Monday, June 29, 2009

Cold Hands, Warm Heart by Jill Wolfson

This is the story, from start to finish of a heart transplant. We visit with the donor before they are a donor, we visit with her family as they make hard decisions. We learn about Dani, a girl who was born with her heart on the wrong side of her chest. We visit with her pre-op and post. Along the way we learn all about transplants and what they really entail and we laugh and cry and hope that we never need to be in such a position.

This was an extremely well written book. I really enjoyed how the author tied all the disparate stories together. I say that because many people think just about the person getting the organ, but in order for anyone to get an organ so many stories must also be put into play. The author takes what could become a saccharine movie-of-the-week plot and maintains just the right level of heightened emotion without ever devolving into a soppy sappy cry-fest (and you totally know the type of which I speak). There is crying (at least my eyes stayed pretty wet) but the story earns your tears.

This is a first rate book.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

I picked up this one because an author (who shall remain nameless, but if you want to know I’ll let you know – but you are risking something of a spoilery nature – so if you want to risk it email me) said that this book influenced her on writing her newest YA book. In fact, don’t continue reading if you don’t want any spoilers on this book either.

Well. Let me say this book was very well written. However. However, I wanted to throw it against the wall in the exact same way I wanted to throw the “influenced” book against the wall. I don’t mean that in a bad way. Just there aren’t any answers once you finish. It isn’t tied up for you. There is so much left to interpretation. Which makes for suspenseful reading, bated breath, and, of course, the throwing of books against walls. (And in the interest of full disclosure I never actually threw either book, one was a library book, the other borrowed, and one shouldn’t trash things that do not belong to one’s self. I just wanted to do it.)

Anyhow. After reading this book, I was frustrated for an additional reason. It is all about nature vs. nurture. Was Kevin born bad? Was he a product of his mother’s dislike? Is he a psychopath? Or just a confused child? And by the end of the book, we don’t know. Kevin’s mother is certainly a bad mother. They never had a bond. However, Kevin’s dad dotes on him. He gets plenty of love, affection, etc. So I ruled out the lack of maternal affection creating pychopathy. Did lack of maternal affection make him an angry disaffected youth? Certainly. I was actually willing to believe that Kevin was born bad, until the end of the book where Eva (his mom) said that he reached out for her and she felt love for him for the first time. Which just chapped my hide. You can’t just one day develop the ability to feel love after spending your entire life not emoting. So either he was just an angry disaffected youth who always felt love, but did horrendous things or Eva allowed herself to be fooled at the end and he was, as he had always been, a total psycho.

And of course, we only have Eva’s opinion on the subject and she certainly isn’t an unbiased or completely trustworthy narrator. Maybe she beat the crap out of him everyday and just lied to us about it. Who knows? She was certainly unlikeable enough, but I feel reluctant to believe she lied about everything in the story.

I can totally see how this book influenced the recommending author. I picked it up hoping it would shed some additional light on her book. It did on the writing process certainly, but on the content? Alas, it did not. I will have to re-read her book and look for clues and hints. (And in case you are wondering, I LOVED the YA book I’m totally thinking Printz here.)

Gets you thinking anyhow. It would make a fantastic book club book for adults. It totally compells you to seek out other people's opinions on what happened. Which, for the record, seem to be pretty evenly divided.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Whew, been awhile. My computer died on me and it took me some time to replace it. Anyway, I did keep reading!

Dru has moved from place to place with her ex-military father, hunting creatures that the normal world doesn't know exist. She helps her dad through use of "the touch," a psychic ability that allows Dru to sense the supernatural beings. When he returns from a hunt as a zombie, Dru must decide what to do: find her father's killer, move on, or try to live a normal life. The creature that is now hunting her may make that choice for her.

I have to say that I liked the pace and the unique creatures that are in this story. It is not a paranormal romance, although I could see it going there in the future. It is definitely an action story. St. Crow weaves in some little used mythology in her story and makes it believeable.

Graves, the Goth boy who helps Dru decide what to do and gives her a place to stay, is probably the most likeable character. However, Dru's constant references to his "half-blood" status and features are obnoxious and borderline racist. Do we really need to be constantly reminded of his half-Asian features and mathematical abilities? It is a horribly overdone cliche for an otherwise great character.

Several reviews I read really like Christophe, the other main character, but I reserve judgement for later novels. Something about him really bothers me.....Just can't put my finger on it.

As for Dru herself, she is plucky and foul-mouthed, cynical and soft-hearted, knowledgable yet still in some ways quite innocent. She is complex enough to carry the story, but understandable and recognizable as a teenager who has lost her whole family and discovered that the secrets they kept are larger than the ones that they shared.

So, overall, not a masterpiece, but I do look forward to future installments. It is a good choice for all those Twilight lovers out there (with better writing and swifter plot). All in all, a new guilty pleasure for those of us who love our paranormal hotties.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Chasing Boys by Karen Tayleur

El had to change schools. It's been over a year and she's still not completely sure about it. She's holding out the hope that it is just temporary. That she'll be back in her old house, her old school, her old life asap. Meanwhile, she'll hold herself over with her secret (at least to him...or maybe not even to him) love Eric, her two friends Margo and Desi, and not talking to Leonard.

El is clearly depressed. It seems to be getting worse. Especially after Eric begins dating Angelique, a smart, nice, and gorgeous girl that El knows is clearly above her in every way. El begins to feel even more alienated from her life.

There is a lot to like in this book. El, for the most part is a great narrator. The chapters are short and kind of spare, they convey emotions precicely. El is a smart girl, even if she seems somewhat obtuse about the reality of Eric. The story has a nice arc and a believable resolution and there are a couple of plot twists, one which is clearly coming, the other which is not.

If I were talking to Leonard, which I'm not, I would ask him a question. "Leonard," I would say, "what sort of person makes up a rumor for the sheer pleasure of making someone else unhappy?" Then Leonard would look at me and clear his throat and do that tapping thing with his foot and I would get so annoyed that I wouldn't stay around for his answer. That's the trouble with Leonard. He's just so damn annoying.

My biggest complaint isn't actually about the writing at all. It is about the title and the cover. It isn't representative of the story at all. El is neither a chaser of boys nor is her story a chick-lit romp which, to me at least, the title and cover imply.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

In full disclosure I must admit that I began reading Ms. Toews because, like her, I was also was born and bred in Winnipeg. Ok, I don’t really know that she was born there, but she certainly lives there. It makes me love her. The fact that she is an insanely talented writer certainly doesn’t hurt either.

The Flying Troutmans is the third of her books that I’ve read. It is also, in my opinion, the funniest. How she manages to write about such topics as severe depression and interject such madcap humor (and it really is madcap at times) is a feat. It is heartbreaking, heartwarming, and a wonderful emotional experience reading her stories.

Min, mother of two, has once again fallen into a severe depression and must be hospitalized. Hattie, her younger sister comes back from Paris to help out (just as she is dumped by her boyfriend who is going to an Ashram in India - he says they’ll communicate telepathically…). Thebes, insists on wearing a blue terry cloth short outfit, not washing, speaks as though she belongs in a 1990s hip-hop group, and makes giant oversized novelty checks. Logan is often silent, especially when he is carving cryptic messages into the van dashboard, stealing the van to shoot hoops, or creating personal ads for school assignments.

I am fifteen years old. I am a consistent B student and enjoy watching football and other things on television. I like gambling and am extremely wealthy. I enjoy films and music of all kinds. I like many different kinds of food and desserts including breakfast. I hate the cold and own many warm garments. I like people who are easy going and have a crazy sense of humour. No member of my family is “known” by the bolice and I am relatively well-adjusted.

Hattie, at a loss of what to do, decides to pack up the kids and take them on a road trip to find their father. Hijinx and heartfelt healing ensue. And if not healing, at least coming to terms with the reality of the situation.

We never really meet Min. We see her through the eyes of her family. We learn about her through shared stories and memories. We see that although she has struggled with severe depression her whole life, she is a force of nature. Her family loves her fiercely, even if they are at a loss about how to help her. One story that I particularly loved was how she hated her son’s kindergarten teacher. The teacher had called her and expressed concern that Logan didn’t know his colors or how to hop on one foot. She was incensed. Several years later she had a chance encounter with the teacher while he was waiting at the bus stop. She harassed him hopping on one foot telling him things like, “oh, look, it’s very important to be able to do this. Can you do this? Because if you are not able to hop on one foot you may as well kill yourself. Nobody will hire you. Nobody will marry you. Nobody will want to be your friend.” No wonder her kids idolized her despite her flaws.

This is one of those books that you want to share with everyone. It is that wonderful.

(A note on the cover, this is the UK cover. I just picked it because I liked it the best.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Someone Please Explain...

How did we go from this:

To this???

I'm frightened.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe by Bryan Lee O'Malley

This image doesn't show the iridescence of the book cover. It's such a beautifully shiny shiny cover for my darling Scott Pilgrim. Hooray for volume 5!

Scott has 3 more of Ramona's Evil Ex-Boyfriends left to defeat. This volume he gets a double whammy with the Katayanagi twins Kyle K (Handsome Jerk) and Ken K (Perfect Asshat). They're Japanese. They're hot. And they build robots! YES. Robot Fights. Scott battles robots. !!!!!!

This volume, though, is more about Ramona and whatever darkness she has in her past. We've been wondering what's up with her and these boyfriends all this time. Since there's 1 more volume left, we don't get any answers here. The usual gang is split up since the focus is Ramona and Scott. Not enough Young Neil or Wallace for me this time. I think the biggest shocker for me was Kim and her decision to move. She's pined for Scott (Kim Pine, get it?) and then there's that bit with Knives.

We'll have to see if the gang bands together to help Scott & Ramona with his last challenge - Gideon.

This series is going to be made into a movie, so if you haven't already ordered it for your collection, hop to it!

Oni Press, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One Tough Customer

Girl: Do you have books about wizards?

Me: Of course! Is there a specific book that you're looking for?

Girl: No, just books about wizards.

Me: let's go over here (we walk to the stacks) Oh great, How about So You Want to be a Wizard? (I hand her the book which unfortunately has an old ugly cover)

Girl: I want a book about wizards where they learn to be a wizard, make mistakes, have adventures. Yeah, books like that.

Me: ( that's exactly what I handed you, but let's take another look) Ok, let's keep looking to find some other ones. Ok, how about this (can't remember the books but they were wizard school books)

Girl: (looks at me crazy) "Um, I want a book where the dad is a wizard and he marries a wizard and then she dies and he marries a non-wizard and things get complicated, yeah, books like that."

Me: Is this a specific book about wizards that you've heard about?

Girl: No. I just want a book like that.

Me: ....(thinking that her request is pretty specific, but I guess it's always good to know what you want) Well! It might not exist yet you might have to write it!

Girl: *smiles*

We did end up finding her books. The Children of the Lamp to be exact.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

(Note to readers, I kept referring to this book in my head as the Physick Book of Danity Kane, which, um, would be a very different book indeed. Damn you MTV!)

I loved the set up of this novel. Connie, a rather reserved student recently admitted to the American History PhD program at Harvard, is pressed by her thesis advisor to find an unstudied primary document. She would love to begin her research, but her mother coerces her to spend the summer in a crumbling family house in historic Salem. Once there, she begins to unravel a mystery. This is exactly my kind of book. I love books where the protagonist has to do research in crumbling archives, chasing clues here and there (and not just doing lame searches on google), making logical jumps, throw in a big bad and we’re set!

That being said, I had some problems with it.


I’m sure you can guess that the mystery deals with witches. It is set in Salem, after all. Howe re-imagines the Salem Witch trials. And I loved how she managed to go back and forth from present day to vignettes of Deliverance Dane and her family in the late 1600s. I really enjoyed how Connie begins knowing almost nothing of her family history to being wrapped up in research that slowly reveals that she is related to a convicted Salem witch.

Mainly I felt like Connie was really slow on the uptake. She has visions, she has glowy blue lights emanating from her fingers, she magically rejuvenates dead plants. And yet. And yet it isn’t until the last bit of the book that she figures out that she has magic in her. Add that into her slow researching and it was more than a little frustrating. Furthermore, her mother knew the entire time, or seems to have known, so why on earth didn’t she share this knowledge with Connie? WHY??? Yes Connie is a skeptic, but good gravy!

I also had problems with her thesis advisor’s motivations. From the start he was a shadowy character, I didn’t trust him, I knew he was not one of the good guys. I found him menacing, intimidating, I was constantly wondering what his reasons were. I really enjoyed him – especially his popping up at her house after she casts the spell – but I just found the reveal anti-climatic. I was thinking he was a sorcerer, he wanted magic power for himself, he was secretly hunting down the mates of all of Deliverance’s family through the generations. Alas, he wasn’t any of those things.


Problems, notwithstanding, I really did enjoy this book. I loved the research especially. It did remind me in some ways of The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. The Physick Book is perhaps not as breathless as The Historian, but I think those that enjoyed that book would enjoy this one too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Previously: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Good golly Miss Molly, I’m not sure where to start with this one. The first book blew me out of the water. The second one made me wonder what in the heck more can happen to these poor people (ie. Todd and Viola). The third is surely gonna make my head explode.

It was good. Really, really, excellently good.

Ness writes with an honesty few others do. He’s created a world and instead of getting all scifi-crazy-name on it he’s gone the exact opposite route. Settlers left their world and set out to start a life on a new one, appropriately named New World. He’s taken a town, named after the Mayor, Prentisstown, and when the mayor takes over Haven (a supposed haven from the likes of the Mayor ironically enough) he renames it New Prentisstown. I respect this like nothing else. I mean, it is so exactly what people would do isn’t it (yes, yes it is). The lack of originality humans show when naming their new homes is almost mind boggling in its…lack of originality…Anyhow, big thumbs up for this Mr. Ness. Obviously the first book in the series covered our introduction to this, but I don’t think it struck me until the second book how integral I found this to be to my buy in of the story.

If you thought the first book was gritty, and violent, well, never you worry, this one is more of all of that. The story is told from both Viola’s and Todd’s perspectives. I was a bit hesitant at first, but man I ended up really liking that. Viola is a force of nature. She is fierce in a way few female characters are (even my beloved Katniss, Katsa, and Alanna). She’s got no special talents, no extraordinary strengths. Just shear bloody determination. And it is something special to behold.

Text is used again to indicate the noise virus, but less so than in the first book. It was also used to indicate explosions with giant BOOMs and the like. I thought that really worked well. It was pared down, still effective, maybe even more so now that we understand the noise and the toll it takes on men.

I also liked how the theme of responsibility runs through the story. This is not a story of destiny (although it wouldn’t take much to convince me that there is some destiny at work for Todd) it is solidly a story of decisions. We are what we choose, our decisions define us. They make us who we are. And yet, if we fall we can pick ourselves back up. Let me tell you, I can’t hardly wait to see what the choices are in book three.

I love the confusion in this book. I love the title and how it fits into the story. I love that Mayor Prentiss, over-the-top evil mastermind that he is can so clearly manipulate everyone and that includes the reader. I even fell a little in love with Davy, he who shot Viola in book one. And the Spackle. Oh dear the Spackle. You are in for a ride with them.

If you haven’t read the first book you should. This series is my number one pick for teen boys – it is the first thing I check to see if it is on the shelf and available. It usually isn’t.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson

Fourteen year old Bobby’s mother decided to relocate him and his younger brother to the Irish countryside. She says it’s to give Bobby a fresh start away from the gangs, drugs, and general violent life in Dublin, but it is never that simple. They find a cottage to rent. It seems nice if you can ignore the folklore that says the house was built on a fairy line and you have to feed the fairies or they’ll get you. Or if you can ignore your younger brother sneaking off to the kitchen in the middle of the night and whispering to someone. And it seems especially nice if you can ignore the murders and disappearances of previous tenants…

This book was suitable creepy, but it was not what I expected. Bobby is a very troubled boy and the majority of the story deals with him and his demons. His desire to fit into his “gang” and to steal, rob, hurt people, to leave reality by consuming drugs and alcohol. It was so realistic, I believed every word, but I found Bobby so unlikeable that it was difficult for me to read this book. He always seemed to be on the cusp of understanding the pointlessness of the way he was living his life, but without ever actually coming to that conclusion. Eventually, of course, there is a resolution - a happy one even, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with it.

It was terrifically written, but I wish it had stayed focused on the creepy rather than Bobby’s troubles. I think my feelings are probably just a reflection of expectations and that another reader would feel very differently. It also left me feeling depressed about the prospects for Dublin’s youth. Oy.

I did very much enjoy and appreciate the double meaning of the title. There is definitely more than one kind of night creature in this book.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

One of my colleagues was a lucky recipient of one of the mailed out copies of Catching Fire. She read it in about an hour (Ok, maybe like a day) and then I ripped it out of her hands and devoured it. There are few series books where I don't have to re-read the first to remember what happened. Hunger Games is one of the few where the entire plot has just stuck with me.

I can happily say that it lived up to expectations. I was a little worried it would suffer from middle book syndrome, but I don't think it did in the least. It was exciting from start to finish, there were fabulous plot twists, ones that I never saw coming. The same themes are continued from the first book. All in all, totally consuming and fantastic.

There was loss, betrayal, redemption, and action. I wish I had the third one already. I can hardly contain myself. Need. Sequel. Now.

Awesome job Ms. Collins!