30 December 2004

Reads & Listens, December 2004

Reads:

Good Grief by Lolly Winston
I wasn't prepared to like this book (the idea of widowlit just turned my stomach), but it turned out to be quite a charming read.

The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Book One) by Jonathan Stroud
Wow. It's as if Terry Pratchett wrote an alternative to Harry Potter, but better. Can't wait to read the second book.

Susannah Morrow by Megan Chance
Charity's mother dies in child birth on the same day her beautiful and worldly aunt arrives from England ... Set in Salem at the very start of the witch trails, this is a weirdly flat and underdeveloped book. The sex scenes seemed like they belonged in a different story altogether and the narrator switch was just plain annoying.

Miracle Fruit by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Poems so gorgeous and smart, you just want to eat them up!

Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke (trans. by Anthea Bell) & illus. by Kerstin Meyer
Violetta wants to be as good a knight as her brothers, but they make fun of her for being very bad at it. She practices and practices until she is just as good and earns their respect. Then her dad (who has encouraged her to behave like her brothers) tells her to get gussied up because all the brave knights are going to compete for her hand in marriage. Of course, she fights under an assumed name, beats the other knights, and makes her own choice about who'll she marry. On the one hand, an empowering book. On the other, disappointing. Mom is dead, the other adult female character is weak, dad doesn't come off well, and the whole "princess got married and lived happily ever after" shtick seems like a weird tack-on. The story could just as easily have ended with the princess winning her right to chose. We didn't need to see her make a choice, but maybe that's just me grinding my axe.

Yum Yum Dim Sum by Amy Wilson Sanger
Another tasty selection from the World Snacks series by Tricycle Press. Same style as First Book of Sushi -- adorable little board book with heavily textured paper collage illustrations. Chinese names are used for most of the dishes and there is a glossary on the back cover.

We Are Americans: Voices of the Immigrant Experience by Dorothy & Thomas Hoobler
Very moving look at immigration in America from ancient times to the modern. Includes many letter and diary excerpts to provide a first person point of view. The use of graphics is very good -- I was particularly taken with the use of before and after shots of the Native American youth who was "Americanized." This is not the sort of book to read if you're looking for blithe patriotism and it is disturbing in that so little in our attitude toward immigrants has changed.

If Not For the Cat by Jack Prelutsky (illus. by Ted Rand)
"If not for the cat, / And the scarcity of cheese, / I could be content." Seventeen beautifully illustrated haiku express the thoughts of seventeen different animals. Excellent introduction to haiku and just plain fun.

Inventing Beauty by Teresa Riordan
Fascinating and rather funny look at beauty innovations in America from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

The Runes of the Earth by Stephen R. Donaldson
It was with mixed feelings that I picked up this novel. When I read the first series in high school, I developed a stupid teenage geek girl crush on the Bloodguard (don't ask) from which I am apparently not fully recovered as hearing they were "Masters of the Land" in the new series creeped me out a bit. Also, while I liked Linden Avery a lot, I did not like the second series all that much. On the other hand, I really disliked Thomas Covenant (yet loved the first series) and he was supposed to be dead ...

Happily, this novel turned out to be a pretty ripping story and I look forward to reading the next two even if they do feature Covenant the Annoying.

The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup by Terry Farish (illus. by Barry Root)
Beautifully illustrated story about two old curmudgeons -- a good'ol Texas boy and "his" cat. Brilliant.

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas
First book in the Wallflowers series. Annabelle is a wallflower desperate to marry well in order support her family. Simon is the butcher's son turned millionaire. She despises him. He pursues her doggedly. Yes, much of this novel is predictable, but Kleypas does a good job of telling what happens after the wedding. She also covers the economic and class shifts of the period pretty well.

Listens:

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie (read by David Suchet)
Collection of short stories starring that famous Belgian Detective. Always fun.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (read by David Suchet)
Read this book years ago, so I knew everyone had done it, but not how or why. Suchet is, as always, an excellent reader.