I’m often torn between writing nice little reviews of what I’ve read, and just gabbing about books as I go along.  A more gossipy approach with a little critique thrown in – and today I’m in a gossipy mood.

I polished off three books last night, which sounds more impressive than it really was.

  • The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey, the sequel to last year’s Printz Honor book The Monstrumologist. Horror’s not really my cup of tea, and in this one the gore was less concentrated in a few key scenes and more generally spread out through the book, but never anything I couldn’t handle.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from a sequel, even though the first one definitely set itself up as the first in a series – would it follow the same basic pattern of Will & the doctor chasing a monster?  Yes and no – the doctor doesn’t believe they are chasing a monster, describing the wendigo as a fiction and decrying fellow monstrumologists for believing it be real.  We see more of the doctor’s background, and the story becomes a little more personal.  Along with that, it’s also a little bit more depressing at the end.  The story has enough resolution but leaves you hanging on larger questions about Will’s identity.
  • Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel – I picked this up when it made YALSA’s shortlist for the Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults (what a mouthful!)  My sister has been a Janis fan for as long as I can remember, and certain of her songs are completely linked with certain memories for me, so reading the book had me pulling out her music and singing along.  I didn’t know much about her life, and Angel’s biography provides just enough information to give you a sense of both her personality and the time and culture in which she lived, without ever overwhelming the reader with information.  Short enough to read in one sitting on the couch, but enough depth to come away with a new appreciation for her music.  The book also has a fantastic design with easy-to-read columns and the rest of the page taken up with psychedelic designs.  The pictures were fascinating, but I would’ve liked just a few more (although that may have been an issue of getting rights).
  • After I finished Janis, I remembered that I’d never quite finished the last chapter of They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti – another YALSA finalist that was also on this year’s Mock Newbery list and Mock Printz list.  So I whipped that out and polished off the last chapter and browsed through the timeline, notes and afterward.  It’s definitely an impressive work of scholarship, but I didn’t find it quite as gripping as her Hitler Youth from a few years ago, and I thought it was interesting that she left the story of her visit with a contemporary Klan group until the very, very end of the back matter.  I can respect that she left it out of the main book, since it’s not really within the scope of the book, but I wonder if any more casual reader would ever find it, stuck in after her extensive bibliography?  The writing is strong, though, and I learned more than I ever did in school about Reconstruction and the challenges faced by all sides.  The book also does a great job of showing the effects of individuals on history – from choices made by politicians to the decisions of ordinary people.