Flashback August 2009

And now, a look back at what I reviewed in August 2009:

Julie & Julia : 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell. Little Brown, 2005. Paperback edition renamed Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. From my review: “I really enjoyed Powell’s memoir; what led her to start cooking Julia Child’s book, and to blog about it. Thankfully, Powell never calls what she was going through as any type of “life crisis” (seriously, one of my pet peeves is the whole quarter life crisis etc.) What she is going through is something that is not so uncommon: feeling adrift in your own life. We live in such a driven culture, where the young achiever and go-getter is the one who is given prestige and honor, that we need reminders: not everyone knows what they want to be, and goes for it, at age 14. Or 18. Or 21. Or 25. Or, for that matter, at 35, 40, 45. Or, people may know what they want — and life happens and they, wait for it, change their mind. But because, again, we’re in a culture that demands you know, at every moment, your endgame, the idea that someone doesn’t know is viewed as wrong. The idea that what one wants may change is viewed as negative. . . . But it’s not just twentysomething Powell that this is about — it’s not just Powell reinventing herself as a writer. It’s also about Child, who reinvented herself as cook and writer in her 30s and 40s.”

The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale. Bloomsbury USA. 2009. From my review: “Becky Jack is sitting in a Hollywood office, selling her screenplay to a producer. Who would have thunk it! Becky, a Mormon housewife, seven months pregnant, happily married to Mike, three young kids at home, in Hollywood. It’s surreal. And gets more odd when Felix Callahan — yes THAT Felix Callahan, the totally hot A list British actor married to a French model — walks into her meeting. One comment leads to another and the next thing you know, Becky and Felix are…. friends?!? . . . .  What IS this book about? Friendship. Pure, simple, complicated, teasing, flirting, friendship. When can a married woman and a married man who are NOT married to each other be friends? The type of BFFs when just thinking about the other person makes you smile? With shared jokes and banter and giggles?

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles. Walker & Co. 2009. From my review: “Brittany Ellis. White, rich, all the latest clothes, a brand new car. Alejandro “Alex” Fuentes, Mexican, member of the Latino Blood gang. A chemistry teacher who insists on alphabetical order makes these opposites chemistry partners; but will opposites attract? Perfect chemistry? Try perfect romance instead!”

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. Little, Brown. 2009. From my review: “Meet Terra Cooper. She could be such a pretty girl… Tall, but not too tall. Ballerina’s legs. Platinum blonde (natural). So pretty… If it weren’t for the port wine birthmark on her cheek. She is flawed. The best she can do is hide behind heavy makeup; medical treatments have not worked. She wants to escape… Escape the small town where everyone knows what her face really looks like. Escape her controlling father and doormat mother. Escape herself. Escape is in slow steps, at first. Her artwork. Hoping to go to college far away. A secret trip to Seattle for one more attempt to treat her birthmark. CRASH. And a fender bender in a parking lot, that leads to meeting Jacob. An Asian Goth. And things start changing, faster and faster. North of beautiful is a place that isn’t beautiful, but has it’s own beauty.”

The Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda. Disney Hyperion Books. 2009. From my review: “Billi SanGreal has been raised to be a Knight Templar. No, it’s not hundreds of years ago. It’s present day London, and her father Arthur leads a small band of dedicated knights in fighting evil: vampires, werewolves, ghosts. Things are about to be kicked up a notch. No, it’s not that she’s being made a knight at age 15. No, it’s not she actually met a cute guy, Mike, who likes her. No, it’s not that her childhood best friend Kay (and kinda crush and psychic Oracle) has returned from studying in Jerusalem. Quite simply, hell is being raised and an Archangel is plotting to get in God’s good grace by killing a lot of people. It’s up to Billi to stop him. Or die trying. . . . Billi Sangreal is tough cookie because she’s been raised that way. Her mother, Jamila, died when she was five; at ten, she began training to be a knight as if she were a grown man. Her father didn’t pull any punches, literally, in the training she undergoes. It makes her tough, but also oddly sheltered because she’s had little time to interact with her peers or to do anything for herself that is, you know, fun.

Living On Impulse by Cara Haycak. Dutton Books, a member of Penguin. 2009. From my review: “Mia Morrow, 15, is doing what she’s done many times before. Shoplifting. Except this time, she’s been caught. Usually, the “getting caught shoplifting” is the start of the main character’s redemption. Here, well, yes, Mia gets caught, is grounded by her mother, and has to get a job to pay restitution to the store. . . . Mia isn’t mean; she is, as the book states, impulsive, thinking first, acting later. She doesn’t mean to hurt others; yet she does, and also hurts herself. And, as the story unfolds, so, too, does the realization that she shares this trait with her mother. There is no one thing that changes Mia – or, rather, there is no one thing that inspires Mia to change herself. Instead, the reader learns more about her, her mother, her grandfather. If anything, as the external things in Mia’s life spin out of her control (her grandfather is dying; her mother’s hidden drinking is now out in the open), she begins to think about her own actions, the things in her life she can control. What results is a believable story about a realistic character.”

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline WinspearSoho Press 2003 (Hardcover) Penguin Books 2004 (Paperback). Reviewed from audiobook. From my review: “1929. Maisie Dobbs opens up her own London office as a Private Investigator. Her first client — someone who wants to find out if his wife is cheating on him. Maisie, thinking of her education, background, and training, internally sighs at how mundane this is but takes the case. Nothing is what it appears to be, however. Maisie is not an upper class woman, despite her accent, bearing and education; and this, her first solo case, is about people and a country haunted by the Great War. . . .  Maisie’s backstory is fascinating; and the Great War shadows everything. It matures Maisie; and it changes the society she lives in. Her Downstairs/Upstairs background, combined with her own war experiences, and her education and training, create a uniquely talented investigator with great insights into motivation.

Going Bovine by Libba BrayRandom House. 2009. From my review: “Sixteen year old Cameron Smith is just another slacker at his Texas high school. Until he gets diagnosed with Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (aka mad cow disease), starts seeing angels, and ends up on a road trip to DisneyWorld with a dwarf, a yard gnome, and an angel. . . . .  Like Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde, Bray throws out casual one-liners that are just fantastic; the book is so full of wry observances and over-the-top humor that I’m sure I missed half of what was there. This book demands a reread.

Hate List by Jennifer Brown. Little Brown. 2009. From my review: “On May 2, 2008, Valerie Leftman, a high school junior, got off the bus in a bad mood because Christy Bruter had once again tormented her on the bus and then broken her MP3 player. She complains to her boyfriend, Nick Levil, who says he’ll take care of it. Val thinks Nick is going to yell at Christy, give Christy a hard time, maybe — just maybe– do something more. Val doesn’t think Nick is going to pull out a gun and shoot Christy. And then turn the gun on the other kids and teachers in the High School — people whose name appears on Val & Nick’s “Hate List.” Val ends up being one of people shot right before Nick turns the gun on himself. Months later, school has begun, and Val is returning to school. And whispers. Is she a hero who stopped Nick from killing more people? Or is she a villain who helped plan the shooting?”

Mare’s War by Tanita S. DavisKnopf Book for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House. 2009. From my review: “All teenage sisters want to spend their summer driving cross country to a family reunion with their grandmother, right? Wrong. Octavia and her older sister, Tali, are stuck in a car with their grandmother (who prefers to be called Mare, by the way.) There’s a thing or two or three they are about to learn, about their grandmother, about life, about each other. The classic road trip story is tweaked a little bit, bringing in grandmother. So instead of wild and crazy times, it’s a journey of discovery. Mare (Marey Lee Boylen)’s story of her teenage years takes her from Alabama to England; because when Mare was a teenager, she ran away from home and joined the Army. No, really; Mare ends up in the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, an all-African American, all-female unit, part of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).”

Betsy: The High School YearsHeaven to Betsy (1945), Betsy in Spite of Herself (1946)Betsy Was a Junior (1947), Betsy and Joe (1948) by Maud Hart Lovelace. From my review: “Betsy Ray’s high school years, from 1906 to graduation in 1910. I continue to love everything about this series. Betsy is hysterical; I love how she affects a stoop, er, droop, because she thinks it makes her look alluring. I love how Betsy isn’t a star student in every subject; realistically, she shines in some areas, not so much in others. I love how Betsy is obsessed with boys; and to any modern parent shaking their head, thinking that is a modern concern, reread Heaven to Betsy. Betsy may think of most of the boys she knows as just friends, but she still wants them to walk her to and from parties and to come calling at her house. She yearns for a boyfriend — cries over it, even.”

Betsy Tacy Books, 1 – 4Betsy-Tacy (1940)Betsy-Tacy and Tib (1941)Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill (1942) and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (1943) by Maud Hart Lovelace. From my review: “Betsy Ray wants a friend; Tacy Kelly moves in across the street. At first it seems like they won’t become friends. But, it turns out, Tacy is simply shy and a friendship forms during Betsy’s fifth birthday that will last a lifetime and inspire the well loved Betsy-Tacy books. At the end of the first book, Tib Muller moves to town, and the three girls achieve a perfect triangle of friendship. These four books follow the friendship of the three girls up to age twelve. . . . . Betsy, Tacy and Tib age and grow. Lovelace perfectly captures the mindset of the children at each age, and doesn’t allow a grown ups view to pollute it. In the first book, Tacy’s baby sister dies. Betsy comforts her friend, awkwardly yet touchingly, as a five year old would. Later, Betsy gets a new baby sister, Margaret. Betsy sobs that she is no longer the baby; it is Betsy who is more troubled, and heartbroken, over the loss of her status as the baby of the family than either girl is over the death of Tacy’s baby sister. (Admittedly, this is all through Betsy’s POV. But point remains. Betsy’s grief over her loss of status is greater than her grief over the death of a baby). Tacy explains, matter of factly, how that is something that just happens; one moment you’re the baby, then you aren’t, life goes on. And what is great is that yes, to a child, no longer being “the baby” is horrible. It’s an entire shift in a child’s world and in their identity. In a way — to that child it is much more horrible than the death of a friend’s actual baby sister, who you didn’t really know anyway. Is that cold? Selfish? Self involved? Yes; but that is childhood. And Lovelace doesn’t let her own adult views (and losses; her first child died as an infant) cloud the baby’s death with sentimentality.”

crazy beautiful by Lauren Baratz-LogstedHoughton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group. 2009. From my review: “Two teens, strangers to each other, starting at a new high school. For Aurora, it’s welcoming, all the kids like her, she doesn’t have to worry about who to sit with at lunch. For Lucius, not so much. Not that he really cares; but the kids who say “hi” to Aurora shun Lucius. What’s the difference? Is it that Aurora looks for the good in people? Is it that she is beautiful? Dresses perfectly? Is it that Lucius has hooks for hands? Oh. Yeah. Did I mention — Lucius blew his arms off. But when wounded, isolated Lucius sees beautiful, sweet Aurora; and Aurora looks into Lucius’s eyes; sparks fly. He’s crazy, she’s beautiful, can they wind up together?”

Candor by Pam BachorzEgmont USA. 2009. From my review: “Candor is the perfect town, filled with perfect people and perfect teens. It’s the perfect place to live! How to achieve that perfection? Oh, it’s harmless. Just subliminal messages, fed to you and your teens through music. The music that is always in the background. Is your son overweight and friendless? Fixable. Your daughter a mean girl who bullies others? Fixable. Your daughter prefers art to science? Fixable. Oscar Banks is the son of the town’s founder. And Oscar knows about the Messages. And has figured out how to fight them. To fight being controlled. And he uses his powers for good — for a slight price. OK, not so slight. A new teen in town who has their own bank account? For a fee, he helps them fight the Messages and helps them escape Candor. When Nia moves to town, he makes a mistake. He falls in love with her. If she falls under control of the Messages, he loses her; but if she escapes, he loses her.”

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