Sunday, July 26, 2009

Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg (2009)

I seem to have been avoiding listening to Berg's books, but for some reason this one looked appealing, maybe it was the bluejay on the cover. Helen Ames is a writer, who recently lost her husband and seems to have lost her ability to write. She obsesses over her 26 year old daughter Tessa and I am sorry, but this character just drove me nuts. She seemed to be so helpless in practical things, so whiny, so overbearing as a mother, so nosy. Any one of those traits would have been OK, but the combination just made her very unappealing to me. Often I would just cringe or be saying to myself: "Oh, just shut up" or "get over yourself," though I fully realize I have my own insane conversations going on in my head. I understood that Berg was actually presenting this character working her way out of grief, but I still had very little patience for her.

The only part I really liked was when she was teaching a writing workshop to a very diverse group of people, and Berg gave wonderful fictional examples of their writing. She can write, so maybe I should try one more book before I put her on my list of authors to avoid.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)

Picked up this latest Newberry Award winner at the ALA conference. Wonderful, unique, a total delight to read something quite different.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (2009)

This is a potential "gift to friends" type of book, a lovely bitter and sweet story alternating between war time (1942-45) and 1986 Seattle. (I understand the need for using this year for the plot, but the Internet was not widely available at that time, but I guess that is literary license.)

Henry is a Chinese-American boy who befriends Keiko, a Japanese-American girl when they are the only non-whites in a private school. Henry's father hates the Japanese, because they have invaded his homeland. Henry and Keiko feel more American than Chinese or Japanese, but during the war, the US government saw all people of Japanese descent as potential spies, so they were moved out of their homes into internment camps. I knew about this, but never could visualize the hatred people had towards the Japanese. This well researched novel shows this in a wonderful way, through the eyes of a Chinese boy. We see three generations - Henry's father, Henry's own experience, and his son Marty. Each Chinese in his own way.

I loved the descriptions of the jazz scene in Seattle during the war. I like the way a jazz record is woven in throughout the book, though that particular recording is fictional. The friendship between Henry and the jazz musician was very touching.

The hotel in the title is an old boarded up hotel that gets bought by someone in 1986 and they find piles of Japanese family belongings from the wartime in the basement, which gets Henry thinking of his old friend. Since his wife has died, he is looking for some new meaning in his life.

Reader's Advisory by Bill Barnes & Gene Ambaum (2009)

Another delightful volume (7) of Unshelved library comics. Liked this one better than the previous one - Frequently Asked Questions. I especially liked the riffs on searching for information in print vs on the Internet and when a library school intern works in the library.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Frequently Asked Questions by Bill Barnes & Gene Ambaum (2008)

Picked up a couple of the Unshelved library comic strip books at the American Library Association conference. Delightful as usual. Some of the issues are more public library ones, but I can still appreciate them. The last third of the book was full page color book review panels, mostly of books I have never heard of - seemed like mostly graphic novels and newer SF-Fantasy stuff I am no longer following.

Hot House Flower: Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin (2009)

I just grabbed this, because it caught my eye and had something to do with plants. I was listening to it on my way to the American Library Association Conference in Chicago and was surprised to find that the author was autographing these books at the ALA exhibits. I couldn't time it right to get an autographed copy, but I liked the coincidence anyway.

Details to follow, I hope.

Ceremony in Death by JD Robb (1997)

Fifth in the series, I distinctly remembered the ending, but not how Lt. Eve Dallas got there. This looked at Wicca and black and white magic.

Vision in White by Nora Roberts (2009)

Since weddings are the goal of all romance novels, and I would guess 90% of girls dream about their fantasy wedding (much less so about actual life with a guy afterwards), it only makes sense that Roberts would set a book in the middle of the wedding world. Weddings have become such elaborate affairs that we are all aware of the wedding planning business and have seen it in action in numerous movies.

We have four women, who have been friends since childhood when their favorite games was planning weddings, who have now formed a wedding business. Parker is the planner who also owns the estate they use for the weddings. Her parents were killed in an accident, so she has inherited it and it makes sense to put it to use, plus it pays for the upkeep. Emma does the flowers and decorations and has her own greenhouse. Laurel does the food, especially the cakes. And Mackenzie - Mac - is the photographer. I can see this turning into another one of Roberts'quadrilogies, and the title lends itself to X in color - Vision in White, Petals in Pink, etc.

As usual i like the strong women - the businesswomen and learned a bit about how a good photographer might think about her/his subject, plus all the work that has to be done after the pictures are shot. Mac is a dedicated professional with a problem mother, who falls for the most geeky love interest yet (I loved it) - an English teacher with a Phd. What I realized after the New Yorker article is that Roberts also takes time to develop the male character, so you see both sides - this guy was great in his lack of self confidence, asking for dating tips from his colleague.

Changing Planes by Ursula LeGuin (2003)

Strangely enough, while I was reading Tepper's book about an alternative reality, I was listening to LeGuin's short stories on numerous alternative realities. They are tied together by the concept that waiting in airports to change planes, people have started entering another altered state of consciousness and actually are changing worlds or planets. This allows LeGuin to play with numerous alternate cultures. In one, the people don't speak after early childhood, except in very rare occasions. In another everyone is so angry, that they get violent and tend to not live long lives. One world has a bird analogy, people migrate north and south (except one year = 24 years) with spring and summer in the mountains and fall and winter in the city, they have beaks, perform a mating dance. In another all were royalty except for one common family. (I keep forgetting that short stories are better read than listened to, as it is hard for the mind to jump in and out of these various realities aurally.)

The Fresco by Sherri Tepper (2000)

Sherri Tepper used to be one of my favorite fantasy writers and this book had been sitting on my "to read" shelf for years. I picked it up since I was wanting to read something different than what I had been reading, and was thoroughly delighted.

Benita is an abused woman in New Mexico that is fighting her way to independence, when she is approached by some aliens to bring a message to someone in charge and given money to do so. She goes to Washington and becomes not only the messenger, but main contact with this alien race. Earth is given a limited time in which to get its shit together, so it can become part of a galactic federation, so it can be protected from invasion by bad aliens. The wonderful part of the book was the things that did get changed on earth - environment, violence, education, hunger - you name it, she solves it all. (I hope I have time to elaborate, but I am very behind on entering books into my blog.)