Friday, July 22, 2011

40. Sullivan's Law - Nancy Taylor Rosenberg

Carolyn Sullivan #1
audio read by Sandra Burr
Brilliance Audio, 2004
10 cds
384 pgs.
Rating:  1.5

Carolyn Sullivan is a probation officer in Ventura, California.  She is also a single mother and part-time law student.  Daniel Metroix is being let out of jail after spending over 20 years in jail for a murder, Carolyn discovers, he didn't commit.  He is a schizophrenic, a brilliant unschooled physicist, and an innocent.  Before long Carolyn is trying to protect her two teenaged kids, Daniel, and herself from people that want them dead.  She is befriended by a physicist professor and relies heavily on her physics-loving son.  There seems to be a trend going here......

There were two things I didn't enjoy about this book.  The protagonist...I just couldn't like her, no matter how hard I tried.  And the reader, I couldn't stand the way she read the different voices.  She made Daniel sound like a low-IQ'd mental deficient.  She made Carolyn sound incredibly goody-goody, which may have exacerbated that attribute even more than it should have in my mind, which may definitely add to the reason I didn't like her.

The story dragged on and on....and on, then the ending was neatly tied up in a few short pages.  WHY do some authors do this?  When compared to the writers of this genre that I really love, Connelly, Crais, Coben, Grafton, etc., there is simply no comparison.  Perhaps if I read the book instead of listening to it I wouldn't feel quite so strongly, but I can't imagine reading it unless I have a true book emergency.  It was a long couple of weeks listening to this...but I never gave up.  I wish I had.

Movie - Transformers DARK OF THE MOON

"If you like fighting and lying, you'll like this movie." (Brendan G, age 6)
Released 6-28-11
PG-13 (2:37)
7-21-11 at Ellsworth Movie Theater
RT:  36% ... Okay, I'll go along with that.....cag 36%
Director: Michael Bay
Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky - what a great name.)

Brendan was afraid this movie would be scary, but he was happy to say it wasn't.  The theater was really "refrigerated," which prompted him to ask several times when them movie was going to be over.  He was freezing. It was a really looooooong movie. But he was completely enthralled.  I was not.

I couldn't believe the actors...Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Turturro, John Malkovith, Josh Duhamel.  Gorgeous puffy-lipped female star that I've never seen before.  But this was a story about huge vehicles that turn into machine-monsters.  A handful are the good guys, and there are a lot of bad guys.  The bad guys crash landed on the dark side of the moon in the early 1960's, and NASA found out about them then, but information about it all is just coming to light. There are some comical parts, some clever repartee, but other than that.....

I enjoyed Thor, Avatar, and Iron Man.  I can't say the same for Transformers.  Not my cup of tea at all.  But Brendan loved it, and it was a pleasure to watch him loving it.  It was the last day showing at this theater (Captain American started the next day), so he gave Brendan the poster he took down from out front.  Needless to say, Brendan was thrilled.  That WAS pretty cool.....

The only other people in the theatre (it was a matinee on a beautiful day, everyone else, if not at work or camp were at the beach)were a dad and his 6 or 7 year old son.  The young man seemed to enjoy it, too.  I wonder what it cost to make this movie? 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

39. Pink -Lili Wilkinson

Harper Teen, 2009 Australia, 2011 US
310 pgs.
HC $16.99
Rating: 4

This book has a bit of a different premise than the norm - a highschooler who dresses all in black, including her dyed hair, and has a "cool" girlfriend---happily accepted by her parents---decides she wants to go to a tough school, study hard, and try to discover her real self. Her parents love it that she has "come out", and they like Ava to be as nontraditional as she possibly can be. But Ava isn't so sure...she wants to be "normal," and isn't even sure if she is, indeed, a lesbian. She's never given boys a chance. She has to fight her parents to go to this tougher school. And she can't wait.

So she somehow gets her hair back to it normal color and dresses for her first day at the new school in a pink sweater, a sweater that she loves. So begins a comedy of errors as Ava traverses the halls of popularity, geekdom, boys, and difficult schoolwork.

The majority of the book is about the musical that the school puts on. It's ultra-cool to be a singer/actor, and you're a pariah if you work on the sets and backstage. Because of a horrible audition, Ava has to balance herself between both groups of kids. And, she has told no one about Chloe, hoping she doesn't run into her when she's with her new friends.

Cute story. I enjoyed it a lot.

Monday, July 18, 2011

38. The Last Little Blue Envelope - Maureen Johnson

Sequel to 13 Little Blue Envelopes
for: YA
Harper Teen, 2011
HC $16.99
282 pgs.
Rating:  5

What's not to like about a teenager that gets to travel through Europe with plenty of money and on her own?  I loved the descriptions of the cities that Ginny traveled through....London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris.....I loved the wacky adventure that she encountered and the message that by not freaking out, things WORK out.  I loved the mystery of where the story....and her relationships with the other characters....was going to end.  That's what good stories do.  Keep you guessing, keep you interested, teach you a little along the way, and make you think.

Ginny has returned to London from New Jersey to complete the tasks that her dead aunt had set out for her before her death. But this time there is a mysterious, very tall, young man accompanying her, along with Keith, the "love interest" from 13 Little Blue Envelopes.  Oliver is an interesting, multi-faceted character that added greatly to the story.  And Ginny's infatuation with Keith, and her liking for Ellis, are real.  They are palpable, these feelings, as well as those for her dead aunt and her Uncle Richard.  I have purposely left plot details hazy, because I totally enjoyed not having a clue about what was happening or what was about to happen.  It was a good story, totally captivating the 18-year-old adventurer in me --- it's the sort of story that I'd love be part of myself, whether as an 18 year old, a 38 year old, or a 58 year old.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

37. Biting the Moon - Martha Grimes

Adult Mystery
An Onyx Book, Penguin Publishing, 1999
301 pgs.
Rating:  2.5

First line"The girl's hair was white below the scarf, now a scarf of snow, and there was a fine rime of ice on her eyebrows."

The story starts with Andi Olivier out in the wilds of the Sandia Mountains near Santa Fe, NM, rescuing trapped coyotes and healing them.  Andi Olivier is the name she gave herself when she saw the initials AO on her backpack.  She has no memory of her past, only that she woke up one morning in a B & B in Santa Fe with a man who was supposedly her "Daddy."  She knew this wasn't true.  But she had no idea at all about her background, her name or even her age, which she guesses to be about 17.

Then she meets Mary, and lonely 14 year old, and together they set out to figure out Andi's backstory.  They become close friends immediately, the fearless, clever, implacable Andi and the questioning, not-so-sure -of-herself, Mary.  And what an adventure they set out on...following the clues to Idaho and rescuing dogs, intimidating bad guys, making friends with unlikely characters, white-water rafting, witnessing dog-fighting and illegal big-game hunting,  murdering....  about as unlikely a story as any two teenagers could be a part of. But...well.....not exactly silly, or even ridiculous, but....improbable.

There was some great writing included, like:
"Yet Mary, who had not been violated, felt her own life to be a tangle of conflicting needs.  Her sister, Angela, had always talked about "centering," finding one's "center."  Mary felt she had no center.  She was the Scrabble letters spilled across the table, letters she could not put together to spell anything sensible.  Andi, on the other hand, had mastered the game; as if magnetized, the letters flew together."

MOVIE - Queen to Play (Joueuse)

Wonderful lead actress!
in French with subtitles
Limited release 4-1-11 (made in 2008/2009)
unrated (1:41)
7-16-11 at The Loft by myself (not a seat left in the upstairs theater!)
RT:  67% cag 79%
Director:  Caroline Bottaro
Sandrine Bonnaire, Kevin Kline, Jennifer Beals

This was a very lovely movie.  The setting was the island of Corsica, and it was a bout a mom who discovers the game of chess.  She's a house cleaner, and she sees Jennifer Beals playing chess while sitting on the balcony of a b & b that overlooks the ocean.  It's a lovely, somewhat sexy scene, and Helene is mesmerized by the memory of it.  So much so that she buys her husband an electronic chess set for his birthday, even though neither of them have in any way encountered the game before.

Now...although the movie does not really focus on the actual game of chess, most of the rest of the movie revolves around learning it and playing it.  Got a little too much chess-y for me.  Kevin Kline plays the reclusive chess player that teachers her how to play - and who gives her the confidence in herself to go farther.  This is another movie about a woman who breaks free of her long-standing cocoon and emerges as a butterfly.  Sandrine Bonnaire plays the protagonist beautifully.  What a lovely smile she has!

Movie - Larry Crowne

reviewed as "bland and conventional," I'll call it "light and entertaining"
Released 7-1-11
PG-13 (1:38)
Monday, 7-11-11 at Orleans 18 (Las Vegas) by myself
RT:  36%  cag: 83%
Director:  Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Wilmer Valderrama & Gugu Mbatha-Raw

This movie is about a makeover, the makeover of a man. This is Tom Hanks’s show. Julia Roberts did her part really well (disdain and boredom were acted superbly!), but it is ultimately the trip Hanks takes changing himself – both mentally and physically – after 20 years as a Navy cook and a handful of years at the local “big mart” employee-of-the-month. After reading the reviews I was looking forward to a ho-hum movie, but I found this fun to watch and really quite thought-povoking.

The Julia Roberts part could have been played by any pretty womanl Two parts that really stole the show were the two young, hip scooter enthusiasts who take Larry Crowne under their wing and teach him how to live in the current era...including his choice of clothing.  I think this movie had a lot to say and said it well, and the reviewer that panned it are way out in left field.  It may not be the best movie of the year, but it's linkable, enjoyable, and just plain fun.

Monday, July 11, 2011

36. A Million Miles from Boston - Karen Day

Wendy Lamb Books, Random House, 2011
HC $15.99
for:  kids
genre:  CRF
218 pgs.
Rating:  4 (as a kid I would have loved this story)

Setting:  Southern coast of Maine, contemporary summertime

One Sentence Summary:  Lucy can't wait to spend her summer at the family cottage on the southern Maine coast, but is chagrined to discover a disliked (male!) classmate is also going to summer there, and her widowed father wants his girlfriend to visit.
The story centers on Lucy, the longing she feels for her dead mother, the responsibility she feels for her family, the unsettled feelings she has both toward her father's girlfriend, who's really very nice, and Ian Richards, a schoolmate who she's caught lying and who has gotten her in trouble more than once.  She helps take care of her younger brother, Buster, and is always accompanied by her dog, Superior.  She loves her connection to all the families on Pierson Point, babysitting and even preparing a morning summer camp for a handful of the younger kids.  However, of all the families on the point, there' no one else her age, until Ian arrives.

Most of the story is very believable.  Lucy is particularly mean to her dad's girlfriend.  Makes sense.  She's super nice to everyone else.  She figures out how other people think and expects fairness from everyone.  She's trustworthy - all believable.  There's one place where she apologizes to the girlfriend (darn but I can't remember her name) that I can't quite picture a kid doing, but this is a really good kid, so I shouldn't be such a doubting Thomas.  Everyone - except one person, Ian's sister Allison - is almost a little too nice.  There are a lot of nice people in this book.  A few too man?  Well this is MAINE after all!!

The setting is written so that I get a good feel for the place.  However, summertime in Maine (even on the coast) would have more discussion about bugs (mosquitoes especially) than just the fireflies that are mentioned.  That I know for a fact!  Black Flies- the Maine state bird.......

Trainstop - Barbara Lehman

Houghton Mifflin, 2008
HC $16.00
32 pgs.
Rating:  34
Endpapers:  bright green
A wordless story

A young girl is taking a subway/train home with her parents.  As they progress through the city they pass through a tunnel and when they come out on the other side...they are out in the countryside!?  The train is stopped by a boy waving a flag.  Everyone else appears to be dozing, so the girl steps off the train, to be greeted by a hoard of....LITTLE....umm....SMALL....umm....MINIATURE kids.  Their airplane has gotten stuck  high up in a tree.  Together they figure out how to get it down, a warning comes from the train that it's about to leave, she says goodbye to her new friends, and returns to the train.  It enters another tunnel only to re-emerge back into the midst of the bustling city.  After she gets home, in flies the plane she helped save, loaded with two of her new friends and a tiny potted tree, which she plants in the yard.

Barbara Lehman has done another great piece of storytelling without uttering a single word.

Friday, July 8, 2011

It's Okay to Be Different - Todd Parr

Illustrated by the author
Megan Tingley Books, Little Brown & Co., 2001
HC $9.99
32 pgs
For:  kids
Rating:  4
Endpapers:  Solid purple

I think I'm going to use this book to introduce "Owning Up" this year.  Each of the pages highlights a way that people can be different and opens up all sort of conversation about differences which could lead easily into teasing and bullying.  I have lesson plans bouncing around my brain right now....
It's okay to be missing a tooth (or two or three)
It's okay to need some help (blind girl with seeing-eye dog)
It's okay to have a different nose (pink elephant with a long trunk)
It's okay to be a different color (normal zebra & colorfully striped zebra)
.....and many more......

Questions to ask PRE and/or POST reading (I think I'm going to do both.)::
How are you different?
Have you ever been teased or bullied about something?  What?
Be honest - have YOU ever teased or bullied someone about anything?  Explain.

R/A the book page by page, not quickly from beginning to end.  Perhaps have students respond in someway after each page, thinking about things they relate to, or what is he REALLY talking about....

After the reading and responses, I'd have kids brainstorm and pair up to come up with their OWN "It's okay to..." ideas.  

Create a class book adding pages for Parr's words that they illustrate differently and/or adding their own "it's okay" statements and illustrations.  OH!  And then I could coordinate with the kid's Hebrew class and write each line in Hebrew.  Brilliant!

32. The Lock Artist - Steve Hamilton

Minotaur Books, 2009
paper $14.99
305 pgs. ( and then Ch. 1 of upcoming Misery Bay)
Genre:  Mystery
Rating:  4

Setting:  Back and forth between 1991 and 2000, Michigan, then short stints in NYC and LA.

One-sentence summary:  Mike, a mute young man ending a ten-year prison sentence, tells the story of how he became a safecracker and ended up in prison.
When I began this book I had my doubts about whether I'd enjoy the format - each chapter going backward or forward, telling two continuous parts of the story simultaneously.  But it really worked - I didn't get lost or confused and I couldn't put the book down.

Some unknown incident in Mike's life so traumatized him that he lost his ability to speak at age 8.  Part of the mystery is to discover more about this incident.  And the rest is to watch his journey from inquisitive, sad youth to safecracker and thief.  He is an "innocent"...and I cheered for him all along the way.

This is a story of how life can overwhelmingly control you until you become strong enough - or care enough - to take control yourself.

Super story, formatted cleverly.

The Secret Box - Barbara Lehman

Illustrated by the author
Houghton Miffline Books for Children, 2011
40 pgs.
For:  Thinkers ages 4 and up
Rating:  4
Endpapers:  a look into the secret box, open inside cover on left, pile of items on right (you're looking down into the box....)

A boy puts  some mementos and a map into a "Seahorse Pier Saltwater Taffy" candy box and hides it away under the floorboards in the top-floor dormitory room of some sort of haven for boys.  This is some time ago, because the story continues to show the area and neighborhood as they progress from spread-out farmland to eventual full-throttle inner city.  However, the house stays there, cramped now among huge buildings.  The house still is home to boys, and one day three modern-era boys find the box.  They follow the map to see where it leads.  Cool.  At the end, time has passed again, and two even more modern boys find the box.....

Oh yes, another great book to create story from images...perfect....PERFECT for fourth grade boys!

35. Dogtag Summer - Elizabeth Partridge

Bloomsbury, 2011
215 pgs. plus 11-page q & a appendix
For: middle grades
Genre:  historical fiction
Rating:  4.5

Setting:  Northern California coastline between Ukiah and Santa Rosa,: 1980, with flashbacks to 1975 Vietnam.

One-Sentence Summary:  Tracy, an adopted Vietnam War baby with an "unknown" American father, spends the summer before entering junior high remembering the events leading up to her emigration to northern California.
This story begins on the first day of summer vacation for two best friends, Tracy and Stargazer.  Tracy is the adopted, half-Vietnamese orphan of a Vietnam vet and his wife.  Stargazer is the son of a pair of hippie parents who were very anti-war, who happily live off the land in a tiny cramped trailer with their two kids (with another on the way).  So we get two very clear points-of-view about the Vietnam War.

Tracy was adopted as a 6-year-old, five years before.  She has suppressed memories of her life in Vietnam.  When she and Stargazer find an ammo box in her dad's workshop and break into it, her memories, her feelings, her life itself, gets tilted and questioned.
The beginning of each new chapter is a page or so continuing the newfound memories of her life in Vietnam.  Two point-s-of-view about the Vietnam War, painful memories of those who were forced to fight, and some really beautiful writing, all work together to create a lovely, much-needed, well-researched story.

(Note:  The one weakness for me is that there was no mention of Tracy's English language development in the five years since arriving in America.  That would have been so interesting - she is a fluent English speaker in the story, and I wondered greatly about that.)

I literally grabbed this book off the shelf at the library when I saw that Elizabeth Partridge had written a piece of fiction.  I'm familiar with her nonfiction, which is award-winning.  I also have a fond memory of her and her close friend, Anna Grossnickle Hines, who befriended me at a CLNE conference in Cambridge, England, when I was lonely and homesick.  I spent the evening in Elizabeth's dorm room, chatting and discussing kid's books.  This was just before her first book, the one on Dorothea Lange, was published, and she told me the background surrounding it.  These two close friends greatly impressed me, meeting each year at CNLE no matter where the conference took place.  Since then they have BOTH become celebrated writers.  Two gracious, lovely women.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

31. The Jasmine Trade - Denise Hamilton

Eve Diamond, LA Investigative Reporter, Book 1
Pinnacle Books, Kensington Publishing, 2001
pap $6.99
328 pgs (with about 20 more following the story, the first of book number 2, The Sugar Skull.)
For : Adults
Rating:  5

Eve Diamond is 29, smart, quick, and  little bit dare-devilish.  She writes for the LA Times, particularly in the San Gabriel Valley. Her JOB is to horn her way into people's lives so she can get the down and dirty.  And she does her job well.

The whole suburban area around LA is the setting, and Denise Hamilton uses it well.  The descriptions became so real that I found a suburban LA map and spent a good hour pouring over it, glad to have it handy when I encountered a new place that Eve had to cover.  She describes her home in Silverlake so well, I can hear it, see it, smell it.

The book begins when she is asked to write a story about a 17 year old Chinese-American girl that was murdered during a car jacking.  The girl was rich and pretty, but only Eve sensed that there was more to the story than a simple car jacking.  Along the way I learned so much, about "parachute kids", kids whose parents have moved them to southern California to go to good schools to get into good colleges, ensconcing them in huge, fancy, homes....and then going back to China or Hong Kong or Malaysia and being a long-distant parent.  I learned about Asian gangs, brothels, and the kidnapping sex bad as the slave trade from Africa.  It was well written, and every single one of my questions was answered by the end of the book.  Nothing was left hanging.  Characters became real, hearing Eve's thoughts were an added bonus.

This was a great story, truly interesting, informative, well-written, and suspenseful.  I can't wait to read number two!