Book Review: Athletic Shorts

“Superman’s not brave. […] He’s indestructible. You can’t be brave when you’re indestructible. It’s guys like you and me that are brave, Angus. Guys who are different and can be crushed–and know it–but go out there anyway.”

Athletic Shorts:  Six Short Stories by Chris Crutcher is…a book of six short stories.  All of the stories except one feature characters from his books Stotan!, Running Loose, and The Crazy Horse Electric Game.  Of those books, I have read exactly none–not that it matters.  The stories are accessible and stand up well on their own.  They are also slightly spoilery for the other books–not that that matters either.  If anything, they made me more interested in the stories and worlds featured.

What I Liked

– My favorite story is probably the first one, “A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune.”  Mine and Hollywood’s since it was turned into a movie.  At any rate, Angus’s parents are awesome, his voice is awesome, and the story is a lot of fun.  It’s one of the two more light-hearted of the six stories, so that’s also a plus.

– Even though these are short stories, they are clasic Chris Crutcher, dealing with issues of death, racism, abuse, guilt, homophobia, and bullying.  You know, the usual.

– “The Telephone Man” is the story about racism and it is uncomfortable to read because it’s from the POV of a racist, but I liked its honesty.  Before each story is a small explanation for it, and this is what Crutcher says about Telephone Man:

Racism speaks volumes about those who hide behind it, says exactly nothing of those at whom is it directed.

I think the story does a great job of exposing the kid who hides behind racism and also where he gets his ideas.  (Hint:  It’s his daddy!)

– I loved the story about homophobia.  It was very affecting.  Great characters.

What I Didn’t Like

– I think there was maybe one story I’d count as a weak link.

In conclusion:  One weak link makes for a very solid short story collection.  It’s  a great introduction to the themes that dominate Chris Crutcher’s works as well as to his storytelling style.  I liked it a lot.

YA Challenge:  3/75

Book Review: A Crooked Kind of Perfect

I was supposed to play the piano. […] I play the organ.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban can be summed up in the words of the Rolling Stones:  “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”  As the breakout quote shows, main character Zoe wants to play the piano.  Instead, she gets an organ.  So the whole book is about how she deals with what she gets versus what she really wants.  You know, like an organ instead of a piano or a dad who is too scared to drive her anywhere versus the freedom to go to parties with her friends.

What I Liked

– I loved the characters.  All of them.  They are awesome.  From her comptroller mother to her slightly autistic/socially anxious dad to her music teacher to the bully turned friend.  I was sad when the book was over because I wanted to spend more time with the characters.

– I liked that the dad was this complicated man who wanted the best and meant the best but didn’t know how to achieve that exactly.  Which could be said for all of the characters.

– I loved the emphasis on practicing your craft.  Zoe wants to be a prodigy.  She isn’t.  Zoe wants to play beautifully but thinks it should come naturally.  But her mom shows her in the best way possible (LOVE HER MOM) that it takes practice to make it sound effortless.

– “Just keep playing.”  (The musical equivalent of “Just keep swimming.”)

– I always feel funny shipping tweens but at the same time, OMG, I JUST WANTED THOSE TWO CRAZY KIDS TO WORK IT OUT.  Hand holding, burping contests, hanging out at each other’s houses, walking home from school together.  Cute, cute, cute, cute!  I wanted more middle school cutesy dating stuff even if it’s not really dating.

– I thought all of the relationships were really well handled and developed.

– I loved the resolution of all of the conflicts in the book.  All of them

What I Didn’t Like

– The book was too short.  It was the perfect length for what it was trying to accomplish, but, as I said earlier, I wanted it to be longer so I could spend more time with the characters.

In conclusion:  The title of the book is spot on.  It is a crooked kind of perfect–just a little slice of perfection, really.

Book Review: Among the Hidden

“I am a third child!  I want to be treated like everyone else!”

When I did my independent study at Iowa State University, the professor book talked Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Among the Hidden, so when I saw it at the library book sale, I snatched it up.  It’s not hard to make the premise interesting because it is.  Luke is a third child, living in a world where it is illegal to have more than two children.  He’s not supposed to exist, and so he hides in his family’s home, unable to go to school or play outside or…anything.  And then one day, he sees the face of what could only be another third child in one of his neighbor’s windows.

What I Liked

– The premise.  This is dystopian fiction, so Haddix is able to call attention to the silent and nameless and faceless.  These children aren’t alloted food or privileges because they shouldn’t exist.  Why?  Because they’re a drain on the country’s resources and have no real purpose (according to the government) except to drain those resources.

– Jen.  Jen is awesome and amazing and I love her.  LOVE.  In fact, I honestly wish the narrative had been about her instead of Luke.  Or at least that we got to spend more time with her.  You know, like the whole book.

– Among Jen’s awesome?  She starts a movement to protect and guarantee the rights of third children.

– As with other dystopian novels I’ve read, this one is very strongly anti-censorship.

– There is also a great discussion of propoganda.  The ultimate message?  Extremes are not good.  Period.  Balanced information is key to making informed decisions.

– The book moves fast.  It does drag a little in the beginning, but as soon as Luke sees Jen, it picks up and never really slows down until the end.  That’s not to say it’s all go, go, go, but the readability factor is very high.

What I Didn’t Like

– As usual, there are, apparently, no minorities in the future/dystopia (unless you count the third children).  Unlike The Giver, no mention is made of what could have possibly happened to all of these people or why there is an absence of them.  (It’s like Minority Report in that way.)  You could read the book as minorites, the poor, etc. being third children, but, you know.  It’d be nice to get a mention in there somewhere.

– Jen is way more interesting than Luke, and, yet, he is the POV character.  When Jen isn’t around, her absence is obvious.  (Did I mention that I love her?)

In conclusion:  All in all, a good read.

I wasn’t going to count this for the YA reading challenge because it’s really a middle grade novel.  But it is an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, so on the list it goes.

YA Challenge:  2/75

shameless self-promotion

A review I wrote of Robinn Gourley’s Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie and Anita Silvey’s I’ll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War appears in Purdue University’s First Opinions, Second Reactions. [Direct link:  “First Opinion: Women of Distinction”.]

POC challenge

So since I last updated, a lot has happened.  For one, I had a database crash, which means my first two reviews of the year were lost.  (In summation:  Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer is heartbreaking, wonderful, and extremely hard to get into; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling [as read by Jim Dale] is a fun reread.)  It also sucks because one of my resolutions for the year was updating within two days of finishing a book.  Obviously, that got shot down these past two weeks.

Thankfully, my wonderful friend and her mom were able to recover all of the other posts, so I’m going to get back to reviewing as soon as possible.

And then, Bloomsbury went and lost its mindAgain.  So I have decided to join the POC Reading Challenge.

I’m going to do Level 4, which is 10-15 books.  I will probably surpass that, especially since I had already informally decided that my Women Unbound non-fic books would be largely focused on women of color.

I tend to read as I go, so I’m not going to make a list except to say that I’m currently reading Angela Davis:  An Autobiography.

Books Read for the Challenge

  1. Angela Davis:  An Autobiography by Angela Davis
  2. Dust Tracks on the Road by Zora Neale Hurston
  3. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  4. The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang & Derek Kirk Kim
  5. The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake
  6. Backtracked by Pedro de Alcantara
  7. My Life as a Rhombus by Varian Johnson
  8. The Bum Magnet by K. L. Brady
  9. Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi
  10. Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe
  11. The Rose That Grew from Concrete by Tupac Shakur
  12. Calamity Jack by Shannon & Dean Hale, Nathan Hale
  13. Nappy by Charisse Carney-Nunes
  14. Icon:  A Hero’s Welcome by Dwayne McDuffie
  15. Storm by Eric Jerome Dickey
  16. I, Tina by Tina Turner
  17. Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain
  18. On My Two Feet: A Modern Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar
  19. Diablerie: A Novel by Walter Mosley
  20. Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
  21. Life Is Funny by E. R. Frank
  22. Cooked by Jeff Henderson
  23. Alvin Ho Books 1 & 2 by Lenore Look
  24. Played by Dana Davidson
  25. The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
  26. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice

Favorite New Reads of 2009

So, last year I read 74 books, several of which were rereads.  Here’s a list of my favorite new reads of 2009, in neat little categories.

1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 by Thomas W. Pelan & Setting Limits with Your Strong-Willed Child by Robert J. MacKenzie, Ed.D. – I have a kid.  Sometimes she is difficult.  Both of these books helped me in different ways.  Setting Limits totally saved my relationship with my daughter because it helped me successfully set limits with her.  1-2-3 Magic reminded me how effective counting could be.  I had forgotten.

I’ll Pass for Your Comrade by Anita Silvey – This middle grade book about women soldiers in the Civil War really delves into the motivations and experiences of the women who chose to serve.

Middle grade fiction
The Road to Paris by Nikki Grimes – This quiet little novel about a girl in foster care and her desire for a family is both sad and hopeful all at once.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex – This book did drag a little in the middle, but, all in all, the adventure of Tip and J. Lo as they search for Tip’s mom after an alien invasion is a load of fun while providing commentary on the state of the US.  Bonus:  the main character is a little black girl.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson – The only way I can describe this book is as being deeper than me.  When a boy who looks like Jesus enrolls in their elementary school, a girl and her classmates struggle with questions of faith.

YA fiction
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott – This book is so creepy, but I also couldn’t stop reading it.  About a girl who is kidnapped by a pedophile and her desire to escape.

My Fair Godmother by Janette Rallison – This book was a surprise read for me.  With three strong female characters,  two well-developed themes (“be careful what you wish for” and “don’t underestimate yourself”), and a great premise (the main character gets trapped in a fairy tale), I really enjoyed it a lot.  The book also has my absolute favorite quote I collected from a book this year:

Fairy’s side note: Guys can smell desperation. It triggers an instinct in them to run far and fast so they aren’t around when a woman starts peeling apart her heart. They know she’ll ask for help in putting it back together the right way–intact and beating correctly–and they dread the thought of puzzling over layers that they can’t understand, let alone rebuild. They’d rather just not get blood on their hands.

But sharks are different. They smell the blood of desperation and circle in. They whisper into a girl’s ear, “I’ll make it better. I’ll make you forget all about your pain.”

Sharks do this by eating your heart, but they never mention this beforehand. That is the thing about sharks.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman – About a girl in coma, deciding whether to live or die, I didn’t want this book to end.

Kendra by Coe Booth – At times this book was hard to read because I was so worried about Kendra, and her emotions are so raw and close to the surface.  That said, it’s an excellent book about the choices a girl who is desperate for love and attention–from the person she feels should care for her the most–makes.

Pure by Terra Elan McVoy – About a group of friends who all have purity rings and what happens when one of them decides to have sex.  I liked this for its emphasis on female friendship, but also because it doesn’t condemn religion as the main character tries to make sense of her world and her faith.

I Know It’s Over by C. K. Kelly Martin – A painful book about a relationship and its demise from the boy’s point of view.

YA series fiction
A Likely Story Book 1: Likely Story by David van Etten – It’s about a girl who WRITES A SOAP OPERA.  It has my eternal love for that alone.

Princess Diaries 10: Forever Princess by Meg Cabot – A fitting end to the series.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – The final part of the trilogy comes out this year, and I can’t wait to read it.

The Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart – The penultimate book in the Ruby Oliver series.  I also can’t wait to see how this wonderful series ends.

Adult fiction

The Princess Bride by William Goldman – Far superior to the movie, and the author wrote that screenplay.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby – This book was honestly like a little slice of perfection.  About a woman who realizes that she’s deeply dissatisfied with her life.