Monday, August 22, 2005

Last Shot

It's been an unusually long time between posts...mostly because I started two books that took me no where and I have been getting ready for a trip and a house guest. Once we were on the plane, I was able to get some solid reading time with a good book.

Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery by John Feinstein (Knopf, 2/05), is another case of an adult writer who has given children's writing a try, this time with much success. Last Shot is the story of two thirteen-year-olds who win a sports writing contest and get to attend the NCAA Final Four basketball tourament as student journalists. While enjoying great seats, schmoozing with coaches and ESPN personalities, and other perks, the kids come across a plot in which a player is being blackmailed in order to throw the championship game. This is a believable mystery written with style in a young person's voice. It was just suspenseful enough without some of the ridiculous scenerios some teenage sleuths face. I loved it!

Feinstein is a terrific writer. This novel would definitely appeal to both readers and reluctant readers alike, especially that elusive teenage audience. I would even say an adult audience could enjoy this one (but then that's what I usually think, being an adult who reads mostly children's lit). The two main characters are a boy and a girl, so it captures a little of both perspectives. There is wit, humor, not overly much basketball trivia, and a fast-moving plot. The book is supposed to be the first in a series and I am looking forward to seeing more of them. Though I am not a sports fan, I always enjoy Feinstein's commentary on NPR's Morning Edition and may look for some of his other non-fiction titles.

Grade: A

In case you were wondering, my non-starters were Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch by Dai Sijie (author of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress) and Enna Burning by Shannon Hale. I don't know if it was a lack of patience on my part, but I wasn't willing to give Sijie more than an hour of my time. The premise sounded interesting, but the book was hard work so I dropped it. With Enna, I had read Goose Girl, its prequel, and loved it, but I just wasn't sympathetic enough with Enna's plight and didn't feel the story moving quickly enough for my taste. Hale's newest novel, Princess Academy, flew off my shelves, so I'm going to hunt that one down later this fall and give it a read. Again, this week may not have been the best for reading, so I'm not going to completely discount these novels, some others may really enjoy them; I may go back to Sijie again later.

Your Friendly Librarian

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Fine Art of Reading

A reader of the blog sent me an email suggesting that I comment on how long it takes me to read a book. Generally, this is difficult to determine since for me it is based purely on the time available to read. In general, I read about 60-70 pages an hour, so if I have a lot of time on my hands, I will whip right through the book; where if my husband is bugging me or I am only reading on the subway or at lunch, it may take me two weeks to get through a book.

Also, the sophistication of the text will determine the speed of the read. Juvenile novels go quicker than adult; diversion reading goes faster than non-fiction or "literature"; re-reading goes faster than everything else because you can skim a little more.

Those are my thoughts on the time it takes me to read. Thanks for asking! :) What do you all think?

Your Friendly Librarian

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator

Over the course of the week, I have been reading Gilda Joyce: Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison (Sleuth/Dutton, 7/05). I had the opportunity to host a reading and discussion with the author on Thursday, but wasn't quite able to finish reading before meeting with her! The book is a lot of fun, and is a perfect read for 11 to 14-year-old girls.

Gilda Joyce is a 13-year-old with a vivid imagination who involves herself in a number of "careers", one of which is "psychic investigator". As summer vacation approaches, Gilda finds herself with nothing much to do except spy on Plaid Pants, a suspicious convenience store clerk, until she has the brilliant brain-wave of inviting herself to stay with some distant relatives in glamorous San Francisco.

Thus begins a summer full of adventure, mystery, ghosts, and friendship. Gilda's distant cousin, Juliet, is the same age and has been suffering depression after the mysterious suicide of her aunt. Gilda herself has not been able to heal for the two years since her father's death and the girls find solace with each other and are able to bring resolution to their feelings of abandonment after solving the mystery behind the aunt's death. While this may sound somewhat morbid, the subject is treated with a good combination of sensitivity and light humor.

Each of the girls learns a bit more about herself and her talents through a series of embarrassing and exciting adventures with ghosts, mysterious noises, and a creey tower. What starts out as an awkward relationship ends with warm friendship.

The novel is written in the constraints of a small circle of characters and a fairly limited setting, giving the reader an opportunity to really know the characters and their quirks. It's a solid first novel for Ms. Allison.

Overall: B

Ms. Allison led a discussion of the book with a group of about ten 9 to 14-year-olds. They discussed the idea of psychic abililty and vibrations as well as the writing process and a future sequel to the book. They also took part in a writing exercise in which Ms. Allison gave each child a picture of a person and the child then wrote their observations and things they sensed about the person in the image, in a variation on the psychic technique of automatic writing. All in all, a fun and successful event.

Happy reading,
Your Friendly Librarian

Upcoming Children's Fiction

I've had a very busy weekend and have not had time to finish reading anything, but I feel inclined to write anyway. I've decided to do a quick round-up of terrific upcoming fall titles in children's fiction. Here is a list of my favorites:

Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth by J.V. Hart, with illustrations by Brett Helquist. (Aug. 23, Laura Geringer Books, an imprint of Harper Collins) - I was sucked in to this dark biography of the young Captain Hook; reminiscent of Gregory Maguire's tales such as Wicked, about the youth of the Wicked Witch of the West. I found myself deeply sympathetic to the roots of this misanthropic character.

Flush by Carl Hiaasen. (Sept. 13, Knopf) - Hiaasen's first novel for children, Hoot, was received with high acclaim and was awarded a Newbery honor medal by the American Library Association. This success led readers to wonder, which books are better, Hiaasen's adult books or children's books? More popular? With a second novel for children, we will have a chance to really put his skills to the test. While I didn't find this one quite as fun as Hoot, it has Hiaasen's regular Florida setting, quirky characters, and again, as in Hoot, an environmentally friendly theme. It's definitely a fun read.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. (Aug. 23, Harper Collins) I just saw the final cover art for this one and I have to say I liked the advance readers' copy better, but anyway, this is a great teen read about a girl on an European adventure and dealing with the loss of a loved one. Poignant, funny, and tart at some times, this one has it all.

Oops! Time to go, not quite the long list I had been envisioning. More later.

Your Friendly Librarian

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Deadly Slipper

I just finished the thriller Deadly Slipper by Michelle Wan (Doubleday, 7/05). Half the time I couldn't decide if the writing was terrific or blase, but in the end I've decided the sheer terror and movement made it terrific. From about page 3, I was suspicious, nervous and terrified while reading the entire novel. In a murder mystery set in rural France, Wan brings together highly eccentric characters - all of whom could be either guilty or delusional! I was on edge each time I turned the page, eager yet scared to find what was around each corner. Bravo!

The events of the novel concern Mara, a Canadian expatriate decorator living in the Dordogne region of France. Her twin sister, Bedie, disappeared on a hiking trip in the region nineteen years earlier and Mara is convinced that she can solve the mystery of her sister's disappearance and possible murder based on a series of photographs of orchids she found in a moldy camera she believes belonged to her sister. The local police direct her to contact the local orchid expert, Julian, a British expatriate landscaper and author, who eventually becomes both a confidante and a suspect.

A half-dozen different theories to solve the mystery emerge along with new suspicious characters in a twisting plot that kept me guessing until the end. Even when the mystery may seem solved, it's not. A series of local aristocracy, villagers, outcasts, and expatriots round out the characters.

In addition to the suspense, there are the usual florid descriptions of French cuisine and landscape as well as orchid lore throughout the book. That's fine with me, as I am usually reading that kind of stuff anyway. I did find, however, that the bits between the very suspenseful action didn't seem to help the plot along and I was sometimes a little bored. The "romantic" interests in the book left me cold. Where was the French passion? Maybe lost because everyone's a suspect? Creepy!

Overall: B

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Welcome to the blog!

This is my first experience with blogging and I've decided it might be worthwhile. I am going to try to create a forum for readers, librarians, and book lovers in general and see how it evolves. Maybe it will be me all by my lonesome, or maybe it will go worldwide! Maybe it will be a place for me to chat about what I'm reading or a safe place for others to ask questions or a meeting place for information lovers. We'll see. At the very least I'm playing with this "HOT" technology and that's what librarians are supposed to do, right?

My favorite blog inspired me to do it myself. When I was voting for the Webby Awards this spring I came upon, a terrific blog that's so well done I didn't even realize that's what it was until after visiting a few times. Besides the cursory information in my information technologies class, I hadn't really explored the genre at all and this great blog made me curious to see what I could do.

Okay, world, here goes!

Love, Your Friendly Librarian