Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Grown Up Books for Would Be Grown Ups

A friend recently lamented that she has nothing to read, so I offered to write her a list of some good go-to authors that have done me right through the years.

Most of these authors are from bygone eras.  That does not mean their novels have expired like the milk you left in the back of the fridge while on vacation.  Rather, it usually means their writing has stood the test of time.  Plus, I like a good period piece, and nothing immerses one in a previous decade like literature.

None of these authors would be considered classics by any professors of literature that I know.  I don't know many professors of literature.  Well, I am FB friends with one of my mentors from UD, you may know him and his red zinger.  But these are my classics, these books I feel are worth owning, not just because their antique spines match my decor, but because I read them when I'm bookless.

Writing this list was pretty easy, since we are going on our annual trip to MI.  When I go to MI, I plan three things:  meals, clothing, and books.  Since 60% of all waking sunny hours are spent beachside, I need lots of books.  Plus, 100% of all waking rainy hours are also spent with a book.  Or a bridge hand, if I can find three other fools.

So in no particular order, here are some of my favorites.


James Herriot is a no-brainer.  Appropriate for all ages, we've listened to these on audio many, many times.  The BBC tv show wasn't half bad either.  Love, love, love Herriot.  Loved his biography, love his children's books.  Vet in Yorkshire, before, during and after WWII.  Sweet, funny and poignant stories woven among the romance of his life.  


 He's like James Herriot, but instead of being a vet, Gervase Phinn is the county inspector of schools in Yorkshire.  If you liked Herriot, you'll enjoy Phinn.


 Helen MacInnes wrote espionage thrillers set in post WWII Europe, and there is always a romantical twist.  These books remind me of Michigan, because the cottage we stay in is loaded with them.  I love them all.  Suspense without terror. 


If Helen MacInnes is suspense with a side of romance, Daphne duMaurier is romance with a side of suspense.  Many of her novels were made into movies, most notably Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.


A.J. Cronin was the product of a Protestant mother and a Catholic father in Scotland in the latter part of the 1800s.  He wrote his first of many novels in 1930, and nearly all of them involve religion, in a good way.  The Keys of the Kingdom is one of my many favorites.  I've never seen the movie, starring Gregory Peck.  Is it any good?


The cottage also introduced me to Mary Stewart.  This prolific woman wrote a book every year from 1955 through 1980, and every single one was a best seller.  I love her romance/thrillers like the one pictured above.  I have also read and enjoyed her Arthurian novels, such as The Crystal Cave.


 Lots of Jack Higgins in the beach house.  The Chef and I both enjoy The Eagle Has Landed, which is about an attempt by some Nazi paratroopers to assassinate Winston Churchill, while he's visiting a small English village.


Frederick Forsyth's The Odessa File deals with both the collective guilt of post-war Germany and the discovery of an underground network of Nazis alive and kicking in Europe.  This novel is both exciting and thought-provoking.


M.M. Kaye was born in India in 1908, thanks Wikipedia.  The Far Pavilions is also set in India.  It is the epic love story of a British boy raised in India and an Indian princess.  The Shadow of the Moon is also a romance set in India in the mid 19th century.  Both are breathtaking.  The Far Pavilions is by far the raciest book on this list, and that's not saying much.  I don't go for that kind of thing, so this whole list is pretty tame.


Lest you think I am a complete Anglophile, here is my number one favorite book of all time and it's written by an American.  It's tied with a few others for most favoritest, but I have read it several times.  Came a Cavalier is a novel set in Europe during and between WWI and WWII.  It's about a young American nurse who falls in love and marries a French cavalier, who is called back to active duty when WWII breaks out.  Her home, a chateau in France of course, ends up being the Nazi headquarters of the area.  Great love story plus historical fiction.


Frances Parkinson Keyes is really known for her novels about New Orleans such Crescent Carnival and Dinner at Antoine's.  When we were in NOLA a few years ago, for my brother's wedding, I was positively giddy to see her home near the French Quarter.  Kind of like the time I saw Dorothy Sayer's eyeglasses in Wheaton, IL.  (must add Dorothy to the list)


I have a crush on this man.  He's fictional.  He plays the wealthy fop, but really he's an amazing detective.  Detectivery was looked down upon in his time, so he's kind of secretive about it, like Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel.  I have crushes on them too.

He's Lord Peter Wimsey and you can read all about him in the mystery novels by Dorothy Sayers.  I think I first met him in Strong Poison, in which he meets the love of his life, murder mystery writer on trial for murdering her lover, Harriet Vane.  I like her a lot too.  And the manservant, Bunter, is wonderful.  I wish we had a manservant. 

Jeeves

Bunter

Bates

Jeeves, Bunter or Bates...if you could only hire one, who would it be?  My pick would be Bunter.

So there you have it.  Untold hours of readery of the entertainment variety rather than the edifying or educational.  Your housework will go undone for weeks to come, or you may spend the rest of your summer without making any human contact with family members. 

Either way, you're welcome.




Friday, July 6, 2012

7 Friday Quick Takes: Hottest Friday of the Year





--- 1 ---

Edmund's lovely, kind, amazing reading tutor met with him for the last time today.  She is moving out East (I did warn her about the fisher cats).  We are very sad.

 
She gave Edmund two books, one is Geronimo Stilton:  The Haunted Castle, and the other is National Geographic Kids:  Weird but True 2, 300 Outrageous Facts, which he began reading in the car on the way home, and is still reading it to me as I type.


  • More than 2 million animals fly in airplanes each year.
  • Forest fires travel faster uphill than downhill.
  • A sand castle in Maine stood as high as a three story building.

As a going-away gift, she is getting a hand-written letter from Edmund that says something like, "Thank you for helping me with reading.  It is so fun."  This makes me tear up.  A lot.  I know she'll touch many more lives out East, but damn, we're going to miss her. 


Thank you, Lord, for putting her in our lives for a time.  And please send us some more angels soon, cause You know we can't do this on our own.

--- 2 ---


Fourth of July here saw record temps causing some wussier townships to cancel their fireworks displays.  Not so around here, not so.  No wusses in this town, noontime parade went as planned. 

We went ahead with our plans for multi-family fun and had a ridiculously good dinner, with great friends.  Then I forced them all to march a half mile to see the fireworks. And we walked all the way home.

My definition of fun might not be the same as yours.   I had fun.  I just hope those were beads of sweat and not tears on the faces of my friends.

--- 3 ---


What was for dinner you ask?

Everything I made is a tried and true recipe from my BFF though not my CPF (close personal friend), Christopher Kimball.  Last week's Cucumber Salad reappeared, alongside the French Potato Salad that can be found in your America's Test Kitchen cookbook.

I also adapted the Grilled Spicy Lime Chicken with Black Bean and Avocado Salad from the June/July 2005 issue.  I omitted the chicken, doubled the amount of salad ingredients.  This turned out great.  A double batch of this black bean salad was a normal amount for our crowd, unlike the coleslaw.  (If you clicked through this recipe link, please know that my UD-English-major heart loves the blog name Ezra Poundcake.)  ARggh.  The link doesn't work, so try cutting and pasting this into your browser.  http://www.ezrapoundcake.com/archives/1841

WARNING:  Even though the buttermilk coleslaw recipe from the America's Test Kitchen cookbook says one batch serves 6 to 8,  THIS IS COMPLETELY FALSE.  Six to eight people never consume 2+ lbs. of cabbage ever.  So do not make the same mistake I did, and calculate a party of our size would need at least a double batch.  For if you do, you will be ridiculed all night, followed by nightmares of vats of coleslaw.  It's still haunting my fridge and will for many days to come.

Oops.  I just read the recipe that I linked to, and she says one batch calls for one half head of cabbage, or 1 pound.  So, I might have accidentally quadrupled the cabbage part.

Anyone want to come over for some coleslaw?

--- 4 ---

Susan and Lucy are going to leadership camp for a week in Wisconsin.  In other words, I am losing my left and right hands for a whole week.  I will miss them sorely.

And even though I still have plenty of super cute stationery to send them mail, I know that they will be too busy to write back.  But I will write to them anyway.  If Baby J lets me.

This is Lucy at the local pool 12 years ago.

This is Baby J at the same local pool last week.

---5---

Speaking of Baby J, she herself speaks.  She says "belly" and "daddy" among other things.  When we go to the public pool, she points at all the men, waves and shouts, "belly-daddy-belly-belly-daddy-daddy-belly." 

Nope, not awkward at all. 



--- 6 ---

She also says "Hi" and "Bye."  Whenever we walk into someplace like a store or a library or something, she yells, "HI!"  and waves both hands.  When she sees someone leaving the store or library, she hollers, "BYE!"  Her personal vocation is to bring smiles to Villa Park, Illinois.  She could get a job as a WalMart greeter.

--- 7 ---

I hope she puts on some mad welcoming action tonight when Peter gets back from the Civil War trip.  Between power outages here and in DC, and my waterlogged phone, I've had radio silence for many days.  The Chef got a phone call yesterday, which he totally deserves, you know, because he gave birth to him after three months of bedrest, and breastfed him for over a year.  I better have some missed calls when I get my phone dried out, or he may be going to college in state.
 
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

What We're Reading Belated Fourth of July Edition


This title was on the "Recommended for First and Second Graders" list at the library.  I chose Roscoe Riley Rules:  #1 Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs by Katherine Applegate, as one of a few titles that have first grade reading levels but are shelved in the Juvenile section, not the brightly labeled Easy Reader section.  I also surreptitiously hid the list from Edmund, lest he get the sense that he is not reading 4th grade books.

His choices were this one, and the first Secrets of Droon, which I reviewed ages ago.  He chose humorous reality over fantasy.  He was very proud of the fact that he read several chapters the first day...until his sister commented, "Yeah, but the chapters are only like a page long."

sigh.  I murdered her with my eyes, then I made her go clean out the fridge.

He stuck with it!  He finished the whole dang thing!  And then he asked me to get the next book in the series too.  Happy Dance!



How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart is a book that I hated at first and really kind of liked by the end. 

In Chapter One, our unlikely hero, 11 year old David is making a mock Daily Show video for YouTube.  Every webisode he makes includes a bit called the Daily Acne Forecast, where he surreptitiously (getting lots of mileage out of this SAT word today) films a close-up of his older sister's face and says something snarky like, "oily with major breakouts later this afternoon."  Very cruel.  Oh, and the videos he makes go viral and he gets sort of famous. 

Well, this is just one small part of what's going on with David.  His mother left the family to live on a remote beet farm with no phone.  His best friend is suddenly only interested in girls.  His transfer from elementary school to middle school is NOT going well with being friendless, and bullied, despite being sort of famous. (Is there a good vocab word for "sort of famous"?)

The whole acne thing with his sister does get addressed.  She is righteously hurt and angry, as are his father and grandmother.  David does make amends.

And he does get the rest of his life back together somewhat too.  Except for the broken home part.  His mom has some mental issues like agoraphobia and probably a bi-polar disorder, and she is not coming home from the beet farm, and Marcus, the farmer who runs it, probably ever.

Definitely not the greatest book I've read for middle schoolers, but not the worst either.


The Roar by Emma Clayton reminded me a lot of the 70s classic sci-fi novel, Ender's Game.  Both books are about kids playing video or virtual reality games as training for war.

In The Roar, all of the animals on Earth were victims of the animal plague, which basically turned the animals into ferocious monsters.  All of humanity has secured itself behind the wall, the largest structure ever made, separating, northern Russia, Europe and Canada from the rest of the planet.  To stop the plague, the rest of the planet was doused with a toxic yellow powder that destroyed everything.

The story revolves between twins, Mika and Ellie, who have been separated for about a year, since Ellie was kidnapped by the villainous mastermind, Mal Gorman.

It's a long and complex story.  Great writing, but very violent, similar to The House of the Scorpion.  I didn't like the ending though.  It wrapped up rather suddenly, with some ridiculous twists, and all set up for a sequel.  The sequel, The Whisper, is already out.  I'm not sure I want to read it.  I've had enough dystopian YA fiction for awhile.


One of my most favorite contemporary authors is Matthew Quick.  His first YA novel, Sorta Like a Rock Star, is phenomenal.  But gritty.  Inner city girl and her mom, living in a bus, mom gets murdered one night.  The whole community comes together to shower the girl with love and support, including of the best examples of a Catholic priest in literature today.  I ugly cried.  But I only let my high schoolers read it.

So I was understandably excited to read Quick's next novel, Boy 21.  It's also gritty, set in a poor town in Pennsylvania, run by gangs, drug lords, and the Irish mob.

Finley is a quiet white kid who plays a lot of basketball.   He does not have a lot of innate talent, but he's worked really hard, training all year round, to get his spot as point guard in the starting line-up.  He lives with his dad, and his legless, alcoholic grandfather.  He trains with his very talented girlfriend, Erin, who is the sister of someone in the mob, and thus Finley and Erin are "protected."

They also kiss.  A lot.  Many make-out sessions are mentioned but not described.

What is described are Finley's thoughts, as he glimpses her sports bra covered breast through the armhole of her jersey.  Or how after dribbling for five miles, Erin takes off her jersey and lies back in just the sports bra, and Finley wants to run his hands over her abs.  This kind of thing gets mentioned in the first few chapters, (I think I've described the only two instances.) but then the season starts and Finley breaks up with Erin during the season.  They break up every year for basketball.  You can tell that Erin and Finley really love each other, making this sacrifice every year.

I don't think Finley's thoughts are gratuitous, but rather honest.  That is what high-school boys actually think about around girls.  Quick is writing in Finley's voice, and doing a damn fine job.

The Erin/Finley/arousal motif is a small part of a much greater whole that involves a high school basketball superstar coming to town incognito after his parents' murders.  Russ, or rather Boy 21, as he prefers to be called now that he has post-traumatic stress disorder, believes that his parents are in outer space and will come to get his soon.

Finley's coach has asked Finley to look out for Russ, who also happens to be a point guard.  Then Erin gets hit by a car, probably as mob payback for something her brother did. After a few days in the hospital, she severs all contact with Finley and virtually disappears.

Finley does help Russ shed his Boy 21 persona and take over his spot on the team.  Without Erin and without basketball, he eventually comes to grips with his own traumatic past.  But no spoilers.

A beautiful book, not for kids, though.  I hold with the idea that books written about eighteen-year-old high school seniors, should be read by eighteen-year-old high school seniors.  Or moms.  Or other adults.  If you liked the Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino, you'll like Boy21.  You'll find it in the YA section.


Finally!  A book that I both liked and would recommend for kids.  Dark Life by Kat Falls is also set in a time when most of the earth has been destroyed.  This time, earthquakes have sunk most of the land, so people are packed into stack cities.  Ty's family was one of the first of the new pioneers, establishing Benthic settlement on the ocean floor, complete with livestock and greenhouses.

A band of underwater outlaws known as the Seablite Gang have been attacking the Commonwealth supply subs, and even the settlers themselves.  The Commonwealth has withdrawn all support of the settlement, including the law-enforcement ranger and the only doctor, until the settlers capture the gang themselves.

That's a good plot right there, but add the idea that kids raised on the ocean floor might have Dark Gifts or supernatural powers, and now you have an awesome plot.  These rumored dark gifts are said to be caused by water pressure on the brain, causing increased brain function.  Ty was the first child to be born down under, and he is adamant that dark gifts do not exist.  Yeah, sure he glows a little, but all the kids who eat bio-luminescent fish have a shine.  At least that's what he tells topsider, Gemma, who is on a quest to find her older brother, who's last know whereabouts were prospecting on the ocean floor. It just gets better and better.

I can't believe this is Kat Falls' first novel.  Ooooh!  I just clicked over to her blog and she's already written a sequel, Riptide. Turns out Kat doesn't live that far away from me.  If she wants to come pick up some autographed copies to give away on this site, or just meet for crepes or coffee or both, she can find my email by clicking on "View my complete profile"  in the sidebar.





Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Grown Up Books for Would Be Grown Ups

A friend recently lamented that she has nothing to read, so I offered to write her a list of some good go-to authors that have done me right through the years.

Most of these authors are from bygone eras.  That does not mean their novels have expired like the milk you left in the back of the fridge while on vacation.  Rather, it usually means their writing has stood the test of time.  Plus, I like a good period piece, and nothing immerses one in a previous decade like literature.

None of these authors would be considered classics by any professors of literature that I know.  I don't know many professors of literature.  Well, I am FB friends with one of my mentors from UD, you may know him and his red zinger.  But these are my classics, these books I feel are worth owning, not just because their antique spines match my decor, but because I read them when I'm bookless.

Writing this list was pretty easy, since we are going on our annual trip to MI.  When I go to MI, I plan three things:  meals, clothing, and books.  Since 60% of all waking sunny hours are spent beachside, I need lots of books.  Plus, 100% of all waking rainy hours are also spent with a book.  Or a bridge hand, if I can find three other fools.

So in no particular order, here are some of my favorites.


James Herriot is a no-brainer.  Appropriate for all ages, we've listened to these on audio many, many times.  The BBC tv show wasn't half bad either.  Love, love, love Herriot.  Loved his biography, love his children's books.  Vet in Yorkshire, before, during and after WWII.  Sweet, funny and poignant stories woven among the romance of his life.  


 He's like James Herriot, but instead of being a vet, Gervase Phinn is the county inspector of schools in Yorkshire.  If you liked Herriot, you'll enjoy Phinn.


 Helen MacInnes wrote espionage thrillers set in post WWII Europe, and there is always a romantical twist.  These books remind me of Michigan, because the cottage we stay in is loaded with them.  I love them all.  Suspense without terror. 


If Helen MacInnes is suspense with a side of romance, Daphne duMaurier is romance with a side of suspense.  Many of her novels were made into movies, most notably Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.


A.J. Cronin was the product of a Protestant mother and a Catholic father in Scotland in the latter part of the 1800s.  He wrote his first of many novels in 1930, and nearly all of them involve religion, in a good way.  The Keys of the Kingdom is one of my many favorites.  I've never seen the movie, starring Gregory Peck.  Is it any good?


The cottage also introduced me to Mary Stewart.  This prolific woman wrote a book every year from 1955 through 1980, and every single one was a best seller.  I love her romance/thrillers like the one pictured above.  I have also read and enjoyed her Arthurian novels, such as The Crystal Cave.


 Lots of Jack Higgins in the beach house.  The Chef and I both enjoy The Eagle Has Landed, which is about an attempt by some Nazi paratroopers to assassinate Winston Churchill, while he's visiting a small English village.


Frederick Forsyth's The Odessa File deals with both the collective guilt of post-war Germany and the discovery of an underground network of Nazis alive and kicking in Europe.  This novel is both exciting and thought-provoking.


M.M. Kaye was born in India in 1908, thanks Wikipedia.  The Far Pavilions is also set in India.  It is the epic love story of a British boy raised in India and an Indian princess.  The Shadow of the Moon is also a romance set in India in the mid 19th century.  Both are breathtaking.  The Far Pavilions is by far the raciest book on this list, and that's not saying much.  I don't go for that kind of thing, so this whole list is pretty tame.


Lest you think I am a complete Anglophile, here is my number one favorite book of all time and it's written by an American.  It's tied with a few others for most favoritest, but I have read it several times.  Came a Cavalier is a novel set in Europe during and between WWI and WWII.  It's about a young American nurse who falls in love and marries a French cavalier, who is called back to active duty when WWII breaks out.  Her home, a chateau in France of course, ends up being the Nazi headquarters of the area.  Great love story plus historical fiction.


Frances Parkinson Keyes is really known for her novels about New Orleans such Crescent Carnival and Dinner at Antoine's.  When we were in NOLA a few years ago, for my brother's wedding, I was positively giddy to see her home near the French Quarter.  Kind of like the time I saw Dorothy Sayer's eyeglasses in Wheaton, IL.  (must add Dorothy to the list)


I have a crush on this man.  He's fictional.  He plays the wealthy fop, but really he's an amazing detective.  Detectivery was looked down upon in his time, so he's kind of secretive about it, like Zorro or the Scarlet Pimpernel.  I have crushes on them too.

He's Lord Peter Wimsey and you can read all about him in the mystery novels by Dorothy Sayers.  I think I first met him in Strong Poison, in which he meets the love of his life, murder mystery writer on trial for murdering her lover, Harriet Vane.  I like her a lot too.  And the manservant, Bunter, is wonderful.  I wish we had a manservant. 

Jeeves

Bunter

Bates

Jeeves, Bunter or Bates...if you could only hire one, who would it be?  My pick would be Bunter.

So there you have it.  Untold hours of readery of the entertainment variety rather than the edifying or educational.  Your housework will go undone for weeks to come, or you may spend the rest of your summer without making any human contact with family members. 

Either way, you're welcome.




Friday, July 6, 2012

7 Friday Quick Takes: Hottest Friday of the Year





--- 1 ---

Edmund's lovely, kind, amazing reading tutor met with him for the last time today.  She is moving out East (I did warn her about the fisher cats).  We are very sad.

 
She gave Edmund two books, one is Geronimo Stilton:  The Haunted Castle, and the other is National Geographic Kids:  Weird but True 2, 300 Outrageous Facts, which he began reading in the car on the way home, and is still reading it to me as I type.


  • More than 2 million animals fly in airplanes each year.
  • Forest fires travel faster uphill than downhill.
  • A sand castle in Maine stood as high as a three story building.

As a going-away gift, she is getting a hand-written letter from Edmund that says something like, "Thank you for helping me with reading.  It is so fun."  This makes me tear up.  A lot.  I know she'll touch many more lives out East, but damn, we're going to miss her. 


Thank you, Lord, for putting her in our lives for a time.  And please send us some more angels soon, cause You know we can't do this on our own.

--- 2 ---


Fourth of July here saw record temps causing some wussier townships to cancel their fireworks displays.  Not so around here, not so.  No wusses in this town, noontime parade went as planned. 

We went ahead with our plans for multi-family fun and had a ridiculously good dinner, with great friends.  Then I forced them all to march a half mile to see the fireworks. And we walked all the way home.

My definition of fun might not be the same as yours.   I had fun.  I just hope those were beads of sweat and not tears on the faces of my friends.

--- 3 ---


What was for dinner you ask?

Everything I made is a tried and true recipe from my BFF though not my CPF (close personal friend), Christopher Kimball.  Last week's Cucumber Salad reappeared, alongside the French Potato Salad that can be found in your America's Test Kitchen cookbook.

I also adapted the Grilled Spicy Lime Chicken with Black Bean and Avocado Salad from the June/July 2005 issue.  I omitted the chicken, doubled the amount of salad ingredients.  This turned out great.  A double batch of this black bean salad was a normal amount for our crowd, unlike the coleslaw.  (If you clicked through this recipe link, please know that my UD-English-major heart loves the blog name Ezra Poundcake.)  ARggh.  The link doesn't work, so try cutting and pasting this into your browser.  http://www.ezrapoundcake.com/archives/1841

WARNING:  Even though the buttermilk coleslaw recipe from the America's Test Kitchen cookbook says one batch serves 6 to 8,  THIS IS COMPLETELY FALSE.  Six to eight people never consume 2+ lbs. of cabbage ever.  So do not make the same mistake I did, and calculate a party of our size would need at least a double batch.  For if you do, you will be ridiculed all night, followed by nightmares of vats of coleslaw.  It's still haunting my fridge and will for many days to come.

Oops.  I just read the recipe that I linked to, and she says one batch calls for one half head of cabbage, or 1 pound.  So, I might have accidentally quadrupled the cabbage part.

Anyone want to come over for some coleslaw?

--- 4 ---

Susan and Lucy are going to leadership camp for a week in Wisconsin.  In other words, I am losing my left and right hands for a whole week.  I will miss them sorely.

And even though I still have plenty of super cute stationery to send them mail, I know that they will be too busy to write back.  But I will write to them anyway.  If Baby J lets me.

This is Lucy at the local pool 12 years ago.

This is Baby J at the same local pool last week.

---5---

Speaking of Baby J, she herself speaks.  She says "belly" and "daddy" among other things.  When we go to the public pool, she points at all the men, waves and shouts, "belly-daddy-belly-belly-daddy-daddy-belly." 

Nope, not awkward at all. 



--- 6 ---

She also says "Hi" and "Bye."  Whenever we walk into someplace like a store or a library or something, she yells, "HI!"  and waves both hands.  When she sees someone leaving the store or library, she hollers, "BYE!"  Her personal vocation is to bring smiles to Villa Park, Illinois.  She could get a job as a WalMart greeter.

--- 7 ---

I hope she puts on some mad welcoming action tonight when Peter gets back from the Civil War trip.  Between power outages here and in DC, and my waterlogged phone, I've had radio silence for many days.  The Chef got a phone call yesterday, which he totally deserves, you know, because he gave birth to him after three months of bedrest, and breastfed him for over a year.  I better have some missed calls when I get my phone dried out, or he may be going to college in state.
 
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

What We're Reading Belated Fourth of July Edition


This title was on the "Recommended for First and Second Graders" list at the library.  I chose Roscoe Riley Rules:  #1 Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs by Katherine Applegate, as one of a few titles that have first grade reading levels but are shelved in the Juvenile section, not the brightly labeled Easy Reader section.  I also surreptitiously hid the list from Edmund, lest he get the sense that he is not reading 4th grade books.

His choices were this one, and the first Secrets of Droon, which I reviewed ages ago.  He chose humorous reality over fantasy.  He was very proud of the fact that he read several chapters the first day...until his sister commented, "Yeah, but the chapters are only like a page long."

sigh.  I murdered her with my eyes, then I made her go clean out the fridge.

He stuck with it!  He finished the whole dang thing!  And then he asked me to get the next book in the series too.  Happy Dance!



How to Survive Middle School by Donna Gephart is a book that I hated at first and really kind of liked by the end. 

In Chapter One, our unlikely hero, 11 year old David is making a mock Daily Show video for YouTube.  Every webisode he makes includes a bit called the Daily Acne Forecast, where he surreptitiously (getting lots of mileage out of this SAT word today) films a close-up of his older sister's face and says something snarky like, "oily with major breakouts later this afternoon."  Very cruel.  Oh, and the videos he makes go viral and he gets sort of famous. 

Well, this is just one small part of what's going on with David.  His mother left the family to live on a remote beet farm with no phone.  His best friend is suddenly only interested in girls.  His transfer from elementary school to middle school is NOT going well with being friendless, and bullied, despite being sort of famous. (Is there a good vocab word for "sort of famous"?)

The whole acne thing with his sister does get addressed.  She is righteously hurt and angry, as are his father and grandmother.  David does make amends.

And he does get the rest of his life back together somewhat too.  Except for the broken home part.  His mom has some mental issues like agoraphobia and probably a bi-polar disorder, and she is not coming home from the beet farm, and Marcus, the farmer who runs it, probably ever.

Definitely not the greatest book I've read for middle schoolers, but not the worst either.


The Roar by Emma Clayton reminded me a lot of the 70s classic sci-fi novel, Ender's Game.  Both books are about kids playing video or virtual reality games as training for war.

In The Roar, all of the animals on Earth were victims of the animal plague, which basically turned the animals into ferocious monsters.  All of humanity has secured itself behind the wall, the largest structure ever made, separating, northern Russia, Europe and Canada from the rest of the planet.  To stop the plague, the rest of the planet was doused with a toxic yellow powder that destroyed everything.

The story revolves between twins, Mika and Ellie, who have been separated for about a year, since Ellie was kidnapped by the villainous mastermind, Mal Gorman.

It's a long and complex story.  Great writing, but very violent, similar to The House of the Scorpion.  I didn't like the ending though.  It wrapped up rather suddenly, with some ridiculous twists, and all set up for a sequel.  The sequel, The Whisper, is already out.  I'm not sure I want to read it.  I've had enough dystopian YA fiction for awhile.


One of my most favorite contemporary authors is Matthew Quick.  His first YA novel, Sorta Like a Rock Star, is phenomenal.  But gritty.  Inner city girl and her mom, living in a bus, mom gets murdered one night.  The whole community comes together to shower the girl with love and support, including of the best examples of a Catholic priest in literature today.  I ugly cried.  But I only let my high schoolers read it.

So I was understandably excited to read Quick's next novel, Boy 21.  It's also gritty, set in a poor town in Pennsylvania, run by gangs, drug lords, and the Irish mob.

Finley is a quiet white kid who plays a lot of basketball.   He does not have a lot of innate talent, but he's worked really hard, training all year round, to get his spot as point guard in the starting line-up.  He lives with his dad, and his legless, alcoholic grandfather.  He trains with his very talented girlfriend, Erin, who is the sister of someone in the mob, and thus Finley and Erin are "protected."

They also kiss.  A lot.  Many make-out sessions are mentioned but not described.

What is described are Finley's thoughts, as he glimpses her sports bra covered breast through the armhole of her jersey.  Or how after dribbling for five miles, Erin takes off her jersey and lies back in just the sports bra, and Finley wants to run his hands over her abs.  This kind of thing gets mentioned in the first few chapters, (I think I've described the only two instances.) but then the season starts and Finley breaks up with Erin during the season.  They break up every year for basketball.  You can tell that Erin and Finley really love each other, making this sacrifice every year.

I don't think Finley's thoughts are gratuitous, but rather honest.  That is what high-school boys actually think about around girls.  Quick is writing in Finley's voice, and doing a damn fine job.

The Erin/Finley/arousal motif is a small part of a much greater whole that involves a high school basketball superstar coming to town incognito after his parents' murders.  Russ, or rather Boy 21, as he prefers to be called now that he has post-traumatic stress disorder, believes that his parents are in outer space and will come to get his soon.

Finley's coach has asked Finley to look out for Russ, who also happens to be a point guard.  Then Erin gets hit by a car, probably as mob payback for something her brother did. After a few days in the hospital, she severs all contact with Finley and virtually disappears.

Finley does help Russ shed his Boy 21 persona and take over his spot on the team.  Without Erin and without basketball, he eventually comes to grips with his own traumatic past.  But no spoilers.

A beautiful book, not for kids, though.  I hold with the idea that books written about eighteen-year-old high school seniors, should be read by eighteen-year-old high school seniors.  Or moms.  Or other adults.  If you liked the Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino, you'll like Boy21.  You'll find it in the YA section.


Finally!  A book that I both liked and would recommend for kids.  Dark Life by Kat Falls is also set in a time when most of the earth has been destroyed.  This time, earthquakes have sunk most of the land, so people are packed into stack cities.  Ty's family was one of the first of the new pioneers, establishing Benthic settlement on the ocean floor, complete with livestock and greenhouses.

A band of underwater outlaws known as the Seablite Gang have been attacking the Commonwealth supply subs, and even the settlers themselves.  The Commonwealth has withdrawn all support of the settlement, including the law-enforcement ranger and the only doctor, until the settlers capture the gang themselves.

That's a good plot right there, but add the idea that kids raised on the ocean floor might have Dark Gifts or supernatural powers, and now you have an awesome plot.  These rumored dark gifts are said to be caused by water pressure on the brain, causing increased brain function.  Ty was the first child to be born down under, and he is adamant that dark gifts do not exist.  Yeah, sure he glows a little, but all the kids who eat bio-luminescent fish have a shine.  At least that's what he tells topsider, Gemma, who is on a quest to find her older brother, who's last know whereabouts were prospecting on the ocean floor. It just gets better and better.

I can't believe this is Kat Falls' first novel.  Ooooh!  I just clicked over to her blog and she's already written a sequel, Riptide. Turns out Kat doesn't live that far away from me.  If she wants to come pick up some autographed copies to give away on this site, or just meet for crepes or coffee or both, she can find my email by clicking on "View my complete profile"  in the sidebar.