Saturday, June 30, 2012

39. Dash & Lily's Book of Dares - Rachel Cohn & David Levithan

2010, Alfred A. Knopf
for:  YA
260 pages
Rating: 4

Setting:  NYC from 12/21 through 12/31
First sentence/s:  "Imagine this:  You're in your favorite bookstore, scanning the shelves.  You get to the section where a favorite author's books reside, and there, nestled in comfortably between the incredibly familiar spines, sits a red notebook.  What do you do?"

I loved this book, it was cleverly written from each point of view, Dash’s part by David Levithan and Lily’s part by Rachel Cohn.  They’ve collaborated on other titles, I’ll have to check them out.

38. Bad Blood - John Sandford

Virgil Flowers #4
audio read by Eric Conger
8 cds (10 hrs)
388 pgs.
Rating:  5

Setting:  contemporary southern Minnesota
I really adore Virgil Flowers.  He's a cool, REAL guy, one I'd like to meet.  He's a criminal investigator for the state of Minnesota, sent out to various parts of the state to work on crimes.  He's clever, he has his own way of investigating....many times by giving out information that many other investigators would keep close to the chest.  This selective information always gives back threefold.

In this outing, he is paired up with local sheriff Lee Coakley, an attractive divorcee.  When one murder leads to another, and then another, the investigator leads to members of a secretive local church.  When the deepest secrets seem to include older men marrying very younger...girls....they discover that sexual misconduct, incest, and abuse may go back many generations.  As much as some of the story was upsetting, the it was told well and was quite exciting and action-packed.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

37. Where Children Sleep - James Mollison

Chris Boot/London, 2010
120 pages
Rating:  5
Shelved 770 in the library

Wow.  Rich children, impoverished children, and children in-between are shown in this book.  55 kids, ages four through seventeen, from one of ** countries including Israel and Palestine, Nepal, China, Thailand, countries in Africa, the U.S., Italy, Brazil....

A two-page spread for each child.  On the left, a photo taken on a neutral background, of the child. Below it, a paragrph telling a little of that child's life, with them filling in some of the blanks like how far away is there school (if they even go to school), what their favorite foods are, what they aspire to be when they "grow up." On the right, a photo of where the child sleeps.  For some it's a bedroom.  For some it's a field.  For some it's an orphanage.  For some it's a dirty floor.

"Home for this four-year-old boy and his family is a mattress in a field on the outskirts of Rome, Italy,  The family came from Romania by bus, after begging on the streets for enough money to pay for their tickets.  When they first arrived in Rome, the camped in a tent, but the police threw them off the site because they were trespassing on private land and did not have the correct documents.  Now the family sleep together on the mattress in the open..  When it rains, they hastily erect a tent and use umbrellas for shelter, hoping they will not be spotted by the police.  They left Romania without identity documents or work papers and so are unable to obtain legal employment.  This boy sits by the curbside while his parents clean car windscreens at traffic lights to earn thirty to fifty cents a time.  No one from the boy's family have even been to school.  His parents cnnot read or write."

"Kaya is four years old.  She lives with her parents in a small apartment in Tokyo, Japan.  Most apartments in Japan are small because land is very expensive to buy and there is such a large population to accommodate.  Kaya's bedroom is every little girl's dream.  It is lined from floor to ceiling with clothes and dolls.  Kaya's mother makes all Kaya' dresses - up to three a month, usually.  Now Kaya has thirty dresses and coats, thirty pairs of shoes, sandals and boots, and numerous wigs.  (The pigtails in the picture are made from hairpieces.)  Her friends love to come round to try on her clothes.  When she goes to school, however, she has to wear a school uniform.  Her favorite foods are meat, potatoes, strawberries,and peaches.  She wants to be a cartoonist when she grows up, drawing Japanese 'anime" cartoons."

Monday, June 25, 2012

36. Skylight Confessions - Alice Hoffman

Audio read by Mare Winningham
6 unabridged cds (7.5 hrs.)
rating:  interesting story, holds attention, depressing and clever
272 pgs.
2007 Hachette Audio
Alice Hoffman's 19th novel

Setting:  Contemporary small-town Connecticut with bits of NYC
OSS:  Arlyn (Arly) Singer, at 17, enters a more-or-less loveless marriage with John Moody thinking he's her destiny.....dying a few short years later after both partners have dabbled in infidelity, leaving a disturbed son, Sam, and baby daughter, Blanca.

The story begins with Arly, switching to Blanca and then to the governess that raises Sam, Blana, and John & his new wife's child.  Secrets are uncovered, ghosts are watched, lives unfold through the years.  It's sad, filled with heartache, and pretty much a downer to listen to, although I was quite mesmerized (beautiful reading by Mare Winningham) by the writing.

Monday, June 11, 2012

35. Getaway - Lisa Brackmann

2012, Soho Press
Adult Mystery
312 pgs.
Rating:  3.5/ Liked it quite a bit

Setting:  Contemporary Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
1st Line/s:  "Michelle dropped the sarong she'd strted to tie around her wist onto her lounge chair.  Nobody cared what her thighs looked like."
OSS: Michelle's getaway to Puerta Vallarta to flee LA and a mess her deceased husband left her. becomes scary when she is robbed, arrested, mugged, and gets confronted by really unscrupulous characters.

She's alone, scared, has no one to talk to or trust, makes a few friends but is uncertain about all of them.  She drinks a lot, makes a few questionable decisions, but it's a good mystery in a great setting.  It's fun when you know the setting, and I could picture it quite well even though my faulty memory had to go back about 15 years to remember the city.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Astronaut Stopping By a Planet on a Snowy Evening - Jon Sciezska

Astronaut Stopping By a Planet
      on a Snowy Evening

Which world this is I do not know.
It’s in our solar system though.
I’m thinking that it may be Mars,
Because it has that reddish glow.

But you know it could be Venus.
And if that’s true, then just between us,
It might be wise to leave before
Any locals might have seen us.

Could be Pluto.  Might be Neptune.
Don’t they both have more than one moon?
I’m running out of oxygen
I’d better figure this out soon.

Yes, space is lovely, dark and deep.
For one mistake I now do weep:
In science class I was asleep.
In science class I was asleep

                        ~Jon Sciezska

The Bravest Woman in America – Marissa Moss

Illustrated by Andrea U’Ren
Tricycle Press, 2011
32 pages
Rating:  4
Endpapers:  azure
Title page:  Oval of Ida rowing
Illustrations:  cover the entire page – no white – they’re bright, detailed, wonderful.

Alliteration:  “Ida loved the sea.  She loved it when it was calm and coppery in the sunlight.”
Similes:  “She loved it when it was wild with froth like a herd of stampeding horses.”
Incredible description:  “She loved the crash of the waves, the screech of gulls wheeling overhead, the bite of salt in her nose as she breathed in the ocean air.”
Snazzy verbs:  perched, lurched, shinnied, churned
Metaphor:  “bubble of trimph

This picture book is based on the story of Ida Lewis (1842-1911), the Newport, Rhode Island lighthouse keeper who rescued over 18 people during her tenure.

Chirchir is Singing – Kelly Cunnane

Illustrated by Jude Daly
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011
HC $17.99
32 pages
Rating:  4.5
Endpapers:  Brown earth with a few floating musical notes
Title Page:  her family, walking across the page.  Full color.
Illustrations:  cover most of page, in acrylics.  Sparse yet detailed.  Give a real feel for the setting.

Setting:  Contemporary northwestern Kenya, Kalenjin tribe
OSS:  Young Chirchir wants to help her family with the chores, but is a little too young to be able to actually help.

We meet Chirchir’s family as they are working.  Mama, who is drawing water from the well; Kogo, her grandmother, tending fire to cook chai; Ji-Bet, her sister, spreading a fresh layer of cow dung and ashes on the floor of the kitchen hut; Baba, her father, digging potatoes in the hill garden.  She sings everywhere she goes.  And so she sings to her baby brother, which keeps him entertained , as her voice travels to the rest of her family and keeps them happy, too.

Great language…simile and metaphor, with info in the back about this culture and a glossary and pronounciationguide for the Swahili words used.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

34. Pandemonium - Lauren Oliver

#2 in the Delirium Trilogy
Harper Collins, 2012
375 pgs.
for:  YA
Rating:  Loved it - even more, actually quite a bit more, than Delirium!

1st line/s:  "Alex and I are lying together on a blanket in the backyard of 37 Brooks.  The trees look larger and darker than usual.  The leaves are almost black, knitted so tightly together they blot out the sky."  (This is a dream)
Setting:  Dystopian NYC and the outlying woods from NH south to CT.
OSS:  Shifting back and forth between "Now" and "Then", Lena tells the story of how she came back to life after becoming a Invalid and losing Alex, and her time now as a Resistance fighter in NYC, where she is kidnapped with Julian, a young man who is the symbol of everything she abhors.

Lena is discovered in the woods by the leader of a small group of homesteaders lead by a determined 21-year-old named Raven.  Raven teachers her to be strong.  As winter approaches and they have to migrate to the south, all sorts of hardships...and friendships....form.  Six months later Lena is infiltrated into NYC where she is working with other Resistance members to keep their eyes on what's going on and doing whatever the DFA - a  particularly earnest group that are willing to do ANYTHING to keep the "cured" regime going.  No love.  No feelings. ZOMBIES, as Lena calls them.  She's becoming quite brave, pretty savvy, and very likable. This was a really good story --- with an ending that BEGS the next book to come quickly!

33. Same Sun Here - Silas House & Neela Vaswani

Candlewick Press, 2011
298 pgs.
for:  Middle Grades
Rating:  Very Good/4

1st Line/s:  "Dear River,  I cannot tell from your name if you are a boy or a girl so I will just write to you like you are a human being."
Setting:  Late 2008 through 2009 NYC and the mountains of Kentucky
OSS:  Meena, an Indian immigrant girl and River, a Kentucky coal miner's son, become penpals and best friends as they share their lives, their problems, and the love of their families with each other.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

MOVIE - Bernie

Funny - not ha, ha, ha, but he, he, he
Limited release 4/27/12
Viewed Tuesday, 6/5/12 at El Con
PG-13 (1:44)
RT Critics: 90 Audience: 87
cag:  Liked it
Director:  Richard Linklater
Millennium Entertainment
Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, Matthew McConaughey

Hey...this is basde on a real, true-life story!  And all three of those main actors, as well as the many who played town residents, were TERRIFIC!

Bernie Tiede is a 39 year-old almost-genderless/somewhat effeminate undertaker.  He has charisma, not a mean bone in his body, and a penchant for elderly women - at least caring for them, there seems to be no sexual innuendo at all in his compassion and relationships.  He sings (beautifully), is very active in his church, cares for everyone and anyone with the same 100% compassion, and comes to befriend an affluent, sour, mean new widow named Marjorie Nugent.  For some reason, although she hates everyone, she is quite taken with Bernie.  He travels with her, cleans her counters, cuts her toenails, and advises her about giving her money away to charities.  However, after a time, she gives him a beeper and expects him to be constantly at her beck and call. She's a really mean woman, too. Then, to his shock and surprise, she pushes him to far one day and he picks up their armidillo-shooting shotgun and shoots her in the back. Instead of turning himself in, he pretends....for nine months...that she is still alive, though failing and in and out of the hospital and nursing homes.  When he is discovered, Sheriff (?) Danny Buck  (McConaughey) goes after him tooth and nail.

The movie is put together like a documentary, with lots and lots of interviews of the townspeople of Carthage, Texas.  They are a riot.  I wonder if any of them are the REAL townspeople?  It's really cleverly done and full of humor all over the place.  It's surprisingly complex and though-provoking, too.  Thoroughly enjoyable.

At the end of the credits you see the real people, first in photos and then a video of the real Bernie in prison - sitting across from Jack Black, the fake Bernie.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Charlie the Ranch Dog – Ree Drummond

Illustrated by Diane deGroat
Harper, 2011
HC $16.99
40 pages
Rating:  4.5
Endpapers:  red
Title Page:  2 page full painting of part of the ranch – with trees, pond, two cowboys, and both dogs
Illustrations:  Full page, usually double spreads, with no white, edge to edge.  Very cool, really like them.
Extras:  Lasagna recipe on the last page
Dog’s p-o-v, 1st person
Setting:  a contemporary Midwestern ranch
OSS:  Charlie, a bassett hound, details all the “work” he does all day on the ranch.  
Tongue-in-cheek, Charlie considers that his humorous lazy escapades are work.  He and Suzy, another dog in the household, have their run of the ranch.  Great fun book with very clever writing.

For C. W. B. - Elizabeth Bishop

Wow.  All I can say

For C.W.B.

Let us live in a lull of the long winter winds
     Where the shy, silver-antlered reindeer go
On dainty hoofs with their white rabbit friends
     Amidst the delicate flowering snow.

All of our thoughts will be fairer than doves.
     We will live upon wedding-cake frosted with sleet.
We will build us a house from two red tablecloths
     And wear scarlet mittens on both hands and feet.

Let us live in the land of the whispering trees;
     Alder and aspen and popular and birch;
Singing our prayers in a pale, sea-green breeze
     With star-flower rosaries and moss blankets for church.

All of our dreams will be clearer than glass,
     Clad in the water or sun as you wish,
We will watch the white feet of the young morning pass,
     And dine upon honey and small shiny fish.

Let us live where the twilight lives after dark,
     In the deep drowsy blue, let us make a home.
Let us meet in the cool evening grass with a stork,
     And a whistle of willow played by a gnome.

Half-asleep, half-awake, we shall hear, we shall know
     The soft "Miserere" the wood-swallow tolls,
We will wander away where the wild raspberries grow,
     And eat them for tea from two lily-white bowls.

                                    ~ Elizabeth Bishop

32. Ten Miles Past Normal - Frances O'Roark Dowell

2011, Atheneum
211 pages
for:  Middle School/young YA
rating:  very likable: a happy, easy, fun read for girls (4)

1st sentence/s:  "No one can figure out where the terrible smell is coming from, but everyone on the bus this morning can smell it and has an opinion."
Setting:  Contemporary "rurally" North Carolina, the high school is in town, but the protagonist lives out a bit on a small farm.

Janie Gorman has been miserable throughout her first months as a freshman.  Many middle schools have come together in her North Carolina town to become part of a huge high school, and it words out that none of her friends are in any of her classes OR eat the same lunch as her.  It doesn't help that when she was in the 3rd or 4th grade they moved from the central part of town way out to the country, where her family now lives on a small, self-sustainable farm.  She has her own goat, which she loves and talks to.  But this has not helped her non-existent social life at all.

Janie just wants to be "normal."  Well, she's more than normal, she's unique and special, but she doesn't realize it, as most 14-year-olds don't.  Starting the year by getting onto the school bus with goat poop on her shoe - stinky goat poop - doesn't help.  She knows no one at her lunch, so she crams her food down standing outside her locker and spends the period in the library. Her best friend, Sarah, is in only one class with her, and elective they chose purposely to be together.  It comes a the end of the day, and for it they have decided to research some older civil rights workers in their town.

However, wanting to belong as much as possible, it works out in a somewhat funky way that Janie starts to play bass guitar.  She teaches herself.  Fast.  It does not mention too much practicing, but she becomes fairly good.  Again, fast.  This was the one part of the story that needed work.  When Sarah and her sister, Emma, take up accordion, it never mentions any previous experience on the piano, but they are performing together in no time.  Didn't quite work for me.

But the characters did.  From her mom's futile attempts at crafting, her realization that Sarah is really quite bossy (and also her acceptance of it), to the boys she meets that year, all are interesting and pretty well crafted.  It was a quick, enjoyable read with a happy edge to it.  Perfect summer reading, and perfect for a whole lot of the girls I know.

MOVIE - The Avengers

actually:  Marvel's The Avengers
Definitely an action-packed flick
Wider release May 4, 2012
Viewed Saturday, June 2, 2012 at El Con - by myself
PG-13 (2:22) The last half hour lasted a looooong time....
RT:  93 Critic, 96 Audience
cag:   Liked it/3
Director:  Josh Whedon
Walt Disney Studios

Bring together Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and head-of-the-world's-peace-keeping forces Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), pit them against evil, power-hungry Loki (terrifically acted by Tom Higglesworth) and you've got lots of brawn, plenty of brains, and quite a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor as well as a rollicking, action-packed adventure.Throw in Clark Gregg as non-super-hero-human Agent Coulson and even a one-minute comedic spot by Harry Dean Stanton as a security guard with Bruce Banner/The Hulk and you've got wonderful actors and pleasant surprises. The story builds really well, showing first the need for super-hero help, then building the Avengers team, trying this and that to thwart the bad guys, then the full-out battle.  I loved the first 3/4, found the last 1/4's fighting to be tedious, but that was, I guess, to be expected.  It was pure entertainment.  Robert Downey, Jr. continues to be my hero, and I was quite enthralled by the acting of Tom Higglesworth. His smurky, mocking grin was so right-on! (It also  didn't help the enjoyment of the end of the movie when the 100-oz. of liquid I'd consumed just prior to and during the first 3/4 of the flick was starting to become a bit excruciating.....)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

31. Available Dark – Elizabeth Hand

Thomas Dunne/ Minotaur Books, 2012
246 pgs.
for: adults
Rating:  Mixed feelings, but I liked it….quite a bit, after much thought

Setting:  NYC for a short time, then Finland for a bit, the rest in Iceland in winter…probably December, when there’s almost no daylight, just gray light for a few hours or total darkness.

First line/s:  There had been more trouble, as usual.  In November I’d headed north to an island off the coast of Maine, hoping to score an interview that might jump-start the cold wreckage of my career as a photographer, dead for more than thirty years.  Instead, I got sucked into some seriously bad shit.  The upshot was that I was now back in the city, almost dead broke, with winter coming down and even fewer prospects than when I’d left weeks earlier.  I dealt with this the way I usually did:  I bought a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, cranked my stereo, and got hammered.”

OSS:  Photographer Cass Neary, user of Jack Daniels and meth and uppers and downers and anything she can get her hands on, goes to Finland to authenticate a series of unbelievable photos; then gets pulled into a series of murders all revolving around Viking mythology and Black Metal music

I figured out that the references to Maine, her bad experiences there, and some other references that she had to stay low, were references to the first book about Cass/Cassandra Neary called Generation Loss.  Because of the island off the coast of Maine setting (! ! !) I do plan to find it and read it this summer.

This was really quite fascinating, incredibly dark, and thought-provoking.  Because I spent 24 hours in Iceland (in August, when the sun hardly went down), I’ve always wondered about winter there. Cheap flights in winter, horribly expensive ones in summer. Well, this is a view that I would never, ever see or think about as an average tourist.  The current punk scene, I guess you’d call it.  But Cass – and all her acquaintance’s fascination with death and its mythologies, is a pretty dark trip for someone who thrives on sunshine…..(me)……  This is one of those books that teach you, make you think outside the box, helps you make connections you might never have made, ever.  And, ultimately, I liked it.

Kami and the Yaks – Andrea Stenn Stryer

Illustrated by Bert Dodson
Bay Otter Press, Palo Alto, 2007
HC $16.95
Rating:  4
48 pages
Endpapers:  brick red
Large Book
Title Page:  Double page, left is illustrations of houses on the mountainside, right is solid navy with mustard and white font
Illustrations:  Really beautiful.  No white, pages that have only font use beige fond on dark navy.  Pictures are loarge and give the reader a wonderful feel for the setting.

Setting:  High in the Himalayas of Nepal in  small village of sherpas, contemporary .
OSS:  Kami helps his father find their four missing yaks as a huge storm – thunder, lightning, hail – approaches.

1st sentence/s:  “High in a land where winds blow sonw clouds off tall mountain peaks, Kami stepped out into the early morning dark.  He sniffed the moistness.

Thoughts:  It is not revealed that Kami is deaf until the end of the fourth page, which firmly establishes that his disability is a part of his persona, not the definer.  He I, simply, a little boy that wants to help his father as well as find the four yaks he knows so well.

Since I have a friend who, just recently, made it to base camp at Mt. Everest, it made the story super-extra special.  It is a fit introduction into my examination of Nepal, Tibet, and the Himalayan region of Asia.

30. Saint - Ted Dekker

Read by Kevin King (he was the only thing that kept me reading all the way to the end)
2006, Brilliance Audio
9 cds/ 10 hours
For: adults
One of the worst books I’ve ever read

Setting:  Hungary, New York City, Colorado, present day

Carl has been programmed to be a human robot.  Using drugs, isolation, mind-control, he is one of the best assassins that the world has ever seen. He no longer knows who he is or where he came from.  He’s manipulated and told a different story constantly.  His handler, Kelly, becomes the person he loves, and apparently she comes to love him too.  Love?  The most unbelievable love I’ve ever known.  And repetition is not used effectively here, it’s just monotonous, boring.  Then the story passes believability and surges into an ominous faith…in God?’s hard to tell….and weird happenings that are not believable even in this partially fantasy world.  Mind control, the space between atoms and molecules, I love sci fi and fantasy, spy thrillers and murder mysteries, but this book was none of those.  Just ridiculous spoutings.  Jumping around and throwing something out of the blue with absolutely no foreshadowing defies believability.  I could have –and should have – loved what the PREMISE of this book is, but I didn’t.  I hated it.  I can’t believe I plugged on…and on…and on (those last two cds were ENDLESS)…but it was read so well I stuck it out.  YUCK!

A Tale of Two Seders – Minda Avra Portnoy

Illustrated by Valeria Cis
Kar-Ben Publishing, 2010
Hc $17.95
32 pages
Rating:  4 – but non-Jewish kids/parents would have to refer to the glossary a LOT
Endpapers – Black – or such a dark navy blue that it looks black.
Title Page – pale green wall, table covered with swirly green tablecloth, seder plate, candles, Kiddish cups, and plate of matzah.
Illustrations:  no white, edge-of-page to edge-of-page, extremely appealing with strong color.  I very much like them.
Setting:  contemporary America
OSS:  An only child tells about the si different seders she’s attended since her parents divorced three years before.
1st sentence/s:  “The year after my mom and dad stopped being married to each other, I went to two seders in two places --- one at Dad’s apartment, and one at Mom’s house.”

The author shows, in a clever, lovely way, how the passage of time changes things – but that with a caring, loving family, being close to one another doesn’t have to change at all.  We see new relationships, grandparents, and friends, as well as many of the Passover traditions that would have great meaning to a child – the charoset, the Four Questions, finding the afikomen.

The book ends with four different recipes of charoset:  Yemenite, Israeli, traditional Askenazi, and a traditional Italian recipe with 18 ingredients (a very special Hebrew number) that makes two quarts!

29. Blank Confession - Pete Hautman

170 pgs.
Young Adult
Rating: 4/5

1st sentence:  Five Lousy Minutes/” Detective George Rawls hung up the phone, brought his foot down from his cluttered desktop, looked at his watch and sighed.”

The summary blurb says it all, “A new and enigmatic student named Shayne Blank appears at high school one day, befriends the smallest boy in the school (who takes pride in wearing a suit to school every day and is a smart-mouth), and takes on a notorious drug dealer before turnig himself in to the police for killing someone.”

Six serious character studies could be the next step after reading this fast-paced, mesmerizing story – Shayne, Mikey, his sister Marie, Detective Rawls, drug dealer Jon, and Mikey and Maries’s dad….plus, come to think of it, Trey: the huge, half-clueless boy who’s not sure where he belongs.