29 August 2012

Book Review: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink

I've been reading a lot of YA lately, and not only that, but a lot of bad YA.  Being thus frustrated, I wanted to revisit a beloved childhood favorite to see how it stood up.

Well, it was good.  Funny, educational, progressive for its time, and providing a wonderful family atmosphere on the frontier, Caddie Woodlawn is still a very good read.  It would pair well with Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books for dealing with a similar time period and place, with the added benefit of being based on a true story.

The story opens in 1864, and Caddie is a young girl growing up in the wilds of Wisconsin. As someone who spent her early childhood in Wisconsin, it's fun to imagine how the "wilds" must have looked over 100 years before I was born, as the Wisconsin I remember from my childhood and the one I re-visit today every now and again is mostly one big, open, flat space of farmland.

It concludes on a major historical note: first the ending of the Civil War, which has had little immediate effect on the Woodlawn family, then the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, which sobers the entire town. We also get a veiled acknowledgment of the privilege surrounding Caddie and her family when we learn that her father paid another man to fight in his stead. I didn't really understand the implications of this when I was child, and as an adult reader it left me with more questions, since Mr. Woodlawn is always shown as a fair, hardworking, and understanding man with a progressive vision of both women and Indians: why would such a man stand on the privilege of his relative wealth to pay another man to fight in his stead?

In between those times, we get lots of adventures with Caddie, many with her brothers Tom and Warren, but the best parts are Caddie on her own, like the night she sneaks out of her house in the dark of night to warn the Indians--camped across the river--that the white folks are planning a pre-emptive "massacree" against them. Or like the way she earns an entire silver dollar from her very foolish uncle, or the way she decides to spend it--not on herself or her family, but on three devastated little boys whose mother abandons them and whom she wants to cheer up.

Caddie's got plenty of spark to her, but she's also fair and true, making her a wonderful heroine even for today's considerably more jaded readers.  It's true that I carried the nostalgia of my youth when re-reading this classic, but I do feel that Caddie Woodlawn holds its own among modern chapter books with a good story, well told, that should resonate with readers young and old.

27 August 2012

Book Review: Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

Conceptually, Tamara Ireland Stone's Time Between Us is a lot like Audrey Niffenegger's first novel, so in my head I've been calling it The Time Traveler's Girlfriend.  It's the story of Anna, who attends high school in the Chicago area in the mid 1990s, and Bennett, who is a teenager in San Francisco in 2012.  They were never supposed to meet, but Bennett is a time-traveler and an avid concert-goer who "lost" his sister in the past while attending an early Pearl Jam concert in Soldier's Field, so he sticks around Chicago trying to find her and enrolls in Anna's school.

So let's get the hard things out of the way: time travel can be a deuce of an element to work with, both as a writer and a reader.  Bennett can travel through space AND he can travel through time, but while the former is a pretty easy "jump" for him, the latter delivers a mean kickback.  He can also take people along with him, but they end up with a moderate kickback. If his older self encounters his younger self, the younger self disappears.  Bennett also has his personal credo of not changing the future (or having "do-overs," as he calls them). Well, okay. Time travel is always a little hard to wrap one's head around, and I may not entirely buy into the author's premise, but I'm willing to accept it as a jumping off point for enjoying the rest of the book, which is a sweet story of first love and self-discovery.

I thought the dialogue, while not as snappy as what you might find in a John Green novel, was both engaging and authentic.  Anna's relationship with her best friend, British-born Emma, is full of the ups and downs that characterize many teen friendships, and her parents are fun and supportive and just embarrassing enough to be perfectly real.  Beyond that, though, it's Anna's yearning to know the world beyond her small midwestern circle that drives the novel. The same innate sense of adventure and desire to experience the food, language, music, and literature of other cultures is the same thing that draws her to Bennett, world-traveler extraordinaire. That's right: it's the travel part of time travel that draws Anna to him as much as anything else. In turn, Bennett is both drawn to and envious of Anna's deep family and community roots and her sense of connection to home, and they bring out the best in each other, like first love often does.

One day, however, a future version of Bennett pops up to warn Anna about something, that he needs to show her something, and that he's having trouble getting back to her--then he disappears, and it's only when he confesses the contents of a letter that Future Anna wrote to Current Bennett, that they start to understand the paths they need to take. When Bennett is yanked out of Anna's time and back to his own, with no means of returning to her time, it's Anna's decisions about her dreams and aspirations that will determine whether she can have a future with Bennett.

This is a solid YA novel with broad appeal for readers of realistic fiction and romance, and the time travel aspect may draw in some fantasy fans, too. While Niffenegger's novel will certainly resonate in the minds of all who have read The Time Traveler's Wife,  Time Between Us can stand on its own merits as long as you can suspend your disbelief, or at least not dwell overlong on the paradoxes inherent in time travel.

NB: This book will be published in October by Hyperion, and I picked this book up from among the ARC piles at work because I thought it would be a fun and quick read.  It succeeded on both counts. 

23 August 2012

Book Review: Me, Who Dove Into the Heart of the World by Sabina Berman

I received a copy of this book from my MPS sales rep, Bob, because (if I recall correctly) there weren't any more ARCs of the book. This book caught my eye because it was published to great critical acclaim in Mexico by a major poet, dramatist, and journalist, and yet I'd never heard of her.  Such is the myopathy of American readers like me, much to our discredit.

This is the story of Karen Nieto, an autistic child who runs wilder than the feral dogs & cats of her neighborhood until around the age of eight.  Unspeaking, and thus unable to give voice to the unspeakable horrors she has survived at the hands of her mother, she learns language at the hands of her aunt. Her aunt is the new mistress of her family's fishery & cannery, Consuelo Tuna, and as Karen learns to speak and to navigate the bewildering social world of humans, she discovers an affinity for thinking like fish.  For the first time in her life, Karen has somebody who encourages her to think of what she can accomplish, rather than be fettered by her differences.

The obvious parallel for me was Temple Grandin, and I kept flashing back to what I know of Grandin from the bibopic made of her life (sadly, I never read any of Grandin's books).  Both young women have difficulty in college in their identical fields of study. Like Grandin's special cattle cage that she crawls into during times of stress, Karen puts on a wetsuit and then suspends herself from a ceiling harness.  Like Grandin, who could visualize animals' fear in the abbatoir and devised far more humane methods of slaughter, Karen can see things from the tuna's point of view and she revamps the entire fishing industry.

So while certain plot points may feel familiar based on what I know of Temple Grandin's life, the main thing underlying this book is Karen's success on her terms in a world that befuddles, irritates, and scares her.  I also think that it is a triumph of translation, as Karen's first-person voice is clear and consistent, so brava to Lisa Dillman for her work on this novel, too.  People who have read and enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night will know what I mean about reading Karen's distinctive first person voice.

NB: I requested and received a comp copy of this book from my sales rep, Bob, when I placed my summer '12 frontlist order. I don't believe any ARCs were available, so the copy I read was a finished copy. It's published by Holt. 

21 August 2012

Book (P)Review: Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook

The first half of this book was hard to get through, but the second half found its stride and improved considerably. Beware: ahead there be spoilers.

If ever there were a book that demonstrates how the part of the teenage brain that oversees risk tasking and evaluating consequences isn't fully developed until the mid-twenties, this is it.  We all know that teenagers do stupid things. We know this by observation, and we know this because we all did stupid things as teens that we would not dream of doing in our adult lives.

It's absurd that Zoe and Will run away together after they've only known each other two months. Zoe is a quiet survivor who endures her father's verbal and physical abuse on a daily basis, while Will harbors a troubled past and a violent rap that has landed him in various foster homes, never staying in one for very long. Once he turns eighteen, he convinces Zoe to run away with him. She's smart and fearful from living with her dad, yet oddly innocent; he's hardened but with a real soft spot for Zoe.  All he wants to do is protect her; all she wants to do is feel safe with somebody for once in her life. So they take off from North Dakota in a beat-up Camaro and a thousand dollars of stolen money and head to Vegas to make a new life for themselves.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking: how can *that* possibly go wrong?

Before they cross their first state line, Will has beaten up her father.  He swears up and down that he would never hurt Zoe, but what he doesn't realize is there is more than one way to hurt a person.

Before they cross their second state line, Zoe has been caught shoplifting tampons because she's too embarrassed to ask Will for the money to pay for them and Will breaks a bottle of wine over the gas station proprietor's head. They dash out the door, leaving him for dead.

Yeah. How can any plan that these two kids concoct possibly go wrong?

So basically their story doesn't end well.  I had imagined a Thelma & Louise scenario, but instead it involved a standoff with the police and the FBI

I had a lot of trouble buying into the premise of the first half of the book: that Zoe, the quintessential good girl who keeps her head down, would run off with Will in the first place. That Zoe's friends, neighbors, and teachers would all turn a blind eye to her father's abuse.  She had visible bruises, apparently. The reader can't possibly believe that North Dakotans value children less than other people, and we can't write it off as being secret, or that it happened in a time when things like this weren't talked about (there's no date given, but they have cell phones with cameras, so it's 21st century).

But once I hit the 150 page mark, and once the first bad decisions were made, it was easy to fall into the second half and believe where the consequences of those initial bad decisions would take them. The second half felt intense without being melodramatic, and the closer the ending gets, the more inexorable it feels.  God, I wouldn't be a teenager again, in love and with no way out, for anything.

NB: This book won't pub until January 29, 2013, from HarperTeen.  I read an ARC that was sent to my bookstore and which I randomly picked up to read.

17 August 2012

Book Review: Talullah Rising by Glen Duncan

So, I finally got around to starting my copy of Glen Duncan's Talullah Rising.  Knopf didn't see fit to provide me with an ARC on this one (despite the fact that I was an early and avid reviewer of the first book, damn their eyes).  Even my sales reps were unable to procure an ARC of this for me, so I had to wait for them to send me a complimentary finished copy and then wait until I had a big enough gap in my reading to fit this one in.

Let me start off by saying that apparently Jake *so* wasn't the last werewolf, as the children in my life might put it. There're werewolves a-plenty in Talulla Rising and they're not taking "no" for an answer. Tallulah is pregnant in the opening chapter, and she and her familiar, Cloquet, have sequestered themselves in a remote Alaskan lodge for the last full moon of her pregnancy.  Little do they know that a rogue sect of vampires are lying in wait to kidnap the werewolf baby in order to fulfill some bizarre Prophecy of Remshi, the first of all of the vampires. Which of course leads to an increasingly unbelievable series of rescue operations and daring escapes, because naturally the first time won't be successful, or else the book would only be 100 pages.

Like the first book, this book is well written and intensely graphic in terms of violence and sex, and those scenes are not always (or even often) mutually exclusive.  This time the author ratchets it up a notch or two with descriptions of torture in the name of science.

In other words, definitely not for the faint of heart.

I noted far fewer beautiful passages in this book than I did in The Last Werewolf; Talullah Rising is substantial, no doubt about it, but it lacks the lyricism of the first book. Here's one passage that caught my eye, though:
"I stood, transformed (jaws open, tongue as thick as a baby's arm, breath going up in signals of dreadful life), half a dozen trees back from the edge of the drive. Moments ago I hadn't wanted this. Now I wanted nothing else. Same every time: you forgot the Curse was an exchange, took your speech and your mercy but gave you in return the planet's dumb throb and your own share in it. Lilac shadows on the snow, the fine-tuned trees, the Eucharist moon and the victim's heart like a song calling you home."
I think the book would be better served with fewer action-y scenes and more existentialism.  Seems like this time around, every few chapters there was a major crisis or a rescue operation gone amuck and time is running out and OMG will they make it? This false sense of adrenalin certainly makes for a page-turning reading experience but an ultimately forgettable (or at least conflateable) series of events. Too bad, because Mr. Duncan really raised the bar with his first book and redefined the genre

I hope that in the next installment that Mr Duncan will provide readers with less flash & adrenaline, more substance and genre-bending expectations.  He introduces in the last couple of chapters the character who is, arguably, the most interesting (or at least the most mysterious) in the book, and if Marco doesn't play a lead role in the next book, then I'll revoke my book reviewing license faster than you can say, "Reader, I ate him."

There's only one thing left to be said, and that is to note what a pleasure it is to read a thing of beauty like this book.  Knopf usually provides good production qualities and solid typography & design, but the two Glen Duncan books really stand out.  The first one was cloaked in a minimal black dust jacket with blood red page edges.  This time around the jacket is blood red with black-edged pages.  Both have alchemical icons printed in an iridescent gold, and I hope that dust jacket on book three will be that same iridescent gold (like Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet that Holt published over a decade ago). The gold would be both transcendent and reflective (two adjectives that describe the books themselves) and make for a splendid-looking book.

14 August 2012

Book Review in Brief: Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal

Maggie Hope, born in England but raised in America, returns to her homeland to settle the estate of a grandmother she doesn't remember, where she must oversee the sale of her grandmother's house in order to fulfill the terms of the will. In the meantime, things are heating up all over Europe,  Hitler is cutting a wide and lethal swathe across the continent, and not enough folks are raising their voice in protest.

Determined to stay on in London, despite having to give up her PhD program in MIT's mathematics department, Maggie makes friends and takes in roommates to cover her cost of living while looking for work.  She reluctantly takes a position as a secretary at Number 10 Downing Street, knowing that her intellect could be better used as a codebreaker in the War Department rather than typing up the prime minister's memos.

There are two important people in Maggie's life who are not what they seem, and in a race against time, she must crack a German code hidden in plain sight and uncover their true selves before one of them is killed and the other one puts the entire city of London in peril.

I tremendously enjoyed this paperback original, which is the start of a new mystery series.  This book is fun and frothy, offering a little bit of everything: an evocative wartime setting, secret identities, gender politics, light romance, lots of gin drinking, a narrowly-avoided assassination, and a brilliant and saucy heroine.  Don't pick this one up if you're looking for something substantial or are in need of a beautiful prose style, but if you like historical fiction or if you prefer you mysteries to be decidedly soft-boiled, give this book a spin.

NB: I purchased my own copy Susan Elia McNeal's Mr. Churchill's Secretary to read on my summer vacation for lighter antidote to the heavier fiction I brought with me. 

12 August 2012

Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Oh, David Levithan.  I think your stories are so interesting, but they leave me wanting more substance. Every Day is no different.

Imagine that every day, you wake up in another person's body and live that person's life for 24 hours.  That's what life is like for A, who eventually becomes known as Adam. The only consistency is that each day, he wakes up in the body of someone who is his same chronological age.  Maybe.  Because days and even years lose all meaning when you start life anew every 24 hours.

Imagine how difficult it must be to construct and preserve some kind of self-identity when each day you look in the mirror and see a different person.  Your identity must be separate from everything normal people associate with identity: it's a self-knowledge completely independent from your gender, racial or ethnic background, sexual preference, political leanings, taste in books or movies or music, physical or mental capabilities, socio-economic background, or anything else.  Imagine that.  Really, try to imagine that.  Because I cannot.  I cannot divorce myself from my labels: daughter, friend, wife, cousin, sister. Middle class, Southern, Democrat. Reader, blogger, traveler. Bookseller, religious skeptic, lover of words. Short, white, Irish-Anglo-Germanic background. I could go on, but why?  It would take more introspection than I'm capable of, at least for this blog post, to determine what parts of my identity are unique to me, or my consciousness, and what parts of me are defined in relation to other things.

It's a difficult premise to wrap your head around, no?

Now try to imagine that one day you wake up in the body of some random boy, and you end up falling in love with his girlfriend? That's what happens with A, when he's in the body of a boy named Justin, and he falls in love with Rhiannon. How do you get her to fall in love with you, when she can't bring herself to believe that her boyfriend that day, the nerdy guy she danced with at a party, the new girl she shows around school, the huge football player she meets for coffee, and the suicidal girl she talks to on the phone are all the same person?

How do we fall in love?  Is it with a person, or their essence? Can we ever look past the packaging of the body and truly fall in love with whatever it is that defines a person?

I think conceptually this book is fascinating, but I think to fully flesh out the implications of waking up in a new body each morning, and then trying to have an ongoing relationship with somebody, the book needs to be written for adults. For a book to answer such existential questions puts it beyond the grasp of most YA books.  I would prefer to read the adult version of this book, so Mr. Levithan, if it's not too much trouble, could you please start writing it?

NB: I picked up an advance reading copy of this book at BEA in June, and the book will be published at the end of this month by Knopf.  It also has the dubious honor of putting random lyrics from the Buddy Holly song "Every Day" into my head every time I see the title.

11 August 2012

Book Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

This is the best book of the 20 or so that I read on vacation this year.  What's more, it may be the best book I've read this year.  What's even more, it just may be the best book I'll read in any year.

If you're reading my blog, you've probably already heard something about this book already--either because you're a friend or relative and you've already heard me talk about it, or because you're a book person and you've heard the buzz surrounding this novel.  Which means what you probably know is that it's another post-apocalyptic vision of the world.  What you probably don't know is that it is also a beautiful one.

This may be a debut novel, but Peter Heller is no stranger when it comes to writing prose.  I don't think it's possible to produce a book like this one first time out of the gate.  His background in travel and adventure writing becomes clear once you settle into Dog Stars, but it's the prose itself that sets this book apart: strong, experimental, truncated, but with a stream-of-consciousness aspect to it.

This is the story of Hig, a one percenter.  Except in this case, he's one percent of the surviving population after a terrible flu has wiped out most of the population, and a mysterious blood disease has wiped out most of the flu survivors. He lives in a state of uneasy alliance with military-hardened Bangley, a "Survivor with a capital S," at a small, abandoned municipal airport.  With Hig's Cessna and a dog named Jasper, they create a perimeter than can be defended and protected against the marauding, near-feral almost-humans who occasionally cross their paths.

It's an uneasy alliance, but a successful one, until one day Hig hears another voice on the Cessna's radio, broadcasting from a place well beyond his gas tank's point of no return, and it's that voice that starts to haunt Hig's waking and dreaming moments: are there other pockets of other people out there like him, people who have maintained their humanity, but more importantly, their hope?

I won't say more than that, other than the rest of the book is dedicated to that search, but also to the preservation of that hope. Reading this book is a singularly satisfying experience, and one that drew me in deeply and was slow to let me go.  I laughed and I cried, and my pulse was pounding, often within the same chapter, and my husband tells me that all it took was watching me read the book to make him want to, too: he could hear my sniffles and my laughs, he observed all of my white-knuckled moments, my dog-eared pages, my deep sighs, and my blank looks when I stared, unseeing, out at the point where the ocean meets the horizon when the book became too much to take in.

Believe me when I say this book is a helluva read.

I'll conclude with a few excerpted passages and then the book trailer (sorry for the poor formatting--I don't know how to make it smaller).  I read this book in ARC form, but it was published this week by Knopf. Seriously, will you please just read this?

"Bangley never drank because it was part of his Code. I'm not sure if he thought of himself as a soldier or even a warrior, but he was a Survivor with a capital S. All the other, what he had been in the rigors of his youth, I think he thought of as training for something more elemental and more pure. He had been waiting for the End all his life. If he drank before he didn't drink now he didn't do anything that wasn't aimed at surviving. I think if he somehow died of something that he didn't deem a legitimate Natural Cause, and if he had a moment of reflection before the dark, he would be less disappointed with his life being over than with losing the game. With not taking care of the details. With being outsmarted by death, or worse, some other holocaust hardened mendicant (70)."

"I could almost imagine that it was before, that Jasper and I were off somewhere on an extended sojourn and would come back one day soon, that all would come back to me, that we were not living in the wake of disaster. Had not lost everything but our lives....It caught me sometimes: that this was okay. Just this. That simple beauty was still bearable barely, and that if I lived moment to moment, garden to stove to the simple act of flying, I could have peace (67)."

"Jasper used to be able to jump up into the cockpit now he can't. In the fourth year we had an argument. i took out the front passenger seat for weight and cargo and put down a flannel sleeping bag with a pattern of a man shooting a pheasant over and over, his dog on three legs, pointing out in front...I carried him. Lay him on the pattern of the man and the dog.

You and me in another life I tell him....

He's getting old. I don't count the years. I don't multiply by seven.

They breed dogs for everything else, even diving for fish, why didn't they breed them to live longer, to live as long as a man (23, 24, 25)."

06 August 2012

Hey Mango--Mango Italiano

Rainy Days and Mondays
Stormy Weather
Woke up to a dark gray sky and a semi-indistinguishable horizon.  We love it when it rains on vacation (for ourselves, but also because the island always so desperately needs it), so we settled in with a book and a pot of coffee and enjoyed the early mornin' rain.

So much for our plans for spending the last day down at the beach, but at least that doesn't mean we cannot eat well! Around 9:00 we headed over to Straw Hat for one last meal there.  Geraud's wasn't open and we didn't want to cook at home that morning, so it turned into a splurge-y day for us, with all three meals eaten out. By the time we got to Straw Hat, the sky was clearing a bit but we still opted to sit under the canopy rather than all the way out on the patio.  We spent a pleasant hour there over our continental breakfasts, juice, and coffee, gazing out to sea and putting our noses back into our books.

Courtney Devonish, proprietor and sculptor
After breakfast it was sprinkling, so we turned the car toward the Devonish Gallery, where we had stopped by previously without making any purchases.  I had wanted some time to mull over  a purchase that would be sizeable, at least to my little pocketbook.  Last year I'd bought a small, original painting and I was hoping to find another one that was both good and in my price range this year.  There was one that was approaching my price range, an oil painting by an artist whose watercolors I greatly admire and whose giclee prints are found all over the island.  After a couple of days of deliberation, though, I decided that it simply lacked the movement I was attracted to in his other works.

Two of these came home with us

Antoine Chapon, whose watercolors I admire
We didn't leave the gallery empty-handed, though.  DH bought two of Mr. Devonish's signature carved mahogany hearts with some beautiful graining, and I bought a mahogany sculpture of a pelican that is so sly it's almost abstract.

I love this--it sits in our hallway under the skylight

It continued to rain off and on for the rest of the day, so we spent it mostly at Caribella, with a brief hop up the road for takeout from the Blanchards Beach Shack.  Will you forgive me if I confess that I don't remember what we ordered?  It remember that it was good, with vague regret that the fro-yo would melt before I got it back so I didn't order it.

He kept taking my hand in his mouth
I went for one last walk on the beach at Barnes Bay with my dog buddy when the sun came out for a while and a last swim in my private cove.  Beyond that, there was more reading out on the balcony, and before too long, there was drinking out on the balcony, too.  I had half a bottle of a nice Pouilly-Fume left and it would have been wasteful not to drink it.  Right?

Hey Mango, Mango Italiano (not really, but I got that song in my head)
Now, despite anything my boss might have told you about bourbon consumption vis a vis me, I'm not actually a heavy drinker.  And with my husband's alcoholic intake severely restricted for this trip under doctor's orders, I was pretty moderate in my own consumption for this trip.  Right up until our last night, that is.  We went to Mango's for dinner because it's within a nice staggering distance of Caribella, and to quote a Friends epidsode, I think there was food; I know there was wine. I don't have a single photograph of our dinner experience at Mango's, nor do I have a shot of our food.  I remember they put us at a quiet corner table, and that I ordered the sesame snapper, cilantro be damned, and I think DH had a conch carpaccio special for an appetizer.  I do remember that the food was good, and I remember that Andrea was our server, and it's entirely possible that I was inappropriately maudlin to her.  DH won't tell me, and it's quite maddening!

I opted for a rum nightcap back at Caribella in lieu of dessert, at which point I basically fell on the bed and was promptly asleep.  Luckily I awakened early and with no trace of a hangover, so I packed as quietly as I could without waking DH.

Everybody's favorite chattel home in the West End

Just another random photo 
Those last hours on the island are always a bit strange for me.  I'm restless, stuck in between vacation and home, and I become more finicky (DH might say irritable) inversely proportional to the time I have left.  Alas.  We put off the inevitable by driving to Geraud's for breakfast, where two couples stopped to say hi and introduce themselves--they recognized us from the blog--and then immediately commiserate with us over our having to leave that day.  We ordered a ham & butter baguette to go so that we'd have a little of Anguilla to take with us to St. Maarten, and then went back home to finish packing.  Or in my case, to start pacing.

Another random photo for your viewing pleasure.
Eventually the time comes for us to head out for the airport, so we leave some gifts and a little somethin-somethin' for the ladies who took such great care of us during our stay.  For our last few trips we've opted for the Anguilla Air Services shuttle to SXM rather than one of the ferries--it's a little bit more money, but we love flying, especially in tiny planes, and it beats waiting at Blowing Point for the next ferry.

Sad to leave Anguilla

I love being on these tiny planes!
I shot a few photos out of the window during the uber-short flight to SXM, where we arrived in plenty of time for our flight to Miami.  MIA continues to be a disaster area and I continue to mourn the loss of the SJU-BDL nonstop flight that made travel to the Caribbean so much easier for us.  We used to be avid fans of American Airlines because they made it easy for us to fly almost anywhere in the Caribbean we wanted to visit, but now that they've severely reduced their service to that region, with no signs of improvement, it will soon be time for us to vote with our feet once we've redeemed the cache of miles.
It's always fascinated me how the propeller shows up in photos like this

Farewell, Anguilla
I usually do a "parting thoughts" section for each of my trips, but I pretty much feel like I'd just be saying the same thing I always say: the ache in our hearts when we depart remains constant, and if our eyes shine brightly through unshed tears, what of it? I don't know when my travels will take me back to Anguilla.  This October, my husband and I will be traveling with family members to celebrate our joint birthdays, one of which is a milestone, and Anguilla is *not* our destination.  A few factors contributed to this, among them my disgust at the re-opening of the dolphin prison next to Blowing Point. I'm not saying that I will forsake it forever, but I do forsake it for now. So it is with true bittersweetness that I conclude the final portion of my Anguilla 2012 trip report.  Here are some more photos from the trip.  Thanks for reading along with my travels, and if I've touched a nerve with you anywhere along the way, I'd love for you to leave a comment.

Contrast Anguilla with photo of St. Maarten below
So many highrises!

This pretty, abandoned church is still quite photo-worthy

I love the colors (and textures) here in this abandoned house near Caribella

Shooting into the sun at Long Bay 
Okay, not from this trip, but I love this sunrise photo on Shoal Bay East

04 August 2012

Book (P)Review: Requiem by Lauren Oliver

Warning: ahead there be spoilers.  Please don't read this review if you don't want to know any plot points from this book. This is a review for the third book in the Delirium trilogy, and the book isn't published until March 2013.

Lauren Oliver's Requiem feels far less like the conclusion of a trilogy than the third book of a tetralogy. Readers who are comfortable with ambiguity will enjoy the ending, and readers who want to know what *exactly* happened, and to whom, and who survives and who doesn't, and what will happen next will likely be very disappointed.  Many novels begin in media res, but this one kind of ends there. I'm fine with that.  I'd rather have an ambiguous ending than one whose ends are tied up too neatly or implausibly. And to be honest, I'm not so enamored of this series that I really care all that much.  I'm mildly curious to know what happens to Lena, Grace, Alex, Hana, and Julian after the book ends, but it's not the sort of thing that will keep me up at night.  It is the sort of ending that will inspire much fanfic, though.

This book has two first person, present tense narrators.  Double ugh!  I think employing multiple narrators makes for lazy storytelling (and this book is no exception), and first person, present tense point of view usually makes me want to pull my hair out.  In some books it works to an advantage, but most of the time I think it creates a false immediacy that carries readers along in the absence of real plot.

Anyway, back to the narrators: Lena, whom we know well from all three books, takes up half the book, with the other half narrated by her former best friend, Hana, whom I'd all but forgotten. Lena is still reeling from the revelation in book two that Alex, her love from book one, is still alive, and for most of this book she is torn between loving Julian and not being loved by Alex. In the meantime, Hana is preparing for her wedding with Fred, son of the former mayor of Portland and, it turns out, a very dangerous man to cross.  The kind of man who would make your blood run cold, demanding a deadly level of loyalty and exacting any punishment he can think of for those who cross him.

Lena's story in the Wilds is mostly about survival, and her clan has to deal with its own treachery and anarchy of a sort. She's kind of mopey until near the end, where she's dealing with three separate females: newcomer Coral, who is a rival for Alex's love, her cousin Grace, and her mother.  Surprisingly, I thought Hana's story was the more interesting of the two; so often in fiction, the stories of those who are left behind intrigue me more than the stories of the wanderers and wayfarers and war makers.

I think Lauren Oliver is an acceptable stylist whose prose serves the story, and I think her plotting across this trilogy shows tremendous potential.  I just wish she would try her hand at something more worthy of her (mostly hidden) talents. I'd like to see her write a chunky, single-volume, plot AND character driven novel for YA or adults that stands on its own merits without capitalizing on the trendy and popular tropes of dystopian love triangle stretched out into trilogies when really a well-edited single volume would suffice.  

02 August 2012

Last Month in Review: July 2012

It seems that I was a more prolific reader last year than this year, so it's just as well that I'd already adjusted my GoodReads goals downward by 25 books!  July was a bit of a strange month: I was on vacation for the first three days, then had to works lots of long hours to make up for the vacation, and then I hit a bit of a reading slump.  Stats: 11books, all fiction, with two audios, one short story collection, one middle grade reader, and one YA.

1. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller.  I don't have a review yet for this one, but it was the best book I've read all summer, and possibly the best I've read this year.  Seriously, this one is great.

2. The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones.  Review here.

3. Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos.  This was one of the audios.  Great reader, great story.  I loved it once I figured out that the author was being intentionally funny but writing his character as unintentionally funny.

4. By Love Possessed by Lorna Goodison.  Interesting but slightly uneven story collection tied together with the theme of Jamaica.

5. Lovely, Dark, and Deep by Amy McNamara.  This is the YA, and despite the Frost allusion, it's eminently skippable.

6. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.  This was the audio, and a LONG one it was.  I started it in May!  Very good reader, very good writing, but peopled with characters who are mostly insufferable.

7. The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro.  A fun little romp through the world of art forgery, with historical aspects to it.

8. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner.  NB: The author's first name rhymes with "bidet," not "baddie." Intriguing first novel, and a semi-autobiographical one at that, dealing with a young girl who survives the Khmer Rouge's brutal Killing Fields in Cambodia.

9. The Pigeon Pie Mystery by Julia Stuart.  Deeply disappointing.  I doubt I'll spend the time reviewing it.

10. Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska.  I was surprised how much this book drew me in.  I doubt I'll give it a full review, but here's my shelftag for it:
What starts off as a send up of overscheduled, gifted children and the Rambo parents and elite schools who create them, quickly turns into a billion dollar big pharma conspiracy.  When Sean reluctantly caves in to the pressure that New York City's (and by extension, America's) most prestigious school exerts on him to start medicating his son, Toby, for nonexistent issues, there are disastrous consequences.  He must gather his allies close and his enemies closer if he wants to take on this bedrock of prestige and wealth, whose arms of power extend eerily into every aspect of his life. A fast-paced read covering a topic that everybody should be concerned with, not just parents.
11. Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon.  This book I read as part of a pre-publication readalong that I hosted during the month of July.  It's a meaty book, and if you do a search on my blog for either the title or the author, it will take you to the various discussions we had each week, most of which were pretty lively!  Since I talked about it so much during the readalong, I won't do a separate review, but here's the shelftag that I wrote for it for my bookstore:

The best fiction reflects not only how the world is, but what its reality could be. Chabon's latest (and greatest) novel, while ostensibly about race in the 21st century, is really a cross-section of America itself and a peek into the real American Dream. Chock full of pop cultural references that will keep the curious reader Googling, and imbued with the creole rhythms of music from the world over, it shows that our differences don't always have to divide us and that the "apartheid of consciousness" that pervades our nation can, in fact, be overcome.