Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I usually love historical murder mysteries, but for some reason I just couldn't connect to this one. It's set in 16th-century Japan, and while the author has clearly researched the period and included some curious and interesting details, I didn't feel a sense of otherness, of "atmosphere." Maybe it's phrases like, "he did all he could to discourage the foolish crush." After page 100, I found myself skipping passages and pages. I didn't much care about Hiro (the detective) or the Portugese priest. They're out to prove the innocence of a girl in the teahouse, but I didn't understand why the victim's family assumed she'd done it when there were other people in and out of the teahouse that night. I also don't tend to like books that have a cliff-hanger  ending most of the chapters, and this one does. "He had almost reached the shadowed space when a voice yelled, 'Help! Murder!'" But this novel gets 4 stars on Goodreads, so I may very well be an outlier here. : )

Monday, October 14, 2013

A C Gaughen, SCARLET

A fun YA about a girl who cross-dresses as Will Scarlet to escape her past. My teenage daughter loved it--partly because this girl is no simpering ninny, but a daring thief who's proficient at knife-throwing and rock-climbing. Truthfully, I felt the plot relied too heavily for its drive on the romance between Scarlet and Robin Hood, and Scarlet is amazingly obtuse about Robin's feelings toward her. The author could have done more with the evil Sheriff of Nottingham plot. But I liked the voice--it's different, spunky, has an edge and some humor. A good read!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

John L. Parker, Jr., ONCE A RUNNER

Not a book I would've picked up on my own; it was given to me by my cousin Mike, who is an avid runner himself. But I liked this one. The voice is not one I've heard before--very masculine, at times awkward, skittish, like the author is trying to put his feet down lightly. It feels appropriate for the voice of Quentin Cassidy, a college runner at a fictional university, who aims at running the mile in under 4 minutes. But the politics at his college intervene, and he finds himself without a college and without even an identity as a runner. But running is a solitary, extreme endeavor ... and with the help of a mentor, he finds his way back to the track. Some of my favorite lines: "He braked his wildly skittering heart."About running, to his sometimes girlfriend Andrea: "the thing itself is the absence of compromise. There are no ... deals available. I wish there was some way to explain that. The thing ... doesn't dilute.""And fate, of course, swings to and fro on tiny hinges; a cable is misplaced and a king assassinated; a vacuum tube blinks and a ship is lost with all hands; a general fails to get laid and thousands are firebombed ..."

Michael Northrop, TRAPPED

YA about a group of seven students trapped inside a school during a blizzard. As the snow climbs higher and higher, tensions and troubles escalate. Stories of sequestered teens often remind me of The Breakfast Club (anybody remember that movie? Molly and Judd and the earring?), though this book is life-and-death, the way so much YA is now. Sometimes I wish more books generated their raw emotional power by way of the interactions among the characters.

Amy Fellner Dominy, OYMG

I read this debut YA last year, after meeting the (friendly and funny!) author at a local writing conference, and just reread it. A Jewish girl goes to a debate camp located in a Christian school. There's prayer and Jesus ... but there's also a really cute boy named Devon and a scholarship at stake. The book traces Ellie's journey from being able to debate any side of a question to finding her true voice and figuring out what she really needs and wants to say. Charming, heart-felt, funny.


The title is taken from Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena" speech; the book is about vulnerability and the power we can find when we fess up to our fears and challenges without numbing ourselves to the anxiety they can create, or defaulting to "coping strategies" like perfectionism, which, as she points out, is a hustle. She explores differences in the way that shame feels to men and women; describes a practice that she calls "Wholehearted parenting;" and even discusses (my own personal soapbox) the cruelty that attends binary (Viking/victim) thinking. (She even brings up Derrida!) I liked this book--found it inspiring, thought-provoking, big-hearted, compassionate--and will look for her others. Thanks to my friend Nicole for sending me this one!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


I'm a sucker for all things Victorian YA, so I picked this up. Molly Fraser, age 16, is kicked out of her position as a servant in a wealthy household and, based on her experience of laying her cool hands on a dying girl's neck, decides she wants to be a nurse and applies to be included in Nightingale's nurses headed to the Crimean War. There she befriends Emma, a former prostitute. Molly falls sort of in love with a doctor, but remembers fondly young Will who was a valet in her former household. The cover asks, "Can a young nurse's love survive war?" But a love triangle (sketched lightly) just isn't as compelling, to me, as some interesting plot elements that could have come naturally to a book set in a war zone. I liked the research, though, particularly the parts about Mother Seacole, the Jamaican who set up as a nurse separately from Nightingale.