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After Tupac and D Foster After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
How does Jacqueline Woodson manage to fit so much into such a slim book? It’s not that it has a big plot, but more than there’s so much life in so few pages. Each character – even the younger kids who only appear for a few moments on the page – is distinct and full of character. The descriptions of food make you hungry, the sense of the neighborhood is palpable, even though the description is sparse, and most of all – the sense of being eleven, twelve, thirteen. My childhood doesn’t bear any outward resemblance to these girls, but I recognized the narrator as a sort of kindred spirit in an unexpected way. I don’t know quite who I’d recommend this to, because it’s hard to describe and it doesn’t have a lot of obvious hooks. But I think it definitely speaks to what girls go through at that age, in terms of awareness of the bigger world and friendships and family. And it also deals with how much music, or a single musician, can matter to someone, so that might be a good hook there.

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Wicked Lovely Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I can’t decide if this just wasn’t my kind of thing, or what. I think it’s a book that would appeal enormously to teen readers who like slightly dark fantasy with fairies and some romance. For me, the writing just wasn’t strong enough to hook me into a topic I’m ambivalent about. I was really intrigued at the beginning – Ash is a fairly strong main character, and there were intriguing hints at her family’s past and at the motivations of various fairies. The beginning of her relationship with Seth was nicely swoony, but then he turned into Mr. Perfect and Supportive and I missed the earlier tension (although I hear we get his point of view in a later book and everything isn’t so perfect – a fact which convinced me to keep going with this series). Overall, I think the book has a strong hook with interesting characters and plot, but it’s not one that I’ll rush out and recommend to other adults as a great example of teen literature – but I would definitely recommend it to teen fans of slightly goth fantasy, Twilight, etc. (In one sense this is much better written than Twilight, but for me it lacked that bizarre addictive quality).

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It’s a gloomy Monday and the first day without meat.  I always seem to have irreverent things to say at the beginning of Lent, but I’m feeling more whiny this year (and trying to snap out of it).  I don’t mind not eating meat, but next Monday will be the start of no dairy, and that’s always hard.  Plus, since I’m living with four people who are eating meat and dairy, the temptation is always there.  And I can’t count on being able to eat leftovers when I get home from work – which requires more planning.  Which means I end up obsessing about food.  Which is not the point.

On to books.  I started reading Sarah Dunant’s The Birth of Venus, which is fascinating because, despite studying my fair share of Renaissance art in college classes, I don’t really know anything about daily life in Italy at the time.  So far all of the details of culture and class in Florence are compelling, and I’m intrigued by the characters but not quite attached to them yet.

I’m nearing the end of Selden Edwards’ The Little Book, which I’ve been listening to in the car.  At times I’m totally enthralled by it, eager to find out what happens to characters, caught up in their emotions and histories and futures (since characters time travel from various times in the 20th century to 1890s Vienna, it makes for some interesting situations, and pieces of the story take on different meaning as you go).  At other times, though, I could care less about a particular plotline, or the story over-emphasizes Wheeler’s genius to the point of disconnection.  What can’t this man do?  He can match wits with pyschologists and philosophers, discuss and play music, reinvent the Frisbee, pitch a perfect game of baseball – and time travel.  It makes him pretty obnoxious, to me at least.  But the story is interesting, and some of the other characters are more compelling.  So I’m kind of torn.  It reminds me a little of John Irving in terms of that over-the-top sense of plot and character and significance given to details.

Now I’m going to make some hot cocoa – while I still can – and then (sigh) go to work.

Oh, February!  Why can’t it be spring already?  The sun came out yesterday but of course today we’re back to clouds.

My shelf of library books has gotten a little out of control lately – either I’m not reading fast enough, or I’m putting too many things on hold.  When it comes to books, I’m an impulse shopper.   Ooh, shiny!  Put it on hold at the library!  But then other people put things on hold, too, and I can’t keep renewing things forever.  So I had to arrange my shelf with all the books with hold-lists at the front.  I have until tomorrow to finish Stephanie Kallos’ Sing Them Home (which shouldn’t be a problem) and then I’ll jump into the Newbery Honor books, and then we’ll see what comes next.

Sing Them Home is kind of rambly and full of quirky but likeable characters, and it’s one of those books that makes you wonder how the author put it all together.  Which characters did she think up first, or was the it the town?  I don’t necessarily want to know the answers to these questions, but it makes the book interesting from a structural standpoint.  What I really like, though, are her characters – and this one has a nice big cast without feeling like a saga.  Kallos does a great job of describing little things – most mornings when I make coffee, I still think of her description in Broken For You of a character making French press coffee.  The way the compulsive eater character plots out her food intake, or the description of an empty house – they’re all detailed, but give a great sense of mood at the same time.

I’m almost done with school – and it’s such a relief, after 2 1/2 years, to answer the constant question, “when will you get your degree?” with “in a few weeks.”  I’ll have a lull of free time, then, while I wait to find out about a job possibility, and possibly move, hopefully enjoy having my time be my own again.  I’ll be able to read, or bake, or go for a walk, or make plans without wondering if I ought to be starting the next assignment.

Ten Cents a Dance Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
There ought to be more historical fiction like this. The world of the book – a poor neighborhood in 1940s Chicago – feels meticulously researched yet incredibly gritty and vivid. The description of bottling hogs feet in the meat packing plant is enough, by itself, to pull you into the world. Which is not to say that this is a completely grim and depressing type of historical fiction. The whole story swings back and forth between those ugly details and the sense of possibility that Ruby gets from working as a taxi dancer. And Ruby is completely believable as a character – her world and experiences are limited, and the (often frustrating) choices she makes are realistic in her context. She doesn’t want to dance with the non-white customers at the dance hall, but eventually she sheds some of her racism, not after someone sets her straight but after personally interacting with blacks and Filipinos. It felt refreshing, in a bizarre way, to see a character who is racist due to her limited experiences, not some essential character flaw. And in terms of the choices she makes romantically, you want to shake some sense into her, but you know why she does what she does. The story also has great descriptions of music and dancing and clothes that put you into the period in a really fun way.

I strongly recommend this to teens (and adults) who like historical fiction that isn’t sugar-coated or glamorized, who like a gripping story, or who are interested in 40s music and dance.

Also, the author’s note at the end has some fascinating details about her family history as well as a list of sources, which is always nice to see.

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All you fans of deliciously snarky audiobooks – run, don’t walk, to listen to Skulduggery Pleasant.  Accept no substitutes.  Written by Derek Landy, read by Rupert Degas (and you can bet I’ll be looking out for other books he’s read).  The audiobook has all kinds of flashy sound effects and mood music that make it fun, but that wouldn’t matter a bit if it weren’t for the fantastic reading.  The comic timing, the voices, the deadpan humor!  The plot is nothing amazing but the characters are pretty awesome.  The only problem with the audio version is that it makes it harder to quote – you’ll have to take my work for it.  Or you can listen to a clip at (which I just started using to listen to clips – I don’t pay for my audiobooks, except with my tax dollars).

The Sisterhood Grows 3 Willows: The Sisterhood Grows by Ann Brashares

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’ll admit it – I like the Traveling Pants books. They’re fun, with just enough reality, and the overlapping stories work well. So I was curious to see what Brashares did with another group of girls – whether 3 Willows felt repetitive or like something fresh. I think the answer is a book that will keep fans happy without stringing out yet another sequel.

3 Willows takes place in the same world of the Pants books – several characters from that series make guest appearances, but in a way that wouldn’t confuse readers unfamiliar with the first series. What I liked best is the way the story examines a different type of friendship between the girls. They’re not best friends anymore, and they’ve been drifting apart as they head to high school. They’re spending the summer apart without expecting to miss each other. But of course the story ends up bringing them back together. Nothing earth-shattering or amazing here, but a sweet story about growing up, friendship, and family – things that middle school girls are thinking about as they start high school.

It sounds like Brashares is planning on at least a sequel, but in the meantime this is a fine stand-alone title that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to fans of the Pants books or girls who like stories about friendships. The audio version is fine, although sometimes the accents were a little distracting.

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Book Two) The Time Thief by Linda Buckley-Archer

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
An excellent sequel to Gideon the Cutpurse (or The Time Travelers, depending on which edition you read). Like the first book in the trilogy, it gives you plenty of historical details to make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time with the modern day characters, and the time travel conceit makes the 18th century more accessible to a modern reader. It still feels like a dangerous place, though – especially when the characters get involved with the French revolution.

The characters are really enjoyable, and there’s a moment few chapters in when you realize that the author has chosen to put one character into a heartbreaking situation, one that I didn’t expect and she could have avoided, but it made the whole thing much more emotionally intense. I don’t think the first book had a hook like that for me, so I might have liked this one better. I also like Buckley-Archer’s use of fairly well-rounded adult characters, who are actively involved in the story and work with the children to solve problems.

It’s a thick book, but the pace is fairly fast and the historical details add a sense of adventure rather than feeling like a history lesson.  Best to the start at the beginning of the trilogy, otherwise you’ll miss a lot of background on the characters.

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So I took the (highly scientific) Typealyzer test to find out the personality type of this blog.  I didn’t expect it to actually match my personality type, of course, but I thought it might get a few things right.

Apparently this blog is an ESFP – “the entertaining and friendly type.”  My blog is “always in risk of exhausting” itself.  Uh-huh, sure.  Because I post so much.

The last time I took a Myers-Briggs, I was an INFP, leaning towards J (judging).  I know I’m a J and a T (thinking), but I test P (perceiving) and N (intuition) because they appeal to me more.  But regardless of all that – no one in their right mind will ever call ME an extrovert!

February 2009

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