Friday, December 11, 2009

More than a Newbery?

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Minli, whose father fills her heart & head with stories and whose mother is bitter about their poor village life, sets off to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family's fortune. She finds talking goldfish, a dragon, a kind buffalo boy, a king, an evil tiger--she finds herself living in a story of her own. Folktales within a folktale, plucky and clever heroine whose heart is pure--when I closed the pages, I found myself thinking that it was a good book, but not a Newbery. The message is too clear.
That's what my head thought.
I find I must disagree with myself. The story lives outside the pages, evidence of a truly magical book. Maybe it's a Newbery, maybe it's better than a Newbery. It's a wonderful story to read aloud, the stories within the stories are good, it's beautifully illustrated--and it lives outside the pages, in the heart. There is more than one message where the mountain meets the moon.
Changed from 4 stars to 5. Highly recommended.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Little Bee

Little Bee Little Bee by Chris Cleave

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Little Bee is wonderful.
I agree with the jacket copy in that the magic is not in what happens, but in how the story unfolds. How the story unfolds is in beautiful language, in beauty and horror and everyday meanness and the kindness of strangers. The lives of a Nigerian refugee/illegal immigrant and a middle-class British magazine editor intersect. The book could be about the plundering of natural resources, about the state of deportation centers in Britain, about adultery, about first world/third world relations. In the hands of a lesser writer, the book could be about these things.
But like all good novels (good stories), the book is about what it is to be human. I love Little Bee's voice, it reminds me of Richard Llewellyn's achievement in How Green Was My Valley, how translation becomes poetry in humor and tragedy alike.
Little Bee is wonderful.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What a great little story! Having waited an extra year for it (it was announced for last year, before the unexpected hoopla over The Graveyard Book), I was disappointed that it was so short. It's the perfect length for the story it tells, in which a lame boy becomes a hero and saves the hide of the Norse gods Loki, Thor, and Odin One-eye himself--in addition to saving the entire planet from endless winter.
This is how much I liked it: having returned my library copy, I shall now buy it!

Perfect for read-alouds or middle-grade reading. And of course, for anyone already hooked on Neil through his other wonderful books. Would also make a great movie.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Women's Fiction"

The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder: A Novel The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder: A Novel by Rebecca Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I kept reading until the end, laughing and crying and dreaming with Calla Lily Ponder. Somebody who likes reading in the first person might give it 5 stars, but to me it read like a wandering memoir (the transitions from chapter to chapter bothered me). But I love the Moon Lady and the river and the sweet magical realism that comes when living from the heart. I enjoyed it as much as "Divine Secrets..."

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Review of When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A fitting homage to Madeleine L'Engle and A Wrinkle In Time.
Miranda and her relationships feel real. Regular growing pains and school life until mysterious notes pop up and Miranda's world is changed forever.
A good book for those kids (and kids in adult bodies) who love to ponder different questions than their peers; but like L'Engle's work, providing a grounding, calming presence of love and daily life and concerns.

Very good explanation of how time does not exist. Or how time relates to "reality". Also a lovely devaluation of common sense. (See Mister God, This Is Anna "People have points of view, but Mister God has viewing points," for more physics for creative souls.)

Unusually for me, I am giving this book five stars, the fifth star for craftmanship. I usually reserve that star for evoked emotion and/or wonder and/or fresh take on old tropes. Until now, I believe that L'Engle was her own sub-genre (please enlighten me if this is not so, I'd love to read more). Anyway, there is never a false note in the relationships or explanations in the book. Pitch-perfect.

I am about to find the author's previous book, First Light, and devour it, as well.

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Review of The Magician's Elephant

The Magician's Elephant The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Once again, Kate does her own special brand of magic. Set in a quasi-European country, in a time before our own (1800s maybe?), it's a story about a boy, an elephant, a magician. About being trapped, displaced, and being free; of holding on and of letting go. Most of all, about love.

It's the kind of book--my favorite--that if you are a lonely, desperately unhappy child, will give you hope and a reason to grow up and outward into the world where the impossible, yes, the impossible, does--amazingly--happen after all.

Line that leapt out: "Magic is impossible," said the magician. "It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it is magic."

One might substitute the word life for the word magic, certainly the word love; indeed, any endeavor worth its while (such as writing, baking, gardening, or raising children). Then one might, like DiCamillo's character Bartok Whynn, discover laughter.

(Disclaimer: Miss M does not apologize for philosophizing or moralizing, for crying, laughing, or jumping up and down with glee: she believes that that is what writing is for.)

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Forking Fantastic Book Review

Forking Fantastic is forking fantastic!
When a book says, "Put the party back in dinner party," I expect great and funny things, and the authors do not disappoint.

Perhaps the book is best read with a glass of wine to hand (and mouth). I read the book in smorgasbord format, delving in here, diving in there, pausing in slight consternation (over the lamb, I don't do lamb--but hey, I might try it for a party. One could certainly use two meats at a big enough party!). I read the Intro, then jumped in; only now as I write this review did I discover the first chapter, "Pep Talk," in which the secret powers of cooking for others are revealed: Sex! Art! Power! But I am the cook in my household; I knew that.

Quotes: "Spatchcock: Another word we put in just because we like saying it." (It's Britspeak for butterflying.) "Raw chicken=napalm." From the recipe for Passion Fruit Curd: "Contrary to all cooking logic, more jam does not make it better--believe us, we've tried." "...give a few shakes, just to the point where you start getting embarrassed about the jiggling in your upper arms." Is this too many for reviews? "If only 'Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown' were just an awesome song by the Rolling Stones (re: entertaining.)" I have two favorites, one that is too long to retype but involves sausage gravy and a kindly farm wife--and: "... this is probably the secret of entertaining in a truly grand style: Jump in blindly. Julia would have approved. (Though be warned about the F-word, there's lots of it.)

The authors write both to cooking and entertaining novices and those with experience. They provide wine advice, definitions, and the lovely "learn from our mistakes" asides. There are lots of asides in this book, but I like that. There are also tips on "horde management" and kitchen equipment. I enjoy the relaxed style, as if one of your neighbors were there in your kitchen with you. The design of the book is great as well, allowing you to pay attention to the recipes only or to divert to other matters. Especially great is the fried chicken recipe, formatted for a few friends (1 chicken) or thirty (8 chickens) under the heading, ARE YOU INSANE?

My top recipes to try: Spanish Tortilla with Saffron (amazingly, this is not a flat substitute for bread, but a riff on a frittata!). Overnight Chuck Roast. Fish with pomegranate molasses (okay, the recipe's not in the book, but the suggestion is. I can wing it.). Baci di Ricotta. Step by step recipes, step by step party set-up, this book revives my dreams of the international cooking club I started with my friends in middle school.

Please, please please, Tamara & Zora, come over to my house & play! I, too, keep Jiffy Cornbread mix in my pantry. Behind the wine. And please bring Dapper Dan.

I have recommended the book to my local library system and friends, but I will not be loaning it to anyone. It's mine, all mine. Disclosure: I won the book on a giveaway. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Divine Divination

I'm fond of Tarot. Not as a predictor, but as a way to ponder and see deeper into any dilemmas I might have. A few years ago, as a book/word person, I got the Oracle of Kabbalah by Richard Seidman--lovely! Really what ends up happening with that one is I read the book and get so inspired by the descriptions it's pretty much a sure way to enter into contemplation of the divine & praise of the Holy. My favorite thing!
Last year I fell in love with the beautiful Tao Oracle by Ma Deva Padma, an Osho devotee. Beautiful art! It's really an illustrated I Ching deck.
This year it's the William Blake Tarot, a wonderful concept by Ed Buryn. How wonderful! The suits are Science, Music, Poetry, and Art. This is truly the Tarot for creative mystic happy magical types. I'll add more later.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sins & Shadows

Sins  &  Shadows Sins & Shadows by Lyn Benedict

My rating: 5 of 5 stars Loved it, solid entry in the kick-ass urban fantasy genre, but feel as if I read book 2, not book 1! I would have read a longer book! I want to know more of the back story! I want a prequel! I am one of those people who hates the idea of starting in the middle of a series. I say I hate the idea because I've never done it, and I don't like the publisher making me do it. I blame the publisher not the author because the hints of the past, throwaway facts, feel uprooted from a grounded, detailed backstory, not merely dropped in to add intrigue. If that story does not exist, it sure should... View all my reviews >>

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Terry Pratchett's Nation

Nation Nation by Terry Pratchett

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
My favorite book of the last year just won the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for teen fiction.Hurray for the Horn Book and whoever voted! This is a wonderful true myth with death and wonder and knowledge and hope--life in an alternate Earth island chain after a tsunami. This is the first book he's written since his Alzheimer's diagnosis and I believe it should have won every award it was nominated for; there's really no way that Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book (see my review) is better. It should certainly have been nominated for a Hugo. Comparing theses two books is like comparing Rowling's Harry Potter series and Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials. The latter has a depth the former lacks, despite its popularity. Gaiman is Rowling and Pratchett is Pullman in this instance. And it's usually Gaiman who's dealing with the mythic! At any rate, Nation in its way is as perfect a book as Sherri Tepper's Beauty. Read! Read!

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Friday, June 5, 2009

For Use in the Classroom with Young Poets

Salting the Ocean: 100 Poems by Young Poets Salting the Ocean: 100 Poems by Young Poets by Naomi Shihab Nye

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Wonderful book of poems by young poets taught by Nye in school visits. It's a great resource for teaching--my only wish is that the poet's ages or grade levels were included. It's very handy to be able to tell a group of kids--"If a second-grader wrote that, you can write a poem, too!"

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Donna Leon's new novel About Face

About Face: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery About Face: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
I like spending time with the Brunetti family and I always want more of Signorina Elettra, too. The "mysteries" are always background in these novels to me. I've enjoyed every single novel in the series. Reading about Brunetti's work life, kids, Paolina's academic life, the Conte e Contessa, corrupt business & government... is it all so different? I disagree with Tolstoy, I think we are all alike in our pain, sin, and desperation. Perhaps we are all alike in wanting to be happy. Anyway, I enjoy peeking at the happy Brunetti family-this and the character of Venice and the great writing is what keeps me reading.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
So far, only halfway through, but loving it. Remembrance of the French Intellectual of my youth! Truly original, but reminiscent of Montaigne, Colette, of course Proust (and William Carlos Williams), with the comic touch of Moliere. An excellent apologia for life.

Also highly recommended to read while drinking a bottle of French wine--or a pot of tea.

Well done!

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Miss M joins

The Dust of 100 Dogs The Dust of 100 Dogs by A.S. King

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Amazing book! Love the author's take on things, especially the "asides" chapters that explain life from a dog's perspective. It's being marketed as YA and I recognize totally the wise, wise-cracking and desperate voice of an intelligent outsider teen. But there's certainly adult subject matter--remember that adulthood came early in those days.

You see, Emer was a girl pirate in the 17th century--and just as she had found her true love (after much tribulation) she was killed and cursed to live the lives of 100 dogs before she can again incarnate as a human.

As the book cover states--"Now she's a contemporary teenager and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica." Because if you haven't got love, you might as well have the treasure.

we glimpse all three sorts of her life: as Emer, as various dogs, and as Saffron, the pirate stuck in the contemporary world. But I must leave further details to your own delicious discovery.

As you might guess from the subject matter, there is violence, heartbreak, sex, etc. And no gloss on things.

Very much a sense of rightness at the end. Great cover, too.

I can't wait to read what the author comes up with next!

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Monday, April 13, 2009

New books

Today I recommend & celebrate a truly springtime Easter, which we don't get often since global warming began. We had wonderful storms on Saturday, complete with rain, and leaves with their still-new green were glowing. The mountains were snow-capped and beautifully purple below. People were smiling and it was a wonderful day.

Last week I read the new Ilona Andrews, Magic Strikes. Still fresh. The most original take on vampires yet, I think; but vampires are peripheral--just where I like them to be. The new Tamora Pierce is on its way, after a two-year wait--that's what I'm most excited about. Beka Cooper, Bloodhound. Whereas Mercedes Lackey has a wide range of series (and a wide range of editors, because the quality of writing, spelling, and editing goes up & down depending) Tamora stays right in tune. I'll be re-reading the older books when I get them unpacked & correct this post if I'm wrong.

Speaking of hounds, I also read Spiral Hunt, by Margaret Ronald, and she's now on my list of must-read. It's not so much the paranormal aspects of the books I've been reading, but the strong women characters. I read fewer mysteries, they're either too grim or too cozy. In these fantasy books, there's also too grim, too much sex and/or romance, too cute, too dark, too violent. There are so many ways to go wrong, aren't there? The authors I like (whether fiction or non-) walk the edges, balanced between one thing and another, never too much but just right. 

I unwrapped a package from Britain last week with glee--a used Maeve Binchy, short stories--but I had read it before. My memory is too good...

I continue unpacking & will have houseguests in a week, but in may hope to be posting regularly. Until then--unless I become incredibly enthused about something.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Here we go!

This will be celebrations of authors, books, food, wine, etc.
Look for regular posts after March, I am moving a household of books, art, manuscripts, computers, etc.

Right before I went to Hawaii over the winter hols (mugged by a whale!), I finished Chalice, by Robin McKinley. What a wonderful book! About how hard it is to rebuild a world and yet how possible (at least that's one of the themes; like a dream, this book is open to interpretation!) Like Sheri Tepper, Robin writes books that are all different from each other and (sorry Sheri--you must remember I've said you wrote the perfect book) less didactic. Anyway I am old enough to have read Robin since her Beauty first appeared and even though I might like to see more of the same characters, she never disappoints with her new departures.

The book was totally unexpected and wonderful and there's a part about bees that reminded me of Elizabeth Goudge's Linnets & Valerians and that led me to Robin's blog which is very funny and I recommend it, too. I love how the characters in Chalice are figuring out what to to & how to be as they go along, because their abilities (but not their sensibilities) are different from 'the tradition" and yet there is no doubt they've been chosen to make things right. And they'll go down trying, if they have to. I enjoyed it immensely, even though I was hoping for a Sunshine sequel. See her faqs about that, sorry.