Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The great American pastime

With the World Series suspended because of rain (I heard that on the Today show this morning), I've been remembering my baseball past. As a teenager, I lived and died with the Minnesota Twins. My best friend and I were passionate followers of the game--my poor parents had to listen to games late into the night during the summer because I hated to close my bedroom door at night...they learned to sleep through a lot of things. When I went off to college, I discovered basketball and hockey, baseball became a part of my past.

I've always enjoyed reading about baseball. Starting in high school with the naughty Ball Four by Jim Bouton which made me look at the New York Yankees with new and somewhat suspicious eyes. My favorite baseball books are all about one team: the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s. I wish I could have seen them play.

The first book was The boys of summer by Roger Kahn, a sportswriter of some repute. He wrote so lovingly of his Dodgers: Jackie Robinson, Duke Snyder, Gil Hodges, PeeWee Reese and, my favorite, Roy Campanella. They became so real to me and I could almost taste the popcorn, feel the breeze blowing across the field, sense the excitement of the crowd as they cheered for "dem bums" every frustrating year without a World Series pennant.

Many years later, Kahn wrote Memories of summer: when baseball was an art and writing about it a game: a memoir. The book is about his lifetime involvement with baseball as a fan, a copyboy and, eventually, a sportswriter. I most remember the fond description of his dad who introduced him to baseball and took him to see many games over the years.

Finally, there is Wait until next year by Doris Kearns Goodwin, the noted historian. She grew up fanatically devoted to the Dodgers, as was every other child and adult in her world. I laughed until I cried when she wrote of going to confession and asking the priest for forgiveness for wishing bodily harm on the opposing team (I think it was a Yankee pitcher she wished a broken arm on). She is still a devoted baseball fan but has switched her allegiance to the Boston Red Sox.

Now, I'm a fair weather baseball fan, only cheering on the Twins when they are pennant- or World Series-bound but I still love to curl up with a good baseball book.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

a touch of history

I absolutely love historical fiction. Sometimes I get so tired of my own times (who wouldn't?) that I take refuge in times gone by. These are a few of my favorites...

Catherine, called Birdy by Karen Cushman

In medieval England, 14 year old Catherine, nicknamed Birdy, has reached the age where she should be married. In her extremely honest (and very witty) diary, Birdy describes all of the less-than-desirable suitors as well as her daily life.
I felt that my best friend had gone away when I finished this book. It inspired me to make a medieval costume for Halloween (I was too shy to trick-or-treat as a child and very rarely dressed up so it's quite fun to do it as a grown up), complete with a ribbon adorned donut headpiece and tie-on sleeves.

The ornament tree by Jean Thesman

In 1918, Bonnie's mother has died and she is sent to live with elderly cousins who run a boardinghouse for gentlemen in Seattle. The war has just ended, a labor strike threatens the city and the flu epidemic is threatening.
Eccentric yet very appealing characters and a warmly told story. Very appealing.

A long way from Chicago by Richard Peck

Joey and Mary Alice live in the Chicago of Al Capone but every summer, they visit their Grandma Dowdel in a small village in the country.
Grandma Dowdel is my grandma--tough as nails and a little larger than life. Very funny.

Shades of grey by Carolyn Reeder

Orphaned Will, used to living in luxury, is sent to live with his aunt and uncle, who labor on a small farm during the Civil War. Will's uncle won't choose sides in the war which make Will think that he is a coward. Grudgingly, he comes to respect the man who teaches him that labor is honorable and so is fairness.
The Civil War has always fascinated me and this story of the average man provides a different viewpoint than the end of the southern belle and plantation life.

A murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner

In the England of Elizabeth I, Alice witnesses the murder of her father. To protect her from the murderers who soon come looking for her, Alice's friends disguise her as a boy attending a choir school at York Minster.
My favorite place in the whole world is a black tile square under the arch in front of the Five Sisters, a grisaille-glass window in York Minster! And Elizabeth's England--it doesn't get any better than that.

A proud taste for scarlet and miniver by E.L. Konigsburg

For 800 years, Eleanor of Aquitaine has been in heaven, waiting for the arrival of her husband, King Henry II of England. At long last, the day has arrived when he will be judged worthy (or unworthy?) to enter heaven.
Eleanor is one of my favorite historical figures: outspoken, opinionated and intelligent. She and Henry spent most of their married life disagreeing with each other.

Linnets and valerians by Elizabeth Goudge

The Linnets, four orphaned children, live with their mean and nasty grandmother. They run away, eventually coming to rest with the eccentric Lady Alicia who has "lost" her family. The children decide it is their job to find them to repay Lady Alicia for her kindness.
England early in the 20th century, a warm cozy story and resourceful children who are charming and endearing. Again, I felt like my best friends had left me behind when I finished this book.

The Ramsay Scallop by Frances Temple.

Eleanor of Ramsay is 14 and soon to be married. She and her fiance Thomas, who has just returned from the Crusades, set out on a pilgrimage to Spain. They endure hardships, meet a host of people from all parts of Europe and learn a lot about themselves and each other.
Frances Temple was destined to become a staple in my reading but died after writing a very few books. Thank goodness, this book is one of them.

Spend a little time in the past. A cozy blanket and a mug of hot chocolate and a good book...sounds like the perfect evening to me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I just have to tell you about this book!

Every once in a great while, a book comes along that is so new, so creative, so different and so much fun to read. Middle School is worse than meatloaf: a year through stuff by Jennifer L. Holm, pictures by Elicia Castaldi is told entirely through stuff. Ginny is in her first year of middle school, trying to adjust to her mother remarrying, baby sitting to earn money (it never happens!) and suffering through bad hair days (naturally on school picture day), losing the lead in a ballet and just living each day. The story has no narrative but is told through notes, bank deposit slips, newspaper clippings, hall passes and all the other little things that figure in the life of a seventh grade student.
Warm, funny, painful and all-too-true and completely enjoyable. It should be required reading for every girl heading off to middle school in the fall!

Let's hear it for the girls (encore)

The boys have had their turn, now it is time for the girls! These books have a strong female main character. Some are just plain feisty and original, some are physically strong, some are clever but they all will provide hours of reading entertainment. (Note: it was really hard to find contemporary fiction with strong girl characters since many of the books set in modern times are concerned with clothes, boys, shopping...chick lit (to use a term I really hate).)

I, Coriander by Sally Gardner

In 17th century London, Coriander lives with her father since her mother died. One day, a pair of beautiful silver shoes appear which give Coriander the power to travel to another land which is quite magical.

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison

Gilda, attired in vintage clothes and fiercely attached to an old manual typewriter, is convinced that she has special psychic abilities which help her to communicate with the dead and solve deep mysteries. Things aren't quite the way Gilda thinks they are. (two sequels, so far)

Pirate curse by Kay Meyer

Raised by a much-adored pirate captain, Jolly is a pollywog: she can walk on water. When the pirate's ship is attacked and destroyed, Jolly sets out to find the captain but is waylaid by a budding friendship with another pollywog, pirates, strange creatures from the deep and a mysterious trader. (first of The Wave Walkers trilogy)

The true confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

"Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty."
Proper schoolgirl Charlotte is sailing to America to join her family when the ship's crew mutinies.

Alanna: the first adventure by Tamora Pierce

Disguised as a boy, Alanna is off to school to learn to be a knight, a very unladylike and unexpected thing to do...but Alanna is determined and clever and more than a bit stubborn.
(first of the Song of the Lioness quarter)
(Just a note, anything and everything by Tamora Pierce is filled with strong and interesting girls in adventurous, often dangerous situations. Great reading!)

The case of the missing marquess by Nancy Springer

Enola Holmes, the much younger sister of the great Sherlock Holmes, is determined to prove her skills as a perditorian (a finder of lost things) and remain independent of her brother. (There are 3 sequels, so far.)

Theodesia and the serpents of chaos by R.L. Lafevers

Theodesia's father is the curator of a museum of antiquities filled with artifacts found by her archeologist mother. One of the artifacts, an Eyptian amulet, is particularly fascinating especially since its presence at the museum is supposed to be secret. (one sequel coming soon)

The water mirror by Kai Meyers

In a Venice threated by an Egyptian enemy, where stone lions walk the streets and mermaids live in the canals, two young girls, Merl and Junipa, join the struggle to save the beautiful city.
(first in Dark Reflections trilogy)

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

"Spectacular ideas are always sproinging up in my brain." Unfortunately, third grader Clementine's ideas aren't always conventional, logical or at all cool with her parents!
(one sequel, so far)

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Tired of being a run-of-the-mill princess, Cimorene runs away to become the King of the Dragons' (who is a female dragon) special princess. She is clever, strong and carries a lethal weapon: lemon-scented soap in hot water! (first of Enchanted Forest Chronicles quartet).

Happy reading!

let's hear it for the girls (girl reads)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Boy reads (the sequel)

Thanks to Cleery, ever helpful and cheerful, I made the fancy thingy-ma-bob with the books I have had great success with for boys who love to read and, more importantly, boys who do not. The pictures are great but descriptions are more useful. So here goes....

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
Skulduggery Pleasant is a great detective. The fact that he is a skeleton is beside the point. He takes on 13 year old Stephanie as a trainee/sidekick and together they battle gods, legends, her crazy relatives and bad guys of every kind.
Tongue in cheek humor, action galore and a skeleton as a leading man...what more do you need? (The first in a series of nine planned books.)

The extraordinary adventures of Ordinary Boy: the hero revealed by William Boniface
In a town where everyone has a super power, some of them quite disgusting (a big appeal to the boy reader!), Ordinary Boy has no talents...or so he believes.
Bathroom humor, comic book characters, tons of action. Tons of fun. (The first in a series.)

Knights of the Kitchen Table by Jon Scieszka
Thanks to a magical blue book, Joe, Fred and Sam find themselves back in King Arthur's time where they are in a lot of trouble.
Time travel, humor, an edge of danger until the blue book (which gets lost in every book) is found and the boys are back in their own time. (The first in the Time Warp Trio series.)

The teacher's funeral: a comedy in three acts by Richard Peck
Russell thinks his school days are over when his teacher dies during summer vacation. Imagine his horror when his sister is hired as the new teacher.
Slapstick humor, situations that boys seem to dread and understand at the same time--Peck is the perfect writer for boys.

The squire's tale by Gerald Morris
Fourteen-year-old Terence is off to a life of adventure as the squire to Sir Gawain, one of the greatest knights at King Arthur's Round Table.
Knights, damsels in distress, evil villains and a wicked sense of humor. Belly-laughing funny at times. (The first in a series.)

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Milo is bored with everything. Until the day he finds a small box and two coins on the shelf in his bedroom.
My favorite book in the whole wild world. Clever wordplay, unexpected situations, strange and wonderful characters. (I wish I had written this book!)

7 professors of the far north by John Fardell
Three adventurous kids, a group of eccentric professors (who never question what the kids are doing...very realistic situation there) and mad scientists in the frozen North Pole.
No parental supervision, nonstop adventure, unrealistic but oh-so-exciting situations...the perfect world for a child. (sequel: The flight of the Silver Turtle.)

The lost years of Merlin by T.A. Barron
A young boy washes up on the coast of an island with no memory of his past. Through many adventures, he is transformed into Merlin, the wizard of legend.
Exotic location, no adults to impose reason on the world, creatures of legend, trying to solve the mystery of who he is and what he is to become. (First of a quintet of books.)

Eye of the crow by Shane Peacock
Young Sherlock Holmes, poor and not fitting in anywhere, becomes the suspect in the stabbing death of a woman. With the help of Irene, a young woman he has befriended, Sherlock tries to solve the mystery and save himself.
Mystery, danger, adventure, a clever hero. (The first in a series.)

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
Gregor jumps through a grate in the wall of the laundry room in his apartment building to rescue his sister. They end up in a world of giant cockroaches, bats who have special bonds with humans, rats and mysterious prophecies.
No parental supervision, a clever hero, loads of action, wars, explosions and cockroaches, bats and rats. (The first of a quintet of books.)

Even if you're not a boy, try these books--you'll not have a dull moment of reading with any of them!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

an unexpected pleasure

Sometimes the cover of a book catches the eye and that book must be read! I noticed Storyteller by Edward Myers when I was checking in new books at my library. I had to read it. The cover is warm, dark colors of a male storyteller facing the audience he is enchanting with his tales--their faces make up the cover. The story is of 17 year old Jack, son of a poor and struggling family in a kingdom ruled by a king who seems to be without a heart. Jack lives to tell stories and wants storytelling to be his life's work. He sets off to make his fortune, gaining the companionship of Loquasto, a black mynah who is in love with a fish. He ends up in the royal city and is, after telling a story that the kings does not want to hear, named royal storyteller. He falls in love with the Princess Stelinda, insults her arrogant brother Prince Yoss and befriends Zephyrio, a powerful illusionist. Then the adventure begins.

Books set in a vaguely medieval time period with a royal attachment of some kind get me every time (I really love Karen Cushman's Catherine, called Birdy to the point of making a Halloween costume, complete with donut headpiece, to celebrate the book). Jack is a warmhearted and thoughtful hero, Loquasto's love situation adds an interesting and fantastic touch to the story and the villains are properly hate-able.

I'm so glad that the cover caught my attention...

Monday, October 6, 2008

who would you choose?

I'm terribly excited because Cornelia Funke's Inkdeath landed on my desk today. Hours of happy reading ahead (it is just under 700 pages!) for this sequel to Inkheart and Inkspell. Anticipation is part of the joy of reading, don't you think?

The basic premise (spoiler alert) of these books involves the talent of reading book characters to life and out of the book. So I've been thinking about which book characters I would want to read to life. Unfortunately, years of movie watching is clouding my judgment because Rhett Butler would be Clark Gable, Mr. Darcy would be Colin Firth, Colonel Brandon would be Alan Rickman and on and on. As a child, I would have wanted to read myself into Little Women and The Secret Garden. As a teen, I wanted to be in any book that would give me a great wardrobe, especially the hooped skirts and broad-brimmed hats of Gone with the Wind but reading a character out of a book...hmmm.

My first thought was to read Mrs. Bennet out of Pride and Prejudice and Emma's father out of Emma since I find both characters loathsome but I soon realized that the books would suffer because of my prejudices. I adore Hagrid in all of the Harry Potter books but, due to his generous size, where would I put him? I would love to know and spend time with Dickon from The Secret Garden because of his exoticness (hey, I'm from Minnesota--the Yorkshire moors are quite exotic in comparison), his love of animals and his sunny disposition. I would like to spend an evening in conversation with Matthew Shardlake (from the C.J. Sansom mysteries) because of his keen mind...maybe Sherlock Holmes could join us so I could be the happy (and silently appreciative) audience while they performed a duel of wits.

Are there any characters you would want to read into your life?