Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Potentially GREAT News

Okay, I realize I SOOO should not have made any announcements (however veiled) on this blog. LOL. I have been telling my husband not to spread the news around, because it is not certain and adoptions can always fall through, but here goes: we have found our baby. It's going to be a closed adoption, so I feel like I shouldn't say much about the circumstances. Suffice it to say, the birthmom is due December 16 and we are VERY excited. The lawyer's office is working on drawing up a contract that is comfortable for everyone involved. Once it's perfect, we will sign and pay 10% of the fees. It's exciting, but nerve-wracking. We're trying not to get our hopes up too high, because the birthmom can always change her mind. Nothing is ever sure with adoption, so we're keeping our fingers and toes crossed that this will work out for us. Wish us luck :)

Speaking of adoption, Stephanie (who adopted a beautiful girl from China and was very generous with advice) is holding a giveaway on her blog. Click here for info on how to win Keeping the House by Ellen Baker.

Don't forget to enter my giveaway - today is the last day! The link is here.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Giveaway Reminder

- Don't forget to comment here if you want to win a copy of Don't Know Much About ... Everything Else by Kenneth C. Davis. The contest ends tomorrow at midnight, so be sure to get your name in for the drawing.

- Also, I am completely overbooked with reading challenges, so I'm bowing out of all of them. Yep, I'm wiping the slate clean. I don't know what I was thinking when I committed to reading 200 books this year! Because I'm addicted, I will probably sign up for more in 2009, but the rest of 2008 will be reading challenge-free for me. Sorry to the hosts - I just have too much going on (including potentially GREAT news that will have me very busy around December 16, not to mention the rest of my life). I'm considering deleting my current challenge blog, and creating another one in Wordpress, but who knows??

- As always, I have a humungous stack of ARCs to get through. Authors/Publishers/Publicists: Hang in there - I'm getting to them as fast as I can.

Happy reading, everyone!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Two Bobbies Gives Voice to Katrina's Speechless Survivors

August 29, 2005 - We all watched in horror as Hurricane Katrina pummeled New Orleans and surrounding areas. The news ran endless video of people stranded on rooftops, corpses floating in filthy floodwater, homes flattened, and despair etched on every face. Many of us watched the devastation from afar, hearts aching for the desperate residents of Louisiana.

Katrina's survivors have told their stories in every possible medium. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been moved to tears upon hearing their words. Those who are able have spoken, assuring that their heartbreak and courage will never be forgotten. But what of those who can't speak? Who will tell their stories?

When authors Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery heard about Bobbi and Bob Cat, two Katrina survivors, they knew they could act as mouthpieces for the courageous duo. Two Bobbies is the heartwarming result of their collaboration. The picture book recounts the true story of a "wisp of a cat and one puppy" who were left behind to face the storm's wrath on their own. Tethered by a length of chain, Bobbi (the dog) was unable to leave his porch. Bob Cat stayed by his side. When Bobbi finally broke free, the pair wandered the soaked streets of New Orleans looking for food and shelter. Gangs of rabid dogs roamed the streets as well, claiming all scraps for themselves. Bobbi and Bob Cat grew thin from hunger. Finally, four long months later, the pair were rescued by the Best Friends Animal Society. When the shelter's volunteers placed the animals in separate rooms, Bobbi howled in protest, barking and pacing until Bob Cat was once again by his side. Their devotion to one another touched everyone's hearts, and efforts were made to find someone who could care for both Bobbi and Bob Cat. Leaving their damaged city behind, the duo found a home in Oregon, where they could finally be at peace - together, as always.

Two Bobbies tells a sweet, simple story about friendship and survival. It discusses Katrina in a way that is more hopeful than scary, informing kids about disaster while focusing on the courage and love shown by the animals. The characters, illustrated in soft, gentle colors, will grab the reader's attention and steal their hearts clean away. It's impossible not to root for this brave pair and the friendship that saved them both from the ravages of a deadly storm.

I'm the first to admit that I'm no picture book expert. I have my favorites, of course, and they are those that offer unique plots, engaging language, and stories that make me laugh, cry or shout with joy. While I enjoyed Two Bobbies, I didn't quite get the A+ feeling I glean from the masters (Kevin Henkes, Patricia Polacco, Dr. Seuss, etc.), but I still think it's a touching book that beautifully celebrates that most valuable of human and animal treasures - a friend.

Grade: B+

(To learn more about the remarkable friendship that inspired Two Bobbies, be sure to visit the book's website. You can download color pages, read about the real Bobbi and Bob Cat, learn how to protect pets during natural disasters, and find out more about the authors [real-life best friends] and illustrator.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Author Chat: An Interview with Kirby Larson


Me: Welcome to Bloggin' 'bout Books, Kirby! We're going to talk about Two Bobbies, make no mistake, but first I have to ask you about Hattie Big Sky (which I LOVED) ... I read the book after my mother-in-law raved about it. After I read it, I passed it on to my 94-year-old grandmother, who also loved it. Why do you think the book appeals to so many different generations of readers?

KL: This has been one of the many pleasant surprises with Hattie Big Sky, that its readers range from 9ish to 90ish. I think this story connects with more experienced readers (notice I didn’t say older!) because of their awareness of history; younger readers may focus on Hattie’s struggles to survive and to discover herself. I think this phenomenon also points to something I believe with my whole heart: that the designation, “children’s and young adult literature,” is more about the ages of the characters than the ages of the readers.

Me: Hattie Big Sky is your first and only foray into Young Adult fiction. Why did you choose to write the story for older audiences? How does writing for young adults differ from writing for younger children? Which do you find more difficult? Why?

KL: Ah, well, it’s my only published foray into YA! You haven’t seen the oh-so-many novel manuscripts languishing in my desk drawer. Honestly, I didn’t choose to write for older audiences; I wrote the manuscript that I felt best told the story I wanted to tell. I let my publisher worry about where it fit in the market. In terms of what kind of story is harder or easier – there are easy days of writing and hard days of writing and they have nothing to do with the genre of a story.

Me: I've heard rumors that a sequel to Hattie Big Sky may be in the works. Any word on that?
KL: I panicked when I first began getting emails and letters requesting a sequel to Hattie Big Sky because I thought I had finished that story. But now, after a few years, I’m finding I miss Hattie and want to find out for myself what she’s up to these days. So let’s say I am exploring the possibility of a sequel.

Me: Okay, enough about Hattie Big Sky, let's talk about your new book, Two Bobbies. When did you first hear about Bobbi and Bob Cat, the cat and dog who helped each other survive Hurricane Katrina? What touched you about their story?

KL: I made two trips to the Gulf Coast to help with Katrina clean-up and heard such amazing stories that I knew I wanted to write something about that experience. At the same time, Mary and I were talking over doing a book together. She saw the Bobbies featured on Anderson Cooper 360 and called me immediately. This inspirational story about two friends was the perfect one for us to tell together.

Me: When and why did you decide to make their story into a picture book?

KL: This is such a great question! I think it was partly a gut feeling – the story had such tremendous potential for a powerful meshing of text and art – and partly because this was the first time either of us had written narrative non-fiction and a picture book project seemed just right.

Me: Two Bobbies is co-written by Mary Nethery, whom I hadn't heard of until now. Tell me about her and the whole collaborative process. How does it work? Did you two agree on every aspect of the story or did you have to compromise here and there?

KL: I’m sorry you don’t know Mary’s other books. One of my favorites is Mary Veronica’s Egg, which is a perfect showcase for Mary’s quirky sense of humor and her elegant writing style. You’ll have to be on the lookout for her next book, THE FAMOUS NINI, The Mostly True Story of a Plain White Cat Who Became a Star! , coming out in 2009 from Houghton Mifflin. Mary is a longtime friend and amazing writer who is extraordinarily thoughtful and process-oriented in her work. I am more of a seat-of-the-pants writer. We worked out a great system in which we emailed drafts of the story back and forth during the week (I live near Seattle, WA and Mary lives in Eureka, CA) and then every Friday we had a 4 pm wine chat, during which we talked about the latest draft in detail. We did agree in principal on the essential elements of story but we varied on exactly how to tell it at times. I honestly can’t remember who wrote which sections; we worked hard to find a unified voice. We found collaboration so enjoyable, we are now at work on another narrative nonfiction picture book manuscript.

Me: Both the books I've mentioned so far were inspired by real stories. Where else do you find ideas for your books?

KL: I get asked this question a lot. One thing you may not realize is that writers are essentially observers. When you’re watching and listening (I confess, I eavesdrop!), you can’t help but be astonished at all the good ideas out there. Not every good idea, however, deserves a book and that’s something writers wrestle with all the time.

Me: You've said that books were your best friends while growing up. At what point did you decide you could write your own book? Did you do any writing as a child?

KL: I did lots of writing when I was a kid, mostly really awful poems with forced rhymes. And lots of angsty poetry as a teenager, too. My undergraduate major was Broadcast Communications; I thought I wanted to be a journalist. But I had a face for radio and a voice for the page. I sold some short stories, personal essays and magazine features but it wasn’t until I had children myself that I thought about writing for children. I can remember the exact day that it happened. We went to the library each week and checked out boxfuls of books. One of the books we brought home was Ming Lo Moves the Mountain, by Arnold Lobel. When I finished reading that picture book to my two kids, it was as if a light switch went off inside me and I knew in that instant I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: write books that would touch other young readers the way that book touched my children and me.

Me: What new projects do you have in the works? Are you finding any more interesting characters in your family tree to write about?

KL: In addition to a second narrative nonfiction picture book with Mary, I am working on another historical novel, with an 11-year-old main character. I am behind on getting it to my editor so as soon as I finish this interview, I have to get back at it!

Me: Finally, I ask this question of every author I interview, because I'm always fascinated by their answers. How do you write? Do you have a certain time every day when you write or do you compose when the mood strikes? Do you plan out every word or let the words flow as they may? Where do you write? What things must you have by your side in order to write productively (a latte, perhaps?)?

KL: A daily walk and a daily latte are essential to my productivity! Writing is my job so I do write nearly every day, thought it’s harder for me to write when I’m traveling. I have an office in my home (and now have a second wonderful office in our beach house, on Boundary Bay). I’ve found that my muse is as ornery as Violet, the contemptible cow in Hattie Big Sky: If I’m not working, she doesn’t feel like she has to, either. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not a huge planner. I don’t write outlines before I start, but I do try to get a feeling for the main scenes in the book. I generally get down a first draft (a horrible, horrible first draft) and then get out a shovel and dig around to find the one or two things worth keeping.

Me: Thanks so much, Kirby. It's been fun "chatting" with you!

KL: Thank you, Susan. I appreciate your interest in my books and your faithful support of reading in general. You and other book bloggers are like cyberspace Johnny Appleseeds, planting a passion for books everywhere you go.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Move Over Junie B., There's A New Kid in Town

If you love Junie B. Jones, you're going to be thrilled to meet Clementine, star of Sara Pennypacker's series of books for younger readers (aged 7-10). She's every bit as spunky as Junie B., but less obnoxious (you gotta love that). My 6-year-old daughter (a big Junie B. fan) loved Clementine so much that she read this book twice in one evening! Imagine my delight when I glanced at the author's very cute website this morning and discovered that she's written not one, but 3 books about this irrepressible 8-year-old. Looks like I'm going to be visiting the "P" aisle in the children's section of the library sometime very soon.

So, The Talented Clementine is the second book in the series. It opens with an announcement by Clementine's teacher: To raise money for the school, the 4th and 5th graders will be holding a talent show. The rest of the kids are excited, but Clementine is "N-O-T, not" (2). All her classmates have acts they are dying to perform, but she has a problem - she has no talents. Her friend Margaret has a skill for every letter of the alphabet - Clementine can't even do sitting properly! What's a girl to do?

Since moving to Egypt to avoid the show is out of the question, Clementine embarks on a search for her special talent. Juggling proves disastrous, tap-dancing dangerous, and sticking a leash on her brother isn't a very big hit with the parents. Her father reminds her that she's good at math, art and noticing things, but none of those things are very performable. As the day of the talent show comes closer, Clementine still can't figure out what to do. It's only when she sees a need that she realizes she can fill it with her own unique talents.

Clementine endures plenty of bumps and bruises on her search, which makes for a funny, fast-paced read. Although our heroine's voice sounds familiar (think Junie B.), it's still fresh enough to be engaging. Her hilarious observations will make you smile, if not laugh out loud. The book ends on a sweet note, creating the perfect finale for this fun, fulfilling story. I loved it.

P.S. I always hate it when reviewers label something "laugh-out-loud funny," because I rarely find myself guffawing audibly when I read. So, here's my evidence that this book really is that funny:

"No, thank you," I said, extra politely. "What I'd like is to go to Mrs. Rice's office."

"Clementine, you don't need to go see the principal," my teacher said. "You're not in any trouble."

"Well, it's just a matter of time," I told him. (3)

"It's a surprise," my mouth said without me even telling it to. Which was not a lie, because if I did anything at all up on that stage next weekend, it would be a pretty big surprise, all right.

And then I pressed my mouth into a ruler line for the rest of the bus ride so it couldn't say anymore surprises" (16).

I don't know why my teacher bothered with sending Maria and Norris to the nurse. All she ever does when you go in to tell her how sick you are is roll her eyes. She always looks bored, as if she's just killing time until a really good disease hits the school. Maria and Norris could have head lumps the size of toasters, and all our nurse would do is hand them a frozen sponge. (45)

See what I mean? Funny. Cute. Irresistible. Read the books.

Amen.

Grade: A

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Don't Know Much About History, But I Do Know That I Love Free Books

Dang, now I've got that song running through my head: Don't know much about history/Don't know much biology/But I do know that I love you, and I know that if you loved me, too, what a wonderful world this would be. I think I see American Idol in my future ... hee hee.

Anyway ... I received two copies of Don't Know Much About Anything Else by Kenneth C. Davis by mistake, so Davis' publicist has authorized me to give one away. Yay! The book is one in a series about all kinds of subjects, and features random facts about everything from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Flag Day to Ohio. I've only skimmed the information, but it looks fun and interesting.

So, what do you have to do to snag your very own copy? Just leave a comment on this post telling me about one subject you "Don't Know Much About." Comments must be in by midnight on September 30. Good luck!

The Dragon's Child A Story of Devilment on Angel Island


I've often wondered if God forgot to give me the geneaology gene so prevalent in other Mormons. I mean, my mom and her twin sister haunt cemeteries, spend hours on the computer, and pore over musty records just to find the names and dates of our ancestors. For me, that's drudgery. I'm much more interested in the stories behind the names and numbers. Give me a journal or a biography or a historical novel - a story - and I'm in heaven. Laurence Yep, Newberry Honor-winning children's author, seems to agree with me. In the introduction to The Dragon's Child, he says, "Historical fiction is more than a record of dates and statistics: it should be a dialogue with the dead" (ix). This is what intrigues me - the conversations, the experiences, the stories of people long gone.
When Yep's niece presented him with transcripts of interviews taken with his father, he couldn't resist entering his own "dialogue with the dead." The papers recorded an interview conducted when Gim Lew Yep was a 10-year-old boy seeking entrance into the U.S. At that time, many Chinese men immigrated to America to earn money for their families in China. Each time the men travelled between the two countries, they had to pass a test before they were allowed back into the U.S. According to Yep, the immigrants had to answer detailed questions about their families, villages, and neighbors. In the Afterword of The Dragon's Child, he explains:
"To understand just how detailed these records were, try drawing a map of the block on which you live. List all the people in each house and what they do, and also list all their pets. Then record the births, deaths, and marriages of all your immediate family - including uncles and aunts, parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents - for three generations and describe what the current living relatives do and where they live. Finally, write down how many windows and doors the houses have and in which direction they face. That will give you some idea how much a Chinese immigrant was expected to know" (113-114).
The purpose of these tests was, of course, to prevent Chinese people from settling permanently in America. However racist these exams were, the recovery of the transcripts granted Yep the opportunity to "speak" with his father about his experience coming to America. As a result of this conversation, he created The Dragon's Child, a fictional look at his father's fight to get to the place the Chinese referred to as The Golden Mountain. Yep wrote the book for children (ages 8-12), but it offers valuable insights for us all.

____

The Dragon's Child revolves around 10-year-old Gim Lew Yep, whose father lives and works in San Francisco. Because of the money Lung Gon sends home, the Yep Family enjoys a wealth virtually unknown in their small Chinese village. As the son of a Guest from The Golden Mountain (the villagers' term for a Chinese person living in the U.S.), Gim Lew's actions are expected to be above reproach. He tries and tries, but just can't make himself use his right hand (left-handedness is considered odd and unlucky) or banish the stutter that overttakes his tongue whenever he gets nervous. Gim Lew's classmates find his frustration hilarious, while his futile attempts at speaking clearly only make his teacher angry.


When Gim Lew's sister fetches him from school one day, she brings news that sets his stutter into quick motion: their father has returned from America. Gim Lew barely knows the man, who has been abroad for most of his life. Because he is wealthier than his neighbors, Lung Gon is a village VIP; Gim Lew feels like "an ant in his great shadow" (10). Even more unnerving is his father's news - when Lung Gon returns to California, Gim Lew will be going with him. Not only does he have to leave his family and his village behind, but he will also have to face the American officials at the detainment center on Angel Island. He will have to hide his stutter well enough to pass their "test." Failure will mean returning to the village in shame.


After months of memorizing the teeniest details of his life, Gim Lew departs with his father. Before he has even left the village, he feels the people he's known all his life distancing themselves. Becoming a "Guest" makes him different, special. But that doesn't stop the fear that overwhelms him every time he thinks about the test he must pass. In Hong Kong, he receives a set of Western clothes, but they only increase his discomfort. As Gim Lew clings to his Eastern childhood even as his father tries to mold him into an American, he begins to experience the identity crisis so common in immigrants. At last, he understands his father's explanation that they are not wholly Chinese or American. "We," he explains, "belong to both countries ... so that makes us something new" (51).

Throughout Gim Lew's incredible journey, he must face his fears as well as some startling truths about the father he barely knows. It's an adventure that strikes fear in his heart, opens his eyes, and brings him to the shores of the gleaming Golden Mountain, where a whole city of new experiences awaits.
Although I've read many immigrant stories, I had never heard of Angel Island before reading The Dragon's Child. It fascinated me to read Yep's tale of hope, opportunity and flagrant prejudice toward another race. Experiencing the grand, frightening adventure through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy makes it a surprisingly unique story. The part I found most interesting about this book was actually not the tale itself, but the Foreward and Afterward which sandwich it. In these sections, Laurence Yep talks about his family, the plight of all Chinese immigrants and the laws which allowed them to be interrogated like criminals. Considering today's controversies over illegal aliens, it makes for very interesting reading.

I doubt younger readers will find the real facts as thought-provoking as I did, especially since the Afterword seems to be written more for adults than kids aged 8 - 12. However, I think young readers will find Gim Lew a sympathetic, interesting character with whom they can relate. His adventures will keep them turning pages to find out what happens next - along the way, they will learn a subtle lesson about racism, acceptance and the importance of family. Yep's writing can be a bit lackluster, but I think the story is unique enough to eclipse anything else. Historical fiction lovers of all ages should find this one engrossing.


Grade: B

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Last Queen Takes a Dark Look at Happily Ever After

Long before Disney began marketing the heck out of Happily Ever After, little girls dreamed of becoming princesses. They envisioned themselves in flowing gowns and diamond tiaras with armies of servants at their beck and call. With a gleaming palace, trunks of jewels and a handsome prince, what's not to love? Well, after the reading and viewing I've been doing lately, let me tell you, I'll pass.

Last week, I read The Goose Girl, a story about a scheming lady-in-waiting. Then, I watched The Queen, which recounts the days after Princess Diana's death. Now, I've finished C.W. Gortner's The Last Queen, and I'm convinced - life as a commoner is the way to go. The royals can keep their scandals, plots and endless jockeying for the crown's power. Sure, it's fascinating to read about in books, but that's the closest I want to get!




The Last Queen makes royal life look anything but appealing. The book tells the story of Juana of Castile, the final queen of Spanish blood to inherit the throne. Groomed from infancy to decorate the arm of a king, Juana is disappointed, but not surprised when her parents use her betrothal as a political strategem to build their empire. For her beloved Spain, she accepts the proposal of Philip the Fair, Duke of Burgundy. Despite her trepidation at marrying a stranger, she finds her 17-year-old husband irresistible. Theirs proves a passionate, happy union. At least for a time. By the time Juana realizes how truly ambitious her Philip is, it is almost too late. Although Juana's heart bleeds for her native land, her husband sees it only as the answer to his desire for a crown. Getting himself on the throne becomes his prime objective. While Juana enjoys her stately life in Flanders, gives birth and rears her babies, she remains oblivious to Philip's plans of overthrowing her parents and claiming Spain for his own. When she discovers the plot, Juana finds herself in a power struggle between the people she loves the most - her parents and her husband. At stake is much, much more than her own royal birthright.

The more Juana uncovers Philip's deceptions, the more she comes to despise her handsome spouse. Not only has he betrayed her politically, but she also finds evidence of repeated infidelities. When she confronts him, he locks her in her palace, beats her and accuses her of madness. Her only hope is to escape to Spain, where her parents' supporters will shelter her from her husband's all-consuming ambition. By the time she makes her way home, she has sacrificed everything - her once loving marriage, her children, her freedom, her future - to save her country. Even in Spain, where she should be revered as queen, Juana finds herself fighting for her own survival. Powerless against those who would usurp her, she must battle even her most trusted friends to stand up for what is rightfully hers. Paranoia and betrayal stalk her every hour, until she fears she has become just as mad as her husband accuses her of being. Like her mother before her, she will stop at nothing to protect her kingdom. The cost, however, will be dearer than she ever imagined.

Obviously, this is much darker fare than The Goose Girl, but the story is just as, if not more, intriguing. Generously seasoned with period detail, The Last Queen makes 15th and 16th Century Europe come alive for the reader. C.W. Gortner's lush, but dense, prose may turn off some readers, but the story moves right along with plenty of secret plans, betrayals, and evil doings to keep the plot interesting. Gortner's most brilliant device, however, is Juana herself. He creates a woman who demands as much admiration as sympathy. Although she spent much of her life as a pawn in others' political games, Gortner's Juana emerges as a passionate, brave woman who would sell her own soul to save the land she loved. Was she strong enough, finally, to rule Spain? Does it matter? Readers will root for Juana la Loca, despite her ignominious end. Gortner makes this colorful character leap straight out of the history books and into the reader's heart. You won't soon forget Spain's last queen.

Grade: A-

(Book image from C.W. Gortner's official website.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Once Upon A Time There Was A Charming Book ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Once upon a time in the faraway land of Kildenree (in a book called The Goose Girl by beloved storyteller Shannon Hale) there lived a girl named Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee. As you can tell by her complicated name, Ani was no ordinary girl - she was a princess who dwelt in a beautiful palace. Now, just because a child's birth designates her royalty, it doesn't mean that's what she really wants. Ani was one princess who didn't care to sit around embroidering and learning manners. She longed to be out in the sunshine; in fact, she felt happiest when she was in the fields and forests communing with the animals of her kingdom. When Ani discovered she could learn the languages of her animal friends, she was delighted. Sharing her secret, however, led to trouble. The palace residents viewed her skill as odd, unnatural. Fearing her daughter's otherness would make her an unsuitable wife and ruler, her mother, the cold-hearted queen, forbade her from visiting any "friends" of the non-human variety.

The years passed, but Ani still didn't find princess-ly tasks to her liking. She grew especially morose when she learned of her impending marriage to a prince in the distant land of Bayern. Not only was her mother using her as a political pawn, but also she would be leaving her homeland to wed a complete stranger. With little choice in the matter, Ani set out on the 6-month journey that would take her to her new home. A princess could not travel alone, of course, so she was accompanied by a party of guards; her faithful horse Falada; Selia, her lady-in-waiting and only real friend; and a handkerchief dotted with her mother's blood. Ani believed the token from her mother would protect her from anything her servants could not. But, she was wrong. When she lost the handkerchief, Ani had to face the fact that magic could not save her from the coup her servants mounted. Terrified, she fled into the forest, where she hid from her enemies.

Lost in the woods, Ani was forced to rely on the help of strangers. Eventually, she made her way to Bayern, with the intention of stomping straightaway to the king. So intent was she on telling the king her friend's sordid plot (for it was evident that Selia planned to have Ani killed so that she could assume Ani's identity, marry the prince, and rule Bayern) that she failed to realize how ridiculous her story would sound. She had no witnesses, no one who could prove who she really was. So, instead, Ani petitioned the king for a job. Although she wanted to work in the royal stables (where her precious Falada was being held), the king assigned her to tend his geese. Of course, Ani was uniquely skilled for the position, and soon had the geese minding her like well-mannered children.

Ani had never lived among commoners, but her work led her to a community of friends who accepted her as one of their own. Believing she came from the Forest, like them, they confided in her, listened to her stories, and shared with her their woes about being outcasts in the city. Over time she almost forgot that she hadn't been reared in the Forest. Even when she met a palace guard who treated her like a lady despite her lowly appearance, Ani still knew she was nothing but a goose girl.

Now, although Ani carefully disguised herself by wearing a hat to cover her "yellow" hair and darkening her light eyebrows, it was inevitable that someone would discover the truth. Conrad, the goose boy, had grown green with jealousy over Ani's way with the animals. When he saw her shaking out her hair - of a color unknown in Bayern - he realized she was not who she said she was. With Bayern on the brink of war with Kildenree (another one of Selia's plots), Ani knew she had to confess the truth to Conrad and her new friends. Would they believe her? Would they help her convince the king to stop the marriage between Selia and the prince, avert a bloody war, and save Kildenree? Or would they think it was just another one of her entertaining stories?

Every story has a moral, and ours is no exception. In The Goose Girl, Ani learns that although magic exists in her world, her real power comes from within. As a princess, she embraced the values of her mother - "separation, elevation, delegation" (25) - as a humble commoner, she finds her passion, her people, and her true self. She discovers that those who stand for truth and justice will always triumph in the end (it is a fairy tale, after all).

There's only one problem with this magical tale - like all stories, it had to end. Fear not, tho', there are sequels. Will Ani find her happily ever after? We'll just have to see what the talented Miss Hale has in store for the goose girl who would be queen ...

Grade: A

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Difficult, Disparate Courage in Patience Makes Me Think

For six years, Ashley Asher endures the unthinkable at the hands of Charlie, her alcoholic stepfather. When she finally gets up enough courage to tell her mother about the abuse, she's shocked to find that the woman who is supposed to protect her more fiercely than anyone else, doesn't believe the accusations against her husband. Ashley's mom dismisses the whole thing, even suggesting that Ashley brought it on herself by flirting with her stepfather. Her mother's denial rocks Ashley to the core. "I broke into lots of tiny pieces on the inside," she says, "like if someone hit a mirror with a hammer, over and over again" (54).

Knowing she can no longer take Charlie's abuse, Ash turns to a trusted teacher. Before she knows it, CPS has contacted her birth father, David. Although Ash recognizes herself in his features, her dad might as well be a complete stranger. He hasn't been in the same room with her since she was an infant, when her mother gave up on their marriage and left with Ashley in tow. Now, she has no choice. She has to trust this man she barely remembers.

David takes Ash to Patience, Texas, where he lives in a log cabin with his wife, Bev, and her 12-year-old son, Ben. Although Ben's not too anxious to meet his stepsister, Bev takes Ash under her wing. With her new family, Ash discovers that she doesn't have to spend her life cowering in her closet. As she gets to know the Ashers, becomes involved in a summer English course, and reaches out to others, she feels herself healing - slowly, painfully, and not wholly - but at least making progress. Patience becomes a refuge for Ash, but even in backward East Texas, things are not always as peaceful as they seem. The better Ash gets to know Patience's residents, the more she realizes that abuse comes in many forms and that fighting it will take everything she has - and more.

Courage in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum was a strange read for me, and I still haven't decided if I like it or not. The subject matter - sexual abuse - always makes for a tough read, especially when recounted in as much graphic detail as Fehlbaum employs. Perhaps I'm one of those people who want to pretend that such evil doesn't exist - I don't know, but I felt like I understood what was going on in Ashley's home without having to know every ugly word and detail of her experience. Of course, the author wants to make her point that abuse is real, ugly and traumatizing. As a victim herself, she knows her stuff. It just went a little overboard for me.

Really, though, my biggest problem with the novel is that it moves too abruptly from one theme to another. The first part of the novel is all about Ashley, her abuse, her pleas for help, and the way in which she deals with the lingering effects of her molestation and rape. Then, suddenly, it turns into a diatribe against racism and censorship. The stories are connected, of course, but not well enough to flow smoothly. In Fehlbaum's defense, I think some of the problem results from the publisher emphasizing the sexual abuse aspect of the book on its cover. In an interview I conducted with the author, she insists that the book was never supposed to be just about abuse - its real theme is that freedom and healing come from truth. (Incidentally, another author who published through Kunati mentioned that the publisher labeled her book in a way that skewed readers' expectations. Interesting.) At any rate, I also thought the book was overlong and trying to accomplish too much with the various storylines. A strict editor could easily thin it out, creating a much more powerful novel.

You know me - I can forgive writing and plotting flaws if a book contains some good, multi-dimensional characters, people that I can connect with because they feel so real. Courage in Patience boasts a couple well-drawn players, but it also contains far too many who aren't. Ash's voice rings with authenticity. She's honest, edgy and vulnerable all at the same time, which makes her both sympathetic and admirable. Her story reads like a memoir more than a novel, because her narration is so forthright. The characterization problem really lies in the adult characters, almost all of whom are portrayed as being either 100% good or 100% evil. Charlie abuses Ash, so he is bad. We don't get much of a glimpse into what makes him this way. Don't get me wrong - I think anyone who takes advantage of a child qualifies as scum of the Earth - I'm just saying a well-rounded character needs more of a history, more of a backstory, so we can at least understand his actions. Another example is Bev's boss, Principal Walden. He opposes Bev's teaching methods, so he is bad. Again, we don't get to see any of the possible reasons for his negativity or any humanizing qualities - he could have an overwhelming need to protect his students because no one protected him; he could fear losing his job and being unable to pay bills; or his cowardice in the face of the school board could come from being bullied throughout his life. We don't know, because all we're told is that he's threatening a teacher, so he's bad. I also didn't understand why David got to be portrayed as 100% good, since he does, in fact, abandon his daughter, making little attempt to contact her until CPS forces his hand. Then, suddenly, he becomes Dad of the Year. So, yeah. Some good, some not so good on the characterization front.

Considering all this, I was ready to abandon Courage in Patience by the middle of the book. I didn't get why racism and censorship were suddenly the focus of the story. I really didn't want to read all the minutiae of the minor characters' lives. I found myself only caring about Ashley and how she was going to deal with the trauma she experienced. Thankfully, the last quarter of the book yanked my wandering mind back to the story. Although I found it predictable and not overly realistic, the finale provides the strongest, most moving portion of the whole tale. The idea of truth and freedom is one in which Fehlbaum strongly believes. By the time you close the book, you'll believe it, too. You'll also find yourself thinking hard about censorship - I certainly did.

So, I'm going to be brutally honest here - I didn't love this book. It does make some strong statements, and it definitely made me think. It made me ponder so hard, in fact, that I'm drafting a post on censorship and how this book made me reconsider some of my opinions. As a novel, however, it lacks a lot of things - tight plotting, subtle development of a theme, strong characterization, and unpredictability. Like I said before, a good editor could easily set it to rights, but for me, it just didn't quite work. As always, I try to be as honest as possible about the books I review, but mine are not the only opinions out there. Hard to believe, I know! Courage in Patience gets very high reviews on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble (where I got the picture), so check them out for more discussion of the book.

Grade: B-

Note: The back cover proclaims Courage in Patience to be "Suitable for classroom study" and free from "graphic content." These phrases come from the publisher, not the author. I think I've made it clear that these are false statements (in my opinion, at least) - so consider yourself warned.

Author Chat: An Interview with Beth Fehlbaum

Hi Beth. Welcome to Bloggin' 'bout Books! Let's talk about your book ...

Me: I think it's pretty obvious why you wrote Courage In Patience, but I guess I want to hear it in your own words - What inspired you to write this book?? ?

BF: In the course of my recovery from childhood sexual abuse, I wrote a lot of poems and short stories and shared them with my therapist. One day, he suggested that I try writing a novel. It took about four months to pull myself out of my own head enough to attempt writing about someone else's recovery. When I was able to do that, the story began to flow. I wrote it for myself, initially. It was only as I neared the ending that I began to think about seeking publication for it, because I realized that it could provide hope for others who were on the same path as I, and help people who love those who have been abused to understand what it is like to live in that world, in that dark place-- and to show them, too, that there is hope. It's found in truth.

Me: To me, your book felt more like a memoir than a novel. Why did you choose to tell your story through fiction?? How did this format help or hinder your ability to tell an authentic story?
BF: First of all, I suppose I need to clear up a misconception here. This is not my story. It is not an autobiography or a memoir. I must say I am flattered that it reads as if it is a memoir, because that tells me that I did well my job of bringing Ashley Nicole Asher to "life."

Me: In the book, you portray a variety of authority figures who react to Ash's allegations against her stepfather in different ways. Some are instantly supportive, others are skeptical, and still others are in flat-out denial. Why do you think some adults react so negatively to children's pleas for help? And, what do you think our responsibilities as parents, teachers, and administrators are in regards to the kids we have "authority" over?

BF: I believe that the choice that some adults make to ignore children's pleas for help is rooted in their unwillingness to face the truth when it's an ugly thing to see. In terms of parents, it is a parent's responsibility to love and protect his or her child. Period. Anything less is unacceptable.

With regard to teachers and administrators, the law is very clear in that a child's outcry for help must be reported to authorities.

Me: Like Ash's stepmother, you work with victims of sexual abuse through your job as an English teacher. In what ways can reading and writing help kids overcome the obstacles in their lives, whether they are experiencing abuse, racial slurs, problems with parents, etc?

I work with all kinds of kids in my capacity as a teacher, and the thing that all kids-- all people, for that matter-- need to know is that they are not alone in dealing with problems. Kids feel less isolated when they read stories which feature characters they can identify with. Writing is a wonderful way for all people to take what is in their heads and see it in black and white. Not only does it help one take a step back and be able to see what's going on in a less emotional way, but it's also a valid way of processing events. And, should they choose to do so, when kids share what is going on with them through writing, they are pretty much guaranteed that they will not be interrupted in their telling. Writing often feels safer than talking.

Me: The back cover of Courage In Patience states that it is "Suitable for classroom study" and contains "No graphic content." I'll be honest with you, I don't agree with this statement at all. If my child's teacher assigned it, I would have to seriously think about whether or not I would let my kid read it. I know you're anti-censorship, but do you really think your book is suitable for classroom reading? Why or why not? I know you believe in authenticity and truth-telling, but how much truth is too much truth for kids, especially those who have never experienced the kind of abuse you're talking about?

BF: This is a complicated issue with several considerations to be kept in mind. First, the age and maturity of the reader. I did not necessarily write Courage in Patience with a YA audience in mind, nor did I label it as "suitable for classroom reading" or as having "no graphic content." The publishing house made the decision to put those statements on the cover.

Some of the scenes in the book are painful to read, I know. That said, I believe that teenagers are much more capable of dealing with life's messiness when it's on the pages of a book, rather than within their day-to-day existence. A lot of kids, though, are not so lucky as to be blissfully unaware of abuse. At any rate, I would like to think that Courage in Patience will be the springboard to dialogue between adults and teenagers, particularly when these statistics are considered:

1 in 4 girls (25%) are sexually abused by the age of 18.

1 in 6 boys (17%) are sexually abused by the age of 18.

Most teen sexual abuse victims (7 in 10, or 70%) know their abuser. It is generally a family member, or someone close to the family.

Of female Americans who are raped, 54 percent of them experience this type of sexual abuse for the first time before they are 18.

A victim of one incident of teen sexual abuse is likely to experience further sexual abuse.

Teenagers account for 51% of all reported sexual abuse.

Teenagers between the ages of 16 and 19 are 3.5 times more likely than the general public to be victims of sexual abuse.

69% of the incidences of teen sexual abuse occur in a residence.

23% of all sexual offenders are under the age of 18.

Female victims of teen sexual abuse while in grades 9 through 12 are more likely than others to experience eating disorders, suicidal behavior, pregnancy and risky sexual behaviors.

(SOURCE: http://www.teenhelp.com/teen-abuse/sexual-abuse-stats.html)

As you can see, in a classroom of teenagers, roughly a quarter of them-- or more-- have experienced sexual abuse. I think it is important that these people know they are not alone. Courage in Patience is not, however, at its root, about sexual abuse. It is about finding freedom and healing through truth, and second chances when those things seemed out of the realm of possibility, among other things.

While I do understand what I am perceiving as your discomfort with some of the aspects of Courage in Patience, I am committed to truth-telling and authenticity. I believe teenagers are intelligent enough beings to make up their own minds about what they want to read, and I absolutely support parents having dialogue with their kids about what their kids are reading. You're right about my stance on censorship. I do not believe that books should be banned. While I respect parents' rights to, with their teenagers, decide which books fit into their families' value systems, I think it is wrong to dictate to others which ideas are suitable to consider on the pages of a book.

Me: I see that you're working on a sequel to Courage In Patience - tell me a little about that. What does life have in store for Ash Asher?

BF: Yes, I am at work on the sequel to Courage in Patience, titled Hope in Patience. Ashley is continuing to struggle to accept "what IS," with respect to her relationship with her mother and the challenges she faces as a result of her scars. Beyond that, it's still so early in the birthing process that I do not want to share more at this time.

Me: What kind of response have you gotten from readers of your book? Has it gotten the reaction you expected?

BF: The response to Courage in Patience has been overwhelmingly positive. I did not really have preconceived notions of what the reaction would be, although it was my goal that readers would recognize the love that Ashley is surrounded by in her father's family, and the healing that occurs. Everyone who has read it so far and contacted me has found Ashley to be a very lovable, empathetic character that they found themselves rooting for.

Me: What advice would you give to victims of sexual abuse, especially children and teens, who are struggling to deal with the trauma they have experienced? What have you learned from your own experience that can help kids cope with victimization??

BF: Any child or teen who has been victimized by someone else needs to know that what happened is not his or her fault. That's very important, because there is so much shame borne by the victim that really belongs to the abuser.

With respect to my own experiences, I would just say to anyone who has been abused, "There is hope. Don't give up. It's sometimes the hardest work you'll ever do in your life, but keep going anyway."

Me: Chris Crutcher has obviously been a big inspiration for you. How have his books influenced your writing? Do you teach his books in your classroom? How do students and parents react to novels like his?

BF: Chris Crutcher has influenced me through his commitment to truth-telling, to writing stories in which teens can find themselves, and to his stance against censorship. I do not teach teenagers any more, so, no, I do not teach his books in my classroom. Chris' books are some of the most frequently awarded-- by organizations that recognize the value of his stories-- and also the most banned-- by people who are either afraid of the truth or who want to dictate for all of us what is suitable to read. His site, http://www.chriscrutcher.com, has a lot more info about his battles on behalf of the First Amendment.

Me: Finally, I ask this of every author I interview, because I find the answers so fascinating. How do you write? What routines do you follow? Do you write at a certain time every day or in a certain place? Do you follow an outline or let the story flow on its own?

BF: Courage in Patience was written in the wee hours of the morning. I have been working on Hope in Patience during the daylight hours, particularly over the past summer when I was off from school. I would start in the morning, stop at noon, then keep going until late afternoon. Many days I looked up in surprise to see that hours have passed. Those are great writing days.

No matter what time of day I write, I need a lack of distractions in order to lose myself in the story. I do not have an outline per se. The story flows on its own; I ask myself what happens next. I rewrite a lot, and drink massive quantities of Diet Coke. At times, I listen to music on my iPod-- folk singers and songwriters such as Chuck Pyle, Kate Wolf, Tom Russell, Shawn Colvin. Their music is soothing to me, and something about the songs they write makes my Writing Muse very content.

Me: Thanks so much for chatting with me, Beth.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Spreading the (Linky) Love

So, wow, I've been reading and blogging so much that my eyes hurt. That ever happen to anyone else? Mine get really red from the strain. I'm going to take a break here in a sec, but I wanted to mention a few things:

First, if you read my last review, you know that I'm going to be writing tests for the reading program at my kids' school. I'm really excited about this, probably pathetically so :) I just love the idea of encouraging kids to read, read, read. This program is something I would have just eaten up as a kid. Anyway, I mention it because you will probably see more YA/middle grade books on here than ever before. I mean, I've always read YA, but it looks as if I may be doing a lot more of it. So, just a heads up.

There are a lot of things coming up in the next couple months on BBB. Of course, there will always be book reviews. Some great author interviews are coming up as well - I'll be chatting with the likes of Kirby Larson, Catherine Ryan Hyde, J. Scott Savage and others. I will be posting an interesting interview with Beth Fehlbaum tomorrow, which has inspired me to write a post on censorship. I haven't finished it, but eventually it will go up. More book giveaways will also be coming. I wish I could say that I will be hosting my very own challenge, but things have been too crazy lately to even think about such a thing! Anyway, stay tuned. Good things are coming!

On a more serious note, I also wanted to say that it seems to be rough times for our fellow bloggers, from the whole Nie Nie thing to our own Amanda and Stephanie. Even though I don't know most of you IRL, I feel like I do, and my heart grieves when I hear about difficulties in your lives. If you lived close, I would rush over with a casserole, or better yet - a good book. I want you to know, though, that I truly believe there is a God who hears and answers our prayers. When I say I'm praying for you, I mean that very literally. It's the only thing I can do - I hope it brings some little comfort in trying times.

I'm still trying to catch up on all of your blogs. With my move and all that entails, I am woefully behind. However, I wanted to make you aware of some great giveaways and events that are going on. Of course, you've probably heard about most of them, since I'm usually the last to post this kind of stuff. I'm going to spread the linky love anyway! As always, if I missed a giveaway or fun even happening at your blog, leave me a comment. I hate to ignore any chance for free books!

Okay, here ya go:

Booking Mama is hosting two giveaways, one for Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, and one for Suspicious Minds by Christy Barrit.

Sam Houston is also giving away a copy of Matrimony. The giveaway ends on Friday, so hurry on over there.

Amanda is offering Saturdays with Stella by Allison Pittman. The contest ends on Friday at midnight, so hurry on over.

You've probably all heard about Natasha's efforts to raise money and awareness for Darfur. If you haven't had the chance to donate (or just haven't gotten around to it like slacker me), do it!

J. Scott Savage, who has been very grateful and gracious to us book bloggers, is having a release party on Saturday, September 13th from 12-3 at the library in Spanish Fork, Utah. There will be food, free stuff, giveaways, etc. Twenty percent of the proceeds from book sales will go to the library. If you live in Utah, go give him some support.

I got an interesting e-mail from Lynn Brittney, author of Christine Kringle. She is holding a contest for readers aged 9-90 to come up with a 1-page synopsis for the sequel to the book. The winner will receive $5,000 as well as his/her name on the cover of Brittney's new novel. How fun is that? Information is here. By the way, I tried to find the book at my local library to no avail, so I'm not sure how easy it will be to find. I don't even know if it's worth reading, but the contest sounds so fun!

Finally, run over to Amy's blog to find out what's going on with Book Bloggers Appreciation Week. Don't forget to vote for the finalists - I was excited to see that several of my nominations made it to the next level. She also has giveaways, a survey and other stuff. Check it out.

My eyes are really bugging now, so I better stop. As always, Happy Reading!

Kidnapped Will Suck You In For A Thrilling Adventure

If you live in the same city as I do (and I know some of you do), you're probably aware that recent budget cuts have forced the school district to eliminate librarian positions. I've heard rumors that the most prevalent reading program in our elementary schools - A.R. - will also be phased out. As a bibliophile with two elementary-age bookworms, this makes me sad. Since we just moved, said bookworms are now attending a school that boasts its own "homegrown" reading program. It's low-tech (kids read books then take paper tests about them to earn points toward rewards), so it should be safe from budget reductions. However, it takes an army of parents to read books, write tests, file tests, grade tests, etc. I'm absolutely thrilled to be one of the soldiers.

So, last week when I went in to help, the lady who runs the library showed me her stack of books for which she needed tests written. I grabbed a few, but the stories in Gordon Korman's Kidnapped series are the ones that really grabbed my attention. Apparently, I'm not the only one so beguiled - the students have been requesting tests right and left for these books. After reading the whole trilogy, I can certainly see why. Although I had never heard of Korman before this, he's written a whole slew of action/adventure books. If they are as riveting as the three I read, I'll be visiting the K section of the children's library in the near future.


Book 1: The Abduction

The first book in the series introduces us to Aiden and Meg Falconer, two kids who were forced to live as fugitives after their parents were jailed on suspicion of aiding terrorists. Although I didn't realize this when I started The Abduction, their whole backstory is told in an earlier series. Anyway, now the kids are back home with their parents, living normal lives. Well, as normal as life can be after weeks on the run. It's a big adjustment for them to be forced to sit still in a classroom after their adrenaline-pumping adventures. At least they're safe and sound now. It's not exactly a peaceful life - there are still people out there who believe the Falconer's are traitors to the U.S. - but at least the kids can sleep in their own beds at night. Now they can put the whole trauma out of their minds and get on with their ordinary lives.

That's what they think until one afternoon when three strangers grab Meg, stuff her into a van, and race off. Aiden manages to get away, but he's appalled that he couldn't save his sister. When the FBI gets involved, none of the Falconers are overjoyed to see Agent Harris again. After all, he's the one responsible for wrongly imprisoning John and Louise Falconer in the first place. Competence obviously isn't the man's strong point.

Aiden's time on the run forced him to trust his instincts; fortunately, he hasn't forgotten how. When he sees an odd news story about a flag that has been forced off its pole, he knows it's a sign from his sister. Agent Harris is under enough pressure after being publicly humiliated by the whole Falconer scandal; he's not about to send men out to investigate Aiden's wild claim. Meanwhile, Meg's holding her own against her abductors. She even manages to slip a Help! note outside the warehouse where she's being held.

When a ransom note appears on a popular website, the FBI decides to try to lure the kidnappers out of hiding. Using Aiden as bait, the agents set their trap. Harris experiences another public humiliation when the plan goes terribly awry, placing two more kids in danger. In the end, Aiden finds himself looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. Will his bravery (stupidity?) get him any closer to his sister, or will all the danger be for naught?

Book Two: The Search

When the second book opens, Meg is bouncing around inside the trunk of her kidnappers' car. Location unknown. Destination unknown. A plan she read about in one of her dad's cheesy detective novels help her escape, but only briefly. The abductors find another cage for her, one they are sure she can't fight her way out of. Once again, they underestimate Meg. Using skills honed during her weeks as a fugitive plus more ideas from her dad's books, she tries to stay ahead of her sinister captors. Sometimes she succeeds, sometimes she doesn't.

Aiden's so sick with worry that even chess games with his best friend, Richie, can't keep his mind focused. He's ecstatic that bumbling Agent Harris is off the case, but the new guy in charge doesn't seem much more helpful. When Aiden reads a news story about a series of overflowing bathrooms along a rural highway, he knows it is Meg sending him messages. Agent Sorenson dismisses the notion. After a desperate call to Agent Harris, Aiden realizes he's on his own. If he doesn't follow the clues Meg is leaving him, no one will. Sneaking past the FBI agents guarding his home, Aiden begins his own journey, one that will have him hiding in chicken coops, crawling through the sewer and facing the razor-sharp knife of a veteran soldier.

As much as Meg hopes for rescue, she, too, realizes she will have to save herself. With help from a surprising source, she manages to escape, but only to find herself up against a brick wall. Actually, worse. Now, she's lost on an empty mountain with a blizzard threatening her survival.

On the homefront, John and Louise Falconer worry about both of their children, their only comfort coming in the form of blogger extraordinaire, Rufus Sehorn. The only communication from the kidnappers has been through his website. Unfortunately, very little is coming through. Can the FBI find their daughter? What about their son, who's being tracked by the less-than-efficient Agent Harris? After all they have suffered, are they about to lose their children, too?


Book Three: The Rescue

The final book in the series begins right in the middle of the action. Meg is stumbling around in a blizzard trying not to let herself succumb to the nasty storm. A telephone pole gives her an idea - a crazy idea gleaned from the pages of her dad's dumb detective novels. Dumb as it might be, her efforts attract the attention of Aiden and Agent Harris, who begin a mad search for any sign of Meg or her kidnappers.

The blizzard makes their search nearly impossible, and try as they might, they can't find Meg. When they finally stumble upon the kidnappers' hideout, Aiden and Agent Harris find help from the most unlikely of sources. They're hot on the trail as the abductors set up a ransom drop.

Tired of waiting for the FBI to find Meg, John and Louise Falconer turn to the one person who has supported them along the way - blogger Rufus Sehorn. He vows to gather the $3 million the kidnappers are demanding. Soon, the adults are sneaking by the agents watching the house, speeding toward the drop spot without any police backup. When they arrive at the abandoned mine, the elder Falconers receive a shock that changes everything about the whole kidnapping.

When all parties converge on the mine, it becomes a life-and-death showdown. With guns, a growling bear, and tunnels that could collapse at any moment, it's a dangerous situation for everyone. Who will be trapped in the deteriorating mine? Who will come out alive? What are the real reasons behind Meg's kidnapping? Most important of all, will the Falconers lives every be normal again?

My Thoughts - I can definitely see why kids like these books. The fast-paced, exciting plots kept me riveted. They are quick reads - each took me about 1 1/2 hours - which is a good thing because I couldn't resist racing through them to find out what was going to happen. The stories all offer twists, turns and thrilling cliffhangers, but they don't quite triumph over predictability. I enjoyed the various schemes the Falconer kids come up with, but they are all pretty far-fetched. I also think the whole idea of the kidnapping might scare some kids. When my 6-year-old asked to read the books, I told her no, because I think they would give her nightmares. Of course, the kids triumph in the end, mostly by using their own skills and intuition, but I just think the whole idea of a kidnapping is too frightening for my daughter. In addition, the books don't portray police and FBI agents in a very good light. I'm sure it's realistic in some ways, but it bothered me a little. Still, Korman pens a fun, action-packed adventure series that will suck in even reluctant readers.

Grade: B

(Book images from Barnes & Noble)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Have I Told You Lately That I Love Temperance Brennan?

I may have mentioned (just a million times or so) that I'm a big fan of Kathy Reichs and her

heroine, Temperance Brennan. So, naturally, I was pretty excited when Reichs' newest hit the shelves. Devil Bones is the 11th book in a series which is consistently fresh and exciting. Even the installments that aren't quite as good stand out because the characters are so beguiling. I mean, you've got the city cops - smart-mouthed Slidell and his partner, the impeccable Rinaldi; then you've got Detective Ryan, the sexy Canadian who makes hearts flutter all over the globe; and finally, Tempe herself. She's a smart, dedicated forensic anthropologist who uses all her skills to identify murder victims and their killers. A recovering alcoholic living on Diet Coke and takeout, Tempe's at once sympathetic, admirable and relatable. Her snappy dialogue - both inside her head and out - makes her narrations fun and witty. Have I mentioned how much I love this character?

Yes, I do realize that I haven't even started talking about the book's finer points, but I have to make a quick aside. When I heard that Fox planned to air a TV series based on the Temperance Brennan books, I couldn't wait to check it out. Then I saw the first episode of Bones. And almost didn't watch the second. It's not that the show is terrible (in fact, it's kind of growing on me), it's just that it doesn't mirror the books very well. Plus, the acting is pretty bad. Most of all, though, the Tempe Brennan I know and love from the books is nothing like the stiff, whiny character portrayed by Emily Deschanel on Bones. So, I watch the show and I read the books, but it's like apples and oranges. The real Tempe (that is, the one in the books) will pull you in with her smarts, her wit, and her compassion. Kathy Reichs says she sees the t.v. Tempe as a younger version of the book Tempe (in an interview at the back of the book), but I see no correlation.

Okay, rant over. Back to Devil Bones. The book begins with a grisly site - Tempe is summoned to a vacant home where a plumber has discovered "Satan himself" (15). What he has actually found is the site of some sort of macabre ritual involving a human skull. The voodoo elements lead Tempe on a search of fringe religions like Wicca, Satanism and Santeria. Slidell and Rinaldi, Tempe's cop sidekicks, are investigating other possibilities when a second body turns up bearing disturbing symbols. Tempe's theory seems correct, but further investigation only creates tougher questions. To whom does the skull belong? Was the victim murdered by a bloodthirsty cult? What of a self-proclaimed witch with human remains in his possession? And what, if anything, does a fanatic preacher have to do with the whole thing? Before Tempe finds all the answers, several innocents will be dead, including a friend.

As if Tempe doesn't have her hands full with corpses, she's also got some personal issues. First of all, there's Pete, her ex-husband. Although they're definitely better off as friends, Tempe's not quite sure how she feels about him re-marrying. Well, okay, it sucks. Especially since his intended is "overblond, with breasts the size of beach balls, and far too little blouse to accomodate them" (174). Then, there is her own confusing love life. Andrew Ryan is back with his ex, trying to reconcile in an effort to save his daughter from her downward spiral into drugs. A new man (actually, a disarming blast from her past) is ready to move in on Ryan's territory, but Tempe's not sure she can handle a new complication. She's got enough of those already - her grief over a friend's death awakes her sleeping dragon and her alcohol-soaked mind can't recall the events of the past two days. Did she really leak information about her case to a nosy reporter? Her weakness could get her fired or worse ... killed.

Although I found the investigation process in this book more interesting than its resolution, Devil Bones still kept me turning pages. As always, I enjoyed Tempe's take on things, from her analyses of the cold, hard facts to her struggle to remain objective. Passages like this highlight what I love about this character:

Staring into the empty orbits, I tried to visualize who this young woman had been. Felt sad at the loss. My mind could conjure up rough images of her appearance based on the black girls I saw around me. Katy's friends. My students. The kids who hung out in the park across College Street. I could envision dark hair and eyes, chocolate skin. But what had she felt? Thought? What expression had molded her features as she fell asleep each night, woke each morning?

Fourteen to seventeen. Half woman, half child. Had she liked to read? Ride a bike? A Harley? Hang out at the mall? Did she have a steady boyfriend? Who was missing her? ...


Do what you do, Brennan. Learn who she was. What happened to her.


Setting sentimental musing aside, I refocused on the science.

I love that she's practical, but compassionate, too. Tempe's wry and hilarious observations give the book light and funny patches, which offset the gory nature of her work. The other characters in the book are well-drawn; even the most minor of them receive enough detailing to make them nice and round. The plot grows predictable, but it's still taut, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested. With the addition of some fascinating forensic information (which Reichs explains well, without talking down to the reader) and the drama of Tempe's personal life, Devil Bones is downright unputdownable. True, I didn't love the ending, but still ... this series continues to win my devotion. Did I mention how much I like Tempe Brennan?

Grade: B+

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Not So Brillante


I must have been really tired when I typed up my last post, because I forgot to mention the rules of the Brillante award. Recipients are supposed to give the award to 5 of their favorite blogs - as far as I can tell, they can be any kind of blogs. Leave a comment on the blog letting the author know they have received the award and encourage them to pass it on. That's it! I named the blogs I selected in my last post, but forgot to let them know. Duh. Sometimes, I'm not so brillante!

Anyway, have fun with it. I love being recognized for my efforts and being able to recognize others' hard work.

P.S. I am reading, I promise. Right now, I'm about halfway through Courage in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum. It's a raw novel about a young girl who has been molested by her stepfather. Not the cheeriest of subjects. I should finish it soon, then I'm going to have to choose between Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer and Devil Bones, Kathy Reichs' newest. Plus, I need to come up with interview questions for both Beth and Kirby Larson, read a couple review books and keep resisting the urge to join Carl's RIP III Challenge. So much to do, so very little time ...

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