Unto Us a Son Is Given

Born on his due date!
The enormous babe debuts.
How to handle two?...

John William, born December 29, 11:02am. 8 lbs, 13 oz. 21 inches long.


Saint Iggy: Review Haiku

Heartwrenching snapshot
of good kid with crappy life.
Shocking denouement.

Saint Iggy by K. L. Going. Harcourt, 2006, 260 pages.

The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey: Review Haiku

As fantasy, meh;
As frothy chick-lit, so so;
Better in concept.

The Wizard, the Witch, and Two Girls from Jersey by Lisa Papademetriou. Razorbill, 2006, 273 pages.


The Handmaid and the Carpenter: Review Haiku

We know the story,
but Berg tries to bring new life:
a modest success.

The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg. Random, 2006, 153 pages.


The Right Attitude to Rain: Review Haiku

Hot thinker action:
Look, philosophers in love!
Cozy, a bit bland.

The Right Attitude to Rain (An Isabel Dalhousie Novel) by Alexander McCall Smith. Pantheon, 2006, 276 pages.

Cancer Vixen: Review Haiku

Real fear, unvarnished;
some perspective at Christmas.
The graphic form shines.

Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto. Knopf, 2006, 212 pages.


Grandfather's Dance: Review Haiku

Sarah, plain and tall,
closes another chapter:
bittersweet, content.

Grandfather's Dance by Patricia MacLachlan. Joanna Cotler/Harper Collins, 2006, 84 pages.

Yellow Star: Review Haiku

Yep, it's another
Holocaust book. Spare, poignant,
but sometimes obscure.

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy. Marshall Cavendish, 2006, 227 pages.

A Spot of Bother: Review Haiku

What did Tolstoy say
about unhappy fam'lies?
Tragic, yet hopeful.

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon. Doubleday, 2006, 354 pages.


Gravida: Complaint Haiku

Sick of pregnancy.
This kid must be Ollie. Say


Special Topics in Calamity Physics: Review Haiku

How do you sell a
five-hundred-page first novel?
Hype author's hotness.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Viking, 2006, 514 pages.


Vive La Paris: Review Haiku

No more Cybils books!
Instead, this middle-grade gem:
subtle, wise, and warm.

Vive La Paris by Esme Raj Codell. Hyperion, 2006, 210 pages.


Cybils Deliberations: Reviewer Haiku

Thirty-seven books,
five women, lots of talking.
Who'll make the top five?

The Cybils shortlists will be announced January 1.


Jane Addams: Review Haiku

Once hailed as saint; now
the pacifist activist
seems but a footnote.

Jane Addams: Champion of Democracy by Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin. Clarion, 2006, 216 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


Writing Magic: Review Haiku

Needed: wand (pencil),
canvas (paper), and courage.
Good guide and teacher.

Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly by Gail Carson Levine. HarperCollins, 2006, 168 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


Team Moon: Review Haiku

We went to the moon!
Thimmesh explores the fear, joy
with clear-eyed wonder.

Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh. HMCo, 2006, 80 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


Escape!: Review Haiku

Fleischman dissects the showman:
immortal mortal.

Escape! The Story of the Great Houdini by Sid Fleischman. Greenwillow, 2006, 210 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


101 Things to Do Before You're Old and Boring: Review Haiku

These one-oh-one things
seem pretty lame to me. Guess
I'm old and boring.

101 Things to Do Before You're Old and Boring by Richard Horne and Helen Szirtes. Walker, 2006, 224 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


The American Story: Review Haiku

Coffee-table book
highlights key U.S. events.
Good pick for browsers.

The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History by Jennifer Armstrong. Knopf, 2006, 358 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


The Shepherd, The Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog: Review Haiku

Hey! Stocking stuffer!
Barry's shameless Christmas tome
is still good Yule fun.

The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog by Dave Barry. Putnam, 2006, 117 pages.

Chew on This: Review Haiku

Where's the beef? you ask.
Trust me: after reading this,
you don't want to know.

Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food by Eric Schlosser. HMCo, 2006, 304 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


With a Little Luck: Review Haiku

Fradin uncovers the
perspiration that led
to strokes of genius.

With A Little Luck: Surprising Stories of Amazing Discoveries by Dennis Fradin. Dutton, 2006, 183 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


Immersed in Verse: Review Haiku

A poet's toolbox
Kids as fellow writers, yet
a smidge pedantic.

A Cybils nominee.


Tsunami: Review Haiku

Topical drama!
But time shifts, bland prose dull it.
A good read, not great.

Tsunami: The True Story of an April Fools' Day Disaster by Gail Lange Karwoski. Darby Creek, 2006, 64 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


I'm Still Scared: Review Haiku

Small scale, big feelings.
Memories are powerful --
but truly nonfic?

I'm Still Scared: A 26 Fairmount Avenue Book by Tomie DePaola. Putnam, 2006, 83 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


Part of Me: Review Haiku

Sweet but uneven,
this love letter to books: great
librarian gift.

Part of Me: Stories of a Louisiana Family by Kimberly Willis Holt. Holt, 2006, 208 pages.

Something Out of Nothing: Review Haiku

Groundbreaking Curie
discovered, suffered, and fought.
Too bad book is dull.

Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium by Carla Killough McClafferty. FSG, 2006, 134 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


Freedom Walkers: Review Haiku

Freedman scores again:
Strong, elegant intro to
civil rights movement.

Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott by Russell Freedman. Holiday House, 2006, 114 pages.

A Cybils nominee. Correction: Cybils 2006 MG/YA Nonfiction Winner.


One Kingdom: Review Haiku

Of mice and men and
dolphins, too: thought-provoking,
but focus muddy.

One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals by Deborah Noyes. HMCo, 2006, 144 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


The Wand in the Word: Review Haiku

Fantasy writers
sound off on craft, childhoods.
Great read, but for kids?

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy by Leonard Marcus. Candlewick, 2006, 202 pages.

A Cybils nominee.

Isaac Newton: Review Haiku

Genius or weirdo?
Krull shows us apple target's
a little of both.

Isaac Newton (Giants of Science) by Katheen Krull. Viking, 2006, 126 pages.

A Cybils nominee.


You Can Get Arrested for That: Review Haiku

If they were older,
would this have been funnier?
Not bloody likely.

You Can Get Arrested for That: 2 Guys, 25 Dumb Laws, 1 Absurd American Crime Spree by Rich Smith. Three Rivers, 2006, 243 pages.



All right, I'm game.

The rules: Mark the selections you have read in bold. If you liked it, add a star (*) in front of the title, if you didn't, give it a minus (-). Then, put the total number of books you've read in the subject line.

*Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
-The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
*Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
-The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (Even as a child I hated the pointless anarchy.)
*Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
-Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch
-The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (ooh, Christian allegory for toddlers!)
*The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
*Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (sob)
The Mitten by Jan Brett
*Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (only as a parent, not as a kid)
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Where the Sidewalk Ends: the Poems and Drawing of Shel Silverstein by Shel Silverstein
*Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
-Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
-Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss (sadly, I confess I also have the "in utero" version. It was a gift, I swear!)
Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola
*Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin, Jr. (teacher always creeps me out)
*Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
*A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
*How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by John Archambault
*Little House on the Prarie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
*Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
The BFG by Roald Dahl
*The Giver by Lois Lowry
-If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
*James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
*Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
*The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
-The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (gaaaaaak)
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
*Corduroy by Don Freeman
-Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Math Curse by Jon Scieszka
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
*Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
*Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (I. Am. Ramona.)
The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
Are You My Mother? by Philip D. Eastman
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
*The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (luuuuuurve)
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Napping House by Audrey Wood
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
*The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
*Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
*The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
The Cay by Theodore Taylor
*Curious George by Hans Augusto Rey
Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
Arthur series by Marc Tolon Brown
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
*Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes (though I love JULIUS more)
*Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
*Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater
My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Stuart Little by E. B. White
*Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
The Art Lesson by Tomie De Paola
-Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
*Clifford, the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell (the Munchkin was Emily Elizabeth for Halloween this year)
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
*The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
-Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney (No, don't guess. Please.)
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch

American Born Chinese: Review Haiku

No NBA, but
powerful, uncomfortable
identity quest.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. First Second, 2006, 233 pages. Cybils 2006 Graphc Novel: YA Winner.


The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: Review Haiku

Commies and TVs
and beer, oh my! Reliving
idyllic fifties.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson. Broadway, 2006, 270 pages.


All Mortal Flesh: Review Haiku

Father Tim, she ain't.
Unorthodox -- but killer?
Sucker punch at end.

All Mortal Flesh by Julia Spencer-Fleming. St. Martin's, 2006, 322 pages.


Storky: Review Haiku

Dork-tude, lost love, and
boners (physical, mental).
Perfect teen boy angst.

(And I'm not just saying that because the author once commented on this blog.)

Storky: How I Lost My Nickname and Won the Girl by D. L. Garfinkle. Putnam, 2005, 192 pages.


I Like You: Review Haiku

Like a good party:
Exhaustively detailed, yet
easy to enjoy.

I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris. Warner, 2006, 304 pages.


Life's Little Annoyances: Review Haiku

Ever wanted to
Exact revenge on the world?
These folks show you how.

Life Little Annoyances: True Tales of People Who Just Can't Take It Anymore by Ian Urbina. Times Books, 2006, 191 pages.


Kiki Strike: Review Haiku

Under Manhattan,
pre-teen girls' A-Team fights crime.
Slooooooow start, fast finish.

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller. Bloomsbury, 2006, 250 pages.


Enna Burning: Review Haiku

Reluctant fire-girl
Fights battles, fear, smooth talkers
To find redemption.

Enna Burning by Shannon Hale. Bloomsbury, 2004, 317 pages.


Tag! I'm it.

Oh, my. The lovely MotherReader, a fellow Mo-phile and non-MLSed library employee, has tagged me for the Five Interesting Things About You meme. I feel like I've been invited to sit at the popular table.

Let's see.

1. My lips don't meet. Really. I can close my mouth, of course, but there's a little teeny weeny hole right in the middle where my top and bottom lips don't match up. A fun trick at parties (though it tends to leave one open to rather filthy suggestions).

2. Once I killed a mouse by whacking it really hard with a shovel. It squished.

3. I am a terrible eater. I didn't eat pizza until I was 20, and still I am a cheese-only girl. I didn't eat oranges until I was 21. Harmless foods that normal people like -- fish; tomatoes; oatmeal, for Pete's sake -- I cannot stand, and I can't even blame it on allergies or political reasons or anything other than my own childish weird-itude. Imagine how much fun it was to have that first Easter dinner with my in-laws. (Lamb. I had to eat lamb.)

4. I judge cars and houses based on their faces. A house with no face is a blight on the neighborhood. A car with happy handles is good (see 1980s-era Ford Escort and Chevy Caprice); a car without happy handles is bad (see 1990s Ford Taurus, anything by Renault).

5. I am vaguely superstitious about numbers, especially dates. I love that my birthday adds up to 100 (or 2000, if you use all of the year digits). I picked my wedding date and my daughter's birthday (scheduled section) based partly on the pleasing symmetry of the dates.

Of course, now these don't seem interesting to me at all. I will slink back to my proper place at the band nerd/smart kid exile table . . .

P.S. Nominate your favorites for the Cybils!
P.P.S. I'm not supposed to tag someone now, am I? I don't know anyone . . . Gaak, I'm such a novice.


Motor Mouth: Review Haiku

Too easy to say,
"Stephanie Plum does NASCAR."
But that's what it is.

Motor Mouth by Janet Evanovich. Harper, 2006, 320 pages.


An Abundance of Katherines: Review Haiku

Love by the numbers
Plus anagrams, tampon strings
A witty YA.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. Dutton, 2006, 256 pages.


The Cybils: Request Haiku

We all love awards.
Look! Shiny new ones. Hooray!
Go nominate now.


In Cold Blood: Review Haiku

How can a Lee fan
read this book without anger?
The answer: She can't.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. Vintage, 1994 edition, 343 pages.

The Boy Book: Review Haiku

Ruby's mistakes and
callous high school politics
ring so very true.

The Boy Book (A Study of Habits and Behaviors, Plus Techniques for Taming Them) by E. Lockhart. Delacorte, 2006, 193 pages.


The End: Review Haiku

Mysteries revealed!
Oh, wait - not so much, in fact.
"The end," my foot. Sigh.

The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book Thirteen) by Lemony Snicket. Harper, 2006, 386 pages.


Academy X: Review Haiku

Corrupt faculty
And overprivileged rich snots.
Weep for humankind.

Academy X by Andrew Trees. Bloomsbury, 2006, 246 pages.


In the Company of Crazies: Review Haiku

Looks like middle grade
But reads way more like YA.
Uneasy mismatch.

In the Company of Crazies by Nora Raleigh Baskin. Harper, 2006, 170 pages.

That Girl Lucy Moon: Review Haiku

I heart Lucy Moon
But funk-breaking plot twist is
Deed ex machina.

That Girl Lucy Moon by Amy Timberlake. Hyperion, 2006, 294 pages.


The Guy Not Taken: Review Haiku

Short stories, not quite
Good in small doses.

The Guy Not Taken by Jennifer Weiner. Atria/S&S, 2006, 292 pages.


Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: Review Haiku

Mind-blowing topic.
Author too hot for own good.
I've accomplished squat.

Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside by Katrina Firlik. Random, 2006, 271 pages.


Can't get enough?

If you like short-assed (half-assed?) reviews, check out Fussy's revamped book review page. And she sells wicked cool t-shirts, too.

Of Mice and Men: Review Haiku

Steinbeck masterpiece
(Tell me about the rabbits)
Ruin'd by Bugs Bunny.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Penguin, 2002 (paper reprint), 103 pages.


Review Haiku Roundup

From the Baccha Mitchell Memorial Vacation:

Preteen reporters
Mix tennis and corruption;
Fast, fun mystery.
Vanishing Act by John Feinstein. Knopf, 2006, 279 pages.

Tale of two sisters:
One high-pow'red, one do-gooder.
See how they fumble.
Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen. Random, 2006, 269 pages.

"F***ed up" would be gauche.
Let's try something more genteel:
Say, "inscrutable."
Just In Case by Meg Rosoff. Wendy Lamb/Random, 2006, 246 pages.

Part Dionysus --
Apple, tulip, tater, pot --
Part Apollo, too.
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan. Random, 2002, 304 pages.

Dr. Doolittle
Meets a tale from Brothers Grimm:
Ani finds her voice.
The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. Bloomsbury, 2003, 383 pages.

(Just noticed these are 80% Random House. Odd.)


requiem for a beagle

Baccha Wood Schuttler Mitchell
June 5, 1994 -- September 19, 2006.
We love you, you crazy bitch.

No posting for a while.


Helen of Troy: Review Haiku

Task? Lend sympathy
To the unsympathetic.
George almost succeeds.

Helen of Troy by Margaret George. Viking, 2006, 624 pages.


Which Brings Me to You: Review Haiku

Their letters reveal:
So many damaged people
and so little time.

Which Brings Me to You: A Novel in Confessions by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott. Algonquin, 2006, 300 pages.


Love and Other Impossible Pursuits: Review Haiku

Do not read this book
while pregnant. In fact, do not
read this book at all.

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman. Doubleday, 2006, 340 pages.


A word about haiku

Yeah, I know. They're not real haiku. I'm only using the basic syllabic structure of 5-7-5 and not even attempting the more metaphorical aspects of the form.

To any Japanese literature scholars out there, mea culpa.

Mockingbird: Review Haiku

Charles Shields explains why
I want to be Harper Lee.
Goal? One perfect book.

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles Shields. Holt, 2006, 337 pages.


Happiness Sold Separately: Review Haiku

and cheating: devastating.
This? Oddly, hopeful.

Happiness Sold Separately by Lolly Winston. Warner, 2006, 296 pages.


Caddy Ever After: Review Haiku

Another winner --
But why name it for Caddy?
She barely shows up.

(And a non-haiku aside: I love, love, love, that McKay's characters speak in parentheses.)

Caddy Ever After by Hilary McKay. McElderry, 2006, 218 pages.


Helen of Troy: Review Haiku, in medias libros

Yep, it's a long one,
But why so many typos?
Shame on you, Viking.

Helen of Troy by Margaret George. Viking, 2006, 624 pages.


The Overachievers: Review Haiku

Let me never be
A helicopter parent.
Poor little smart kids.

The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids by Alexandra Robbins. Hyperion, 2006, 439 pages.

The Year of the Dog: Review Haiku

Earth-shattering? No.
A little obvious? Yes.
Still, a good girl read.

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin. Little Brown, 2006, 134 pages.

A Dirty Job: Review Haiku

Death merchants battle
Morrigans, hellhounds, and grief.
Moore's a sick monkey.

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore. Morrow, 2006, 387 pages.


Fly By Night: Review Haiku

Books, locks, Birdcatchers:
A good yarn, but overstuffed.
Not up to hype.

Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge. Harper, 2006, 487 pages.


Stuck in the middle of...: Non-Review Haiku

Started Fly By Night
But stuck in the middle now
Is it not All That?

(more to come once it's done)


Bread and Roses, Too: Review Haiku

Katherine Paterson:
Master of storytelling.
Still, "good-for-you" book.

Bread and Roses, Too by Katherine Paterson. Clarion, 2006, 288 pages. (Note: cover art here is not actual cover art.)

Politics Lost: Review Haiku

I hate politics --
"Not another election!"
Joe Klein explains why.

Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid by Joe Klein. Doubleday, 2006, 256 pages.


Bye Bye Black Sheep: Review Haiku

Good mystery spoiled
By loud, intrusive soapbox.
Oh, Ayelet Waldman.

Bye Bye Black Sheep (A Mommy-Track Mystery) by Ayelet Waldman. Berkley, 2006, 259 pages.

The Loud Silence of Francine Green

Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed it. But I couldn't help feeling that Karen Cushman's latest was written not with a pen, but with a hammer.
  • It's Newbery material! WHACK!
  • It's about intolerance! WHACK!
  • It has timely relevance for our government today! WHACK!
  • Jews and liberals have long been persecuted! WHACK!
  • Hey, Nina Lindsay -- see what a great writer I am! WHACK!
Again, I liked it: Francine is frustratingly likable, and the contemporary references added some fun. But man -- leave a few things for the reader to figure out, eh?

The Loud Silence of Francine Green by Karen Cushman. Clarion, 2006, 225 pages.


Resurrected: One-Sentence Reviews

I'm back from the dead -- or vacation, anyway. Here's a brief encapsulation of what I read over break (and after break, since it's been so long).

Blind Faith by Ellen Wittlinger. Love her work; this one was just okay.

Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg. Beachy Hallmark-y goodness.

Sand in my Bra and Other Misadventures edited by Jennifer Leo. Some funny, some not as funny, all pretty much enjoyable.

Gatsby's Girl by Caroline Preston. Oooh, good stuff.

The Love Curse of the Rumbaughs by Jack Gantos. Seriously creepy, and I don't think I mean that as a compliment.

Why Moms Are Weird by Pamela Ribon. Still in the middle of this, actually, but it's a good read.

So these are all pretty useless, as far as reviews go, and the further away I got from this blog, the less interested I became in it. Is it because I realize I'll never be one of the cool bloggy kids? Is it because it's just another thing on my list of things to do? Who knows. Part of it is surely time: I know if I don't post within a day of finishing a book, I'll forget whatever I was going to say (hence, the useless scribbles above).

So posting may be sporadic, or nonexistent, for a while, until I figure out if this is worth continuing.



Tried to read Daniel Handler's Adverbs; realized I am not hip enough to find it compelling and/or amusing. Will stick with my Unfortunate Events, thanks.

I'm off for a week-plus-long vacation, so no posting for a while. Not that anyone reads this anyway.

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

I have a new hero and her name is Barbara Brown Taylor.

After waiting in vain for a new book by Nora Gallagher, my jones for Episcopal women's memoirs has been filled with this, Barbara Brown Taylor's latest. Taylor was part of the early wave of ordained women in the Episcopal Church, and this book chronicles her years as the rector at a small (then suddenly rapidly-growing) parish in northeast Georgia. She begins her job with great faith and enthusiasm; by the end of the book, her enthusiasm has been crushed under the weight of a million little duties, and she takes her faith and uses it in another vocation, teaching religion to undergraduates.

I love Taylor's style; I identify with her theology; and I sure as hell couldn't do what she does. Every once in a while I wonder if I should have pursued ministry: it's in my blood, and I do like standing in front of people and talking. But the everything-else that's a part of serving God full-time -- that's what Taylor lays out, and that's what keeps me on my side of the altar.

I'll be checking out Taylor's other writings.

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor. Harper San Francisco, 2006, 224 pages.

Money, a Memoir

This book alternately shamed and appalled me. I was embarrassed to identify with the many educated, professional women who nonetheless are happy to relinquish any claim or interest in managing their own investments. At the same time, I was horrified by the many women (some of whom fall in the first category as well) who blithely go out and fritter money away on things they don't need at prices they can't afford. People, shoes shouldn't cost more than $20 ($25, maybe, but only if it's for your own wedding). Retail therapy can be useful in a pinch but is not an acceptable lifestyle choice. And for God's sake, don't be so proud of your kept-woman status.

I didn't feel that I'd learned much by the end of the book, save that my intermittent twinges of guilt over not making my own trades in my 401(k) should be addressed, not ignored. Perle lays out the situation as she sees it, then basically steps back and expects the reader to figure it out.

Money, a Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash by Liz Perle. Holt, 2006, 288 pages.


When It Happens

[Note to self: There's another YA novel I read between Weedflower and this one, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. Clearly it was, uh, memorable.]

When It Happens is a love story between two idealistic high school seniors, told in alternating chapters from the protagonists' points of view. Sara is a good student, not part of the popular crowd but pretty enough to attract the attention of uber-cool Dave. Tobey is an underachiever, a smart guy with a band who doesn't see the need to do his homework, apply to college, or do anything that would keep him from moving to New York after graduation to make it big with his band.

At the start of the story, Sara is still hopped up on Dave. She's spent the summer thinking and doodling in her sketchbook about her idea of the perfect man, and she's hopeful that Dave is it. When he finally asks her out, she's over the moon -- but gradually, as time goes on and Dave's real, ugly personality comes out, she begins to realize that she's more in love with the idea of Dave than with Dave himself.

Tobey, meanwhile, spends his senior year plotting ways to get Sara to notice him. His plots are pretty tame, though: the most radical is a decision to buckle down and work, so he has a chance to get into Manhattan School of Music despite his lousy grades. Eventually Sara and Tobey give into their attraction, and the rest of the book chronicles their relationship through its inevitable ups and downs.

Good stuff: It's nice to read a book about smart kids who aren't necessarily defined by their smartness; sensitive kids who aren't emotional basket cases; and kids with healthy sex drives who make good, reasoned decisions about physical relationships. I liked Sara and Tobey; I liked their friends; I liked their teachers; I wanted to see things come out right.

Bad stuff: Is there any reason this book needed to be 320 pages long? I don't think so. And the villainous popular people were perhaps too cartoony (e.g., Caitlin can't just be a rich bitch; she also has to pop pills in the bathroom).

A good choice for moony girls.

When It Happens by Susane Colasanti. Viking, 2006, 320 pages.



I admit, I'm not a big fan of Kira-Kira, a book that was okay in the reading but was clearly, to me, a good-for-you book: the kind of book your teachers wished you would read while you were busy scarfing down the latest Sweet Valley High. (Or maybe that was just me.)

So I didn't have high hopes for Weedflower, and in that I wasn't disappointed (if that convoluted logic makes sense). Weedflower comes with a huge good-for-you subject, namely the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. What kid wouldn't snatch that off the shelf? . . . (Oh, right. EVERY kid.)

And yet, Kadohata surprised me several times with the quality of the novel. Sumiko is a likable heroine, the story moves along at a pretty good clip, and the author addresses several issues that I either hadn't known about -- the relationship among Japanese Americans and Native Americans at Poston, for example -- or hadn't considered, such as the relative comfort of life in the camps for internees, at least after a while. Kadohata's father was held at Poston during the war, so presumably she knows of what she speaks.

I still think this is a book that needs a good booktalk or handsell to get a kid to read it; they're unlikely to pick it up on their own. Do I think it's award-caliber? Not really, but then again, I didn't think that of Kira-Kira, either.

Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata. S&S, 2006, 260 pages.


What Teen Angst Novel Are You?

What Teen Angst Novel are You? - funny, lots of results, with pix, from the author of The Boyfriend List

LOOKING FOR ALASKA, by John Green. Sad, Funny, boozy, thought-provoking. Go read it. It's you.
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Lost and Found

I refuse to participate in the whole "curse of the second novel" debate, mostly because they're cruel (and if I ever entertain ideas of writing myself, it's crap like this that sends my insecure little heart scurrying into hiding). But in this case, it's a moot point anyway. Lost and Found is miles away from Parkhurst's acclaimed debut, The Dogs of Babel, in both mood and subject matter. But it shares with that earlier novel a fine sense of craft and heart.

Lost and Found is the story of a group of reality show contestants, traveling the world for a chance at a million bucks. Their stories are typical for the genre: a mother and daughter united by a shameful secret; a pair of brothers still living out their childhood roles; an ex-gay couple brought together by a "Christian recovery" group; two rich guys whose motives are unclear; a couple of high school sweethearts reunited for a second chance at love; and a pair of former child stars trying to reclaim past glory.

The great thing about Parkhurst is her ability to transcend these tropes and show us the humanity behind the caricatures. Within the unreality of the reality show, personalities clash and secrets are kept or revealed, mostly to the misery of the secret-keeper. As with any multiple-narrator novel, some characters (and therefore some chapters) are stronger than others, but by the end, the story feels whole. Laura, the guilty mother, is the obvious protagonist, but I found myself drawn more to Abby, the "ex-lesbian" stuck in a pretty loveless marriage with a zealous, hypocritical fellow recovering homosexual, Justin. Justin's surprising outburst near the end of the novel gives needed momentum to the story (since we aren't really invested in the outcome of the show itself).

A great read.

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst. Little Brown, 2006, 304 pages.


Penny from Heaven

I love Jenni Holm -- have met her a couple times, enjoy all of her books, love the new Babymouse series. And though I admit to a certain trepidation about this new one (mostly because it's gotten so many accolades, and see where that's gotten me in the past), it didn't disappoint.

Eleven-year-old Penny hardly remembers her father, who died when she was a baby under circumstances never quite explained to her. Her mother doesn't associate with her father's giant, loud, wonderful Italian American family anymore, but she lets Penny keep in touch, and it's here -- among her numerous uncles, her terrifying Nonna, and her bad-seed cousin Frankie -- that Penny learns what it means to be brave and to be loved.

Holm wrote the book to call attention to a shameful part of American history, namely the interrogation and, at times, imprisonment of Italian Americans, German Americans, and other "enemies" of the state during World War II. There are loads of books now about the Japanese American experience in WWII, but precious little about these other victims of patriotism run amuck. It's a careful story, set in 1953, with little politicism, surprisingly; affecting and touching, it's got Award Contender scrawled all over it.

Penny from Heaven by Jennifer L. Holm. Random House, 2006, 200-something pages.

Queen of Babble

Oh, Meg Cabot. How I love your girlish charm, your refreshingly blunt take on writing and so-called literature, your gap-toothed grin, and your stubborn refusal to accept the fact that you gotta be pushing 40. (And I do mean this in the nicest way: Meg seems like the kind of gal with whom I'd want to share pitcher upon pitcher of margaritas.)

But every time I read another of Meg's adult books, I'm struck by two things:
1) Wow, the narrator's voice sounds just like the one from [insert previous Cabot title here].
2) And hey, if it weren't for a couple adult situations (sex and travel, usually), this could be just like one of her YA titles.

Good beach read, fun and forgettable. (See? I barely even remember enough of the plot to summarize it here.)

Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot. Morrow, 2006, 288 pages.

Bass Ackwards and Belly Up

I don't quite know where to start with this novel. Did I enjoy it while I was reading it? Yes. Was it basically well-written? Sure. Did I care about what happened to the characters? Usually, yeah.

So why did it leave a kind of bad taste in my mouth?

Maybe it's my own fuddy-duddy nature. A novel that glorifies the pretty stupid idea of giving up one's college plans to follow a heretofore-unnamed (and unknown) dream is not, to my ever-practical heart, the best reading material for me. But mostly I just found the premise unbelievable. Harper's rejection from NYU, and subsequent failure to admit it to anyone? Sad, but kinda pathetic, too. (Who doesn't apply to at least one safety school? Who thinks her parents wouldn't figure it out -- which, thank God, her mother does?) Sophie's starlet dreams are just sad, and her lack of real struggles (oh, no! what ever will I do in this fabulous Beverly Hills house with the hot young movie star *and* the sexy pool boy fighting over me?) made her the least sympathetic character for me. Becca I liked; Kate I liked (though perhaps I identified too closely with her regimented, hyper-planned life). But I just couldn't shake a sense of "um . . . riiiiiiight" throughout the whole thing.

Moments of fun, and a quick read for such a high page count. But overall, just meh.

Bass Ackwards and Belly Up by Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain. Little Brown, 2006, 386 pages.

Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love

I picked this up on the recommendation of other bloggers, who heard about it because of some boneheaded challenges to the book by ill-advised parents who hadn't even read the darn thing but who were horribly scandalized by the title. (Stepping off soapbox . . . now.)

The buzz on the book is that it's a lighthearted, positive look at romance and dating among the early-high-school/late-tween set, and it is that. There's no sex here, just the boy-crazed musings of a freshman girl at a decidedly unusual Manhattan high school. Lovestruck by the science-obsessed Matthew, Felicia embarks on a possibly-brave, possible-foolhardy project: convince Matthew to work together on a science fair project unlocking the secrets of X, the mysterious "It" that makes people fall in love.

It's a cute book, with amusing characters who sometimes strain the limits of credulity (the school itself, with its lackadaisical rules and follow-your-bliss faculty, being first among those characters). Is it more than that? Not really. Will it rot your brain? Not a chance. Give it to a 12-year-old who'll delight in hiding the title from her parents.

Sex Kittens and Horn Dawgs Fall in Love by Maryrose Wood. Delacorte, 2006, 256 pages.


Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Sex! Drugs! Rock and roll!

A quick read for the punk-loving bookworm, this dual-authored book tells the story of one night in the lives of two bridge-and-tunnel punk fans, who meet cute (in a hardcore way) and go on to kiss, talk, fight, question, talk, kiss, and talk some more.

Nick is the musician: he was dumped by the gorgeous but evil Tris "three weeks, two days, and twenty-three hours ago" and is still, of course, fixated on her. He plays very loud bass in a queercore band, though he's straight himself.

Norah is the (mostly) responsible daughter of a pop record executive, who knows all the clubs, the whole scene, and Tris, and is trying to get over her mind-f**king boyfriend Tal, for whom she unnecessarily threw over her chance to go to Brown.

I probably would have connected more to the novel if I were a music snob, or at least someone who listens to bootleg CDs more than NPR. But the emotions and voice capture a kind of teenage angst (cliche! cliche!) that's both brutally honest and just a smidge adorable. (In the same way that I always want to give Holden Caulfield a big fat noogie.)

Quibble? Despite the copious swearing and frequent sexual/quasi-sexual encounters, these two are really just good, clean kids. Everyone around them is tripped out on something - but our heroes don't drink or do drugs, thanks. They kiss and grope and touch and play - but just when something "real" is about to happen, they're interrupted by an old couple looking for the ice machine. Layered realism, or convenient passes in case of challenges from the Uptight Citizens Brigade?

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Knopf, 2006, 183 pages. Cybils 2006 YA Fiction Winner.

To Hell with All That

I like Caitlin Flanagan. I don't agree with her on everything, but she's one of the most visible writers I can think of who writes about hot-button cultural issues without wielding an inescapable Ax to Grind.

This book surprised me, though. I had seen Flanagan plug it on The Colbert Report - which, admittedly, lends its own spin to the topic - and thought I was in for more of a right-leaning discussion than she presents.

Honestly, it's a pretty toothless book. Flanagan lays out the various slings and arrows facing modern mothers and wives: to work or not to work, what counts as a clean house, who's raising the children, and don't we all really want wives? But she doesn't commit strongly to either side of any question; she just presents her understanding of reality, and leaves it at that.

At times she creates her own contradictions: Proudly stating that she stayed home with her twin boys for the first several years of their lives, she conveniently ignores the fact that she had a full-time nanny at the time - a nanny whom she spends an entire chapter discussing and praising, not 100 pages prior. I don't begrudge Flanagan any of her choices, but to me (and here's my own bias: part-time SAHM, part-time WOHM, couldn't do either full-time without going nuts), if you've got more than an occasional babysitter for the odd movie night or evening meeting, you're not a full-time SAHM.

The end of the book is a suckerpunch - as it must've felt for Flanagan, too - when the author has a cancer scare. Suddenly the choices and questions and worries of the previous 200 pages seem pretty stupid, and the only question worth asking is, "How do I stick around for my kids?" It's a poignant ending to a breezier read than I expected.

To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife by Caitlin Flanagan. Little, Brown, 2006, 239 pages.

Fun Home

Book Two in my accidental grouping of Stories of Rageaholic Fathers. Though Dad here isn't really angry: just depressed, hyperintellectual, and occasionally criminally sexual toward adolescent boys.

The intellectual musings and references left me feeling a trifle stupid: no, I've never read Proust, and though I did read my share of high-falutin' high thinkers in my day, I've never had the experience of a H.F.H.T. influencing the way I live my life in any profound way.

What surprised me about this book (beyond my priggish shock at cartoon renderings of lesbian cunnilingus - hello, Google searchers!) was its generally positive tone. The subject matter is largely bleak: depression, suicide, lost opportunities, sexual struggle. And yet Bechdel keeps despair mostly at bay. Is it simply the format that made me feel this way? Perhaps. But the subtitle promises "A Family Tragicomic," and both sides of that oxymoron came through.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. HMCo, 2006, 232 pages.

The Man of My Dreams

Dear Curtis Sittenfeld,

Why oh why do you persist in creating pathologically unlikable characters? Whiny, self-absorbed, wrapped in their own little balls of woe-is-me negativity . . . bleah. And then, to tack on Princess Sighs-a-Lot's great epiphany at the very end, in a lame-o letter to her former therapist? Two hundred forty-four pages of annoying claptrap, and the only - oh, I don't know, let's call it Character Growth - comes second-hand in the last 20 pages? Gaak. That's what that whole "narrative arc" thing is supposed to be for.

A Concerned Reader

The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld. Random House, 2006, 272 pages.


Twelve Sharp

Typo on page 16! Gaak.

Stephanie Plum is back, in all her brassy, blowsy glory. You won't read this for the plot, so I won't bother rehashing it. The sex is sparse, in comparison to other Plum tales, but the loonies (Grandma Mazur, Lula, Joyce Barnhardt) are still loony and Steph's still got a heart.

Take it for an afternoon at the beach.

Twelve Sharp by Janet Evanovich (St. Martin's, 2006, 310 pages).


Dairy Queen

At last! A book everybody else likes that I like, too (unlike, say, King Dork).

I will spare the plot summary and focus simply on what I liked: namely, DJ herself. Forthright, smart (in her own way), and funny (in her own way), she could write her grocery list for 200 pages and I'd still want to read it. I'm shocked that the author doesn't seem to have any firsthand experience in the upper Midwest, because the setting rang very true to me. (Granted, I did not grow up in farm country per se, but the whole concept of long-standing/suffocating families and ambitions of limited scope, for good or ill, were familiar and nicely presented.)

Murdock touches on heavy topics -- anger, repression, sexuality -- without losing sight of DJ or ever taking us out of her purview. On the last topic, I was impressed with the way Amber's sexuality was handled: perhaps not as full-on positively as some might like, but quite realistically, I thought, and with no malice on DJ's part.

A great girl, great story, great book. Would like to see this on the Printz list.

Dairy Queen by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (HMCo, 2006, 275 pages).


Quickies part deux

I have discovered that if I don't post right after I finish a book, I don't remember what I wanted to say. Bad puppy! Whack whack puppy!

Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen Headley (Little Brown, 2006, 224 pages).
Patty Ho -- half-Chinese, half-white, all-confused -- is an insecure underachiever. Her mother is a force of nature, her father is nowhere to be found, and her brother, having secured admission to Harvard, can seemingly do no wrong. Against her own wishes and better judgment, Patty enrolls in math camp at Stanford for the summer (SUMaC, for the uninitiated), and there starts to figure out who she is and what's important to her.

Nothing But the Truth is your basic bildungsroman, but Patty's status as a hapa (a word she's never heard until her wild-child SUMaC roommate explains it to her) gives the novel a little extra resonance. That said, I found some of the racism Patty encounters in her small-town Pacific Northwest high school a little hard to swallow. Perhaps I am simply naive, but do people really walk around randomly calling out "chink" anymore? The blissful ignorance Patty's hometown friends display ("is that some weird Chinese-y thing?") rang truer for me.

Patty is worth rooting for, and though her internal monologue sometimes goes in circles, her journey is a fun one to take. Give this to the smart girls.

Physical by James McManus (FSG, 2006, 272 pages).
An adult nonfiction title about the state of American healthcare and the state of one middle-aged man's personal health.

Jim McManus is given a plum assignment: go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, get one of their $8000 "executive physicals" (paid for by his employer), and write about it. And that's what he does -- for about the first third of the book. He gives the reader background on the Mayo, on each test he is given, on his own health (or lack thereof), and on the state of the US healthcare system in general.

But once the physical is done, McManus veers off into political territory, pontificating on the future of stem-cell research and the short-sighted idiocy of the current administration with regard to SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer, or embryonic cloning). Whether I agree with McManus's views or not (and I happen to agree with him), the sudden shift from straightforward, sometimes breezy tales from the exam room to a heavy-handed dissertation on bioethics was jarring, to say the least. Later on McManus intimates that the stem cell chapters were originally separate pieces for a magazine (Esquire, I think), so it seems he just decided to throw them into this book to fill a few more pages.

Overall, a decent read, but not something I'd recommend too heartily.

Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2006, 192 pages).
Gretchen Yee is a loner, an outcast at a school for outcasts. She has one close friend and one ex-boyfriend, but aside from that, she spends her days at her Manhattan high school for artsy types sitting alone, sketching Spiderman comics. After wishing one afternoon that she could be a fly on the wall in the boys' locker room, just to figure out what the heck is up with the boys, Gretchen wakes up just that: a fly on the wall in the boys' locker room.

As a fly, Gretchen is privy to the boys' conversations, conflicts, primping, and of course, naked bodies. Her sudden awakening to lustful thoughts was handled well -- nothing shameful, and nothing too far, but simply a normal response (that, since Gretchen was a "lower" form of life at the time, seemed less controversial than it might've been were she still a girl). She comes to understand the fears and motivations of her fellow Art Rats, especially those of Titus, with whom she is deeply in like.

The body-part slang (gherkins and biscuits, etc.) was a little tiresome, but I probably wouldn't have enjoyed reading "penis penis penis" over and over again, either. Though the story's logic strained a bit at times (it just took a wish? then why didn't Gretchen wish herself back right away?) and some moments felt a bit message-heavy (Titus's "it's okay to be gay" speech, for example), overall it was a fun, if forgettable read.



In the interest of time and space (read: because I am wicked lazy), here are four short reviews of recently-read books.

Stay With Me by Garrett Freymann-Weyr (HMCo, 2006, 300+ pages).
I like Freymann-Weyr's other stuff, and had high hopes for this one. It didn't grab me, though, and I found myself preparing to abandon it several times along the way. I did finish it, ultimately, and the book has some wise and thought-provoking things to say about suicide, family, and love. Still, my issues:

1) There's a meta-structural thing going on regarding dyslexia: Leila, the main character, is dyslexic, which manifests itself not only in the usual way, but also in her constant quest to find and/or establish order in every corner of her life. On the large scale, she seeks answers -- a pattern, a reason -- for her sister Rebecca's suicide; on the small scale, the first-person narrative goes round and round in circles, with no clear forward push or urgency. This structural free-for-all drove me nuts and kept me from connecting with Leila.

2) Hey, Leila's boyfriend? You're a nice guy and all, and you seem to have pretty honorable intentions. And yet? YOU'RE 31 AND YOU'RE SHTUPPING A 17-YEAR-OLD. *I'm* 31. Color me thoroughly creeped out.

The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson (Harper, 2006, 256 pages)
A readable, usually funny but sometimes poignant look at the wacky world of obituaries and obituary writers. Johnson is herself a journalist and sometime obit scribe, and her exploration of the world of dead people is overall a great read. There's an extended section on the New York Times's coverage of the 9/11 dead, "Portraits," and profiles of several of the great obituary writers of the past half-century. My interest did start to flag about two-thirds of the way through, but that may be my fault and not the book's. Pair this with Mary Roach's Stiff for a comparison of the afterlife in body and soul?

A True and Faithful Narrative by Katherine Sturtevant (FSG, 2006, 256 pages).
A sequel to Sturtevant's 2000 At the Sign of the Star, this book continues the story of Meg Moore, daughter and onetime heir to a bookseller in Restoration London. Meg is now 16, and no longer her father's only child: his new wife, Susannah, has born him three more children, which cuts into Meg's position and dowry. Meg has no interest in marrying, not yet, and still hopes to take her place as a bookseller and writer of her own account, despite social prohibitions of the time that would stop her. But she's nonetheless torn between two suitors: her best friend's brother, Edward, whose affections she scorns before he sets sail abroad and is taken captive by pirates; and her father's apprentice, Will, who enjoys matching wits with Meg but whose views on women and wives give her pause.

This is a pretty good read, and girls who like historical fiction would probably enjoy it. Meg is forward-thinking without too much anachronism: she lies and deceives many of the men in her life to get her way, but all the while she knows that her future depends on making a good marriage match. Alas, though: I just didn't like her all that much. She's smart and well-read (hooray), but her interior emotional life left me all confused and annoyed. Meg makes some bad decisions -- thoughtless comments to one suitor, outright lies to another -- and though I can certainly think of examples of great books with unlikable heroines (the Emma archetype), I couldn't muster a lot of sympathy for Meg and her man troubles.

Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck (Dial, 2006, 208 pages).
Peck once again plumbs the world of turn-of-the-century Midwestern country folk, in his bid to out-Twain Twain. Peewee McGrath, amateur auto mechanic and good-hearted tomboy, knows she's at the age where people will start to talk if she doesn't wear a dress now and then. She and her brother Jake, orphans living on the edge of town and running a makeshift garage, are as flabbergasted as anyone when four learned ladies from the Library School of Butler University come to town with plans to reopen the town's library. Jake is smitten with Grace, daughter of one of the early auto magnates, and Peewee (real name: Eleanor) is taken with Irene, the ringleader. The story culminates in one of the first Indiana auto races, with a twist that may not surprise, but will certainly entertain.

My only quibble? The title doesn't really have much to do with the story: it just makes for a nice little joke and will surely catch the eyes and hearts of librarians across the country.


Just Listen: addendum

True confessions: I wrote the last post before I was finished with Just Listen. And while my overall opinion hasn't changed - it's a good read, typical Dessen - I did find myself thinking many times in the last quarter of the novel, "Um, Annabel? Could you maybe, um, SAC UP or something? It's not that hard to say hello to someone."

That is all.


Long weekend

We'll try the Kirkus style of reviewing for this batch, read over Memorial Day weekend.

Pieces of Georgia by Jennifer Bryant (Knopf, 2006, 176 pages).
A decent, if unremarkable, middle-grade novel.

Georgia McCoy is an artist. Her mother, recently deceased, was also an artist, so to spare her father's feelings, Georgia keeps her talents hidden. When an anonymous donor sends Georgia a gift membership to the Brandywine museum for her birthday, Georgia is flabbergasted -- and delighted. She sneaks away to the nearby museum after school and finds inspiration in the works of the Wyeth family.

Georgia's a likable character, and this novel-in-verse is perfectly fine. It's nothing spectacular, though, and I felt in many places that I was reading something I'd read many times before. I'd give it to an artsy girl looking for something quick.

Digging to America by Anne Tyler (Knopf, 2006, 288 pages).
You know, it's Anne Tyler. So of course it's good.

Digging to America is the story of two familes, each of whom adopts a baby girl from Korea. Bitsy and Brad Dickinson-Donaldson are the quintessential overachieving Americans, with a big house in the Baltimore suburbs and definite ideas (Bitsy has, anyway) about childrearing and maintaining cultural traditions. Ziba and Sami Yazdan, an Iranian-born couple, are more reserved, less secure (Ziba, anyway), and more sympathetic at the outset. But because this is a Tyler novel, the characterizations are never as easy as one might think. Bitsy is overbearing and rather ridiculous in many ways (her insistence on commemorating Arrival Day for the girls is both endearing and pathetic), but even she has a depth and substance that a lesser novelist would miss. Ultimately, though, this is Maryam's story: Ziba's mother-in-law provides both the moral conscience and the driving force for the novel, as her seeming implacability and judgmental tendencies are challenged by her not-exactly-romance with Bitsy's widowed father.

A quibble, however: who proofread this book? Too many small, noticeable errors for a writer of Tyler's stature. For shame.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (Viking, 2006, 384 pages).
Another satisfying pick for bookish teenage girls.

Sarah Dessen is the high priestess of pensive, thought-provoking YA: the kind of writer whose books you give your favorite moody cousin or that smart, quiet girl in your humanities class. Annabel Greene is a model - not a high-class, New York model, but a fairly normal, pretty girl whose face regularly appears in print and TV ads for local stores. This might be glamorous, were it not for three things: 1) Annabel's total social ostracization at the hands of her former best friend, after an incident at a party over the summer involving said friend's skeevy boyfriend; 2) Annabel's sister Whitney, whose own modeling career derailed after she developed a severe eating disorder; and 3) Annabel's own disenchantment with modeling, which she can't bring herself to tell her mother.

Enter Owen, a misfit with a bad reputation whose brutal honesty and apostolic devotion to underground music help crack Annabel's too-nice exterior and force her to confront the issues and people she's been trying to leave behind. Annabel avoids conflict at all costs, including the cost of honesty with herself; it's only after another girl confronts the same situation, with a bravery that Annabel lacks, that Annabel finds the strength to put herself first. Compulsively readable, with only a few bumps.

Happy summer.


Jumping the Scratch

I liked So B. It, the author's most recent middle-grade novel, very much, so I had high hopes for Jumping the Scratch. It's a quick read and a mostly enjoyable one, though I found myself closing the book with a decidedly lackluster "huh."

Jamie has had a rough life: his father skipped town, his cat died, and his mother uprooted him to live with their amnesia-stricken aunt in a trailer park. And there's one more thing -- a secret so shameful to Jamie that he can't even think about it.

Jumping the Scratch tackles a slew of heavy themes: sexual abuse, memory, loss, friendship, and self-esteem. For the most part, it's accessible and carefully paced, never heavy-handed. But I couldn't help feeling that the hard issues were all on the surface, that a certain breeziness permeated the novel and kept me from feeling the weight of Jamie's abuse fully. Jamie is a likable kid, but the secondary characters seemed a bit stock: his horrid, cruel teacher; his overworked, unsympathetic mother; the precocious kid Audrey, whose claims of ESP eventually help Jamie unlock the memories that make him ashamed. Only Sapphy, Jamie's once-vibrant, now brain-damaged aunt, is more richly drawn, and even her eventual recovery felt a bit convenient.

Don't get me wrong: I liked the novel as I was reading it, and I would recommend it to good intermediate readers. But I couldn't help feeling like the author could've done more with the story.

Jumping the Scratch by Sarah Weeks. Geringer/HarperCollins, 2006. 176 pages.


Party Princess

I like Meg Cabot's Princess Diaries books: they're fun and fluffy and don't pretend to be anything more than that, really. Cabot's characters have good moral centers (gaak, cannot believe just wrote that) -- but really, they do. These books are a decent antidote to the soulless Gossip Girls and Clique series: it's the same kind of name-dropping, trend-heavy contemporary setting, but focuses on the dorks and misfits of the high school social scene.

That's not to say the formula can't get a little tired, though, and this (the seventh in the series) is showing some signs of age. Now that Mia has her perfect boyfriend, the tension of feeling like a romantic loser has abated somewhat; now she frets about taking her relationship with Michael to the next level (S-E-X). I did enjoy the intriguing little J.P. subplot in Party Princess: Mia doesn't quite realize she's flirting with (and enjoying being flirted with in return) another great guy, but the reader (and Lilly) sure does. I'll be interested to see if the Michael/Mia pairing survives another book.

A good choice for summer or when you've got two or three hours to kill.

Party Princess by Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries, Volume VII). Harper, 2006, 304 pages.


May Day

This book was recommended by various book-y blogs, and I'm delighted I picked it up. A breezy, fun mystery set in rural Minnesota, May Day is the first in a planned series of (presumably) twelve "Murder by Month Mysteries."

Twenty-nine-year-old Mira is an assistant librarian at the Battle Lake Library, having fled Minneapolis after an unfortunate breakup. Mira's a rural girl herself, though her childhood in nearby Paynesville was forever marred by her alcoholic father, whose death in a car accident that also killed a mother and baby earned Mira the nickname "Manslaughter Mark's daughter." She's isolated and a bit lonely in Battle Creek, so when dashing Jeff Wilson comes to town to survey some land for possible development, Mira is smitten. When that same Jeff shows up dead in her library just a few days later, the mystery is on. Who killed Jeff, and why? And what does it have to do with the Battle Creek High School Class of 1982, whose members include the highly-lacquered former beauty queen mayor, the pencil-thin-mustache-sporting chief of police, and Mira's absent boss, who may or may not be a cross-dresser?

This is a quick, fun read, a good choice for the beach or a rainy night. My quibbles are minor: the usual "are you KIDDING me, you IDIOT?!" moments in many mysteries, wherein the heroine embarks on some incredibly stupid and risky adventure instead of, oh I don't know, CALLING THE POLICE; and the strange hours and policies of the Battle Creek Library, which seems to have only one staff member present at any one time, and which can apparently close at the drop of a hat or the whim of a would-be crimefighter.

Nonetheless, a satisfying little treat. Can't wait for June Bug, the next in the series.

May Day by Jess Lourey. Midnight Ink, 2006, 209 pages.



Loved it. I have never read Allegra Goodman before, though I've been tempted to many times. I think I feared she was too highbrow, too smart, and the times I thought about picking up Kaaterskill Falls or The Family Markowitz were times when I really needed a quick YA fix or collection of humor columns instead.

But Intuition is a wonderful read: a careful, nuanced portrayal of life and politics in the world of high-stakes scientific laboratories. Cliff, once a golden boy researcher who's since failed to live up to his potential, is on thin ice at the Philpott Institute, a small cancer research lab located near and loosely affiliated with Harvard. He's been experimenting on mice with R-7, a cancer vaccine, for years with no results. Finally, suddenly, a handful of mice in his experimental group show signs of remission. Is R-7 a wonder drug? Is Cliff the new face of hope for cancer patients? Or are his results too good to be true?

Rounding out the characters are Robin, Cliff's quickly-former girlfriend, whose suspicions about the validity of Cliff's data lead to a potentially disastrous NIH inquiry; Sandy and Marion, the lab's directors, whose working relationship threatens to sour under the pressure of the investigation; and Feng, another postdoc whose notions of integrity and diligence provide perhaps the strongest moral compass in the lab. Minor characters such as Sandy's daughter, Robin's neighbors, and Marion's husband give context to the players outside the lab. Sandy's relationships with his three girls, in particular, provide some of the best and most cringe-worthy moments, as his heavy-handed, charisma-laden parenting style keeps him blind to his family's needs.

Goodman is a master of internal monologue, and imbues each character with enough depth that it's impossible to categorize any of them as wholly good or wholly bad. The novel doesn't wrap up neatly, but instead presents a conclusion that feels real: not without consequences for any of the characters, but not without a glimmer of redemption either.

(I particularly enjoyed the shout-out Goodman gives to my college choir and conductor. Not surprising, since her husband is a fellow alum, but delightful nonetheless.)

Intuition by Allegra Goodman. Dial, 2006, 352 pages.


Books read on or near a plane

Long travel weekend recently. Here are the book parts of my reading material (not included: three manuscripts and seven magazines, five of which were trashy).

Startled by his Furry Shorts by Louise Rennison (Harper, 2006, 278 pages). Could it be that Georgia Nicolson has become--quel horreur!--boring? It could. Also? HAAAAAAAATE the new cover treatments.

Freshman by Michael Gerber (Hyperion, 2006, 340 pages). Funny in an insane way, with a wholly improbable plot (that "fake Ivy League" problem again), but one that trips along nicely, and the secondary characters were terrific. I am not usually a fan of nebulously-unreal stories (case in point here: the protag's girlfriend is a vampire and he and his buddy are sort of able to raise a mummy from the dead, but everything else is strictly Normal Universe), but this one managed to keep me laughing.

Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church by Becky Garrison (Jossey-Bass, 2006, 176 pages). The author is a senior contributing editor at The Wittenburg Door, a satirical religious magazine that I want to be funnier than it is. I felt the same about this book. Some funny parts, some thought-provoking parts, but a whole lot of 9/11 references/nostalgia (if I can use the word "nostalgia" without sounding like a heartless creep, as that's not what I mean) and a whole lot of whiny, nonpartisan unfunny. Still might recommend it for my church's library.

Next up: Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck (still; I know) and Intuition by Allegra Goodman.

Note to self: Someday I will fix the links on the right and make them no longer placeholders. Really, I will.


Poison Ivy

Amy Goldman Koss has a keen ear for the subtle manipulations and horrors of high school and middle school (The Girls, Gossip Times Three). Her latest concerns Ivy, a social outcast who has borne unceasing misery at the hands of the Anns, a trio of Mean Girls (only one of whom, the Queen Bee, is actually named Ann).

Ivy's well-meaning but socially tone-deaf teacher, Ms. Gold, tries to teach her students the ins and outs of the American justice system by staging an in-class civil trial, with Ivy as the plaintiff and the Anns as defendents. The attorneys and judge are chosen randomly; the jury pool is assembled through a few choice lies and manipulations. Other minor characters fill the roles of court reporter and process server.

The story unfolds through multiple narrators, a device that can be tiresome but here mostly works. I was struck by the casual inattention of some characters: Cameron the process server, who has a wonderful, dopey voice, has no idea who many of his classmates are, and his clumsy not-quite-romance with painfully shy plaintiff's counsel Daria was the best part of the novel, for me.

The ending is, as Lear would say, nasty, brutish, and short. There is no redemption here; no comeuppance, and one only hopes that the throwaway comment about suicide is just another bit of cruel gossip. Despite the unbelievability of the premise (I've taught high school kids, and that kind of roleplay is just asking for trouble), I did find this compelling.

Poison Ivy by Amy Goldman Koss. Roaring Brook, 2006, 176 pages.


Long time, no nothing

I've been flitting about the country for various book- and writing-related conferences and thus have had no time to post. I am also still stuck in a bit of a reading rut, preferring the easily-digestable magazine (not just trash, really) to the more permanent book.

Behold, a shortlist.

Books finished:
Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon, 2006, 240 pages). The latest in the #1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, this lives up to expectations: slow, comfortable, delightful.

How to Be Popular by Meg Cabot (Harper, 2006, 200-ish pages). The Princess Diaries' author's latest stand-alone. Fun and fluffy, goes down easy but not likely to stay with you. I did like the very last twist, which put this a cut above other Mean Girls-inspired YAs.

Book returned to the library unread:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Knopf, 2006, 512 pages). I know, I know, it's supposed to be fabulous. But when time is short and my shelves are overstuffed, a 500-pager about the Holocaust is just not the most appealing choice.

Book currently reading:
Born to Rock by Gordon Korman (Hyperion, 2006, 272 pages). I like his stuff; this should be good.

Books I can't wait to start:
Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck (Dial, 2006, 145 pages). A not-exactly-sequel to The Teacher's Funeral.

You Can Never Find A Rickshaw When It Monsoons by Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2006, 396 pages). A compendium of cartoons from Mo's round-the-world journey when he was in his 20s. Complete with really unflattering passport photo.

That's it for now . . . looking forward to having my head above water again soon.


King Dork

I am clearly not one of the cool kids in the literary world.

I, um, kind of. . . hated this.

I couldn't even finish it -- and it bothers me to post about something I couldn't finish, but damn, the fact that I couldn't finish it must mean something. Yes, the protagonist has a unique, realistic voice. Yes, many of the band names were funny. Yes, there are moments of agonizing truth in the author's depiction of high school life (though the inanity of what passes for curriculum troubled me a bit).

But. But. It's -- how do I say this? -- boring. Mind-crushingly BORING. Every moment, every thought, every bit of meaningless minutiae (sp?) in this loser's sorry life - gaaaaaaak. Snore. The Catcher references were kind of funny, but the crazy-ass secret code subplot with his late father's high school library just made no sense. (Too much Chasing Vermeer, with its indefensible reliance on coincidence and randomness above all.) And his relationships with his family, with his friend(s, sort of) -- no substance, just talky talky talky talk blah blah blah.

So despite all of its fabulous reviews, I just can't concur.


King Dork by Frank Portman. Delacorte, 2006. 352 pages.


Well, then.

Apparently "sorry" isn't good enough for Random House. If the extent of the borrowing/stealing/unintentional similarities between Opal Mehta and Sloppy Firsts is as great as they report, they've made the right move. I do still wonder what will become of the wunderkind: perhaps a year's sabbatical is in order?

PW follows up its article with what may be the dumbest question I have ever read:
"Does plagiarism hurt an authors career--or should it?"

Um, YES. Rule of law, people: you breach, you suffer the consequences.

How Jessica Darling Got Appropriated

The Boston Globe has a front-page story about the unfolding plagiarism accusations against Kaavya Viswanathan. Apparently the Harvard sophomore has stated that Megan McCafferty's novels (Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings) were favorites of hers in high school, and that she must have internalized some of the language and style in her own book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. No word yet on whether McCafferty's publisher will accept the apology, or whether there's more drama ahead.

I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, appropriating another author's work as your own, regardless of intent (or lack thereof) is never okay. And I would be lying if I claimed I felt no small twinge of schadenfreude, since, as has been demonstrated, I am jealous, petty, and small.

On the other hand, Viswanathan seems, at least on the surface, to be genuinely flummoxed and ashamed. Here's a high school kid who loves to read and write, who's given boatloads of money and shuffled off to a packager to produce a buzzworthy debut while she's still a teenager, all the while trying to negotiate the transition to the pressure cooker environment of a top college. I can't help but feel a little sorry for her.

So what's the lesson here? Was Viswanathan so stressed by the expectations placed upon her that she ripped off one of her favorite books? Did her publisher and the media in general put her on too high of a pedestal? What responsibility do Alloy Entertainment (her packager) and Little Brown (her publisher) bear in the whole affair? Should they have been more rigorous in their fact-checking? Were their production schedules so tight that there wasn't time for a full vetting?

More to come as more information emerges, I suppose.


Mo Willems, I love you

Those of you who have small children should already know Mo. The two-time Caldecott-Honor winner now has nine (?I think) books to his credit, each a gem. The Munchkin loves her some Pigeon and Bunny. To wit:

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Hyperion, 2003) is Mo's Caldecott Honor debut. The title says it all: this is a brilliantly interactive picture book starring an irrepressible pigeon who reeaaaalllly wants to drive the bus. Won't you let him? Curiously, although Miss Munch knows, loves, and recites this book, she has never let loose with one of those big "NOOOOO!"s that the author and publisher seem to expect from their audience.

The first sequel, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! (Hyperion, 2004) is a lesser work, but has its moments of brilliance as well. La Munch frequently asserts, "Dat PIGEON hot dog!"

The second sequel, and Mo's latest, is Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! (Hyperion, 2006). Following the format of the other two, the reader sees Pigeon (clutching his own Knuffle Bunny, see below) resisting bedtime with all the force and persuasion of a good little toddler. Replacing Pigeon's standard climactic tantrum with a room-filling yawn is a stroke of genius.

Last but not least in the Mo Hall of Fame is one of last year's Caldecott Honors, Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale (Hyperion, 2004). It took the Munchkin a little while to warm up to this one, but once she did, she was hooked. Knuffle Bunny is a slice-of-life tale of one girl, one stuffed bunny, and one ill-fated trip to the laundromat. The language and action is pitch-perfect (find me a better example of "going boneless," I dare you), and the resolution, though predictable, is heart-warming.

A word of caution: These books are not for the shy parent. Mo's background is in animation (he's a former writer for Sesame Street, among others), and one must adopt a certain theatricality to get the most out of these books. But they're worth it.

Mo is also a certified Hot Man of Children's Literature.

Also by Mo:
The Pigeon Loves Things That Go! (Hyperion, 2005, board book)
The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too! (Hyperion, 2005, board book)
Time to Pee! (Hyperion, 2003)
Time to Say Please! (Hyperion, 2005)
Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (Hyperion, 2006)