Friday, July 13, 2012

"What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal" by Zoe Heller

258 pages

Elderly London schoolteacher Barbara Covett leaves a solitary life. She goes to work, goes home to her cat, and that's about it. That all changes when Sheba Hart takes a job at Barbara's school. She's different from Barbara in nearly every way: she's married with two children, she's only thirty-five, and she's outgoing. Despite all this, Barbara and Sheba become close friends. Eventually, Sheba shares her biggest secret: she's having an affair with a fifteen-year-old student named Stephen. Barbara decides to keep the news to herself, despite her legal and moral obligation to turn Sheba in. But then, when Sheba's actions finally do come to light, some of Barbara's do as well.

This is certainly a disturbing but interesting story. I picked it up because I have heard of the teachers who've had affairs with students, and I couldn't imagine what was going on in their heads when they did so. I knew this was fiction, but I thought it would be interesting nonetheless. It turns out that, in many ways, this is more Barbara's story. Her bizarre obsession with Sheba and her reaction to Sheba's confessions say as much about Barbara as they do about Sheba. I don't think the book ever really answers the question from the title--What was she thinking?--and it's very predictable, but I enjoyed it for the most part. There's a lot more humor than I expected from such troublesome subject matter, too. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Dead Until Dark

by Charlaine Harris
312 pages

Sookie is just your average 25-year-old barmaid in small town Louisiana, except for one thing--she's telepathic.  This, of course, complicates her life.  Most people don't acknowledge her "gift" and just think she's crazy.  Being telepathic has certainly made dating almost impossible for Sookie, until she meets a vampire named Bill.  She can't read his mind at all, which is a joyous relief.  Unfortunately, women in the area begin to turn up dead, and Bill and Sookie's brother are the prime suspects.  Sookie soon learns that being a vampire's girlfriend can add many complications to life.  Is this budding romance worth the risk?

I have heard many good things about the Sookie Stackhouse novels, and I can see why.  Sookie's perspective is unique, and I'd like to see how this character develops.

Lunatic Cafe

by Laurell K Hamilton
369 pages

Anita Blake is now dating a Richard the Werewolf.  Along the way she gets involved in solving a string of unsolved werewolf disappearances.  She faces plenty of danger along the way, but she gives as good as she gets.  Things get a little tricky with Jean-Claude, which leads to an interesting arrangement between him and Anita.  Overall, these novels are beginning to fall into a groove as far as plot goes.  However, the romantic elements are beginning to get very complex.

I still like Anita, and I still find her funny.  I'm interested to see how her love life will play out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Break Any Woman Down" by Dana Johnson

157 pages

In this collection of short stories, Dana Johnson explores race and gender identity with honesty and often humor. Most of the stories feature women who are trying to find their own place in a world that tries to identify them by their race. There's one about a black stripper whose white boyfriend, a porn actor, insists she stop stripping. In another, and eleven-year-old girl as a crush on a white boy from Oklahoma who, like her, is an outsider in their Los Angeles school. Another story features a woman who struggles to break free of the low expectations her mother has for her. Dana Johnson does a great job of bringing these characters to life, which is difficult to do in the limited space of short stories. As with any collection, there are some stories that I liked more than others. For the most part, though, I enjoyed them all. They offer short glimpses into these women's lives, but these glimpses show aspects of their lives as a whole. 

"Bruiser" by Neal Shusterman

328 pages

When Bronte starts dating Brewster, aka Bruiser, aka Most Likely to Get the Death Penalty, her twin brother Tennyson is not pleased. In fact, he's going to do anything he can to sabotage their relationship. But when he follows Bruiser around a bit with intentions of scaring him, Tennyson discovers that there's something unusual about Bruiser. When people are around him, strange things happen to them. Tennyson totally misjudged Bruiser, but when and Bronte learn his secret they have no idea what they are getting themselves into. 

I've never read a book quite like this before. I didn't know anything about it before I picked it up, so it took me a while to figure out what was going on. The story alternates between Bronte and Tennyson's points of view, and Shusterman does a great job of differentiating between their points of view. They both feel real and I really liked both of them, and I especially liked Bruiser. The ending isn't what I expected...sort of sudden, but I liked it. Overall, a very entertaining story.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

212 pgs, 1968.

I am not ashamed to admit that even in my late 30s I am a unicorn devotee. I have always believed in unicorns and all the teasing in the world couldn't change that. As a child, The Last Unicorn was one of my favorite movies. Today it doesn't rank quite as high as newer fantasy classics, including Stardust (which if you didn't know also includes a unicorn), but it continues to be a source of pure enjoyment.

So you can imagine my delighted surprise when I came across The Last Unicorn as a book. Yes, I know, I should have known or at least suspected it was from a book or short story, but the child in my heart was content thinking the stories origins were just as magical as the subject.

Needless to say, I happily immersed myself in the unicorn's struggle to find her 'people' and overcome the power King Haggard and the Red Bull. While I don't think movie adaptations have to follow the orignial text exactly, I'm delighted that this one pretty much does. Long live the unicorns!