Dear Glen Rounds,

March 18, 2010

The Blind Colt – Glen Rounds – 80 pages

When ten-year-old Whitey discovers a blind colt amid a herd of mustangs and takes a liking to him, Whitey’s uncle forbids him to bring the colt home and says the colt probably won’t survive long, anyway.  He’s proven wrong as the colt adapts and stubbornly survives, and Whitey just can’t resist going against his uncle’s wishes and sneaking the determined colt onto the ranch.

I picked up The Blind Colt in a used bookstore somewhere or other, because I have a special fondness for horse books no matter the topic or reading level.  This one is a bit unlike the girl-and-horse, English-riding-stable love stories that I inhaled as an adolescent, but still entertaining.  Though I wonder about the political correctness of a white kid named “Whitey,” it was written so long ago that I can’t really fault you for that–instead, I’ll focus on what a kick I got out of the Western ranch-speak, and the tenacious colt’s antics, and the fantastic little sketch illustrations at the bottom of every page.  Nothing endears me more to a book than great illustrations, especially a book in that mysterious reading level somewhere between learning to read and middle-grade stuff, because though I might enjoy the plot, it’s still a bit too simple to be engrossing.  Anyway, your tiny sketches of the colt and his adventures are so funny and loose and adorable, and the story is a fast enough read that I could re-read it a bunch of times just for the pleasure of turning the page to a new sketch.

Some perusal of the internet tells me that there are a whole series of books about Whitey, so now I have something new to keep my eyes peeled for at library sales and used bookstores!  Four stars for this one!

Love,

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Dear S.E. Hinton,

January 15, 2010

Some of Tim’s Stories – S.E. Hinton – 160 pages

“…a profound and wry compilation of fourteen short stories. Terry and Mike are cousins whose families are almost seamlessly intertwined. Raised as close as brothers and living happy childhoods, neither one thinks of what can go wrong. But the unexpected deaths of both their fathers catapult their lives in two very different directions. Terry finds trouble with the law, while Mike lives his life racked with guilt and sadness. In her first book in four years… S. E. Hinton gives readers a gritty view of how one incident, one tragedy, affects two boys very differently, and changes their lives forever.”  –from US.PenguinGroup.com

I’ve always loved The Outsiders, and in fact I treasure a distinct memory of reading the whole book in one sitting for school in 6th grade, even though we’d been strenuously instructed not to read ahead of the single chapter we were assigned.  I did that a lot, but I was pretty good at playing dumb about the content of the rest of the books.  Anyway, though The Outsiders is dear to me, I’ve never read any of your other work.  Out of the blue I decided to change that, and picked up Some of Tim’s Stories.  I’m extremely glad I did.

What a captivating little book!  I’m a sucker for connected-but-separate short stories, like the ones in this collection, and was drawn in at once by your plain, stark prose and by Mike and Terry’s personalities.  I mean, talk about craftsmanship. You really know how to spin a tale, weaving all the threads together and making it look easy, while still keeping it so blessedly simple.  Though the subject matter was sometimes poignant or saddening, these stories were really a treat.  You have a deft touch, and reading your work now was just as satisfying as when I read rebelliously ahead in The Outsiders some fifteen years ago.  Five stars.

Love,

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Dear L. K. Madigan,

January 12, 2010

Flash Burnout – L. K. Madigan – 336 pages

“Fifteen-year-old Blake has a girlfriend and a friend who’s a girl.  One of them loves him; the other one needs him.  When he snapped a picture of a street person for his photography homework, Blake never dreamed that the woman in the photo was his friend Marissa’s long-lost meth addicted mom.  Blake’s participation in the ensuing drama opens up a world of trouble, both for him and for Marissa.  He spends the next few months trying to reconcile the conflicting roles of Boyfriend and Friend.  His experiences range from the comic (surviving his dad’s birth control talk) to the tragic (a harrowing after-hours visit to the morgue).  In a tangle of life and death, love and loyalty, Blake will emerge with a more sharply defined snapshot of himself.”  –from HoughtonMifflinBooks.com

Flash Burnout sticks out in my mind as a book I can’t quite decide about.  I picked it up because something about it caught my eye, but then put off reading it for a while because the blurb on the back wasn’t capturing me as much as other things in my pile.  I think I felt the same push and pull while I was reading, too.  There were definitely great moments of humor, and a plotline that took a lot of really exciting turns, but sometimes the prose seemed to drag for me a little.  Still, my overall impression of it was a good one–you captured the dynamic of teens and friends and more-than-friends really well.  Sometimes I felt like the narrator was less a real teenage boy and more a cobbling-together of what a teenage boy is expected to be, but that’s forgivable, and I think what Flash Burnout really needed was just a little bit of sharpening to make a really thrilling plot into a more memorable reading experience.  Still, I read it through, and enjoyed it, so three stars for this one!

Love,

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Dear Steven Goldman,

December 9, 2009

Two Parties, One Tux (and a very short film about The Grapes of Wrath) – Steven Goldman – 320 pages

“Mitchell Wells may not survive eleventh grade. He really only has one friend, his best friend, David. His normally decent grade point average is in limbo due to a slightly violent, somewhat inappropriate Claymation film. And girls…well, does hanging out with his sister count? When David tells Mitchell he’s gay, Mitchell’s okay with it—but it still seems to change things. Since David’s not out to anyone else, the guys agree to be set up with prom dates. But then one of the most popular girls in school decides she must date Mitchell, and he goes from zero to two girlfriends in sixty seconds. From his pending English grade to his floundering friendship to his love life (the one thing that’s taken a bizarre turn for the better), Mitchell is so confused, he’ll be lucky if he lasts another week in high school. And then there’s the prom….” – from BloomsburyKids.com

As much as I try not to, I find that I do judge books by their covers, which is why I didn’t pick up Two Parties, One Tux until it came out in paperback.  The silly-looking hardcover that I hadn’t glanced twice at suddenly seemed moderately interesting–then I read the back, and decided it sounded like a fun time.  Lucky thing I did, or I would have missed out on one of my favorite books of the year!

It’s hard to make a slice-of-life school story like this one stick out among all the other school stories out there, but your prose is light and has great flow, your characters are both witty and adorably awkward by turns, and your portrayal of the way high school can either squelch the will to learn out of a kid or drive them to sudden bouts of possibly-rule-breaking creativity (or sometimes both at once) reminds me so much of my own experience that I found myself picturing these scenes happening at my old alma mater. (Katie, if you’re reading this post, I hope you’re thinking of the bridge of ronk right now, and maybe also Wheel of Jeopardopaly.)

You’ve written a real gem here, one that I think is flying a bit under the radar, and I can only hope more people take notice of it soon.  Five stars for you!

Love,

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Books this year: 100

Pages this year: 20,282


Dear Carolyn Turgeon,

September 25, 2009

GodmotherGodmother: The Secret Cinderella Story – Carolyn Turgeon – 288 pages

“Lil is an old woman who spends her days shelving rare books in a tiny Manhattan bookstore and lonely nights at home in her apartment. But Lil has an intriguing secret. Tucked and bound behind her back are white feathery wings–the only key to who she once was: the fairy godmother responsible for getting Cinderella to the ball to unite with her Prince Charming. … But then one day she meets Veronica–a young, fair-skinned, flame-haired East Village beauty with a love of all things vintage and a penchant for falling in love with the wrong men–and suddenly it becomes clear to Lil that she’s been given a chance at redemption. If she can find a soul mate for Veronica, she may right her wrong and return to the fairy world she so deeply longs for….”  -Random House website

I’ve been lazy with the writing of plot summaries lately, but when the publisher’s website does it well, who am I to resist?  At any rate, Godmother was a mixed bag for me.  When I read the description I quoted above, it sounds like something I’d want to read–and it was along the right lines.  You had some elements, like the fairies’ underwater home, that were unique and surprising.  Your prose was generally lovely, too, and you did a great job with crafting some mystery around Lil and revealing only little bits of back story at a time.  The flow and the organization was good, and I was with you.  Then I hit the “twist” at the end, and the whole thing was soured for me.  You pulled an Alice in Wonderland, and I felt tricked, like I’d been denied what could have been a genuinely interesting fantasy novel or (with some changes) a fascinating novel about the human psyche.  It turned out to be neither, and I was pretty disappointed.

Even so, I don’t like to end a review on a bad note.  I rather enjoyed myself up until the end, and I can see why people who aren’t me might appreciate the twist.  Three stars in my opinion, but as always, that’s just my opinion.

Love,

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Books this year: 95

Pages this year: 18,442


Dear Carolyn Coman,

July 19, 2009

Bee and JackyBee and Jacky – Carolyn Coman,

Bee’s parents want her and her brother Jacky to take a trip with them to their grandparents’ house; the two siblings lived there when they were younger, and the upcoming trip brings up memories of their childhood games.  What seems at first to be war games, one soldier rescuing another as imaginary bombs and gunfire explode around them, is slowly revealed as a more troubling memory of precocious sexual play.

Bee and Jacky is a difficult novel to evaluate, I think.  To tackle incest, and to write about it well and with some emotional honesty, takes skill and a firm hand.  I think you had both of those in abundance, though, when writing this.  It’s clear without being graphic, sensitive without holding back, and rather stream-of-consciousness without being incomprehensible.  You capture the confusion of sexual awakening so brilliantly, and it’s only multiplied by the trauma of a father drastically changed by war and the discomfort of incestuous desire.  It’s such a strange story, but really compelling, and fills a void that not many other authors venture into.  And all of that in such a slim little book!  I found myself wishing it were just a little bit longer, and that the parents were fleshed out a little bit more, but nevertheless it’s an impressive job tackling a difficult subject.  Four stars.

Love,

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Dear Kate Banks,

April 24, 2009

Walk Softly, RachelI decided to continue reading books about girls named Rachel, at least as far as reading your Walk Softly, Rachel.  Like with the previous Rachel book from yesterday, I wasn’t sure I would like it when I started.  The language was a little too flowery and poetic for me, which is odd since I love poetry, but I think it was just a strange change of pace after Judy Blume’s plain language.  As I kept reading, I wound up really loving this story.  You had this really delicate interplay going between Rachel’s narration and her dead brother’s journal entries, setting the reader up really nicely for the revelation at the end.  I wasn’t so sure about the parents–they seemed a little unreal to me–but Rachel and especially Jake both rang very true to me.  Four stars for this one, a sad but honest, personal sort of read.

Love,

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