Archive for July, 2008

Review of A Death in Vienna, by Frank Tallis

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

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A Death in Vienna

by Frank Tallis

Grove Press, New York, 2005.  458 pages. 

Here’s a murder mystery with a fascinating historical setting.  The hero of the book is Max Liebermann, a doctor proficient in the new science of psychoanalysis at the turn of the twentieth century, a friend and colleague of Sigmund Freud.

Liebermann’s friend Oskar Rheinhardt, a police detective, is presented with an especially perplexing case.  A woman is found dead in a locked room, clearly dead by a bullet wound, yet there is no bullet found in her body.  The woman was a practitioner of the occult and a regular leader of seances.  Could she have offended the spirits?

Max Liebermann reads people well, understanding Freudian slips at a time before the general populace knew about them.  His perceptive analysis of people makes him an ideal assistant to his friend the detective.

This book was a perfect break for me in between volumes of the much more emotional Twilight series.  A Death in Vienna appeals on a more cerebral level, with a challenging puzzle and an intriguing historical background, when the practice of treating psychological ailments was far different than it is today.

A big thank you to the library customer who told me about this book!

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/death_in_vienna.html

Review of Lionboy: The Chase, by Zizou Corder

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

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Lionboy:  The Chase

Book Two in the LionBoy Trilogy

by Zizou Corder

Read by Simon Jones

HighBridge, Minneapolis, 2004.  7.5 hours on 6 compact discs.

This time, instead of stopping in the middle of Charlie Ashanti’s story, as I did the first time I read Lionboy, I made sure I continued on.

I’m finding that when I listen to books on CD, I enjoy very different books than the ones I like to read.  Although I enjoyed the first book of the trilogy the first time I read it, I didn’t find it gripping, the sort of book that keeps me up all night reading.  So I never found myself compelled to pick up the second book in the trilogy.

Listening to the audio version of the book is a different situation.  Because I only live ten minutes from my workplace, I enjoy a diverting, entertaining story.  One that pulls me in, but that I don’t mind stopping after ten minutes.  The audio books I’m enjoying, this one among them, are an entirely different category of books than my usual choices.  Although I loved listening to some print favorites, such as Enna Burning and Fairest, I almost found it annoying that I couldn’t gobble up the story quickly, I liked it so much.  With a lighter book, like Lionboy, or comedies like those by P. G. Wodehouse, the way listening takes so much longer than reading is part of the fun.  I’m finding that listening to the audiobook is the perfect way to get around to reading a book that I couldn’t quite get myself to pick up and read with my eyes.  After all, I’m just entertaining myself while driving!

Most of Lionboy: The Chase took place in Venice — a future Venice where much of the city has finally fallen into the sea.  Still, the parts still standing are the same as they have been for hundreds of years, the same Venice I fell in love with myself, so I enjoyed vicariously spending time there while reading this book.

Charlie has gotten the circus lions away from the circus and away from Paris.  In this book, he needs to get them away from what he thought was their safe haven, a palazzo in Venice.  He still doesn’t know where his parents have been taken, and now there’s a reward offered for finding him and the lions.

The plot in this story did include some unbelievable coincidences, but mostly it was an entertaining adventure yarn to listen to.  How will Charlie, who can talk to cats and lions, save his friends the lions, and himself?  How will he find his parents?  How will he escape Raffi, who continues to go after him?

Charlie grows in this book, faces tough challenges, and overcomes.

I appreciated that this book did not end in the middle of things.  In fact, if they didn’t tell us in the epilogue that things are about to get much worse, I would have thought it was a nice, happy ending.  I like trilogies better when they consist of self-contained books, and this one at least finished the saga of the first two books.

The narrator is excellent, maintaining a nice variety of voices, including distinct voices for lions and cats.  Of course, I’m always a sucker for a British accent, and can listen to such a speaker all day long!

I intend to listen to Book Three while I am still thinking about the story.

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/lionboy_the_chase.html

Review of First Daughter: Extreme American Makeover, by Mitali Perkins

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

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First Daughter

Extreme American Makeover

by Mitali Perkins

Dutton Children’s Books, 2007.  278 pages.

www.penguin.com/youngreaders

http://www.mitaliperkins.com/

http://www.sparrowblog.com/

Sameera Righton’s father is running for President of the United States.  She’s leaving her international high school in Brussels to join him for the last several months of his campaign.

Right from the start, his campaign staff are planning changes for Sameera, starting with her name.  Her family has always called her Sparrow, but the campaign manager thinks that “Sammy” sounds “more American.”  Sparrow was born in Pakistan and adopted when she was three years old, so she doesn’t look like her parents.  Are the American people ready for that?

What’s more, Sparrow, who’s long prided herself in her thoughtful blog posts for a small circle of friends, is now asked to let a supposedly media-savvy campaigner write her official blog.  “SammySez” ends up sounding like a mindless shopping-crazed TV addict.

Sparrow tries to keep a semblance of normal life during the crazy campaign months.  She does her usual summer trip to her grandparents’ farm, and tries to take some of the load off of her recuperating grandma.  At least until the press finds her.  I love her strategy for sneaking out of their Washington, DC, hotel in a salwar kameez.  I think it would work!

This book is fun reading, and perfect for this summer before the election.  Mitali Perkins has posted a real blog for Sparrow at http://www.sparrowblog.com/.  On it, she keeps track of news stories about the children of the real-life presidential hopefuls.  I wonder how much their experiences are similar to Sparrow’s.

I do like the way Mitali Perkins weaves in some tasteful discussions about faith into her work.  I met her nine years ago at a writer’s conference in Paris, and she mentioned that her faith was an important part of her writing.  Her characters express that faith is important, but don’t claim to have all the answers.

I also liked the international flavor to the book.  Sameera grew up overseas, as her parents were an ambassador to NATO and a human-rights activist.  Having met Mitali in Paris when she was living in Asia, I wasn’t surprised to read that she was born in India and lived in many different countries growing up.  The part of the book dealing with international relations definitely had an authentic ring.

This is a good book about a teenager thrust into the limelight, and it also gets the reader thinking.  What makes a person American?

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/first_daughter.html

Review of I Will Surprise My Friend! by Mo Willems

Monday, July 7th, 2008

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I Will Surprise My Friend!

by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, New York, 2008.  57 pages.

Oh, I do love Mo Willems’ books!  I Will Surprise My Friend! is another easy reader about two friends, Elephant (named Gerald) and Piggie.  As with the Pigeon books, Mo Willems manages to convey all kinds of emotions with simple line drawings.  Adding a raised eyebrow here and a pointed toe there tell the readers exactly what the characters are feeling.

I’d like to try this book in a storytime, but it’s particularly suited for a child learning to read.  There are a few words on each page, and the pictures will give the child delight at deciphering exactly what is happening, and they will find it tremendous fun.

To start out, Gerald and Piggie see a squirrel hide behind a rock and surprise his friend.  The two squirrels are delighted.  This gives Gerald a great idea — they can surprise each other at the big rock.

Gerald and Piggie are both fully engaged in the fun of the planned surprise.  But when two people are both hiding, who’s around to get surprised?  There’s plenty of visual humor in this story, and of course the fun of seeing behind the scenes when both friends get surprised in a way they didn’t expect.

Hmm.  Describing it takes more words than are in the book!  I want to find a beginning reader to read this story to me.

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/i_will_surprise_my_friend.html

Review of Flirting with Pride and Prejudice

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

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Flirting with Pride & Prejudice

Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece

edited by Jennifer Crusie

Benbella Books, Dallas, Texas, 2005.  230 pages.

Starred Review.

Ah, tremendous fun!  This book talks about Pride and Prejudice, plays with Pride and Prejudice, and reveals that other people have their little foibles and weaknesses about Pride and Prejudice, just as I do.  (And what an amazing number of people have a crush on Colin Firth!)

The authors who contributed cover a wide range, with Chick Lit writers particularly well-represented.  Some of the essays are even written by men!  (Well, two.)

I recently bought and viewed Becoming Jane, and my sister-in-law gave me the Collector’s Edition of Pride and Prejudice (with Colin Firth) and I found myself quite taken in by the accompanying book of behind the scenes stories of making the movie.  So I was definitely in the mood for this book.

Of course, I have my own stories about my love of Jane Austen.  I did my Sophomore English Literature paper on her and ended up using the time to read every one of her books — and then wrote the paper staying up all night the night before.

I confess that I regularly reread her books.  I was recently captivated by a photo-illustrated edition of Pride and Prejudice put out by Dorling Kindersley, which I found in the library and couldn’t resist.  I’m planning to watch Becoming Jane all over again, with commentary, which isn’t something I normally do.

So — I definitely enjoyed reading other people’s musings on the subject of Jane Austen and her immortal characters.  What is it about Mr. Darcy that enchants us?  How about Elizabeth?  And do we think that Charlotte Lucas was a sell-out, or just practical-minded?

There are a wide variety of offerings here, from discussions to confessions to playful rewritings to new stories.  I liked the story Mercedes Lackey wrote about what might have happened if one of her own characters had gone to a party at Pemberley hosted by Elizabeth Darcy.  Jennifer Coburn compared Pride and Prejudice with Fiddler on the Roof.  Several discussed the implications of capturing the book on film.  I enjoyed Laura Resnick’s essay on Bollywood’s wonderful musical Bride and Prejudice, and what things translated well and what things didn’t.  Of course, there were several discussions of Mr. Darcy.  Teresa Medeiros’ title said it well:  “My Darling Mr. Darcy:  Why is the Unattainable so Irresistible?”  I also enjoyed Jill Winters’ take on the passionate secret life Mary Bennett was living behind the scenes.

I don’t need to say any more.  Those who are as enchanted with all things Austen as I am will want to read it just as soon as they find out the book exists.  Enjoy!

Thinner thighs and darker chocolate may not always be within our grasp, but thanks to Jane Austen, a brooding Englishman with an inscrutable gaze and good teeth will always remain just at our fingertips. — Teresa Medeiros

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www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/flirting_with_pride_and_prejudice.html

Review of New Moon, by Stephenie Meyer

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

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New Moon

by Stephenie Meyer

Megan Tingley Books (Little, Brown and Company), New York, 2006.  563 pages.

Starred Review.

Oh, these books are so bad to read if you’re planning to get any sleep!  I was good the first night, and stopped after about a hundred pages.  But the second night, I kept reading and reading, and by the time I’d finished the book, it was not so early in the morning.  And I had to go to work, too!  Yikes!

Stephenie Meyer is good with feelings.  Mind you, she’s got a nice complicated situation — Bella’s in love with a vampire who has an especially powerful thirst for her blood, but resists that urge because he loves her.  In New Moon, Edward faces the “reality” that he is not good for Bella, and Bella is not good for him.  So he leaves her.

Stephenie Meyer captures well how it feels to be left by the love of your life.  The unbelievable shock of seeing hard coldness on his face when he says he’s leaving.  The utter numbness that follows, wondering how to go on, how to face ordinary, day-to-day life.

I wouldn’t give this to a teenager going through a rough break up!  For that matter, it’s a bit hard on a woman in her 40’s going through a divorce!  But the author does capture the emotions involved, and you do feel with Bella and understand her.

Bella does find a friend who can help her escape her numbness and face life again.  His feelings for Bella are going beyond friendship, but he means a lot to her, so maybe that’s okay?  Now, there’s an added complication:  Back in the first book he’s the one who told Bella about legends of vampires, along with the legend that his tribe had a way of dealing with them, that his tribe and vampires are mortal enemies, who had worked out a temporary truce.

Bella’s not good at “moving on,” but how do you “move on” from the love of your life?

This passage gives you the feel of what Bella has to deal with in New Moon:

I thought about Juliet some more.

I wondered what she would have done if Romeo had left her, not because he was banished, but because he lost interest?  What if Rosalind had given him the time of day, and he’d changed his mind?  What if, instead of marrying Juliet, he’d just disappeared?

I thought I knew how Juliet would feel.

She wouldn’t go back to her old life, not really.  She wouldn’t ever have moved on, I was sure of that.  Even if she’d lived until she was old and gray, every time she closed her eyes, it would have been Romeo’s face she saw behind her lids.  She would have accepted that, eventually.

I wondered if she would have married Paris in the end, just to please her parents, to keep the peace.  No, probably not, I decided.  But then, the story didn’t say much about Paris.  He was just a stick figure — a placeholder, a threat, a deadline to force her hand.

What if there were more to Paris?

What if Paris had been Juliet’s friend?  Her very best friend?  What if he was the only one she could confide in about the whole devastating thing with Romeo?  The one person who really understood her and made her feel halfway human again?  What if he was patient and kind?  What if he took care of her?  What if Juliet knew she couldn’t survive without him?  What if he really loved her, and wanted her to be happy?

And . . . what if she loved Paris?  Not like Romeo.  Nothing like that, of course.  But enough that she wanted him to be happy, too? . . .

If Romeo was really gone, never coming back, would it have mattered whether or not Juliet had taken Paris up on his offer?  Maybe she should have tried to settle into the leftover scraps of life that were left behind.  Maybe that would have been as close to happiness as she could get.

I sighed, and then groaned when the sigh scraped my throat.  I was reading too much into the story.  Romeo wouldn’t change his mind.  That’s why people still remembered his name, always twined with hers:  Romeo and Juliet.  That’s why it was a good story.  “Juliet gets dumped and ends up with Paris” would have never been a hit.

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/new_moon.html

Review of Twilight, by Stephenie Meyer

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

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Twilight

by Stephenie Meyer

Megan Tingley Books (Little, Brown), New York, 2005.  498 pages.

Starred Review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008:  #4, Fantasy Teen Fiction.

I took a Resources for Young Adults class last quarter.  As part of the class, I signed up for a Listserv on which librarians serving teens discuss good books.  That’s where I heard about Twilight, as well as some of my classmates mentioning it as the best vampire novel they’d ever read.  I read an extensive article about the author, Stephenie Meyer, and I was intrigued.  She’s a Mormon, and promised that she would not include graphic sex in her novels.  It sounds like her values are similar to mine.  I was intrigued, so I put myself on the wait list for Twilight.

I have to say that the only thing I didn’t like about Twilight was how late it kept me reading!  I thought I’d read one chapter before going to sleep–and finally managed to close the book hours later.  But I have to admit, I like it when a book engages me that thoroughly.

Bella, the heroine, is everygirl.  She was easy to identify with, and I felt sympathy with her from the start.  Stephenie Meyer keeps you reading by not answering every question.  We wonder, along with Bella, why that handsome Edward seems so angry with her, after meeting her eyes once, that he stays away from school for a week, and she can’t help but feel it’s to avoid her.  Then, how does he move with superhuman speed, but deny it?  Why does he say he’s bad for her? 

I’m not giving anything away by saying this is a vampire novel, since it’s on the cover of the book and in any reviews.  But even knowing that, Stephenie Meyer manages to keep you guessing as to how Bella will find out and what, exactly, that means. 

I’ve never been a big vampire novel fan, but this book doesn’t have the usual feel of a vampire book.  Instead, it’s a powerful, sensual love story.  Since Edward has to be careful not to get to close to Bella, so as not to be tempted to taste her blood, the tension between them is extreme.  Today’s TV writers would do well to learn a lesson from this book.  Sometimes less is more when it comes to describing romance.  This is good clean fiction that packs a punch.

Twilight is hugely popular with teen girls, and I can see why.  43-year-old abandoned housewives find it wonderful, too!

My only complaint is that the vampires are a little too perfect.  They are more beautiful than ordinary mortals, have superhuman speed and strength, don’t have to sleep or breathe, and live forever.  Edward’s group has found a way to get around drinking human blood.  So what’s not to like?  I don’t see any compelling reason why Bella shouldn’t just become a vampire, too.  Sure, it would be tough explaining it to her parents at first….

I can’t wait to read the next two books!  In fact, I liked this book so much, instead of getting on the library’s hold list, I ordered the next two books from Amazon.  I have a feeling I’m going to be reading these books more than once.

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