2014-02-23

Caleb's Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks. Blackstone Audio, 2011.

Bethia's journal entries begin in the 1600s when she is twelve. Her family has moved from the mainland to an island off the coast of Massachusets, and her father, a preacher, is homeschooling her brother, Makepeace. Bethia performs chores in the same room and easily absorbs the rhetoric, Greek, Hebrew and Latin lessons her older brother cannot grasp. When it becomes obvious she knows more than him, she is banished during lessons, and uses her new free time to explore the island. On one of her forays, she encounters an Indian boy who, over time, becomes a friend and gives her the name, "Storm Eyes." When her father takes this boy, Caleb, into the household as a student as part of his mission to convert the heathens, the family's way of life is turned upside down. And when it is time for Caleb, Makepeace and others to be sent to the mainland to continue their education, Bethia is indentured to the school's headmaster to help defray the cost of tuition. How she deals with these changed circumstances that alter her life forever is the subject of  the rest of her journal.


This title has some similarities to the author's Year of Wonders: a female narrator with a strong character, lust for learning, and a stubborn streak. Add a disruptive sequence of events, then watch the resulting chaos erupt and settle.

The narrator's measured, yet emotional, reading conveys the frustrations, joys, griefs, and questions Bethia expresses privately in her journal, as one tragedy follows another in this harsh land. I found her stilted enunciation distracting at first, but I believe it was in character - written language is more formal than spoken language, after all. This book might also appeal to teens, despite its length.

2014-01-03

http://www.saclibrarycatalog.org/record=b2230566*engMargot, by Jillian Cantor. Riverhead Books, 2013. 

So, what would have happened if Anne Frank's sister had survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and come to America?

This first-person tale explores this outcome. The premise is that in the Annex, a romantic relationship grew between Margot Frank and Peter. They conspired to take new names and meet in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, after the war,  marry, and raise a family. Margot is now Margie Franklin.  She is passing as a Gentile legal secretary, hiding her identity and her prison camp tattoo under a cardigan sweater, and calling directory assistance regularly to search for any sign of Peter.

Like Life of Pi, Before I Go To Sleep, and The Double Bind, the borders between fantasy and reality blur and shift. In this case, layers of the Holocaust experience are revealed little by little, as the author probes the feelings, memories (repressed and not,) attitudes of Philadelphians towards Jews, and attitudes of American Jews towards European Jews. The relationship between Margie and Anne is brought into sharp focus when the film Diary of Anne Frank is released, triggering guilty memories surrounding Margo's escape from the prison camp.

It's clear from the outset that this is pure fiction, but it provides Cantor an opportunity to understand her culture, and brings attention to the motivation of some Jewish people to put that part of their lives behind them in America, the Land of the Free.

2013-12-27

http://www.saclibrarycatalog.org/record=b2228005~S51*engFeed, by M. T. Anderson. Candlewick Press, 2012.

It is a hundred years in thefuture, and people no longer walk around with their faces in their mobile devices. Instead, everyone has implanted chips that stream their feeds 24/7: news, entertainment, advertisements, chat... Google and Wikipedia are always available.

For a lark, a group of friends decides to go to the moon for the day, but it turns out that "the moon sucks." Titus, the main character meets Violet on the moon, but she heretically resists the feed and, by actually having original thoughts and opinions, becomes the catalyst for the events that occur when the feed becomes corrupted.

This is a satirical, hyperbolic and frightening look at what could happen if the only information you get is what you've selected for your feed, and what your "smart" feed thinks you will like, based on prior choices. The dialogue captures teen conversational style accurately. It's a topic also covered more seriously in Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble.

2013-11-30

The Song of the Quarkbeast, by Jasper Fforde.  Harcourt, 2011.

Because I enjoyed the author's Eyre Affair, I decided to try this teen fantasy, which is the second title in the Chronicles of Kazam series.

Magic is finally on the rise after a period of decline, and the two major houses are in a struggle to control it. One house, Kazam, is being managed temporarily by a gutsy teen Orphan, due to the enchanted absence of its real administrator. The other is nefariously engaged, with King Snodd's help, in rigging the competition so as to give control of all magic to the throne.

The plot is thin - but OK. The punniness is rampant, with character names like Youthful Perkins, Tiger Prawns, Half Price and Full Price, Boolean Smith, and Daredevil Nuttjob, and a setting called The Ununited Kingdom. The tension around the magic building contest isn't really tense, and the comedic mingling of the trappings of traditional magic (flying carpets, levitation, invisibility, turning to stone) with modern conventions like electricity, microwave ovens, cell phones, can be jarring at times. It would probably appeal to younger teens, both boys and girls, who get a charge out of puns, snarkiness, and wordplay.

2013-11-05

http://www.saclibrarycatalog.org/record=b1606674~S51Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. Harcourt, 2002.

Elegantly set up and eloquently told, the life of an Indian teen changes catastrophically when the freigher moving him and his family and some zoo animals suddenly sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Having grown up as the son of a zookeeper in India, and having the freedom to explore the three major religions (Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam), he brings all this experience to bear while learning to survive in 40' lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orang-utan, and Mr. Parker, a tiger.

What I found fascinating is his application in the lifeboat of everything he had learned from his father as an animal keeper: the habits, the natures, of the animals in the boat, and the psychology required to remain the alpha male in charge of the menagerie. He made mistakes and learned from them. He faced illness and despair and surmounted them by calling on what he learned from his religious education as well as the responsibility learned as a keeper of animals.

The story is compelling and the zinger at the end made me want to go back and try to figure out what I missed!

2013-10-06

Of Triton, by Anna Banks. Feiwel and Friends, 2013.

In this sequel to the author's Of Poseidon, Emma, now deeply in love with Galen, is drawn into Syrena politics as the descendants of Poseidon struggle with the descendants of Triton. In the first place, although she is the daughter of a Poseidon princess, she is also half-human, an abomination under Syrena law. Secondly, Galen is a prince of Triton's house, and marriage beetween them is forbidden. Thirdly, she is being proposed as a wife for Galen's brother to satisfy a law that requires the heir to marry a princess of the other house every third generation in order to keep harmony among the Syrena.
Plot twists galore drive this novel to its novel conclusion!
Cooking For Geeks : real science, great hacks, and good food, by Jeff Potter. O'Reilly, 2010.

Everything you ever (didn't) want to know about food and cooking, but now that you do, you'll never view a meal in the same way again. Potter provides the whys, hows, and stories behind many of the foods and condiments we use every day. It takes a bit of concentration to read and understand the explanations, but the recipes I tried were tasty. Homemade ginger ale, anyone?

2013-09-02

Heart of Stone : a Verity Gallant Tale by M. L. Welsh. David Fickling Books, 2012.

This continues the children's tale begun in Welsh's Mistress of the Storm. Verity and her friends have enjoyed a fine summer, but in the fall, strange things again occur: the ground is eroding, and fine sand infiltrates all aspects of village life, even to erasing the words from ancient books in the library. The sand comes from the body of the Earth Witch, who was crushed into a million pieces by the Wind Witch many years ago, and who is on the verge of re-assembling herself. Once again, Verity and her friends must try to find the cause and stop the damage.

I love the way the author brings the library into the novel as the command center where the characters do research, maintenance on the damaged texts, and plot their next moves in the defeat of the Earth Witch's nefarious plans. The children are smart, have believable skills and feelings, and there's a hint of a budding romance in the works, too.


Eyre Affair
The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde. Viking, 2002.

Thursday Next is a Crimean War veteran and Litera Tec employee responsible for maintaining the integrity of classic literature in England. Because time-travel is common, it is possible to change the texts, thereby altering plots and characters. Thursday tracks down all such incidents and arranges for the arrest of the perps. The invention of the Prose Portal complicates matters by allowing real people to slip into the worlds of the novels and interact with its characters.

Part sci-fi, part mystery, part punny literary folly, this rollicking read is the first of the Tuesday Next novels.