Saturday, November 24, 2012

"The Book of Jonas" by Stephen Dau

272 pages

Jonas is only fifteen when is family, and basically everyone he has ever known, is killed during a US military operation in an unnamed country in the Middle East. With the help of an international relief organization, he eventually finds himself living with a foster family in Pennsylvania. Naturally, he has some major trouble assimilating to American culture and dealing with what happened in his home country. Over time, he begins telling his court-appointed counselor about a US soldier named Christopher who saved his life the night his village was destroyed. Meanwhile, Christopher's mother, Rose, has dedicated her life to finding out what really happened to her son, who disappeared after the encounter in Jonas' village. When Jonas and Rose finally meet, something that has long been buried in Jonas' past begins to make its way to the surface, building to a shocking conclusion. 

This is a truly stunning debut novel. It haunted me for days after I finished it, and it's one of those that I don't think I will ever forget. The Book of Jonas raises some intense questions about war and the consequences of violence without demonizing either side. I like that both Jonas and Rose's perspectives are shared--and we get glimpses of Chris's through his diary--because it gives a more well-rounded view of a bad situation that destroys lives from all sides. This story also made me think about how subjective and fragile our memories are, and how two people or groups of people can see and remember the same event very differently. This reality means that we have imperfect perspectives of both history and current events, which is something I don't usually think about very much. On top of all this great food for thought, I also just enjoyed this story in itself. I like the way it is written in very short chapters, both because it seems to fit Jonas' fractured state of mind and because I simply get more sucked into books that are broken into small parts. The suspense builds nicely right up to the last page, and the conclusion isn't too neatly wrapped up--which would feel false--but it is still satisfying. Dau is definitely an author to watch.  

"Alice on Board (Alice #24)" by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

288 pages

It's the last summer before college and Alice is determined to have one last adventure with her friends before everyone goes their separate ways. When they see that a Chesapeake Bay cruise ship is hiring maids and servers, they see the perfect opportunity to party and make money before heading out into the world. Alice, Pam, Elizabeth, Gwen, and Yolanda all sign up. But it turns out that the perfect summer job isn't so perfect. Angry customers, crazy weather, and seasickness are nothing, though, compared to the anxiety Alice feels over being separated from Patrick all summer, as he's got an internship in Europe. As Alice looks out into her wide-open future, she realizes that everything is about to change.

I just keep reading the Alice books, but I think they are getting worse. I adored the early titles in the series, and I've reread some of them recently and still loved them. This leads me to conclude that PRN is just better at writing for younger girls than teenagers. I think she's had some trouble keeping up with the times--all the texts are written like emails, for example--and the characters' vocabulary seems more fitting of tweens than seniors in high school. The plot of this one is fairly uneventful and predictable. Still, I'm going to finish the series simply for loyalty. Alice felt like a dear friend when I was in middle school, so I've got to find out how her life turns out. Word on the street is that the next Alice book will be the last and will cover Alice's life from age 18 to....60. That's right, 60. We'll see how that works out. I hope PRN rebounds and finishes strong for the series conclusion. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Sacre Blue: A Comedy d'Art" by Christopher Moore

403 pages

In July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. At least, that's the official word. But Vincent’s friends, baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and the dapper Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, have their doubts. Their friend had been doing so well, finally seeming to overcome the demons that plagued him for most of his life. And, if he wanted to die, why did he drag himself for miles to find help after being shot? And, most interestingly, who was the crooked little “color man” Vincent claimed was stalking him across France . . . and why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue? Lucien and Henri are determined to answer these questions, but their quest turns out to be as dangerous as it is hilarious. 

This is definitely not my favorite Christopher Moore title, but I did enjoy it quite a bit. I had trouble following it at times, particularly all the flashbacks and geographic running around. Also, I'm just not very familiar with art history (shame) so I probably didn't even recognize some of the names that I should have. Still, this book still cracked me up in typical Christopher Moore fashion. There's all the laugh-out-loud ridiculousness that I know and love. Moore is definitely a love him or hate him kind of author, and this book falls right in line with his usual stuff.  If you didn't like his other books you probably won't like this one, but his usual fans will not be disappointed. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Late for School

by Steve Martin                  Illustrated by C.F. Payne           32 p.

          Steve Martin's picture book is very cute and comes with a CD of a cute bluegrass-ish song version of it. The illustrations are good too.


Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody mystery #1)

by Elizabeth Peters  262 p.

             I do not really read genre books much, but I rather enjoyed this mystery. The mystery itself was not my favorite part. What I really liked were the characters, especially Amelia Peabody. She's a headstrong spinster who is smart, pragmatic, and intellectually curious. I also like the setting of Victorian period England, Italy, and Egypt, right when archaeology was taking off with the pyramids.  I definitely am going to read the second book.



by Rebecca Harrington  274 p.

          This is a novel of a socially awkward and disconnected young woman starting her freshman year at Harvard. Her inability to read in to people's motives, her passivity, and her wanting to follow her mother's instruction to make friends can make some funny happenings. Her mother and her mother's suggestions to Penny on how to make friends, get a boyfriend, and other odd ideas are very funny. The first half of this book was one of the funniest things I've read ever. Then the second half was not particularly funny, but was a good description of a first year in college, especially the confusion and new social situations.