A bit of a vague title, but there is no other way to talk about these three books at the same time because they are totally different. What they have in common is that I read them this week and now have time to blog about them.
1. Toads and Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson: This is the first novel I have read by Tomlinson, but I heard so many good things about her books that I had The Swan Maiden on my TBR shelf anticipating that I would like Toads and Diamonds....which I did. It took me a few chapters to really get in to the book because it moved so quickly through everything I already knew that I really could not see where the story would go. Clearly the author did her job well since the book was not just a predictable fairy tale. It is a fairy tale based on some old possibly Indian stories. But the premise is that Diribani and her sister Tana each receive a gift from a goddess. One speaks flowers and gems, the other toads and snakes. Neither girl is entirely sure what she is to do with her gift. The sisters end up separated trying, as all teens do, to discover her place and the importance of her particular gift. The book is a bit of a love story as fairy tales often are, though there is not much action. It is a lovely story and I will be reading The Swan Maiden soon.
2. Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier: I was only in about the third chapter before I came up to the computer to Google the author. She is German and has a great many books published there, but I really only found this one in English. There are two more books in this series, the next of which will not be available until spring 2012, which makes me sad. I loved this book. Time travel is my favorite type of science fiction. Gwenyth has known about time travel for most of her life, but she and her whole family always thought her cousin Charlotte would be the one to inherit the time travel gene, and has therefore been preparing for 10 years to be able to fit in to the past. Gwenyth meanwhile has had no preparation and is completely freaked out when she pops into the past on her way to the market. Luckily she at least knows such a thing is possible and keeps her head reasonably well until she returns to her own time. One of the best parts of the book is how "normal" Gwenyth is until the gene kicks in. Because this is the first of a trilogy, we only skim the mystery surrounding the Circle of 12, the Count, other members of their time traveling family, and Gideon. Gwenyth is really a fantastic heroine handling herself well even without having any idea how to behave in the past. She does not let anyone push her around including her counterpart, Gideon who trained along with cousin Charlotte and is not necessarily thrilled about the switch. I look forward to their continued adventures.
3. The City of Bones by Cassandra Clare: YES, I realize I am way behind as the 4th book in the series has just been released, but I assure you I will catch up quickly. If you like fantasy, fantastical creatures, special powers, and weapons all wrapped up with some romance, you too will want to get out and find these books. They take place in NYC, the center of all that is weird and unbelievable, in the present. Clary, unlike Gwenyth, has no idea the world is not as she has always seen it, until the night she and her friend Simon visit a club where she witnesses three Shadowhunters dispatch a demon, all of which only she can see. Things move pretty quickly after that as her mother and all of their possessions disappear, her mom's best friend abandons her, and she meets some pretty fierce bad guys. I am not necessarily partial to female protagonists, but I do like them to be smart, tough, and a little bit vulnerable and Clary delivers. (I do hate the name though, which is short for Clarissa, but I do not like that much either.) No book is perfect, but as I try to read YA novels as a librarian, not my former English teacher self, with a thought to how my students will feel about it, I did not find any significant flaws in the story. In fact, because I could not get the second book in the series (City of Ashes) from the library right away, I switched to the first book (Clockwork Angel) in Clare's next series, which is meant to be a prequel to the others, to tide me over.
All in all a pretty dang satisfying week of reading!
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens is the first book in what is meant to be a trilogy. As much as I hate to wait, I am glad there will be more to the story. Kate, Michael, and Emma are orphans who find themselves "adopted" after moving from orphanage to orphanage for 10 years. They find themselves chased by a Countess who seeks the power of the atlas only Kate has the power to retrieve from its long time hiding place. Aided by magic, magicians, and magical creatures, Kate and her siblings manage to retrieve the atlas and ensure its safety...for now. As much as I dislike waiting I am glad there will be more to the story. It seems there are three magical books to be found, and three siblings, so it is likely each of the children will feature in their own adventure. The kids are likable, the story fast paced, and the minor characters well developed. I know it all sounds unexciting, but I promise there are "edge of your armchair" moments throughout the story.
I have seen this book hyped some, but not blogged, at least not in the blogs I read. I hope it is not going to be overlooked because it is really a good story, well-told (The author used to write for The Gilmore Girls...love it.) with interesting kids who show the importance of resilience, self-reliance, and good old fashioned guts.
Yes, it is a story about an overweight girl who loses weight and gets the guy. But, I have to say outside of that predictable plot line, the novel does not follow a formula. Cat begins her weight loss as a science project exploring the effect modern eating has on the body. She uses herself as the test subject of course. The story includes a 100% likable best friend, some periphery parents, a strong younger sibling character, and a few misses with boys before the right one comes along. I am not doing the book justice since it was much more engaging than this review. The story felt similar to Ten Miles Past Normal in that the female protagonist is looking for a niche, something she has let be buried under her weight issues. Once she deals with her health, she is able to deal with her life. There are still so many pressures on our young women related to body image that is is good to read a story with such a positive message about being healthy, both physically and emotionally, as the most important factor. The transformation is also not instantaneous, nor is it easy, which is another strength of the book. As much as I am drawn to dystopia stories, fantasy, and science fiction, I need to read realistic stories about happy people sometimes just as young readers do.
I always like to own the books I read. I may not intend to read them again, but I might. I have only recently stopped buying mysteries in some of the series I read because I know I will not read them again. But, what about this dilemma: Yesterday I went to the library to pick up a book I had on hold. Since the book is the first in a series and I am not sure I will like it, I decided to get it from the library instead of buying it. While I was there I browsed the YA section and picked up four other books. Three were on my "wishlist." (I maintain an on-line wishlist just to keep track of books I want to read. I do not necessarily intend to buy them.) However, I have read one already and really liked it and am wondering if I should now buy it, which seems ridiculous since I have already read it. I justify the purchase of many kid's and YA books with the rationale "Someday I will have a child who will have access to all these great books." But when I have a child who is old enough to read the books I am collecting, he/she may have different reading interests or there will be new books to read and he/she will not want to read mom's old books, or (gasp) he/she may not like to read. At that point I will have all these books which may not benefit from long life because they are too rooted in a specific time. Not every book can be Lord of the Rings. Just because I liked them at the time does not mean I will in 10 years or find them relevant then either. Sigh....so I love to own books. I like to arrange them and look at them and take them down and touch them, but should I really be buying so many....probably not.
So, the book I read that caused this existential crisis is Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell. It reminded me a bit of Lemonde Mouthbecause of the focus on joining a band to find one's way out of high school oblivion. In this book, Janie Gorman lives on a farm, which unfortunately brings her the kind of attention freshman females often try to avoid, like ridicule for smelling like goat poo, or hay in the hair. Because of this notoriety Janie spends lunch time in the library every day (not bad in itself, but she does not have friends to be with there either). She sees her best friend in only one class and her middle school group of friends is scattered by the "massivity" of high school. As Janie relaxes and beings talking to Verbena in the library and a boy named Monster invites her to join Jam Band she starts to find a place for herself in school.
Outside school Janie helps her father interview Mr. Pritchard, a local folk artists, who turns out to also have been a civil rights activist with his now deceased wife and Mrs. Septima Brown. The message in Janie's growing awareness of history and the importance of individual activism is not heavy handed or contrived, instead Dowell uses the specifics to show that stage of maturity when teens finally are able to look outside of themselves, a moment celebrated by parents and teachers the world over. The book is a lot more involved than this synopsis shows, with a blogging mom, 8 year old sibling, morphing relationships with friends, and a novel ending hootenanny, which is part of what makes Janie's life so interesting even though she may not see it herself.
There is nothing particularly new in this novel, but as a break from the heart-wrenching angst, dystopic downfall of society, and the supernatural it is nice to read the story of someone who is so not normal in all the best ways.
This is quite an interesting read about libraries and librarians of the future. I agree with it 95%, but the idea of books going away just makes me nervous and I think it is somewhat unrealistic.
The future of the library
What is a public library for?
First, how we got here:
Before Gutenberg, a book cost about as much as a small house. As a result, only kings and bishops could afford to own a book of their own.
This naturally led to the creation of shared books, of libraries where scholars (everyone else was too busy not starving) could come to read books that they didn't have to own. The library as warehouse for books worth sharing.
I read this a few weeks back and had not gotten to writing a review of it. There is no good reason for this especially since I liked the book a great deal. Okay for Now is a follow-up to The Wednesday Wars. It is not really a sequel because it takes just one character, Doug Swieteck and moves his family to Marysville in upstate New York.
Doug is a kid trying to avoid becoming what his rough upbringing wants him to be. His father is abusive, his mother has difficulty standing up to her husband, his brother Christopher is on the path Doug is trying to avoid, his brother Lucas is fighting in Vietnam, and Doug struggles with school and interacting with people. His story is a reminder that "bad" kids become that way; there is always something to find out about them if you care enough.
Vietnam is in the background of the story (until Lucas comes home) the way WWI is a backdrop for The Great Gatsby and WWII is there in The Catcher in the Rye. Neither war drives the action of the story, but instead lurks in the background subtly influencing the action. Until Lucas returns seriously injured, Vietnam is also a cloud hanging over them, but not raining.
Ultimately the story is about the power of art, friendship, hard work, and second chances. Sounds mushy, gushy, but really the reader is a cheerleader throughout and a few tears fall just as they should. Doug is a kid you want to take home and be nice to, but Schmidt gives him those people and we see how powerful caring, attentive adults can be in the life of a kid.
Overall I really liked this book. I do think the title was a bit misleading though. While Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk is a significant element of the book, the story really belongs to Bethia Mayfield. I found her and her experiences as a woman on Martha's Vineyard and the mainland in the mid-1600s very interesting. Not to go all English teacher on ya, but I always taught my students that a book that is truly "good" (And yes I know that "good" is all a matter of subjectivity.) will comment on religion, politics, economics, and society. This book covers them all. Having read Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower, (which I recommend if you want a detailed history of the time and historical figures) which discusses the Pilgrims and King Philip's War, which is touched on in this book, I felt well prepared for the historical elements Brooks was covering. Without a background in the time period, I would have like a bit more history mixed with my fiction. But Brooks was attempting to tell the story of a man about whom very little is known. Her fiction therefore is a really comprehensive look at the life of a teen girl and the harsh reality of her life and that of native peoples in the region.
You may notice I keep tempering any criticism with praise because I really have very little to criticize about the novel. I have read both March (which won a Pulitzer) and People of the Book by Brooks and will continue to read her work as long as she keeps writing it. Brooks approaches historical fiction the way it should be done...she takes real historical events and people then gives them life with voices and personality. It is one of the best ways to touch history without doing the research. The bonus is she dreams up the people and conversations and day to day events to give shape to the greater historical significances that sometimes obscure the real people.