Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Re-Gifters


Teenage Jen Dik Seong - "Dixie" to her friends - lives in Los Angeles. She mostly keeps to herself at school, and the most important thing in her life - the main outlet for her frustrations, is hapkido. She practices rigorously, and she is very good.


Her life is pushed off balance when she falls for a gorgeous blond-haired surfer boy who is also competes in hapkido.  In an impulsive act she buys him a very expensive gift for his birthday, using the money she was given to pay the entry fee for an important hapkido championship tournament. The result is not exactly what she was hoping for, though. And now that she has no money for the entrance fee, she has to compete in the sweep contest against tons of other kids in order to gain entry to the tournament.


The story that unfolds is funny and bittersweet, and although the theme is a familiar one, this story offers up some wonderful surprises along the way. Dixie is an admirable heroine, rash and impulsive and prone to making mistakes, but she owns up to her faults and does her best to learn from the consequences of her actions. The artwork is expressive and full of energy, creating a moving and believable coming-of-age story that, aside from being a ripping good tale, offers readers a fascinating glimpse into a culture and sport that may be unfamiliar to many teens.

I have not read any work by this author/artist team before, but I will be on the lookout for their other book, My Faith in Frankie, which, sadly, my library does not own.

Re-Gifters by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew and Marc Hampel (Minx, 2007)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ghost at Work

Carolyn Hart is a very popular mystery book author at the library where I work, but I've never read any of her books. When I saw the first volume in her Bailey Ruth series available as an audio download from my library's digital media catalog, I thought I'd give it a try.

The premise sounded like fun: Bailey Ruth Raeburn and her husband have died and are in heaven, and Bailey Ruth joins the "Department of Good Intentions," which gives her the opportunity to return to earth to help out. Her first "case" involves the wife of the pastor in small Oklahoma town where Bailey spent her life. Kathleen has discovered a body on her back porch, and Bailey is going to do her best to make sure the innocent woman is not implicated in the crime.

This was kind of cute, but sadly it didn't deliver the kind of read I was hoping for. Bailey Ruth just kind of bumbles her way through the book, not reading the rules she's given for her job, making one mistake after another, and I never really felt that the living people in the story couldn't have solved their own problems without the "divine intervention" of Bailey Ruth's presence. There was an inordinate amount of time spent on the things that were new to Bailey Ruth, such as computers and cell phones, and although the book emphasized that Bailey was behind the times, the fact that the teenagers used terms like "swell" made me feel as if the whole thing were set in the 50s. It was a light and entertaining read, though, so fans of cozies with a supernatural twist may want to give this one a try.

Ghost at Work (#1 in the Bailey Ruth series) by Carolyn Hart; narrated by Anne Marie Lee (Books on Tape, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Lesa's Book Critiques:  "Readers willing to suspend disbelief, and accept a ghost that investigates a murder, and interferes with the police investigation will probably enjoy Ghost at Work."
Pudgy Penguin Perusals:  "Hart writes a classic cozy with all the traditional elements of the genre. What she adds is her own exceptional brand of wit and humor along with a fabulous cast of well fleshed out characters."

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Inheritor

While this book is considered part of the Claire Moffat trilogy that begins with Dark Satanic, Claire plays a supporting role here, and the main character is psychologist named Leslie Barnes. Leslie and her younger sister, a talented pianist, move into a house in San Francisco that they both love, but soon it becomes clear that there are unusual, perhaps dark forces, at work in the house. There are apparently innocuous incidents, such as windows that won't stay closed, and a ghostly cat that comes and goes in the garden. And there are more unnerving experiences, such as the bloody visions that afflict Leslie in certain locations of the house, accompanied by a noxious stench that leaves her reeling.

Leslie has an ability to sense certain things psychically, and she was in some of the tabloids about her help in finding missing people. She wants to keep a low profile and focus on her career, but between calls for help from parents of missing children, poltergeist phenomena manifesting around one of her young clients, and the disturbing events that are escalating in her house, Leslie feels overwhelmed. Then she meets Simon, her sister's piano teacher, a brilliant musician who can no longer play the piano because of an accident.  She is drawn to him, but there is something strange and unsettling about him, too.

This is a creepy ghost story that I read when it was first published, over twenty years ago. It's funny how  distance and time (or age and experience?  I feel old!) can change your reaction to the same book. I remember finding it creepy back then as well, but what I don't remember is wanting to reach into the book and shake some sense into Leslie. She was infuriating! And her relationship with Simon was profoundly disturbing to me this time around. Yikes. It was a more unsettling read for me this time because of the issues surrounding the romantic relationship, as well as the way Leslie interacted with the other characters. Don't get me wrong - it is a gripping story, and I enjoyed the sense of foreboding that escalates through the course of the novel, along with the atmospheric setting and the sense of mystery. I just found myself liking almost every character better than the main character this time around. I have the other two books in this series on my bookshelf downstairs, and I'm planning on reading them again, too, at some point - along with Bradley's Darkover novels, which I absolutely adored when I was younger.

Books in the Claire Moffat trilogy:
1. Dark Satanic
2. The Inheritor
3. Witch Hill

The Inheritor (#2 in the Claire Moffat trilogy) by Marion Zimmer Bradley (Tor, 1984)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Saturn Apartments, Volume 2

The opening book of this series saw young Mitsu starting out in his job as a window washer, the same job his dad was doing five years earlier when he died.  In Mitsu's world, the Earth has been abandoned by humans in order to turn it into a nature preserve; everyone lives in orbiting housing in space.  It is a crowded place to live, particularly on the lower levels where Mitsu and other less wealthy people must stay.

Mitsu is the new kid at work, and he feels he can never begin to live up to the image of his father. But he does the best he can, and his impulsive kindness begins to win him the respect and friendship of his co-workers - most of them, anyway.  In this second volume, we learn more about the future world where Mitsu lives, and we gain insight into the social situation of the Saturn Apartments.  An element of mystery is introduced, thanks to some cryptic comments a character makes about the true nature of the situation on Earth.

This is a quiet, contemplative series that spends a lot of time focusing on the characters and their relationships with each other.  There is a sense of something larger that is building as the the books progress, but the smaller stories that are told along the way are thoughtful and compelling.  I particularly enjoy the subtle interactions among the characters that reveal very interesting things about them.  The artwork is in many ways typical of manga, but there is great attention placed on illustrating the unusual setting, particularly the architecture, that really brings the story to life.  I continue to enjoy this series, and I look forward to reading volume 3.

Saturn Apartments, Volume 2 by Hisae Iwaoka (Viz Media, 2006)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

May B.

When one of my blogging friends contacted me quite some time ago, asking if, when her book was published, I'd consider reading and reviewing it on my blog, I immediately said yes.  It's always a pleasure when a fellow writer gets a book out there, and one of these days she may be getting a similar email from me.

When the book arrived, I was immediately charmed by the lovely cover, which happily turned out to suit the atmosphere and tone of the story perfectly.

Our heroine is May B., a twelve-year-old girl growing up on the Kansas frontier.  One moment her biggest problem is dealing with the new teacher, who is much different from the previous one, who was kind and supportive of the difficulty May has learning to read. The next moment that problem shrinks in comparison, as she discovers that her parents have agreed to send her to work for a newly married couple, far away from her own comfortable little home. Not only can her parents use the money, but the fact that while she's gone there will be one fewer mouth to feed means it will stretch their winter food stores as well.  May isn't happy - how will she ever learn to improve her reading if she's missing months of school?  How will she manage living with two complete strangers on a homestead miles from her family?

May isn't sure what to expect, but she tries to make the best of things. Then things suddenly change, and May finds herself in a truly harrowing situation, with no one to rely upon but herself.

May B. is a delightful heroine, resourceful, clever and sensitive, and her story has a powerful sense of immediacy, told in free verse from May's point of view.  This story is clearly an homage to the Little House books, but I have to say that while I was never a huge fan of that series (nor have I had any luck getting my own children to enjoy it), I know I would have loved this novel as a child.  The writing is spare and powerful, with evocative sensory details that transported me directly to the freezing winter prairie.  My eleven-year-old daughter picked this one up as I was reading it (we had two bookmarks going for a while there), and she adored it.  This is the most gripping historical novel for children that I have read in a long, long time, and I know I will definitely be recommending it to young readers at my library.

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (Random House Children's Books, 2012)

Also reviewed at:
The Fourth Musketeer:  "I particularly enjoyed the author's use of free verse in this short novel, which is accessible to even reluctant readers."
Things Mean a Lot:  "May B is a quiet, beautifully written and girl-centric pioneer story."
Waking Brain Cells:  "A taut, frightening novel of solitary confinement set in wide-open spaces, this book would work well with reluctant readers or as a classroom read."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kat, Incorrigible

I picked this book up because the cover was just so wonderful - I couldn't resist it when I saw it on the shelves at my library. The very next day, Cat at Beyond Books posted her glowing review of the novel, so I was doubly looking forward to reading it.

Twelve-year-old Kat, our heroine, discovers that her family is in a tough spot. Her feckless elder brother has squandered the family's money through his gambling habits, and one of her sisters is now in the position of having to marry a wealthy man to save the family finances. If she loved him, Kat wouldn't have a problem with it.  But he is clearly a villainous sort, and her sister is being so sacrificing and selfless that Kat can barely stand it.

It becomes clear to Kat that her mother had been a witch. And that Kat has talent along those lines as well. So even though their stepmother has locked all their mother's things away, Kat manages to get a hold of something that will either save the day - or ruin it.

What a fun book! It contains many elements that I enjoy in fiction - a feisty, smart, somewhat curmudgeonly heroine, magic, humor, and a historical setting. I'm very much looking forward to the future unladylike adventures of Kat Stephenson.

Books in the Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson series:
1. Kat, Incorrigible (aka A Most Improper Magick)
2. A Tangle of Magicks (aka Renegade Magick)
3. A Reckless Magick

Kat, Incorrigible (#1 in the Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson series) by Stephanie Burgis (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011

Monday, April 16, 2012

Deadly Little Secret: A Touch Novel

Camelia is saved from a potentially deadly accident by Ben, the hot new boy at school.  He is surrounded by dark rumors, though, that he was responsible for the death of his girlfriend.  Camelia doesn't want to believe those rumors, because she is so drawn to him, particularly how he makes her feel whenever he happens to touch her.  When she discovers that she is being stalked, all her friends think that it must be Ben.  But she can't bring herself to believe it.

This YA novel weaves romance, mystery, and suspense, and while it bears more than a slight resemblance to the Twilight books in some respects, it does branch out in a different direction.

As I frequently mention in my blog, I have fallen pretty far behind in my book reviews.  I am currently working on the books I read in February, so it's been a couple of months since I read this book.  Still, I have to admit that when I saw it was next up on my list, I had nearly no recollection of the book at all - the premise, the characters, nada.  So I read some summaries, and gradually it came back to me.  That's not exactly a ringing endorsement, and it's why I doubt I'll be continuing with the series.  It was an entertaining read, though, and teens who are fans of supernatural fiction with romantic elements will probably enjoy it.

Books in the Touch series:
1. Deadly Little Secret
2. Deadly Little Lies
3. Deadly Little Games
4. Deadly Little Voices
5. Deadly Little Lessons


Deadly Little Secret (#1 in the Touch series) by Laurie Faria Stolarz (Hyperion, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
The Allure of Books:  "...the characters were surprisingly funny. None of them had much depth, but that didn’t stop the plot from constantly moving forward. The star of the show here is the suspense, definitely not the characters."
Reviewer X:  "Quick read and not mesmerizing enough for me to recommend purchasing, but I wouldn’t say it’s worth discarding the possibility of reading as a library loan, either."
Should Be Reading:  "This was a very suspenseful tale! It swept me up from the very first sentence, and wouldn’t let me put the book down until I had it finished!"

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Hunger Games

I was recently whining a little bit because of a New Year's resolution I had made, in which I'd said I'd do my best to read every book my two daughters recommended to me this year. I really, really didn't want to read this book, partly because I find most post-apocalyptic books fairly distressing, particularly when the rest of my life is busy and crazy and problematic, so that when I retreat into a book I'd rather have it not be such an emotionally turbulent experience. The other reason was that I understood the premise of the book, and I really didn't feel like letting myself in for a depressing time, because I was bound to get attached to some of the kids who were going to be sent into the ring to fight to the death. It just sounded so unrelentingly grim.

So I really went to this book kicking and screaming (figuratively.  I'm not that much of a drama queen. Honestly). But in the end, I have to say I really enjoyed the book.  The writing didn't exactly set me on fire (no pun intended) - at times it was a bit awkward and repetitive.  But I loved Katniss, and I loved the strength of her voice and its honesty, and it is her first person narration of this harrowing story that sucked me in and kept me reading.  I won't go into details of the plot - no sense wasting time on that these days, with all the furor and hype surrounding the book and the movie (which we saw and thoroughly enjoyed). But if there's anyone out there who hasn't read this book for the reasons I mentioned above, let me just say that you might want to give it a shot.

First of all, there is violence and there is loss, yes, but it really isn't emotionally manipulative.  Collins doesn't set you up, Old Yeller style, to then stomp your heart to pieces (which is what I was worried about). The book really focuses on the effects of the violence, of the way this society works.  It really a survival story.

The other thing I love about this book is that boys are reading it. Boys are crazy about this book that is told by a girl, which is a pretty rare and unusual thing.  She is a strong, admirable female character, and I love that boys and girls both are enjoying the series. I haven't yet continued with the next book, although I suppose I will. I like where this one ended, and I think I'll just let it be for a while before I move on. But yes, I'm glad I read this one, and I'm not regretting that New Year's resolution after all.

Books in the Hunger Games trilogy:
1. The Hunger Games
2. Catching Fire
3. Mockingjay

The Hunger Games (#1 in the Hunger Games trilogy) by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press, 2008)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Castle Waiting, Volume 1


I read earlier portions of Castle Waiting a few years ago, books at my library that are contained in this beautiful hardbound 450+ page volume.  And I loved them (you can see the earlier reviews here and here) and read my initial impressions of the book, which certainly haven't changed since then.  Thanks once again to Nymeth of Things Mean a Lot for introducing me to this wonderful graphic novel.


The story of Castle Waiting is made up of smaller stories about the many people who come to the castle, which used to be the home of Briar Rose, but has now become a sanctuary for a group of fascinating and often hilarious characters, each seeking refuge for their own reasons (which are explained in the various tales that make up the book). I particularly love the strength of the women characters, and the fact that while the book often makes me laugh out loud, it is moving as well. There is a lot of subtext, and the reader can whip through the book, smiling and vastly entertained, but can also choose linger and enjoy the deeper themes and emotions that are woven throughout the stories as well. I loved all the stories, some of course more than others (I think I would have preferred more focus on the castle itself, while some of the stories of the characters' lives prior to arriving there were so long and involved I began to feel impatient to get back to matters at hand, but that is a small quibble).


I received this book for Christmas this year - anyone who reads my blog knows how rarely I buy books these days, with my bulging bookshelves and the abundance of reading material at the library where I work, so just the fact that I had to own this book is a huge recommendation. It is one of those rare and precious books that has huge appeal to readers of all ages. Both my children have read it (they are 11 and 13 years old now), and I would say even younger readers would enjoy it, too, for while some of the themes are a bit more adult, they are understated and would likely fly over the heads of those too young to understand them. Lovers of fairy tales will adore this one - so many allusions and references to traditional tales are sprinkled throughout the text. And have I mentioned how very funny they are?  It was delightful to listen to my girls laughing as they made their way through the stories.

This volume is beautifully made, with lovely thick creamy pages, and it even has one of those ribbon bookmarks built into the spine. Best of all is the introduction by Jane Yolen, one of my all-time favorite authors. She sums up my feelings about this book much better than I possibly could (no surprise there):
In other words, what I adore about Castle Waiting is that while it is a fully realized world, a world that any ordinary reader can enjoy, it is also a world for which I have special knowledge.  Knowledge I have been years amassing.  So I feel as if Linda Medley is and old friend who has written Castle Waiting just for me - a feminist fairy tale with attitude, heart, imagination, laughter, love and truth.  Er, Truth.
Castle Waiting, Volume 1 by Linda Medley (Fantagraphics Books, 2006)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Shakespeare's Christmas

In this third book in Charlaine Harris's Lily Bard series, Lily goes home for Christmas - and to be in her sister's wedding.  Going back home packs an emotional wallop for her, because she left town years earlier in the wake of a vicious physical assault that nearly left her dead.  She hates the idea of being pitied by the people she's known all her life, and she's changed a lot since she left.  She has become much more private, and she's also become skilled at martial arts, determined to never become a victim again.

This is my favorite sort of mystery, where the personal elements in the characters' lives are important to the story, to the mystery at hand, but are also fascinating in and of themselves.  I've grown very attached to Lily during the course of this series.  She is an admirable woman with plenty of faults, but she tries to face her issues and never backs away from doing the right thing, even if it's at personal risk to her.  This kind of mystery has more resonance because of its connection to the emotional lives of the characters, and I found it just as gripping as the previous two.  I look forward to spending more time with Lily and her family and friends in future books.

Books in the Lily Bard (Shakespeare) series:
1. Shakespeare's Landlord
2. Shakespeare's Champion
3. Shakespeare's Christmas
4. Shakespeare's Trollop
5. Shakespeare's Counselor

Shakespeare's Christmas (#3 in the Lily Bard series) by Charlaine Harris (Berkley Prime Crime, 2009)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Taking an e-reader on vacation? Pros and cons



So I just came back from a week's vacation, and for the first time ever, the only reading material I brought was on my Nook.  To be honest, it made me more than a little anxious.  What if my reader malfunctioned?  What if it wouldn't hold a charge?  But one of the reasons I used to justify purchasing it in the first place was the fact that whenever I go on vacation, I practically need an extra bag just to pack my books.  Not that I necessarily read all of them, but I don't always know what I'm going to feel like reading next, so I like to have a nice selection to choose from.

This time I had some books that I had purchased, a few I'd gotten from Google books, and a whole bunch that I checked out from my library's digital catalog.  I could have also downloaded some magazines - Barnes and Noble lets you try a free month's subscription of anything that's on there, I believe - but I had plenty of stuff so I felt fairly confident.  My kids each have the black and white Nook, so I loaded everything on theirs (most of the books were kids' and YA, so we were reading mainly the same stuff), including some things of mine they might not have been that interested in, just in case one of the e-readers broke and we needed to share.  Luckily, that didn't happen.

So here's my breakdown of the pros and cons of taking only digital reading material on vacation:

Cons:
1. Trying to orchestrate the library's digital catalog so that holds placed would come in at the right time to check out the digital books we wanted to read is very tricky.  Some of the books I was dying to read came in too soon, so that they would have expired only a day or two into our vacation.  My library allows 10 digital checkouts on each person's card, so I had to put things on hold on different cards and hope for the best.  In the end I mainly got things that were available for checkout a day or two before we left, and that did work out fairly well, but it was challenging and time consuming to take care of ahead of time, when there was so much vacation prep to take care already.

2. (And this one didn't occur to me till I was on the plane): E-readers are digital devices!  (Duh.)  So you have to turn them off at the beginning and end of flights. What a pain! I really, really didn't like that at all. To the point where I'd probably bring a magazine or something else just to have during those times.

3. I worried about my reader getting stolen when I left it behind with my stuff by the pool or on the beach.  Not only would that be expensive to replace, but it would effectively nix all my vacation reading material!  Luckily that didn't happen.

4. My color Nook is difficult to read in the sun.  The girls' simple touch Nooks have that paper look to them (but they can't handle graphic novels or magazines in color), so they were okay, but the color Nook is best read in the shade.  Without sunglasses. I didn't love struggling to read the screen in the sunlight.

5. Having to remember to keep it charged.  The color Nook has poor battery power - I had to remember to recharge it every night, but I'm kind of used to that because of the poor staying power of my iPhone's battery.  I remembered to do it, so it wasn't an issue, but it certainly isn't something I need to think about when it comes to regular books!

Pros:
1. I had about twenty books on there, way more than I knew I'd be able to read, and that gives me a safe, cozy feeling.

2. It doesn't take up much space - certainly not as much space as that many books, so I just kept it in my bag and had something to read with me all the time.

3. I love my Nook cover, which turns into a stand like this:
It's great for restaurant use! And for pool-side reading (in the shade).

4. All my reading material was in one place, so when I finished a book, I just had to scroll through my options to see what I felt like reading next.  I didn't have to lug along a second book in case I finished the current one.

5. While the Nook Color isn't great for bright sunlight, it is perfect for darker places, so in the darkened airplane or at night when the kids were trying to sleep but I wanted to read, it was great - no book light needed, and I could make the screen dim enough (and change the text size) that I could still see, but the light didn't bother anyone. This is also great for nighttime car rides.  

6. I was able to put the library books I checked out on everyone's Nooks, plus the books that I have purchased.  We could all share and even read the same book simultaneously.  We really liked that.  It was fun to read the same books as my kids and talk about them as we went along.

So, my conclusions after this e-reader-only vacation are that yes, I would definitely do it again.  BUT - I would definitely bring at least one printed thing to read on the plane. I really didn't like sitting there, feeling envious of the people around me who had regular printed books to read during takeoff and landing.

Has anyone else experimented with books vs. e-readers on vacation?  Have I overlooked anything?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.