Book reviews and worming my way into summer reading list revisions

OK, so I’m been seriously slacking. No posts in almost three weeks?! Sorry, guys. Sadly, I don’t have a good excuse either. The start of football season (which now includes an ignominious Pats loss to the Cardinals by a missed field goal)? The fact that on Sundays I now have to do 7+ mile runs? Or that I play the ridiculous app “DrawSomething” with my friend on our smart phones? Yes, there’s still time for writing, but apparently I haven’t noticed that.

But, I have read a bunch of books, and here’s what I think of them:

What Came from the Stars by Gary D. Schmidt – The story of what happens when a powerful, magical chain containing the last of a alien peoples’ art lands in the (totally embarrassing) lunchbox of 6th grader Tommy Pepper. Pepper has recently lost his mother and his family has never recovered from it and the Valorim, the alien people, are losing their lives as they know them. The losses there are mirrored nicely in alternating chapters within the book. It was good. Schmidt, I think, is at his best when he’s writing about the effect of terrible and yet universal emotions on young teens. So the book really shines in those chapters and is an interesting companion to the Valorim chapters. I don’t want to say that I was disappointed by this book because I wasn’t really. It just wasn’t as amazing as Okay for Now or The Wednesday Wars. (Those are the books which I’m trying to get onto the summer reading lists. One of the reading specialists at the schools that I met at an open house this week loves Schmidt’s books and wants to hear my reading list recommendations! Quality and reading level appropriateness for the win!) But it is still better than most book written for the middle grade audience, so still read it.

The Man Who was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton – So I read this because every once in a while I ask my dear boyfriend to choose a philosophical book for me to read. In the past I’ve read Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be, Thus Spake Zarathustra by Nietzsche, and Plato’s Symposium and I liked them all a lot more than I thought I would, especially the Nietzsche and Plato. (I was annoyed by how much Nietzsche hated women, but what can you do?) This was the next selection and it’s basically a novel where everyone is an anarchist, and also a policemen, and it’s all a big joke. Apparently, it’s a great satirical novel. I think I just didn’t get it. Maybe I wasn’t sure what it was satirizing? Or that I thought it would be more humorous? I don’t know. It was interesting and perhaps those smarter than me will get it.

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake – This is the sequel to Anna Dressed in Blood, a YA ghostie novel that scared the crap out of me. In the first book, Cas is a ghost hunter who sends murderous ghosts to rest but can’t seem to kill Anna Korlov. She’s been murdered and cursed by her witch aunt and can’t control her rage. Anna ends up saving Cas and his friends from a terrible voodoo guy and Cas falls in love with her. In book two, Anna is stuck in hell being tormented by the terrible voodoo guy and Cas has to try and save her. The book was good in the way that it was nice to be around the characters again, but Cas is so mopey the whole time it was a bit like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. You know how in HP5 Harry and Ron can’t along and they are gloomy and moody? And you want to smack them and tell them to get over it because they have to save the world from Voldemort? It’s a little like that. I hope that they make a third book so that it redeems this one a little bit.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray – I LOVED Bray’s book Beauty Queens – seriously, I think it’s the best satire/send-up of contemporary celebrity and reality show culture ever – but I did not like the kick off to her popular Gemma Doyle series, A Great and Terrible Beauty. But she has a new book out about the 1920s and she’s coming to the Brookline Public Library this Friday for a book signing. Luckily, aforementioned delightful boyfriend has a parking space in Brookline and I have the day off. So, I decided to read another of her books, not the new one yet, to see what else she has written. So I read Going Bovine and I loved it. It’s the story of a high school loser who gets mad cow disease (well, the human type: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) and is convinced to head off to Disney World to try and save the world from the terrible fire giants and the Wizard of Reckoning. Or is he still in the hospital after all? Either way he encounters a dwarf, the Norse god Balder stuck in the body of a yard gnome, a magic screw, a particle collider, jokes about Brane cosmology that I partly got because of Dan Simmons’ Ilium and Olympos, an MTV-esque spring break party, New Orleans jazz, drag queens, creepy used cars salesmen, and an angel. It’s quite hilarious. I recommend it!

Lastly, I listened to The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb – This is the story of how three men in the 1950s tried to become the first to break the 4 minute mile barrier. Englishmen Roger Bannister, Australian John Landy, and American Wes Santee all try to do it first and the book skips back and fourth between each man. I personally think Bannister is the most interesting because he was committed to the idea of the amateur athlete and was in medical school while training to run faster for a mile than anyone had ever done before. Definitely inspiring as I’m struggling to run a four minute HALF mile.

As for right now, in book world I’m reading Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin, a new YA novel based on the Poe story and I’m listening to Confederates in the Attic about writer Tony Horwitz’s (husband to Geraldine Brooks, if you care about that sort of thing) sojourns in the South and his quest to find out why remembrance of the Confederacy and the Civil War are so important and current there. It’s simultaneously hilarious, sad, insightful, and terrifying. A definite to-read, I think.

That’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with some thoughts about back-to-school librarianship after a few more open houses I get to attend!

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4 thoughts on “Book reviews and worming my way into summer reading list revisions

  1. ellisnelson says:

    I really liked Going Bovine. So original and thought provoking. Loved the gnome.

  2. Beth M says:

    Hmm, I might give Libba Bray another try (I didn’t much care for a Great and Terrible Beauty – only made it through the first couple chapters anyway.)

    I too am a struggling runner. Somehow i thought it would be easier to get below a 10 minute mile (because I’ve done it before!) But alas, life keeps getting in the way of training.

    • Yeah, I slogged through A Great and Terrible Beauty because I had to read it for a teen book club, but I did not like it at all. Try Beauty Queens, I think you would like the social commentary/satirical aspects of it. I think that’s what Bray does really well, so I think that’s why Great and Terrible is so . . . dare I say, “terrible?”

      I think 10 minute miles are great. Speed is totally overrated.

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