Tuesday, June 25, 2013


I didn't love Faye's first novel (Dust and Shadow), but I loved this one. Set in NYC in 1845, when the first police force was being created and the potato famine is driving the Irish to NYC in droves, newly-minted Inspector Timothy Wilde finds himself investigating a sordid crime that seems to be motivated by anti-Catholic sentiment. Faye knows her history and crafts her secondary characters really, really well--they're all odd and interesting and "round." Wilde's voice is clear, sharp, original. Totally enjoyable. : )

Monday, June 24, 2013

Marie Lu, LEGEND

Another post-apocalyptic in America YA. I really wanted to like it, but I felt a lot of it was material I'd seen before: a plague, a chase through sewers (the author says she took her inspiration partly from Les Mis, but it's a significant part of the third book of Hunger Games too), an annual Trial of the adolescents, a Trial Stadium, a fierce desire by the boy to save his younger sibling, a love-story triangle. Maybe there's simply too much post-apoc YA out there right now for anything to feel truly original. It's told in alternating viewpoints, a boy and a girl, and they are both beautiful, both exceptional in every way, the only two who scored perfectly in the Trial; they are pitted against the villain Commander Jameson, who is evil through-and-through, with a teenage sense of sarcastic humor. She "smiles again and snaps her fingers at the soldiers behind her. 'Believe me when I say I would love to stay and chat with you, but I have a training suession to lead.'" My teen daughter loved this book, as well as the next (Prodigy).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


A debut YA that has a lot good about it, including real teen tragedy, sincere feeling (particularly the painful unrequited love, owww, those stories always get to me) and some nice writing; but overall it felt somewhat incompletely conceived. Maybe I felt put off because the cover jacket says the story is about "Tim Macbeth"--but the first chapter, and the real-time frame story, is actually about (and focalized through) Duncan, who listens to a collection of CDs that Tim, a senior last year at this boarding school outside NYC, left him, and which narrate events from the previous year. (Jay Ascher handled this narrative strategy better in 13 REASONS WHY.) This is really a "twinned story," with Duncan (now a senior) in a faintly parallel position to Tim's of the previous year. Tim obsesses over Vanessa; Duncan likes Daisy. Tim is an outsider at the school partly because he's albino; Duncan is an outsider just because he's not all that popular. I like "twinned" stories, and these two were different enough and yet like enough that it could have worked. But the set-up is a bit overwrought--the coincidence of Duncan getting Tim's room, Duncan's (strangely) deep anxiety about getting the room, his compulsion to listen to Tim's story, his secrecy about it which leads to (unnecessary and quickly resolved) misunderstandings with Daisy. And I guess I wish Duncan's story felt like the primary one, and that what he learns from Tim resonated more meaningfully, and over more chapters. That said, I think this author has teenage voices down and understands their concerns; I would give a second book by her a try.

Monday, June 17, 2013


A really interesting, well-researched book, similar in tone and theme to a Malcolm Gladwell, maybe slightly more academic. Cain draws together research from across decades and disciplines to talk about how Western culture (particularly America) tends to value the extrovert and undervalue the introvert's skills. She situates this trend historically and then draws on all kinds of anecdotes to show that introverts actually tend to have better and smarter ideas but present them quietly, which means they are often not taken seriously. She is a self-confessed introvert, and sometimes the extroverts in this book come across as a bunch of carousing, quick-draw, results-oriented yahoos. (Early on, she describes going to a Tony Robbins seminar. I have to admit, I went to a TR seminar once for work, back when I was about 23, and I too was a little freaked out by these people jumping around cheering.) I am often wary of binary categories (maybe because I am exactly split Extrovert/Iintrovert on Meyers Briggs?) and I think most people I know believe that these things exist on a continuum. But Cain nuances the categories productively, in several different ways. She also has a chapter on helping your introverted child thrive, which I appreciated.
Has anyone else read this yet? Would love to hear how this book felt to someone who is a real extrovert or a real introvert ... being a fence-sitter myself ...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Elizabeth Wein, CODE NAME VERITY

It won the Printz Award for YA fiction (like another favorite of mine, A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly), but this is a crossover novel, a good read for adults too, about two girls who take part in WWII: Maddie, Jewish granddaughter of an English bike-shop owner who knows how to fly a plane, and Julia, Scot aristocracy, who knows three languages and becomes a spy. In October of 1943, Maddie is flying Julia into France when the plane is hit, and Julia is taken by the Gestapo for interrogation. Wonderfully well done, beautifully written, first from Julia's perspective, then from Maddie's. My only gripe is that despite their class and ethnic differences, the two voices sound very similar--down to the ALL CAPS they use for emphasis. But the story is absolutely amazing, all the way to the last bit. Would definitely recommend.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Peter Heller, THE DOG STARS

Hunger Games for grown-ups, recommended by my friend Evan. In a post-apocalyptic universe, where most people have died of the flu, Hig (who pilots a Cessna) and his dog (co-pilot) coexist uneasily with an angry, gun-obsessed neighbor. But one day, when Hig is out flying, he hears a voice on the radio from beyond their little realm--and he takes off to look for what's Out There. It's told first-person, and Hig's voice is a bit difficult to adjust to at first; he drops pronouns, scatters references, abbreviates phrases, which I think is Heller's way of reminding us that language is community property; when the community vanishes, language begins to go as well. But the language is also, at times, lovely. (Heller is a poet.) Like here: "I set down the pack and breathed the smell of running water, of cold stone, of fir and spruce, like the sachets my mother used to keep in a sock drawer. I breathed and thanked something that was not exactly God, something that was still here." I think I have to be done with post-apocalyptic books for a while (not exactly hammock summer fare, as another friend would say), but this was a good one.


A very well written memoir by a woman whose mother left a horrifying family situation in South Africa to recraft a life for herself in London. The mother Paula said nothing to the author Emma for many years about what she endured in Africa, and after her mother's deaht, Emma, who is a journalist by trade, spent months digging up records and interviewing family to find out what had happened there and why her mother bequeathed her a gun. Compassionate, thoughtful, and productively messy, his book raises all sorts of questions about what it means to protect your child--either with silence(because some stories just should not be told to children) or by making conscious choices not to do what your parents did; and about when exploring the past crosses the line from enlightening to exhausting. The preface opens: "My grandmother thought she  was marrying someone vibrant and exciting, a man with wavy hair and tremendous energy. He was a talented carpenter, a talented artist, a convicted murderer, and a very bad poet."