Sunday, August 31, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #19

Well, I thought that, with Labour Day coming up, I should quickly summarize the remaining books which I've finished since returning from my holiday. I'll be upfront about the fact that it's not much, having found myself largely occupied with other pursuits.

On the way back from Lake Huron, I finished listening to Room One by Andrew Clements. This was the first time I listened to a book rather than reading it, and the experience was interesting. Being very visual, I'm not sure that I really should listen to books for long periods while driving, as I find myself picturing the scenes with quite a bit of detail, making me wonder how much of my ocular input is making it to my brain. Obviously a fair amount must be getting there as I did not careen off the road and into a ditch, nor did I rear-end anyone at any point. Still... I also missed the interaction that one has with the printed word, being able to pace, loop and reread, or savour the text at will. The guy reading on the CDs was good at what he did, but I found his "character voices", particularly that of a teenaged Texan girl, a bit grating at first.

But about the book itself, it was alright. I quite like Andrew Clements on the whole, though I feel that he's started grinding out books a bit quickly following the deserved success of Frindle. One of my biggest beefs with Room One was the tendency to overdo the "thinking processes" of its protagonist. Readers, even young readers, are more sophisticated than authors sometimes give them credit for being, and having a writer give a step-by-step, blow-by-blow rundown of every moment in a character's realization of soemething can just be irritating. After all, we often make those realizations in a whirling rush of understanding, not as discreet steps laid out like a mathematical formula. The book's prosocial content was appreciated, though a bit rosey, at times, for me.

I've also read Bone: Volume 4 - The Dragonslayer and Bone: Volume 5 - Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border and will comment after reading all that I've got (now up to Volume 8).

I finished reading the Kidnapped trilogy and enjoyed it well enough for the light adventure for kids that it is. There are, as is to be expected, some rather far-fetched moments and certainly a twist seen a mile off (though I suspect that, were I reading it aloud to a group of kids, at least a few would gasp at the revelation, so the target audience excuses the seeming transparency). As a rule, Gordon Korman knows who his audience is and gives them what they'll enjoy.

Finally, as of this moment, I read another book for kids, Dear Dumb Diary, Let's Pretend This Never Happened (the first in the Dear Dumb Diary series. I read it because I know of some kids who have enjoyed it. Let's be honest; it's nothing special. More middle-school shenanigans written quickly and predictably, overall. Slightly more mean-spirited, perhaps, than Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I suppose that's to be expected from Jim Benton, creator of that stupid Happy Bunny nonsense.

I sort of have an inkling that I'm missing something that I've read in there, but until I stumble upon a book in my house and think, "Oh yeah! I'd forgotten about that!" I guess I'll have to leave it be.

I'm in the midst of several other reading projects (A Crime in the Neighbourhood, Through Painted Deserts, Watchmen, Interworld, the next Bone book... And will have to decide whether: (a) summer ends with Labour Day, meaning the end of Summer Reading Spectaculars as well; (b) summer ends with the advent of Autumn around September 21; or (c) whether I should just drive Sonya nuts by continuing to log my reading regardless of season. Hmmmmm. Decisions, decisions...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #18

It rained most of the day, complete with thunder and lightning, which definitely cut into my reading routine. Not only could I not set up camp at beach the once it started, but the heavy rainfall on the roof insisted that I cozy on up for a good, long afternoon nap rather than sit outside reading. Who was I to argue?

I did read one book (start to finish) before the rain started, and also read some other things at other times, so it wasn’t a complete washout. I read Marcovaldo (or The seasons of the city) by Italo Calvino, a collection of short stories centred around Marcovaldo, an unskilled labourer in 1950s and 1960s Italy, and his family over the course of twenty seasons. In some ways, the tone of its whimsical adventures reminded me of Puckoon, but with a much gentler sense of absurdity than with Milligan. I’d read The Baron in the Trees by Calvino last year; both books were gifts from my dear friend Linda.

Since I return home tomorrow, I guess that the remaining books that I’m in the midst of will be completed as part of my regular, and more limited, reading schedule. Still, I do think that it was a relatively successful week of reading, having taken at least a small bite out of the pile(s) of books on my “to read” shelves.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #17

Spaghetti Bolognese.

That's what I noticed in two books. Spaghetti Bolognese. In Prison Diary Volume 3, it gets a passing mention but is more prominent in Uglies (see below).

So, on that note, here's what I finished today.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is the first in a trilogy about a future when everyone gets extensive surgery at age 16 to become a "Pretty" and about what happens when someone doesn't want to have the surgery. It took me a little while to get into it, but in the end, I quite enjoyed it. I have the other two books on the shelf to read at my leisure.

I also finished reading Anatomy of Fear by Jonathan Santlofer. This is the fourth novel from this artist-writer and I've read them all. His books are crime thrillers centred on art-related crimes, and I've enjoyed them all. For this novel, Santlofer left behind the focal character of his previous three books and started fresh with a new protagonist, a curiously talented sketch artist named Nate Rodriguez. In this book, he also experimented with writing in first-person for scenes featuring the protagonist, while maintaining his usual third-person omniscient narrator for other scenes. I found the transition between the two narrative voices a little jarring, at time, but enjoyed the book nonetheless. Check out The Death Artist, Color Blind, and The Killing Art, too. Plus, I just discovered that he has a new book featuring Nate Rodriguez, The Murder Notebook/span>. I guess I know what I'll be reading next summer.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #16

I confess that today was a less-than-productive day when it comes to reading. For some reason I spent more time than usual napping. Hey. It is my vacation. The wind was up today, and so my time spent reading at the beach was also cut short. In the morning, the wind was rather cool, so I came back early for lunch. In the evening, the wind was quite warm, so I stayed reading for a while, but quite frankly, trying to keep my book open to the correct page was a bit challenging at times.

In any case, I did do some reading and finished one book. I read Jeffrey Archer’s A Prison Diary: Volume 1 – Hell two summers ago while here. Last year, I read Volume 2: Purgatory and now I’ve read Volume 3: Heaven. Being a fan of Archer’s novels, I have also found these rather fascinating. He is very candid about his experiences as well as his treatment while incarcerated. He comes across rather positively about most of the officers whom he encountered while in the big house (ha!) but less positively about the bureaucracy of the system.

At one point, I thought, “Funny how you can be reading completely different books at the same time and notice some little passing detail that they have in common,” but by the end I’d forgotten what it was I’d noticed. Hmmm. I should keep Post-It notes handy for such things.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular # 15

[Allow me to apologize. I got part-way through the entries from my week of holiday and got side-tracked. Now, some time later, I am finally finishing the job. I repeatedly thought of the need to finish transferring the entries from word processor into dullgloomy, but never when I was actually at the computer. I apologise. And now I bring you ... the continuation of the job long overdue!]

Today I read two books start to finish, each on completley opposite ends of the spectrum as far as content goes.

The first was Night by Elie Wiesel. The book is essentially the memoirs of the author, recounting his experiences as a teenager in Auschwitz and other death camps.

The book itself has an interesting history. Wiesel wrote a lengthy memoir in Yiddish, then rewrote a shorter version in French (La Nuit) which was translated into English as Night. What I read was a new translation by his wife.

Almost anything I can say about the book will seem trite. Suffice it to say that I recommend the book to help those of us, so far removed in our daily lives from the events and tragedies of World War II, to understand, in some limited way, those realities. 'Nuff said.

Then I read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney. You might recall that I have already commented on the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid (see Summer Reading Spectacular # 7.5). This volume is more of the same. While a bit more limited in narrative scope than the first (with a noticeably shallower arc in the plot), it is essentially a mildly amusing little light reading that kids, again, will enjoy.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #14

It was a busy day for reading!

First, I completed the first book in the Kidnapped trilogy, “Abduction”. Those of you of a certain age will likely know Gordon Korman (who has been discussed here before) for his light and amusing novels full of quirky, rambunctious characters up to various goofy shenanigans. (Favourites include No Coins Please, I Want to Go Home, and Go Jump In the Pool!) What you may or may not know is that he has, in recent years, also become known among the junior set for his adventure series, little thrillers just right for that 9 to 14 year-old audience.

The Island trilogy follows a group of kids who get stranded on ... you guessed it, an island.
The Everest trilogy follows a group of kids who have adventures while climbing ... you guessed it, Everest.
The On the Run series (of six books) follows a pair of kids who are ... you guessed it, on the run.
The Dive trilogy follows a group of kids having adventures ... you guessed it, in the ocean.

In any case, Kidnapped, is a follow-up to On the Run, taking the family from the previous series on a new adventure when one of the kids is ... you guessed it! KIDNAPPED!

I won’t comment much until I finish the other two books in the trilogy. Suffice it to say that Korman knows his audience. So far this adventure, like those before it, have enough plot twists and dangerous scenarios to keep the junior audience excited and interested, but not so much complexity that they’ll feel bogged down or overwhelmed by details and content.

Secondly, I finished reading The Ottoman Cage, by Barbara Nadel, an author new to me. A crime thriller type of story set in Istanbul, it actually made me want to visit the city. The author, who apparently has spent plenty of time in Turkey, wove the history, culture, and classes of Istanbul deeply into every page of the story, with characters whose backstories are surprisingly fleshed-out while somehow not feeling like “add-ons” to her plot. The book was previously published as A Chemical Prison, which still appears on the top of every inside page, oddly enough. Although that title does make sense, The Ottoman Cage is, in my humble opinion, a much better title -- both more engaging and more variously applicable to themes and symbols within the book. I believe I will search out her first novel, Belshazzar’s Daughter, which shares setting and characters with this book, to enjoy at a later date.

Later, I started and finished Snap by Alison McGhee, a short novel about a girl who attempts to organize her life with lists and elastic bands and who struggles with her fears and feelings when her closest friend learns that her grandmother is dying. (I do not envy those people who have to encapsulate the story or theme of a book for dust jackets and the like.)

Finally, I read Bone: Book Three – Eyes of the Storm.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #13

Started and finished Bone: Book 2 - The Great Cow Race while continuing some reads and starting another.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Summer Reading Spectacular #12

Having started it the other day, I finished reading Cynthia Lord’s Rules, a short novel for young people about a girl coping with her own developing identity in the shadow of her autistic brother. The author has an autistic child and portrayed her characters with an authenticity which I could recognize, having worked with children with autism and communication disorders in the past. The book has received both the Newbery Honor and the Schneider Family Book Award. Going in, I worried about the possibility of the protagonist, Catherine, coming across as a self-pitying whiner, and there are elements of that, but she seems as though she comes by it honestly as a girl her age, so to speak, and not as an author’s two-dimensional fabrication. I also thought Lord’s handling of Jason, a wheelchair bound boy who communicates with a binder of word cards, and the development of his complicated friendship with Catherine to be simply and honestly explored.

I also read Bone: Book 1 - Out From Boneville by Jeff Smith. Since this is the first in a series of graphic novels, I won’t comment on each, but will acknowledge each as I finish it. Though there will be nine books in all, seven are currently in my possession, so I will comment on the seven as a whole (unless the eighth is out and I’ve got it by the time I finish).