told in 1st person as a memoir

This story ends at the holiday season, but tells of the loving relationship between a young girl and her great aunt through the years. They only get to visit twice a year, but correspond with each other at other times. Aunt May is interesting and a bit eccentric, her best friend is a little bird named Willy, who spends most of the time atop her head. There is lots of text, lots of story, building to the year that the girl's mother gets sick and they can't visit Aunt May in the summer OR at Christmas, so this year, Aunt May and Willy come to visit THEM. There's a cute ending full of the magic of Christmastime.

Beautiful watercolor illustrations framed with a blue line are detailed and full-of-fun. I wish I could think of a better description for this type of art - I really love it. Not really "whimsical", not really "folksy" or "folky"....I guess I must come up with my own descriptor. I'll mull it over....

Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Holidays!

The coast of Maine, the northern suburbs of Boston, and central Pennsylvania have been my home since December 20th. I'll return to Tucson on the 2nd of January and will add to this blog all the wonderful books I've been reading at that time. In the meantime, I've survived blizzards, frigid temperatures, a lost cellphone, and flight cancellations (I finally rented a car with three strangers and drove from Philadelphia to Harrisburg one particularly late, foggy night) and I've adored being with family and friends. I truly have three of the most wonderful grandchildren in the universe. So many new adventures to muse over!

I've done all my previous postings on my Mac, and I can't seem to do any of the special things (links, italics, bold, color) on it. I don't mind, I've had a blast. However, I've messed around a little while at Laura's on her PC, and have made it so ANY comments can now be included for my blog, whether you're enrolled or not. Try it out and see if it works!

Can You Say Peace? - Karen Katz

For: Babies and Toddlers (even though some reviews say 4-8)
Published: 2006
Rating: 5
Read: Feb. 2007 and yesterday
Endpapers: Purple

Laura says that Ella asks for this book every night. I gave it to her for Valentine's Day, 2007. It's a beautiful book with colorful, large illustrations in happy colors, each surrounded with a frame of another bright color. We meet eleven different children from eleven different cultures who say "PEACE" in eleven different languages. Ella (who's two) will even point to each of the eleven children on the cover and say their name. She repeats the word for peace as it is read to her, and knows most of them by heart. It's pretty cool to see and hear.

Hana lives in Iran. Hana says sohl (sohl).
Stefan lives in Russia. Stefan says mir (meer).
May lives in China. May says he ping (hey ping).

A really special book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

61. Maybe - Brent Runyon

For: Older YA (Gr 9+)
Published: 2006
196 pgs.
Rating: 4
Finished Monday, Dec. 15, 2008

Brian's older brother has died, we slowly find out how. Brian's grief is locked inside himself, and we follow his life and his thoughts as his family moves to an affluent area in Virginia. Here he becomes a junior at his new high school, finds a group of friends - they happen to be in the drama department - and he even gets a part in a play. We are very much in his head in this book, sharing his thoughts, his yearnings and his misgivings. His first...his only...thoughts about each girl he meets is sex, and he goes out with them whether he likes them or not, hoping, hoping...... He's really quite messed up. We are with him as he gets his license, meets new people, even sit in on his classes with him. And slowly, slowly he gets to face his brother's death and get on with his life.

I went up and down about my feelings about this book. I wasn't crazy about the protagonist, but the book is really well written, and I do feel like I was in Brian's head. Brian's screwed up head. You do end the book thinking he's going to be okay - but it's because he finally finds a female that he likes for herself. Where will this take him? Will his fickle feelings return so that he'll have to begin all over? We can only guess!

Monday, December 15, 2008


Rating: Super
Viewed: Sat, Dec. 13, 2008
El Con, with Fran
Rotten Tomato Rating: 93%
Mine: the same, I really liked it a lot
EW: not yet, cag: A
Rolling Stone: 4/4
Genre: Drama/Biography
Released 11/26/08
R (2 hrs 8 min)
Directed by: Gus VanSant
Sean Penn (nominated for Golden Globe Best Actor), James Franco
BEST ACTOR, Academy Awards, Feb. 2009 - SEAN PENN

Harvey Milk, openly gay activisit and elected official in San Francisco, was assassinated, along with the mayor of SF, in 1978. Thirty years ago! This movie takes you from the early 70's, Milk's move from New York to San Francisco, and the journey that he took to make a difference for gay rights. It was framed by Milk sitting at his kitchen table recording into a tape recorder. flashing back through fashion and friends, telling his story. it was really well done, seemed well researched (at least I'm counting on that - I'd like to think the story was accurate), and was rewarded by a smattering of applause from the packed audience - you don't hear that very much anymore. A totally enjoyable movie experience. Sean Penn has to be the most talented actor of this generation. AMAZING! The actors were well chosen, the parts were well acted - and James Franco was, as usual, fantastic.

MOVIE: Happy-Go-Lucky

Rating: Charming and fun
Viewed: Friday, Dec. 12, 2008
at the Loft, with Fran
Rotten Tomato rating: 94%
Mine: 90%
EW: A- cag: A-
Released 10/10/08
R (1 hr 58 min)
Directed by: Mike Leigh
Golden Globe nominations for Best Comedy Motion Picture and for Best Actress, Comedy, for Sally Hawkins

Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, a 30-year old primary teacher in an English city. She is happy, upbeat, enjoys her life and her friends, and really tries to have a positive outlook on life. She seems fearless, afraid of nothing - not in a "daring" kind of way, perhaps I'd call it a "brave" way. She parties with her friends, has her bike stolen so takes driving lessons (which becomes a strong part of the storyline, since the teacher is somewhat nuts), worries about her students, and ends up with a love interest at the end...yippee! This was thoroughly enjoyable, thought-provoking, and just plain fun. One thing - you do have to listen carefully because there are points where the British accents gets pretty strong and you have to furrow your brow for a second to figure out what was said. (I went from an A to an A- because there was a segment in the movie that seemed just inserted....first Poppy was walking out in the country, amid shrubs with no city anywhere, then she ended up in a dicey part of town, interacting with an imbalanced man. It was a really interesting part of the movie, but I can't figure out exactly where it came from.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

60. S is for Silence - Sue Grafton

AUDIO Read by Judy Kaye
For: Adults
Book Published: 2006
Audio Published: Dec. 2005, Random House Audio
10 discs
368 pgs.
Rating: 3/5
Finished Dec. 10, 2008

Kinsey Milhone's 19th investigation is written in a bit of a different style than the previous 18. This time, Sue Grafton goes back and forth between Kinsey's point of view in 1987, and the stories, feelings, and the 1953 observations of a number of the pertinent characters and suspects in the disappearance of Violet Sullivan. Daisy Sullivan, a very small child at the time of her mother's disappearance, really wants to know what happened 34 years previously. Because of the way the story's written, we get to see the motivations and attitudes of many characters, which was a great way to develop these characters. However, at the end of the story I felt like there were a lot of loose ends. It was wrapped up quickly, with the murderer coming after Kinsey, and ending without the reader knowing how the intricate murder took place, there was no motive that I could tell, so we don't really know why, and no real closer....very disappointing after staying tuned for ten discs and many weeks of listening. A major letdown, actually.

A quick summary: Violet Sullivan, a "tart", mother of baby Daisy and wife of an angry wife-beater, goes after men and whatever else she may want in a small California town. She feels very sorry for herself, but does nothing constructive to change her situation. She has a mysterious $50,000 (though there's foggy history behind it), a brand new convertible, and then disappears one night on the fourth of July weekend with her annoying little dog. Small town families, small town politics, and an interesting story. However, the ending really botched up a good rating for me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

MOVIE: Rachel Getting Married

Rating: Unsettling
Viewed: Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008
El Con with Laraine
Rotten Tomato Rating: 88%
Mine: 25% (Acting 85%)
EW: A cag: C-
Genre: Drama
Released: October 3, 2008
R (1 hr 53 min)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Anne Hathaway, Debra Winger

Anne Hathaway was amazing. The move was boring and nauseating. Literally nauseating. It looked like a hand-held camera wobbling and wobbly, jumpy and amateur. I'm sure it was purposely done, but I couldn't stand it. The wedding guests who were always in the background for an entire endless day after day played screechy, bad music...constantly.....until I was ready to scream. There was a dishwasher scene that went on f o r e v e r and the reception was absolutely endless. Out of the two hours I enjoyed about 30 minutes - the 30 minutes that Anne Hathaway was front and center.

Anne Hathaway played Kym, a recovering drug-addict that has left rehab (after about 9 months) to attend her sister Rachel's wedding. Yes, she's a bit self-centered at first, but what she needs in her life is to get some issues with her family out in the open. Unfortunately, a big family wedding is not the place to do it...but it needs to happen. I really liked the story, I hated the lengthy scenes, wobbly filming, and hair-raising accompanying music. I loved the story and the acting. However, when you can't wait for a movie to end, you can't rate the movie very high. And I thought this movie would never end.

Monday, December 1, 2008

That Book Woman - Heather Henson

Illustrator: David Small
For: Early school-age? (Dialect might be difficult)
Published: Oct, 2008
Rating: 3.5
Read: Today
Endpapers: Med. rust

Set high in Kentucky's Appalachian Mountains, Cal would rather than work with Pap than learn to read chicken scratch. Since school is a "jillion miles back down the creek" he's gotten no schoolin', and can't understand his sister Lark's love of reading. One day a "lady wearing britches" appears on a horse after a "hard day's ride"...with a "passel of books." And she wants nothing in trade. On top of that, she'll return in two days to swap the books! She comes through the rain and the cold and the fog, and eventually Cal decides to see what it is that Lark's so taken with - and she teaches him to read!

Based on the real PACK HORSE LIBRARY PROJECT that was part of FDR's WPA (Work Progress Administration) in the 1930's, this book gives homage to the brave and hardy woman who traveled throughout Kentucky's Appalachia to bring the gift of books and reading to the poor of Appalachia.

I loved the dialect, but I wonder if it might be hard for some kids to understand? It gives a great sense of place, and IS pretty cool....

Comes on a time
the world turns white
as Granpap's beard.
The wind it shrieks
like bobcats do
deep inside the dark of night.
So here we sit
tucked 'round the fire,
no thought to howdy-do's this day.
Why, even critters of the wild
will keep a-hid
come snow like this.

I usually like David Small's illustrations, but this won't be a favorite. I want more detail!

MOVIE: Twilight

Entertaining-pretty much what I expected
Viewed: Thanksgiving Night 11/27/08
Dreamcatcher Theater, north of Santa Fe, NM
Rotten Tomato Rating: 43%
Mine: Oh, let's say 60%
EW: B cag: B
Genre: Teen (lots of guys there, so not a chick-flick)
Released 11/21/08
PG-13 (2 hrs 2 min)
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
adaptation of the book by Stephanie Meyer

I couldn't wait to see how this book would tranlsate onto the screen. It was entertaining, the story was easy to follow and very silmilar to the book. However, I wasn't really thrilled...Harry Potter thrilled, particularly....and I've mulled over the reason.

Edward-of-the-movie just wasn't my Edward-of-the-book. Bella was fine. Her dad was perfect. The Cullen family worked beautifully (Alice was particularly good). But if Edward dosn't work - the movie doesn't completely work.

Bella moves from Phoenix and her mom to Forks, WA and her dad. She is immediately drawn to Edward Cullen, and he to her. Edward's family are all vampires that have diverted from a vampire's usual path --- they want to live as average people, not killing to find the blood that sustains them. They are strong and fast and sparkle in the sunshine. They are still stronly drawn to sucking blood, but work hard to overcome that desire. Bella falls in love with Edward in an all-consuming way. She cares about nothing else. Something else that bothers me.....

The movie seemed to follow the book quite well. I wish I'd been thrilled.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie - Norton Juster

Illustrator: Chris Raschka
For: Kids
Published: October, 2008
Rating:5 for story/ 1 for illustrations
Read: This weekend
Endpapers: Bright lilac
Sequel to 06 Caldecott: The Hello Goodbye Window

When a little girl visits her Nanna and Poppy, they never know if she'll be sweet and funny or grumpy and impossible - or both at the same time! There's lots of dialogue, lots of loving situations - but the illustrations are just blobs of color with a sparse few black lines showing detail. Maybe it's just the mood I'm in - but.....uck. I know people rave about Chris Raschka's art. I love moder/abstract art myself, Kandinsky and Haring are my very favorite artists...but this cool story was NOT enhanced by these nondescript scribbles. At least, not to enhance this story. Do kids relate to these illustrations?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wild Boars Cook - Meg Rosoff

Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
For: preschool-Gr 2
Published: Sept, 2008
Rating: 3.5
Read: This weekend
Endpapers: Closeup of the boar's fur

Snorting, stinky javelinas and I go way back, so this book, sitting on the new picture books shelf at the Golf Links branch library, stopped me in my tracks. The author, Meg Rosoff, wrote the 2005 Printz winner for Young Adults, How I Live Now. NOT a children's story. But this is different. The illustrations are a riot, and the story is fun. I can picture myself reading it to Ella and Brendan.

Boris, Morris, Horace, and Doris are "bossy and selfish and stinky and HUNGRY." When Doris finds a delicious recipe for a pudding, the all pitch in to make it the best ever, adding their own favorite ingredients (like broccoli, butter, bananas, squid, and muddy puddles). They create, they eat, they sleep for a short time, and they're hungry again!

The book ends with a real recipe for a MASSIVE COOKIE that kids and parents could make together.

Just plain fun. Great illustrations and large font.

MOVIE: What Just Happened

Rating: Mostly boring, lots of emotional sadness, some funny parts
Viewed: Friday, Nov. 21
Crossroads by myself
Rotten Tomato Rating: 51%
Mine: About 40%
EW: B cag: C-
Genre: Comedy, dry comedy, if a sad life is funny...
Released: 10/17/08 (about a month ago)
R (1 hr. 47 min)
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Robert DeNiro, Sean & Robin Wright Penn,

I really wanted to like this movie. But it was slow and boring,.. and sad. I changed position in my seat a dozen times. DeNiro plays a getting-older movie producer. Nothing seems to be going right for him, either in his personal life or his professional one. Trying to be a good dad to his kids from two marriages, proably paying huge alimonies for two huge houses, drugged-out writer/directors and spoiled leading men, constant phone calls, If he could only let out his feelings, but he keeps everything all bortled up inside. I left the theater feeling really sad. There WERE some good laugh-out-loud places, but not enough to redeem the overwhelming sadness for this life. It makes you SO appreciate the one you've got!

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Baby - Jeanette Winter

For: Preschoolers
Published: 2001
Rating: 5
Read: Today
Endpapers: Deep lavender

There are THREE reasons why this book is a "5" for me (the illustrations, the bogolan cloth, the great author). And there are THREE different reasons to read it:

One: The story. Nakunte learns the art of painting bogolan cloth from her mother. Years later she paints a special cloth for her baby that will come when the rains come. As she paints, she speaks of all the creatures that live in her African village.

Two: The culture. Mali, Africa. You get a feel for the place.

Three: The painting of the cloth. I have some of this beautiful black cloth, myself. To see how it starts with white cloth, then specially prepared mud is painted on, leaving the lovely white design, is a treat.

I love the folky feel to Jeanette Winter's illustrations. I love all the clever touches she includes. When, as a young adult, Nakunte begins her painting, the borders of the illustration become strips of the bogolan cloth she's working on. The colors are bright and cheerful, different colored borders on each and every page, with very little white. And, Ms. Winter is a lyrical writer: "Listen, my baby, do you hear mama crocodile creeping across the savanna on her short legs? Will she find the water she is looking for?"

I've always enjoyed Jeanette Winter's's time to collect a few of her books, I think!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Little Boy - Alison McGhee

Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds
For: Kids
Published: April, 2008
Rating: 5
Read: today
Endpapers: Sunshine yellow

Rhythm and rhyme. Repetition. Inklings of a favorite poem (think William Carlos Williams). Elipses. Clever illustrations. Pretty darn cool book.

Little boy, so much depends on...
your yellow cup
a serenade to wake you up,
sun that slants across the rug,
the wings on that astonishing bug,
your big cardboard box.

The personality of a young boy. Favorite things and life happenings. We all have favorite stories about our kids, stories we've heard about ourselves as kids, stories we hear over and over. Kids have favorite books and favorite foods and favorite objects that may be forgotten as time passes. This book would be a great model for a kid to write his own book! With a little time, effort, creativity, a blank book and some markers or colored pencils - away we go!

Even though there's lots of white/negative space (something I'm not fond of), this book really works. Simple, colored-in line drawings have detail and character. This is a very lovable book.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

MOVIE: Secret Life of Bees

Rating: Wonderful
Viewed: November 18, 2008
El Con with SW
58% Rotten Tomato Rating
Mine: 90%
EW: C cag: A
Genre: Drama
Released 10/17/08
PG-13 (1 hr 50 min)
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys
adaptation of the book by Sue Monk Kidd

What's not to like? Sure, this would probably be considered a "chick flick," but what's wrong with that? GREAT storytelling, wonderful acting, lovely setting and sets. It's been awhile since I've seen a movie, especially a drama, that I enjoyed this much.

Lily accidentally shot and killed her mother when she was 4. Now, in 1964, living with her mean, unhappy father in what looks like a sharecropper's house on the edge of a peach orchard, she is searching for information about her mother. Her young black housekeeper, Rosalie, seems to be her only friend. While walking into town together, Rosalie is attacked, and beaten by a group of rednecks. Lily breaks her out of her hospital prison room and they take off together to Tiburon, SC, because of a mysterious clue that Lily has found about her mother's past.

This takes them to the Honey Farm of August (Latifah), June (Keys) and May's Pepto-Bismal-pink home. The family takes them in and they instantly become close, Lily sleeping out in the honey shack, and learning about beekeeping with August. The usual touching/interesting ups and downs, friendship, love, racial tension and anger-a great ride toward a powerful (but foreseen) tragedy.

I very much enjoyed this film and would happily watch it again, for all the reasons stated above. Ultimately, a really feel-good movie.

Monday, November 17, 2008

59. Angels Flight - Michael Connelly

AUDIO Read by Dick Hill
For: Adults
Book Published: 1999
Audio Published: 1998, Brilliance (yup, these dates are correct)
9 discs
393 pages
Rating: 5/5
Finished Nov. 17, 2008

How does this guy keep thinking up such brilliant plots? Twists and turns and sitting in the car until I'm almost late to work....

Harry Bosch is called to head the team investigating a particularly tricky homocide. Howard Elias, a hated-by-cops and loved-by-blacks LA lawyer who has sued many, many LA cops, has been murdered. His most recent case, a powder keg involving the murder of a 12-year old white girl, could start race riots all over LA. The young black man he had been representing claimed that not only did he NOT do it, but that he'd been cruelly attacked while being questioned by the police. When Harry discovers what Howard Ellias has discovered - that the client is, indeed, innocent - a chain reaction is set off. Not only that, he's trying to quit smoking. AND he's partnered with an IAD jerk, Chastain, who tried to throw him to the wolves in the last book. But to top it off, his wife, Eleanor, has left him. Doesn't sound like she loves him enough. Poor Harry. Beautifully plotted and really well told, I couldn't stop reading/listening to this great yarn.

Hurrah, Harry Bosch! Keep 'em coming Michael Connelly!

Owney, The Mail-Pouch Pooch - Mona Kerby

Illustrator: Lynne Barasch
For: Kids K-3
Published: April, 2008
Rating: 3.5/5
Read: Today
Endpapers: Drawings of 14 dogtags from different North American cities

This appears to be a true story, although the whole time I was reading it I didn't know that - and considered it quite far-fetched. And, for some reason I seem to be on a cute-dog roll.

In 1888, in Albany, New York, a homeless, starving terrier finds his way into the post office and fell asleep on a mail bag. He wouldn't leave, and became instantly attached to mail bags and postmen dressed in blue uniforms. He became a resident of the post office. But, before long, he hopped the train with the mail and began making his way across the country, returning occasionally to the Albany post office. Wherever he went he seemed to find the post offices, and people would attach new identifying tags to his collar. A harness was put around him to more evenly distribute the weight of the tags. After traveling all over the US for many years, Owney was getting old. So his "many friends" purchased him a trip around the world. Which he did - still all by himself.

A current-day US map is included in a two-page illustration.

This was very difficult to believe and I was rollling my eyes as I read, still not knowing that this was based on a true story. The author says she researched extensively. Now THAT'S the book I'd like to read - let's include some of the research, some of the newspaper articles - this is what appeals to my primary-and-secondary-source brain. I must admit, it's an interesting story, as difficult to believe as it is.... She also says that there are a couple of stories about how Owney got his name. I wish she'd given some clue to this in the text, since I wondered about this unusual name all through my reading.

An aside: Mona Kerby teaches at McDaniel College and lives in Westminster, Md. I drive by the college and through the town on my way back to BWI - I always stop to fill my rental car gas tank in Westminster on my way TO the airport, and run into MacDonald's for a much needed Diet Coke on my way FROM the ariport.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Dog Who Belonged to No One - Amy Hest

Illustrator: Amy Bates
For: Young kids
Published: Sept. 2008
Rating: 4
Read: Today
Endpapers: Deep maroony-brown

This is a sweet book...with a simple theme of loneliness and companionship...with a happy ending. The cover called to me - a cute little dog sitting among some fallen autumn leaves, oranges and browns. Really nice watercolor illustrations, with most of the text inside framed boxes, with placement changing from page to page.

A homeless dog with crooked ears and a little girl who's an only child find each other one wildly wet Sunday. The illustrations show a late 19th century small city, but the story could take place at any time or place. A really nice story for young kids.

Abraham Lincoln Comes Home - Robert Burleigh

Illustrator: Wendell Minor
For: Kids, but they need to be old enough to know who Lincoln was
Published: August, 2008
Rating: 4.5
Read: today
Endpapers: Enlarged corner of the American flag with the words: "WE MOURN/ OUR CHIEF/ HAS FALLEN

Edge-of-page to edge-of-page gentle, meaningful illustrations accompany a similarly gentle story that eloquently says a lot with very few words.

A young boy and his father ride their horse and buggy, its single lantern bobbing, through the darkness of the prairie to the place where the railroad passes through. Bonfires burn along the rails as the people wait for the train carrying Lincoln's body to pass. Slowly it appears, with a picture of Lincoln atop the cowcatcher. Slowly it passes, so that the country can pay its last respects to an honored and much-loved man. For 1600 miles, by hearse and by train, Lincoln's body was carried from Washington D.C. back to Springfield, Illinois. It is said that about thirty million people were able to see the train, march in a procession behind the hearse, or attend one of about a dozen funeral services.

The media has certainly changed things. This story, these illustrations, hold a reverance, a simplicity, that seems absent today. It's a beautiful book, celebrating an exceptional life, adding an additional chapter to a story many of us know well. Bravo.

58. Cycler - Lauren McLaughlin

For: Young Adults
Published: Aug. 26, 2008
256 pgs.
Rating: 5
Finished Nov. 16, 2008

I was picking through my pile of ARCs from last May's BEA, realizing that I can't read them all in a timely manner, choosing what to take to school to share with my students. I'd never really looked at this one, so when I read the back cover I left the piles all over the living room floor and started to read. And kept reading.

17-year old Jill McTeague does not have a teenager's "normal" premenstrual cycle. Oh no. For four days each month, her body is mysteriously transformed into a boy's body. Jill was initially horrified and appalled by this transformation, but her mother took it one step further. PLAN B was created, a way for Jill to blot out her four-day transformation and be able to live the other 24 days of her month as a normal teenage girl with a combination of self-hypnotism and meditation. During the male-four-days, she/he never ventured from the house, and Jill's absence from school was explained away with vague monthly blood transfusions. But, by blotting out thoughts of herself as a boy for four days, her mind created Jack, I guess you'd call it an alter-ego, who was very much a boy. Horndog boy.

The story switches back and forth, month by month, between Jack and Jill.

Really interesting characters. Her best friend, Ramie, gorgeous and unusual, a crazy-fashion designer. Her crush, Tommy, bisexual and caring, a dream...and dreamy ...guy. Her mother, control-freak extraordinaire with a screw loose. Her father, a man with a story that would make a great book itself....a house-bound guru meditation yoga freak who has taken to living in their basement. And Jack and Jill.

Somewhere I read this was a "dark comedy of sex, gender, and sexuality." Yes, yes, and yes! FUNNY, very funny. Asking great gender questions. And it's full of sex, oh yes. Greatly written, very satisfying, I would consider McLaughlin a very clever storyteller, indeed. I had originally given this a 4.5 rating, but I'm going back and changing it to a five. Many facets, and I liked them all. I think I originally took that extra half point because of all the sex, I don't feel totally comfortable sharing the book with my students, though I know some of them would LOVE it. But the sex parts WERE important, well written, and .... fun.

The setting, a small town on the North Shore of Massachusetts, is pretty much where I was raised. I could see the streets, the people, the beach, the yacht club, the high school.

I've turned the cover over, looking between the front and the back at least a dozen times. How did I miss it before this weekend? Write on, Ms. McLaughlin!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

57. Living Dead Girl - Elizabeth Scott

For YA (ARC says 16+)
Published: Sept, 2008
176 pgs.
Rating: Unrateable
Read in one sitting, after school today

Disturbingly Disturbing
Older YA - NOT MS, for sure!

15-year old "Alice" was kidnapped from a school field trip when she was ten and in the fifth grade. Terrorized into thinking that her abductor, Ray, would kill her family, she submitted completely to him, mentally, sexually...and became an empty shell. He wanted a "little" girl, and has been starving her to keep her under 100 pounds, de-hairing her to keep her innocent-appearing, and rarely lets her out of his grip. Now he decides he needs a new, younger "Alice" and is forcing her to help him find and capture her. I hated it. I had to finish it. I couldn't stop. I had to find out what happened. Reluctantly.

Reader beware: though the descriptions are not what one might consider extremely"graphic", this book left nothing to the imagination. We see every painful, constant assault. But it was beautifully written and a fast read, though repetetive in places.

I'd love to think that this could and would never happen. Unfortunately, I am certain that it wlll, can, and has. What is our world coming to? I know they're out there. How? Why?

How would this young woman EVER be able to lead a normal life?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

56. Little Brother - Cory Doctorow

For: YA
Published: April, 2008
384 pgs.
Rating: 3.5
Finished Nov. 8, 2008

Set in San Francisco just a year or two in the future, Marcus Yallow is a 17 year-old techno-geek high school senior. One afternoon he and his three best friends skip out of school to play Harajuku Fun Madness when they hear a huge explosion. A bigger-than 9/11 terrorist attack has destroyed the Bay Bridge, killing thousands. But they are in the wrong place at the wrong time - they are picked up by an unmarked white van, hooded, bound, and taken in a boat to an old prison. There they are held separately in deplorable conditions and questioned mercillessly, without any rights at all. This is what sets up the premise of the book.

Marcus, once released, becomes w15t0n, the head of XNet. Together with one of his buddies, Jolu, and his new girlfriend, Ange, he comes up with plan after plan to try to point out to American citizens that they are now living in a police state and that many of their constitutional rights are gone - or at least being ignored. Teenages begin working together to overthrow the DHS (Department of Homeland Security), who have become a ruthless, overbearing, self-righteous group of our-way-or-the-highway clones.

-Endless technical explanations
-Paced well in places, very slow in others
-No goodness showed in any of the bad guys -- come one!
-No texting? Hard to make a book set two or three years in the future believable without texting.

-Makes you think......HARD.....
-Deals with a very important, timely subject
-Keeps you guessing
-Raises questions that need to be asked
-Marcus' reactions are very real: elation, crying, being over-the-top scared, horny - you do get to know, and understand, and root for, this young man
-Lots of references to interesting things - the beat writers, places and areas in San Francisco (yeah, City Lights Bookstore!), hippie and yippie history, Orwell's 1984

-The sex scenes. I really want some of my 7th and 8th graders to read this. I have two in particular in mind, but the sex scenes, which I think are important and very well written. are not appropriate at all for these two young techno-geek men who would otherwise eat up this book. No objections for the readers who can handle and understand this VERY smartly written (and really, quite small) part of the story.

And, hey, this is my ONE HUNDREDTH post!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Dangerous Alphabet - Neil Gaiman

Illustrator: Gris Grimly
For: ages 5 and up?
Published: Apriil, 2008
Rating: 2 (but I may change it if another reading helps me understand it....)
Read: Last month
Endpapers: Pale pumpkin

I read this twice. I wanted to love it. I feel stupid - I must admit I didn't get it. Gotta read some of the reviews for it one of these days.

The intro itself is intriguing: "A piratical ghost story in thirteen ingenious but potentially disturbing rhyming couplets, originally conceived as a confection both to amuse and to entertain by Mr. Neil Gaiman, scrivener, and then doodled, elaborated upon, illustrated, and beaten soundly by Mr. Gris Grimly, etcher and illuminator, featuring two brave children, their diminutive but no less courageous gazelle, and a large number of extremely dangerous trolls, monsters, bugbears, creatures, and other such nastiness, many of which have perfectly disgusting eating habits and ought not, under any circumstances, to be encouraged. Please Note: The alphabet, as given in this publication, is not to be relied upon and has a dangerous flaw that an eagle-eyed reader may be able to discern."

Intriguing? Yes! ! ! But . . . . . .

Illustrations are pen and ink colored with browns, greys, dusty yellows, with a touch of the endpaper color. The font looks like handwriting that might be used for adding scariness.

Peter Spit a Seed at Sue - Jackie French Koller

Illustrator: John Manders
For: Kids
Published: June, 2008
Rating: 4 (Spitting in general is nasty, that's why I had to knock it down.)
Read: Last month
Endpapers: Watermelon pink

Reading this book left me with the same smile on my face as Taxi Dog always does. Using perfect, lovely rhyme and rhythm, Koller transforms a boring summer afternoon into a fun-loving, watermelon-dripping, seed-spitting adventure for an entire town.

"C"mon!" I yelled to Mary Lou,
"You pepper Pete, I'll pepper Sue!"
Then seeds were flyin' everywhere
Zippin', zingin' through the air.
Seeds were plastered to our clothes
Seeds were stuck between our toes.

Glorious, snazzy verbs - my first love when teaching good writing. And, the illustrations are whimsical and reach all the way to the edge of the pages.

I'm Bad - Kate & Jim McMullan

For: Kids who really like dinosaurs
Published: 2008
Rating: 3
Read: Today at the library
Endpapers: a nine-patch of alternating rust & orange squares with illustrations of dinosaurs in black

Maybe because I'm not a dinosaur fan? For some reason the illustrations turn me off? Though the dialogue is fun and kid-friendly ("I'm REALLY BIG. 6-tons-of-MUSCLE on-the-hustle BIG"), it's almost blasted or shouted from the page. The dinosaur-- we never know what kind -- is prowling for prety. No white at all - crazy pictures using bright greens and yellows and rusty oranges ... there's even a fold-UP page when mom arrives. Probably 6-year-olds who love dinosaurs would love this book, but not many others, I'm guessing. Though I'm probably quite wrong....

Knitty Kitty - David Elliot

Illustrator: Christopher Denise
For: Little kids
Published: Sept. 08 by Candlewick
Rating: 4
Read: last weekend
End papers: Cream-colored

What knitting picture book lover could resist a picture book that's about knitting? However, I'm not crazy about this way-too-cutesy title. Oh well. This is a cozy, toasty, comfy book about three mischievous little kittens whose mother knits for them. It's a snowy day. They take these new mittens, scarf, hat, and garb their snowman with them. But, when it's time to go to bed they're NOT cozy, toasty, comfy, until mom curls up with them in the basket to sleep. The contented look on one of the kitten's faces is priceless.

There's one place were Knitty Kitty rings a bell to call the kittens in -- my own childhoot memories came roaring back. My grandmother had a big ole cowbell (I wonder whatever happened to it?) that she would ring when it was time to come home. No matter where we were in the neighborhood - even far out playing in the woods - we were able to hear this summons. I'd completely forgotten about that.

The illustrations are completely in color, no white, words on the background washes. It's a really cute, cozy, toasty, comfy book.

MOVIE: Ghost Town

Rating: Imaginative and quite funny
Viewed: Friday night, November 7, 2008 (after parent-teacher conferences, I needed laughs)
Centruy Gateway 12 (cheap ticket, expensive popcorn)
Rotten Tomato Rating: 83%
Mine: a bit less, perhaps 65 or 70%
EW: B- cag: B
Genre: Comedy
Released: 9/19/08 (7 weeks ago)
PG-13 (1 hr. 32 min.)
Directed by: David Koepp
Ricky Gervais, Tea Leoni, Greg Kinnear

I'm not sure why this was rated PG-13. I'd sure be fine with PG.

"Frank" (Kinnear) gets hit by a bus and killed, joining dozens of other ghosts that are roaming around NYC unable to pass on upward because they have unfinished business. Dressed in the clothes they died in, they are in limbo.

B. Pincus, DDS (that's what it says on the dental coat that he almost always wears) (Gervais) is a blunt, not-nice-at-all people hater. He goes into the hospital for a colonoscopy and dies for seven minutes before they bring him back. The hitch - now he can see all the ghosts. He doesn't WANT to see them, he is irritated by them and not at all sympathetic to their plights. But the forceful Frank convinces him to make a play for his widow (Tea Leoni) to stop her from marrying a save-the-world lawyer (cutie pie Billy Campbell).

Gervais is really quite homely, and his teeth certainly don't look like they belong to a dentist, which makes the love story a bit more fun to watch. And watching him turn on the charm and wit that he has underneath the mean demeanor is really fun. There's a twist at the end that I very much enjoyed, and I walked out of the theater totally entertained, having laughed out loud at least a dozen times. Not bad. Not bad at all!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Day of the Dead - El dia de los muertos

Today is the "official" (at least for me) day to celebrate The Day of the Dead. I created my first Day of the Dead altar in November of 2003, adding another item or two every year. I've come to love the motif, I have tiles in the bathroom and even splurged on a plate by Chris Bubany (gorgeous!) Candles and marigolds and celebration of lost love ones. This year I've added a couple of memories of my friend Linda Shipley, who died last January.

What is the Day of the Dead? Briefly, it is a three-day Mexixcan tradition that celebrates, honors, and "welcomes home" the spirits of loved ones who have died (or, as so many of my Jewish friends say, "passed"). Altars are created - and decorated gorgeously - in homes and in public places. Favorite foods, mementoes, marigolds, candles. In Mexico, families prepare picnics and, carrying candles, join their neighbors to walk to the graveyards which have been cleaned and decorated. Here, they welcome the spirits of their departed loved ones.

In an hour or two I will pack a picnic of deviled eggs, meatloaf sandwiches, green olives and eclairs. I'll drive the loop at Saguaro National Park East, where Steve loved to run. I'll stop and take photos. I'll pull into the picnic area to eat and read a newish Robert B. Parker "Spenser" novel. I've got a mix with Joan Baez, George Thorougood, Davide Mallett, Greg Brown, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan to listen to. I will not be sad, I will celebrate Steve's life and the time we were lucky enough to have together.

I remember seeing an altar about ten years ago at the College of Atlantic In Bar Harbor. It was intriguing, and the first time I'd ever heard of the celebration. But now, living in Tucson, altars are everywhere. At the library, at the UN Center, the Botanical Gardens and in many shops. In my home. Elaborate, simple, a remembrance of loved ones gone.

There are lots of books (I always gravitate to the books for KIDS) on El dia de los muertos that I like:

Day of the Dead - Tony Johnson/Jeanette Winter
Day of the Dead - Linda Lowery/BArbara Knutson (an early, easy reader)
Days of the Dead - Kathryn Lasky/Christopher G. Knight
Calavera Abecedario - Jeanette Winter

Memories and love today. Lots of it.

Steve Graves
Brandon Baughman
Linda Shipley
David Kettunen
Myrtle and Edgar Eklund

Calavera Abecedario - Jeanette Winter

A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book
For: The multitudes that know little about El di de los muertos
Published: 2004
Rating: 4.5
Read: Every October since 2004
Endpapers: B & W calaveras holding candles
A festive celebration!

I've chosen just one of my Day of the Dead books to mention this morning. I have a couple by Jeanette Winter-her art, her illustrations, the way she depicts this happy Mexican celebration, evoke really good feelings for me. Lots of blacks and fiesta colors. Black-backed illustrations framed to the edge of the page with yellows, pinks, purples, aquas, greens.....

The first nine pages tell of a family in Mexico City that have made calaveras (paper mache skeletons) for generations. Then the alphabet begins. Angels, witches, doctors, farmers, musicians, bride and groom, shoemaker, unicorn, chemist, queen.... all are depicted as calaveras using the SPANISH name. The translation for each is in the back as well as a bit of information about the day

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tadpole Rex - Kurt Cyrus

For: School-age kids
Published: 2008
Ratng: 3.5
Read: Nov. 1st, 2008
Endpapers: medium olive (both prehistoric AND froggy...)

A swamp is born in prehistoric dinosaurland, and in the swamp a puddle, and in the puddle a polliwog. Rex the poliwog. We watch him grow to be a full-fledged frog. Written in couplets, quite cleverly rhymed, the large 10 X 12 pages have no hint of white, only strong greens and swampy colors from edge to edge of the page. So many great greens! The illustrations are done on scratchboard and colored digitally - that sounds so modern and techy! I've no clue what they're talking about. Very sophisticated word choices....I'd certainly use it with my middle schoolers if the need for a prehistoric or frog study ever came up. A sample:

Primeval puddles were desperate places
Of ambush and panic and life-or-death chases

Unimpressive Picture Books

Okay, so I don't want to take a lot of time reminding myself in length about picture books that don't jump out at me. But I DO want to remember that I've read them and that I wasn't incredibly impresseed. So I'm going to list them, with the cover, just to jog my memory. What memory? It's getting foggier and foggier every day. Hmmph.

by Mary Amato
Illustrated by Delphine Durand
Ugliest kids I've ever seen. Story's cute, two older sisters convince the youngest that she's a chicken so she goes to live with chickens. Cute story, really ugly kids. Don't like the illustrations.

by Jim Averbeck
Illustrated by Tricia Tusa
All Alice wants is a blue room, but nothing in it is blue. But when her mother shuts out the lights, blue moonlight comes in and turns everything blue. I was bored. And the illustrations certainly didn't make my heart flutter. Sorry.

by Antoinette Portis
Simple stick-like illustrations that do nothing for me, personally. "Be careful with that stick" -- then the illustrations shows how this....pig?.....uses it imaginatively. Waaaay too simplistic and negative-spacey for me.

by Nancy Van Laan
Illustrator: George Booth
Great rhythm, story builds and repeats in a cute way, but there's such a negative connotation to having lice/"cootie"s, it wouldmake me uncomfortable to share with kids, because it continues this stigma. The whole family tries different methods to get rid of them, but they appear to be sort of a hillbilly family, which just seems to keep the old negative stereotype going... It just can't imagine reading this to kids, am I off track here?

Friday, October 31, 2008

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

For: Young Adults
Published: March, 2008
352 pgs.
Rating: 4/5
Finished: Oct. 30, 2008
2009 Printz Honor

This is a SMART book for young adults. It has feminist overtones, and makes you think.

Frankie Landau-Banks has "blossomed" in the summer between her freshman and sophomore years at Alabaster, an elite private school in northern Massachusetts. Really blossomed. She snags the attention of Matthew Livingston, the cutest and most popular senior, and he quickly becomes her boyfriend. She loves hanging out with his crowd, but when she discovers that he is part of a 50 year-old secret society that is ONLY for boys, something is awakened in her, and she comes up with a brilliant plan to make Matthew notice her for more than her body and her cuteness.

Frankie becomes the mastermind behind all sorts of plots that befuddle the administration, but she does it secretly by pretending, online, that's she's part of the Loyal Society of the Bassett Hounds. "Alpha", Matthew's best friend and the "alpha" leader, takes all the credit. But when Frankie is found out, her plans to impress Matthew with her brains backfire.

The relationship between Frankie and Matthew is not developed enough for me. What in heaven's name does she see in him? She is clever, very smart (she even reads Wodehouse!), and quite a feminist. I could believe how she'd become infatuated with Matthew, but I couldn't believe that it would last very long. She's not superficial, and he is. It was a mesmerizing read, though. Once she began planning her escapades it was fun to watch them all play out.

MOVIE: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Rating: Fun, Funny, Sweet - and Tasteless, & Raunchy
Viewed: Opening Night, Oct. 31, 2008
Park Place, Halloween Night
Rotten Tomato Rating: 67%
Mine: About the same
EW: C- cag: B
Genre: Comedy
Released 10-31-08
R (1 hr. 41 min.)
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks

I'll try to keep this as PG as possible, because I know a couple of my students read this blog.

I love Seth Rogen's voice. You don't expect it.

Zack and Miri have been friends since first grade, and now live together as platonic friends in a 2nd floor apartment in Pittsburgh, where they grew up. As the movie opens they're preparing to go to their Thanksgiving-Eve 10th High School Reunion. It's snowed, it's freezing, icy and blech-y. They're broke. The water's turned off, then the electricity. They're burning trash in a barrel in the living room to keep warm. So Zack (who works at a small, privately-owned Starbucks look-alike) cooks up an idea to create a home-made porno to make enough money to pay the bills. After interviewing and hunting, they gather around them a small group of quirky people to be actors and begin their endeavor. Zack and Miri, too, will take part in the movie, as actors, and with each other. And, although the two have been only platonic friends through the years, they realize that what they feel for each other is far more than that.

I'm glad I'm a stay-til-the-end credit watcher. Just before the music credits there's a two or three minute segment advertisihg Zack and Miri Brown's (hint hint) video company - they will come into your home and video your most private moments so that you don't need to watch anyone else's born. Nice touch.

Good music track. And Elizabeth Banks wears an assortment of winter scarves that are a blast!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

MOVIE: Pride and Glory

Rating: A good-murder-mystery on film
Viewed: Oct. 28, 2008
El Con with Sheila
Rotten Tomato Rating: 34%
Mine: What do they know? This was good!
EW: B+ cag: A
Genre: Crime/Cop movie
Released Oct. 24th, 2008
R (2 hrs 9 min.) a long one
Directed by: Gavin O'Connor
Edward Norton, Colin Farrell, Jon Voight

Matinees before 6 pm have gone up to $7.
Dirty cops are everywhere.
Edward Norton and Colin Farrell are really good actors.
All fact, not opinion.

Okay, this movie has a horrible, sappy title. I thought it had something to do with the Civil War when I first heard it. I had no idea it would be a shoot-em-up NYC cop crime thriller. Sometimes these kinds of movies go careening around NY, giving the audience clues that don't fit because they've not understood all the slurred, rapid-fire cop discussion. You understand all that's going on in this one. It's of the "thinker" type. You're rooting for the hero, the good cop, but you're sure he'll have bad secrets or get killed. Yippee, neither happens. Satisfying ending (at least there are no shocking or sad deaths, only ones that fit into a it-had-to-happen-to-make-things-right scenario).

The Tierney family cop dynasty. Father, two sons, son-in-law. A head honcho, a detective, a patrol cop, a squad commander. Family men. Good cops. And a bad cop.

I really love the way this movie was shot. Lots of close-ups and unusual angles. It was dark. Set in the Washington Heights section of NYC (way, way north on the tip of Manhattan,under the George Washington Bridge), mostly at night, it was d-a-r-k. Even during the limited daytime shots it was dark. Inside the homes it was dark. It was dark inside the bars and drinking establishments. Well, look at the story. One wife is dying of cancer (these parts may have been the toughest to handle for me), another is up to his neck in bad deeds, another is melancholy and sad. Drug addicts, poverty, murders. Dark. Dark.

Edward Norton plays the detective, the thinker; troubled and sad about the upcoming divorce from a wife he still loves. Cooerced into statements made on the stand in a situation two years earlier that he has always regretted. It's lost him a lot. He's a loner now, smart and thoughtful. He lives alone on a tiny boat that's always rockin' and rollin' on the waves, leaking water, and cold. He's our protagonist.

How far do we go to protect family? What does honesty and integrety really mean? What is this....code....that police officers seem to have that makes them instinctively protect each other even if it's wrong? How can someone be an ultra-protective and loving father one minute and a murderer - maybe even a child murderer- the next? The plot was intriguing, but the things it make you think about are even more important.

This was a good, entertaining, well-acted film. I really don't understand movie critics. What are they looking for?

Monday, October 27, 2008

54. Trunk Music - Michael Connelly

AUDIO Read by Dick Hill
For: Adults
Book Published: 1997
Audio Pub: 2006, Brilliance Audio
13 discs
383 pgs.
Rating: 5/5
Finished: Oct. 26, 2008

Another winner from Michael Connelly! A couple of new characters, a marriage, trips between LA and Las Vegas, Harry Bosch's sharp tongue and inablility to follow orders, twists and turns, intricate plots loops, and Dick Hill's superb reading make yet another winner. I've already reserved Angel's Flight, the next book in the series.

A year has passed since Harry's last outing. He has had his earthquake-ruined house rebuilt and returned to work at the Hollywood Homicide Bureau. He has a new boss, a very likeable female named Grace Billets. Finally, someone who sees how smart and honest Harry is, seems like an honest cop, and trusts him. That alone was quite satisfying.

Dirty movie producer Tony Aliso has been found shot and stuffed in his trunk just off Mulholland Drive. It looks like a gang hit, and his activities are traced to Las Vegas, where he is a frequent visitor. We find out that he is laundering money for the biggest "wheel" in Vegas, has a girlfriend there, and his twenty-year marriage to his wife, Veronica, has been a sham now for many years. Introduce a sleazy strip joint manager (who ends up not being who and what he seems to be), the FBI, a planted murder weapon, and the sudden appearance of a woman from Harry's past, and you have Trunk Music. Just when you think you're heading for the finale, another surprise hits the fan. Good stuff.

Biggest question now, where will Connelly go with the scenario he's set up for Harry Bosch? How much time will elapse between this book and the next? And what will he have happen during that time period, behind the scenes. How many more unheard-of people from Harry's past will suddenly appear? Ahh, I can't wait to find out!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

53. The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

For: Tweens & YA
Published: 9-14-08
ARC: 407 pgs.
Rating: 5/5
Finished Sat. Oct. 25, 2008

This was one of the many ARC's I got in May at the BEA Conference in LA. I couldn't wait to read it, and once I finally got the chance and started, it was really hard to put down. A real page-turner for sure. Its premise is really horrible, but fascinating. It leaves me with this question: Where are the abundance of reality shows we've been watching multiply in the last few years leading us?

Katniss Everdeen lives in the future, in what is now considered Appalachia, coal country. It's called District 12. America is no longer America, it's called Panem, with a new capital called...The Capitol. She is 16 and has been the food provider in her family ever since her father died in a coal mining accident years before. However, before his death he'd taught her how to sneak into the woods (strictly forbidden) to trap and kill game. She has become an outstanding archer, and with her friend, Gale, is able to provide their critically impoverished, very hungry families with food and supplies, though not much. The entire district is poor, poor, poor.

Every year Panem holds "The Hunger Games". Two young people between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen by lottery each year to represent their district. Thus, 12 boys and 12 girls leave their homes to take part in the "games", televised throughout the entire country, mandatory to watch, and, like any sporting event, bet upon. The goal? Fight . to . the . end. Be the last person of the 24 left and you become the winner, the hero of Panem. Brutal? Yup. Scary? Yup. Unbelievable? You'd think so, until you read this story.

Of course, because this is the story being told, Katniss becomes the female competetor for District 12. The boy chosen is Peeta, the baker's son (who we find, has had a crush on Katniss since he first saw her as a five-year-old). In a way there are no suprises, since this is the first book of a series of three, we're almost certain that Katniss is going to win. But what about Peeta, who we come to care about and route for? And how will her family survive without her? And what's going to happen in the next two books?

Suzanne Collins has created an intricate story with twists and turns (I kept asking myself :how many ways is she going to have kids die?) Creatively. Expressively. Violent, but not devastatingly so. Sounds really horrible, grizzly, ridiculous - especially to me, an extreme peacemonger. But I couldn't put this book down. It's like Twilight - I hated that the young girl could become so lovestruck that she would do anything to be with a young man, but I couldn't stop reading. Romance? Yes, The Hunger Games also has romance, but a romance with a lot of question marks. I can't believe how much I enjoyed a book with so much violence. But how many of us, in our own minds, ask: What is this world coming to?

Stephen King has written a great, detailed review of the book in Entertainment Weekly, which is also on the Amazon website for the book. If you want to know more, read it at this address:

This book has had quite a few starred reviews, but I think it's going to be viewed in the same way as Twilight. I may be very wrong (I usually am), so we'll see. Happy reading!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson IN PERSON

Wednesday was my last day off of the Jewish high holiday season. I haven't been up to the Phoenix area in forever, so I loaded my friends Brenda, Shane, and Rachael into my car and we headed north. After spending a delightful morning in Queen's Creek at the wonderful olive oil farm there, then making a stop at IKEA (who can resist?) we headed for Scottsdale. After visiting a couple of Scottsdale shops, wandering around Old Town Scottsdale (another first!), and a stop at a yummy gellato shop, we headed for The Poisoned Pen Book Shop (still in Scottsdale), where we had front row seats to listen to the extremely entertaining duo cited above.

I've watched all four or five seasons of Dave's World, read a number of Ridley Pearson's mysteries, inhaled many of Dave Barry's columns, and even watched a video of the Rock Bottom Remainders (the "rock" group they're in with Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan and someone-else-I-can't remember, and they're right, they're awful, but really, really fun). So listening (and watching) the two of them in person, promoting Science Fair, their new book for middle schoolers, was a real treat. After a few photos, a few anecdotes, and some fun sparring back and forth, they treated us all to a couple of their own science experiments. Oh, yes, when Mentos are dropped into a bottle of Diet Coke, the soda really takes off. Check out the front of my white shirt to see for sure! We stood in line to have books signed, then hit the road home. I crawled into bed about 12:30 - and made it to school on time yesterday morning - very, very glad that I spent my last vacation day of the season on a road trip. Lots of fun. No regrets.

MOVIE: Bottle Shock

Rating: Lots of fun
Viewed: Friday, Oct. 24, 2008
Crossroads (Good 'ole $3.25 movie)
Rotten Tomato Rating: 45%
Mine: Higher, at least 75%
EW: D+ cag: A-
Genre: Comedy/Based on a true story
Released Aug. 6, 2008
PG-13 (1 hr 46 min.)
Directed by: Randall Miller
Freddy Rodriguez !

Set in 1976 Napa Valley, this movie tells the story of a California winery just getting on its feet and a snobby Brit with a Parisian wine shop who, in order to improve business, holds a "blind" competition pitting French wines against California wines. This Brit, played snazzily by Alan Rickman (yup, greasy Snape from Harry Potter) comes to America to search out the best tasing wines. He is surprised at how good they are! That's the main plot, I guess. A secondary plot is the relationship between the father (Bill Pullman) who is totally in hawk trying to start his winery, and his "loser" son (Chris Paine). My biggest complaint - this guy's long blonde "hippy" hair was the fakest looking do I've seen in a long time. A third plot, the one I liked the most and would have loved to see more, was about a young Mexican American employee of Chateau M......(can't remember the exact name, what a dunce) (Freddy Rodriguez). who loved making wine and was a real afficienado. Happy endings all around, our California vineyard won first place, which made them popular all over the US and gave it the boost it needed to get on its feet.

Filmed in Calistoga, Glen Ellen, Napa, and Sonoma (I've been to all those places! !) with soaring birds-eye-view flights across gorgeous vineyards, the setting was realistic and believable. I went to the movie to get lost in someone else's story for a little while, and that's exactly what happened. I enjoyed this movie a lot, and don't agree at all with many of the reviews I read on the Rotten Tomato sight. As usual.

Go see it. There doesn't seem to be much else out there right now that appeals (to me), this was entertaining, interesting, and loaded with great actors.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Willow - Denise Brennan-Nelson & Rosemarie Brennan

Illustrator: Cyd Moore
For: Kids, K-1-2ish
Published: 2008
Rating: 4.5
Read: October 22, 2008
Endpapers: Purple that's cooly and completely covered with doodles in white.

Think outside the box. My all-time favorite motto.

Take an uptight art teacher and a free-thinking young girl who loves art and what to you get? This story. I've known a few Willows through the years. And I've known a few Miss Hawthorn's!

The art teacher, Miss Hawthorn, wants all the kids to draw in the same uniform, realistic way. A tree that's a brown trunk and mass of green above. Not a pink tree, or a tree with one big blue apple for the leaves, Willow is the only student to draw what she sees when she closes her eyes. And she brings in her "famous art" book to share with a frowning Miss Hawthorn. Kids aren't allowed to talk or daydream or look out the window in her class. And when Christmas comes, all the other teachers receive presents, but she receives none. But wait! This year, after all the students have left for the Christmas break and the school is empty, she returns to her desk and finds a beautifully-wrapped gift. It's from Willow. And it's her "famous art" book.

Since there's no one waiting fomr Miss Hawthorn at home, she sits down and reads the book. Then she pulls out paper, paint, colored pencils, and begins to doodle. She really gets into it. She must spend the night right there at school, experimenting with color and technique. And when the kids return to school after the break, they return to a completely changed art room....and a completely changed teacher.

Fanciful and fun fun fun. Now let's talk about the illustrations. And the font. Cool font. Artistic but easy to read. Some of teh illustrations are encircled in a water-colory way on the page with the text. Quite a bit of white on those pages, which brings more attention to the story. But the single-page and double-pages that are completely covered in color and detail - such detail- are lots of fun. Lots. This is another book where I'd like to take some of the illustrations and frame them, placing them all over the house and my classroom to make me happy. They're happy pictures.

Great book. The change is Miss Hawthorn is a little unbelievable - most of the art teachers I've met have not been uptight and afraid to think outside the box. But it's a great book to discuss what might have happened to make her this way. Real things happen to real people, and a teacher who loved art enough to teach it would certainly have the creativity and love of color that the Miss Hawthorn-at-the-end-of -the-book had. Yup. This was a good one.

It brings back Fly on the Wall (Lockhart), where the protagonist's artistic style is so disliked by her art teacher, and how that art teacher tries to change her style. Ridiculous.

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once grown up." -- Pablo Picasso

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Friend, the Starfinder - George Ella Lyon

Illustrator: Stephen Gammell
For: Young kids, I guess
Published: 2008
Rating: 2
Read: Oct. 211, 2008
Endpapers: The galaxy - stars and meteors and colors...

I'll probably be the only children's book lover who does not like this book. It didn't work for me. It didn't flow. I have very much enjoyed other Lyon books, but this one just didn't do it for me. I reread it twice after the first reading. Didn't get any bettter. Based on a real old man that she knew as a kid, Lyon remembers how he told her about catching a falling star and bringing it home, and about flying through/with a rainbow. It ends abruptly and weirdly. At least I didn't get it. Maybe kids will. Maybe I'm overtired, but I read it for the first time 24 hours ago. I'll have to revisit it at some future time.

Some of the illustrations are pretty cool, some are gloomy and boring.

Both the author and illustrator are award-winning, admired, and very, very good. But this time out just didn't do it for me. Oh well. Maybe next time...

2008 National Book Award Finalists

On October 15th the announcements for the National Book Award Finalists were made. The "Young People's Literature" category was added back in 1996, and there have been interesting choices and winners ever since. The winners will be announced on November 19th. Think I can read any of these before then?

This year's finalists are:

Chains (Laurie Halse Anderson) I have an ARC waiting on my coffee table, and I love Anderson's work.

The Underneath (Kathi Appelt) Got it from the library but couldn't bring my self to read it, I'm not a big anthropormorphism fan AT ALL (usually hate 'em, actually), so even though this is slated to win numerous awards ths year, I'll be a reluctant reader.

WINNER! What I Saw and How I Lied (Judy Blundell) This is a WWII historical fiction - and Judy Bludell is writing 39 Clues Book #4! Know nothing about her yet, though...and the book won't be published until November 1st!

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (E. Lockhart) I've read three Lockhart's in the last month, but not this one, darn. At least the library has it.

The Spectacular Now (Tim Tharp) Male protagonist. Sounds really interesting, maybe even Stargirlish? Another not-yet-published book, this one we have to wait until Novemer 11th to buy. The library will take FOREVER!

The judges are: Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket!), chair, Holly Black, Angela Johnson, Carolyn Mackler, and Cynthia Voigt.

And, just because I WANT to be an adult and read adult books (but never have the time), I'll include the five fiction finalists for the National Book Award:

The Lazarus Project (Aleksandar Hemon)
Telex from Cuba (Rachel Kushner)
Shadow Country (Peter Matthiessen) WINNER!
Home (Marilyn Robinson)
The End (Salvatore Scibona)