Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Book Review: The Young Elites Series by Marie Lu

Book Review: The Young Elites Series by Marie Lu
The debate in my house about which is better, Marie Lu's Legend trilogy or The Young Elites trilogy in progress, is more of an exercise in book chat than to make an actual determination. We share an appreciation of both, though we have preferences. My sci-fi boy likes the tech-y world depected in Legend. He read it alongside classic dystopian books, including 1984 and Brave New World. I prefer The Young Elites but not because it takes place in a classical, romantic world.

Series can be tricky as readers often have the experience of chasing the feeling they had when reading a previous book. I experienced the Legend trilogy in this way, but not The Young Elites books. The Young Elites has a compelling plot line and complicated characters. Lu does devote much of the book to world building, which I usually find tedious, but Lu does it unobtrusively. The Rose Society delves deeper into character development and plot complications in rich and complex ways. Because the main character is a villain, I root for situational outcomes rather than for characters. What an immersive way to encounter a story! Nothing is so plainly parsed as "good" or "evil".

Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: Eleanor by Jason Gurley

Eleanor by Jason GurleyEleanor: A Novel by Jason Gurley opens with every reader's dream--a rainy Sunday, a steaming cup of tea and a private nook. Moving deeper, "Sometimes Eleanor [grandmother of the titular Eleanor] swore her life was being written by someone else's hand." Yes. I recognize this person.

At this point, I am reading a compelling story about the legacy of maternal depression. The YA Fantasy switch flips at page 72. It is sudden and upsetting because I long for grandmother Eleanor's story and I enjoy the way Gurley squeezes the desperation out of it. I remember from the galley copy that this is YA fantasy and Gurney's writing is compelling, so I continue turning pages. As a slow reader, it might take me a month to read a similar book. This one only took a week, even though working for a bookstore and having a family, this particular week is one of my busiest of the year.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Book Review: We That Are Left by Clare Clark

We That Are Left by Clare Clark
I fell in love with Clare Clark's writing the moment I broke into We That Are Left in spite of the grammatically irritating title. I wondered what she had to say about appearances that deceive and those who are titled pretending at something while we who are not titled aspire to their falsehoods. I jotted down lines and page numbers of favorite descriptions and passages. Such great writing promises a great story. In the end, I felt cheated of that great story just as the wealthy cheat at status and the poor are cheated.

We That Are Left follows the people of Ellinghurst, a home built through farming to appear stately in the Gothic manner and inhabited by the Melville family. The future of the Ellinghurst estate falls into jeopardy as World War I takes its toll on the family as it did all of England. Two narrators share the tale: Jessica, the youngest of the Melville children and Oscar, the math and science obsessed godson of Mrs. Melville. Through Jessica, the reader sees the fuzzy edges of a woman's limitations in a man's world even as too few men were around to enforce those limitations. Through Oscar, we see at once how brutal the system of nobility can be and how patronage helps those on the bubble.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Dinner with Goosebumps Author R.L. Stine

Rebecca Ballenger with R.L. Stone
My favorite part of this photo is
how obviously thrilled Stine is.
My second is the eerie specter
looming over Stine's shoulder.
Since the new Goosebumps movie came out on October 3, I decided to revisit my night with R.L. Stine at the 2012 Tucson Festival of Books Author Dinner.

If you are a writer your children will be nonreaders, at least that’s what bestselling author R.L. Stine told me at dinner. He offers his son as an example. His son read book after book of Garfield cartoons but nary a Goosebumps. When I suggested Stine was putting me on about his son not reading his work he says, "That's something nice people like you say." (I often make it through entire meals without revealing my monstrous side.)

Wondering if Stine's parents had better luck raising a reader, I asked what types of literature he enjoyed as a boy. His response was, "Comics." Specifically he read horror comics and Mad (before it was a magazine). Later he tells me his son's major in college was English. The picture is complete. Stine's son is every bit the reader Stine is.


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review: Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford

Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford
"Evelyn" like "EEV-lin" in the UK or "Evelyn" like "EH-vah-lin", my Mississippi born, plumber's daughter grandmother? Intentionally or not Stephanie Clifford plays on a class tension among the upwardly mobile in America from the get go through the naming of the protagonist in her novel, Everybody Rise. I never felt on sure footing while reading this book. I was curious about Evelyn and the voyeurism that tempts me with Real Housewives of Everywhere and other reality shows about one percenters kept me reading.

First, a synopsis: It's 2006. Social media is about to hit big and the economic bubble hasn't yet burst. At 26, Evelyn Beegan seeks to establish her place among the New England elite, in spite of or because of her social-climbing mother. It seems possible for her to reach her goal, but with each fumble, it seems less probable.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: How Fiction Ruined My Family

How Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst[Note: Due to a website migration at my day job, some content that I wrote for a local bookstore chain was unpublished, so I'm republishing it here. I wrote reviews to sell books, so I may have sugar coated some things, but my basic feelings are represented.]

In Fiction Ruined My Family, Jeanne Darst isn't posing, bragging or begging. She fully experiences the life of an artist and plies her wares in private homes or working barns or legitimate theater. She tells her story without embellishment, though she admits that perhaps not all the details are entirely true either. She doesn't need our approval, though she has it (or at least the book does).

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review: How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin MoranI wrote this review for Bookmans.com in the summer of 2012. When Bookmans did a website redesign and migrated their website database, we unpublished all but 30 posts. I tweaked this review to park it here for now.

Put down 50 Shades of Gray. I've got something equally smutty but infinitely smarter to recommend. How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran is a feminist manifesto like none you've read. Most of us don't go around reading feminist manifestos but in any case this one is definitely for everyone -- even if you are a dude and maybe even especially so.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Book Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. WellsI wrote this review for Bookmans.com in the summer of 2012 after reading The Island of Doctor Moreau aloud with my then 12-year-old son. When Bookmans did a website redesign earlier this year and migrated their website database, we unpublished all but 30 posts. I tweaked this post to park it here for now.


According to The Literature Network, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896) by H.G. Wells, deals with themes of eugenics, the ethics of scientific experimentation, Darwin's theories and religion. But it's summer and who cares about vivisecting literature? We care about enjoying a good book, so we're providing our own guide to The Island of Doctor Moreau.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Stayin' Alive

I went to the doctor yesterday for a routine check up. I had some concerns that amount to, "you're getting older and all you do is sit in front of a computer." Those may have been the doc's exact words, but he's sending me for tests and gave me a referral to a cardiologist anyway. I figured this was the ideal excuse to get the family to do what I want them to do for a change.

First, I told my son that the doctor said I will have a heart attack if he doesn't play his guitar. I told my brother that it's his fault if I die because he sings White Christmas in my ear. The doctor definitely told me that Hubster has to do everything my way or start planing a funeral. My brother said I overplayed my hand with my son and that's why the guitar never came out of the case. He also said that White Christmas only has powers of joy and healing. Hubster said he'd get to planning my funeral.

This is why I have a daughter. I didn't have to tell her anything. She played her drums and piano for me, rather than torture me by singing in my ear, she stroked my hair, and so I'm giving her VIP passes to my funeral. My funeral is going to be an SRO disco party and very difficult to get in. Let me know if you'd like for me to add you to the list.

Darling Daughter mentioned to her drum teacher this evening that she learned in Girl Scouts that Stayin' Alive has the perfect beat for administering CPR and so they practiced it in case I did have a coronary. On the way home from lessons, the kids and I stopped at Sonic for a bite and then drove around with the windows down listening to Technotronic.

When we were done pumping up the jams, I explained to the kids that people used to drive up and down busy "strips" looking for friends. "In those days, you couldn't just text your whereabouts to everyone," I said. "It's called 'cruising'."

"We call it wasting gas," said Sarcastic Son. He had a point, so I turned toward home. As I did so, what song do you imagine came on the radio? I took it as proof that I am stayin' alive forever like my great grandmothers did.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review: Legend by Marie Lu


Legend by Marie Lu

* with input from ParrishB, 6th grade, Mansfeld Middle School, Tucson

When we first mentioned Legend by Marie Lu in our social media feeds, we had to represent its dystopian goodness succinctly. We said, "If Katniss and Gale were Romeo and Juliet: Legend by Lu." We got that slightly wrong. Lu does love the Hunger Games (so do we) so the feel fits, but it's Les Miserables not Romeo and Juliet that inspired the relationship between Legend's power couple. Whatever the case, we highly recommend buying your teen, your library, yourself this first book of a trilogy.

In Legend the lives of an infamous 15-year-old boy gone rogue and a revered 15-year-old girl tapped for military service collide. They live in what was once the western United States and is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war. Criminal Day and prodigy June have no reason to meet until June's brother is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. As Day races for his family's survival, June seeks to avenge her brother's death. The two uncover the truth of what brought them together and the lengths the Republic will go to keep its secrets.