29 May 2010

American Girl

American Girl
Monika Fagerholm
adult fiction
This is a novel for adults. It was originally published in Finland but written in Swedish. It is set in Finland.
This is NOT the American Girls book series for children.
This is NOT the magazine for children.
I hope this is now clear which book I am reviewing. I hate it when you can't tell which book it is from the title.

That being said, I picked up this book because it had glowing reviews on the back and because it was set in Finland. I know a number of 3rd or 4th generation Finnish Americans and I have flown Finnair (the official airline of Santa Claus), and I enjoyed "Sisterchicks on the Loose" when they head to Finland so I figured it might be interesting.
I struggled to get through this book. It was set in some kind of stream of consciousness confusing style where the reader could not tell if what was being said was reality or fantasy and the time periods jumped around a whole lot. Maybe this book lost something in translation. It says on the cover that it is part of a series. I have no desire to read any more books like this.
The cover says that it is about two girl friends that discover the body of an American teenager in a swamp. Yes, this does happen, but mostly the book dashes around from character to character, time to time, and perspective to perspective until the reader is completely confused. I would tell you more about it, but I'll be da**ed if I know what happened, even after reading the whole book.
Maybe if someone reworked this into a screenplay and simplified everything I would have a clue.
There is a death, so I guess you could call this a mystery, but mostly I would call it a mess.

Into the Beautiful North

Into the Beautiful North
Luis Alberto Urrea
Adult novel set in contemporary Mexico and U. S. A.

The people of Tres Camarones, Mexico look around one day and realize that almost every last one of their men ages 16-60 have left for America to find work (one lonely homosexual and one mentally-challenged man are left). Without men to protect the village, the drug dealers are starting to circle. The women think that their village is lovely and their way of life is worth saving. Inspired by Steve McQueen and Yul Brenner in The Magnificent Seven, they decide that they must send a delegation to America to bring back 7 men. They need men who will fight for their town, preferably soldiers and policemen. They hope these men will then stay and repopulate their village.
With the blessing of the village elder (elderess?) a group of young people head north to the border on this Mission from God. This is a humorous book filled with movie quotes and popular culture references.
I wish the author would have included a map of Mexico showing where the villagers started so I could better understand their journey. Where is Sinaloa anyway? If I were leading a book discussion on this book I would want to have this information available.

Await Your Reply

Await Your Reply
Dan Chaon
adult fiction

Chaon's novel is a quick and lively read set in today's America. He launches three parallel stories about persons who don't wish to be found. How does someone evade being detected in today's world? Some persons steal other persons' identification - becoming (on paper) someone new. Others try to live undetected. What does it take in today's world to reinvent one's self? What if you pretend you are from another state and adopt a new accent? What if you lie to loved ones?
One story line follows a brother trying to find his schizophrenic twin. Another line shows an 18 year old young lady who takes off for a more glamorous life in Nebraska. Nebraska? The third plot traces a male college student who left school and never went back after he was mistakenly declared dead.
Ohio readers will find a number of places in Ohio mentioned - Pompey, Cleveland, Euclid Heights, and more. The author lives in Cleveland and teaches at Oberlin College.
Generally I am not into thriller/crime/mystery novels, but this one was pretty good. There is one grisly scene, but that is the only one.
In an unrelated note, I wonder how CHAON is pronounced?

27 May 2010

Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Classic Comics Retelling)

Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Classic Comics Retelling)
by L. Frank Baum, Eric Shanower and Skottie Young
children's fantasy fiction, ages 6-10

I have read the original Wonderful Wizard of Oz many, many times, as well as at least 40 other Oz books and comics, saw the Broadway musical, Wicked, viewed the MGM movie and other movies about Oz, and watched the television show, so I am VERY familiar with this story.
In this case, Eric Shanower has condensed the plot to make this an accessible read for voracious readers and reluctant readers alike. Skottie Young's illustrations are NOTHING like the previous illustrations I have seen in Oz books, although there have been so many different comic book takes on Oz (some of which are not at all true to Baum's original intentions) that I can not say if other comic book illustrators have given Dorothy and friends a similar treatment.
The results are the old shown and told in a fresh way. Fans of Baum (and Shanower has his fans as well) are in for a treat with this book and the bonus feature - a sketchbook in the back of the book showing different ideas that the illustrator toyed with in developing the book. Graphic arts students would enjoy that part. I recommend this book for public and school libraries across America (and other countries as well). I am not sure if I would put it in the juvenile, or YA sections of the library, though. It can be enjoyed by many ages of audience. My library has it under "Y, graphic novels".

Magic Tree House # 3: Mummies in the Morning

Magic Tree House # 3: Mummies in the Morning
Mary Pope Osborne
children's fiction, ages 7-10

In book three of this popular time travel/historical fiction series siblings Jack and Annie are transported into ancient Egypt where they must help the ghost of an Egyptian Queen move on to the afterlife by restoring her Book of the Dead to her mummy. The addition of the religious aspects and the supernatural ghost idea are different than the first two books in this series which featured dinosaurs and knights. A number of conservative parents have their children read this series (and other historical fiction series such as American Girls) and having a ghost be a character puts this book in the series in jeopardy of being banned for having occult/horror/differing religious beliefs.
I read this book with a 6 year old and a 7 year old. The 6 year old did not understand that the mummy had different religious beliefs than ones she was accustomed to and didn't understand about the Book of the Dead. An older child would probably get the idea. Maybe if she had more knowledge about Egypt this would have been better received.
I do look forward to other books in this series, but this particular reader/book interaction did not go well. Book 4 is on pirates, which are pretty popular right now, so hopefully it will work better with my audience.
P. S. Bonus points to the author for a clever title using alliteration. (Although now that I think of it there is just one mummy, not mummies).
P. P. S. This cover is different than the one I have in my hand. It must have been reissued with a different cover.


The Help
Kathryn Stockett
Adult Historical Fiction

Two African American maids and one bored young white debutante are the stars of this book set in rural Mississippi in 1963. Skeeter wants more than to marry and have children - she wants to be a journalist and novelist. Inspired by the changing world around her, she starts interviewing a friend’s maid to find out more about race relations. Why do coloreds have to use separate bathrooms? Is being a slave or domestic help all they can aspire to? These are dangerous times. There is a very real possibility that the African Americans she speaks to will be fired or lynched for being uppity. Can Skeeter make the world a better place or will it all go up in flames from her being nosy?

I read the first chapter and there were a whole lot of characters I could not keep straight. I stuck with it, though, and by the middle I thought it was a pretty good book. The suspense builds to the end.

There is a long line for this book at the library and I have spoken to at least 4 women who recommend this book.

I hate it when publishers release one-word title books. They are hard to find in the catalog and on the internet. Ghost? Cars?
In this case, though, the author explains the title in the book and it can have two meanings, so I can forgive her. It is actually a pretty clever title.

I wonder about the cover - three birds on a perch, but two birds are apart from the other bird. I would like to discuss this with others who have read it. I think it means that one of the birds is segregated from the others, but I don't know what kind of birds they are. Are they sparrows - as in "His Eye Is on the Sparrow"?

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot
adult nonfiction

In general, I am not into reading nonfiction, but this book was RIVETING.
There is a LOT to discuss in this book – Bioethics and African American history being the big two. Secondary: rights of patients and the development of 20th and 21st century medicine.
This book is about Henrietta Lacks, the cells that scientists took from her and raised in a lab, and the reporter that is bringing us this story. The reporter has done extensive research: interviewing Henrietta’s family, scientists, and doctors, combing through old and new science journals that discuss the cells, and diving into archives and courthouses for records. This is an amazing and TRUE story of modern medicine.
About 1/3 of the way through I started thinking of all the people I should share this book with – especially people in the medical field. I mentioned it to my doctor this week.
These are the subject headings from our catalog.
Lacks, Henrietta, 1920-1951 -- Health.
Cancer -- Patients -- Virginia -- Biography.
African American women -- History
Human experimentation in medicine -- United States -- History.
HeLa cells
Medical ethics
Cancer -- Research
Cell culture

This is a great book to purchase and share with various friends and relatives OR to have for a book discussion.

Son of a Witch

Son of a Witch
Gregory Maguire
audiobook read by the author
12 hours long
adult fantasy fiction
second in a trilogy
1. Wicked
2. Son of a Witch
3. A Lion among Men

I love Oz books and have since I was about 7 years old. I have read many, many Oz books and seen just about all the movies except for a few silent films. I read "Wicked", the first in this trilogy and thought it was an insightful look at a much travelled path. I saw the musical based on "Wicked".
In this case, I opted to listen to the audiobook instead of reading the print book. I knew I would be in the car quite a bit and would have the time to read it. The book is read by the author who does a commendable job at giving voice to different characters. One has a British accent, another a Southern accent, another is as old as dirt with a shaky voice. The big problem that I had with this book, however, is that it dragged on and on and on. I do not anticipate EVER AGAIN listening to 12 HOURS of a book. It seemed like it would never end! Twelve hours is longer than a mini-series and about as long as an entire season of a BBC television program. My library has shelf upon shelf of audiobooks LONGER than this one. I have seen some on the shelf that are up to 30 hours long or so. Who can listen to something that long? I think I have a fairly good attention span and have read books that are 650 pages long or so, but now I find that I can not STAND audiobooks more than 6 hours or so.
I think the only time I might contemplate listening to something this long again is if it has a full cast of characters, an orchestra, and recaps the previous night's episode at the beginning of each disc. Even then, I don't think I would want more than 8 hours at best. I have found that I much prefer the 1 hour radio dramas to these drawn out productions. I am going to stick to the young adult and children's sections of audiobooks for a while - but even there I see that there are extremely long volumes of 10 hours or more. Yikes!
Back to the content:
I am fairly certain that I would have enjoyed this book more in the printed format. It was a mere 337 pages long. That is just an average size for a book. It did have some drawn out philosophical parts that I probably would have skimmed or read quickly. As I reached the end I realized that the author had no intentions of tying up loose ends as he intended this book to be number two of three books. That was also annoying.
Here is the plot:
Liir lives his life as a drifter. He doesn't know for sure, but he and some others suspect that his mother was the Wicked Witch of the West and his father was a statesman who cheated on his wife. After the witch's death Liir eventually finds himself joining the National Guard for something to do. He finds a sense of belonging there, but still has serious gaps in his education, his sense of morality, and sense of being. Animals come to him hoping that he will help fight for their rights like his mother did. He is constantly insisting that he is not magical like Elphaba and he can't help - or can he? He learns to fly on her broomstick and becomes a revolutionary like the witch.
I don't think this is the Oz that L. Frank Baum imagined, but it is thoughtful and original. I wish the author would have resolved some more mysteries in this book, but instead he lives the audience in suspense for book three. Eventually I will get around to reading book three IN PRINT.

Trucks and Diggers

Let's Look: Trucks and Diggers: Essential Preschool Learning
(Dorling Kindersley)
by Hannah Wilson
nonfiction board book
ages 1-4

This DK book features bright photography and fairly technical language for a board book. When I say it uses technical language what I mean is that the correct terms are used for each of the construction equipment that is pictured and the parts of the equipment are identified. The Thomas the Tank Engine series is for little kids but it uses complicated train jargon. The same with this book. I don't know exactly what a harvester or scraper or grader does and I don't know the difference between kinds of fire trucks, but if I paid attention and read a number of these nonfiction books about vehicles I could learn.
At about 36 pages this is thicker than the average board book as well, but priced the same as a thinner book ($5.99).
Trucks and Diggers shows trucks, miscellaneous vehicles for hauling, emergency vehicles, plows, trailers, construction equipment, and more. There are quizzes so the child can identify what is on a page ("I spy") and at the end there is a match-the-shape-to-the-vehicle game that was more challenging than I expected. (Is that the shape of the space shuttle)?
For kids who love things that move and wheels that go around, this is a good starter book. It would make a good birthday present paired with a Tonka truck or other toy.
DK (Dorling Kindersley) and Usborne books are among my favorite books for children with the way they feature excellent photography and easy to read fonts.

04 May 2010

My Abandonment

My Abandonment
Peter Rock
Adult or Young Adult Fiction

Thirteen year old Caroline and her father live in the forest outside of Portland, Oregon. Her father constantly warns Caroline that they are not like other people and can not be tied down with a house or too many possessions. From the very beginning this book is creepy and suspenseful. When will the authorities catch up with them? Will they be captured? Will they survive? Is Father's paranoia justified?
I don't want to say too much because the best part about this book is the "not knowing".
If you can't wait for the next Jodi Picoult book, have read all the Margaret Peterson Maddix books, and are a fan of Jon Krakauer, this is the book for you. It is short and a quick read for teens or adults.
My library put this in the adult section. This book is one of the winners of the Alex Awards given to adult books that young adults will enjoy.
The scariest part is that it is based on true events.
Read it, then pass it along to a friend, age 15-99.

Clifford's Peekaboo

Clifford's Peekaboo
based on the character by
Norman Bridwell
board book ages 0-3

Here is a short book featuring everyone's favorite Big Red Dog - but when he was a Small Red Puppy.

This book offers an excuse to say "Peekaboo"! to the baby audience over and over again. Clifford the puppy is hiding - peekaboo! This book uses very short rhyming sentences and colorful, playful pictures. It would be a good one to use at the beginning of a baby and parent storytime.

These are other books in the series:
Clifford's Animal Sounds
Clifford's Bathtime
Clifford's Bedtime