Hi, I'm Mrs. F-B!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Escape from Fear, Gloria Skurzynski

We read Escape from Fear, a National Parks Mysteries novel, with our niece Rachel when we were down in the Virgin Islands.  The story is set there, so it was really fun to read.  The characters in this series are a family where the mother is a veterinarian who consults with the national parks and her husband and two children.  In this story she's been called to the National Park of the Virgin Islands where they are having turtle trouble.

The novels always give a lot of information about the park in addition to having an engaging storyline.  They usually require a little suspension of disbelief, and this one was no exception, but once you get past that, the suspense is high and are excellent reading.  I definitely recommend them as a family read-aloud, everyone is sure to enjoy the story.

I've written a couple of reviews for other books in the National Parks Mysteries series,  one here and one here.

Butterfly Mosque and Kitchen Confidential - adult titles

The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and Islam is a book I heard about recently that sounded really interesting to me.  It's a memoir, my favorite genre of non fiction, and is the story of a young American woman who moved to Egypt, converted to Islam, and married an Egyptian man, all near the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States.  I found it to be very interesting, but I wasn't as completely pulled in as I expected to be.  It was a book that would definitely provoke a lot of good conversation in a book group, because there was a lot of discussion about faith, acceptance, family, love and culture.

Kitchen Confidential is the book by Anthony Bourdain that my husband's reading group is reading next month and it's an expose of his life in the restaurant industry.  This book has a LOT of bad language in it, so it's definitely for adults, but it was really, really interesting.  He and his friends were pretty wild, and his chef experience sounds a bit harrowing at times. He wrote the book long before he had his TV show and everything, but he'd already been a chef for over 20 years.  There was a lot of background on the restaurant industry combined with a lot of personal anecdotes, written in a staccato style that's just like his personality.  We listened to the book on CD and it was read by the author, so that was a nice little bonus.  

Confessions of a Cake Addict and Always the Designer, Never the Bride

These are two adult beach books I recently read on my vacation to, not coincidentally, the beach.  They were light and fluffy (like the frosting in Confessions of a Cake Addict), and they fit their purpose perfectly.  I doubt either will go down in the annals of classic literature, but I enjoyed them.  I particularly liked the form of Confessions of a Cake Addict which is what is known as an epistolary novel.  That means it's written through letters, in this case letters and emails back and forth between two sisters, one living in London and one living in Sydney.  What I didn't like about this novel was that the lovelorn sister took too long to get herself together and made too many annoyingly obvious stupid mistakes.

Always the Designer was a more fun storyline, but it still had a lot of, "seriously?" moments in it.  In this story, Audrey Regan is a wedding dress designer, and I like to read stories that have to do with designing and sewing clothing.  Her business isn't going so well, though, and she's looking for a big break.  Will she find it out in Tanglewood or will she have to close up shop?  And will she ever find her Prince Charming?

This novel has some overt Christian moments in it, and normally I don't have a problem with that, but in this case, they seemed forced and contrived and they did not work well.  In this case, they weaken the story and should have either been re-worked or left out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Monster Talk, Michael Jarmer

Monster Talk by Michael Jarmer is a treat to read.  Young Victor, the story's main character, is a direct descendant of Frankenstein, and is eager to share this fact with the world.  Most of the world, however, is unwilling to believe.

Those who are familiar with Shelley's Frankenstein will be delighted with the references to the text, but those not previously familiar with the original story will not feel lost even for a moment.  Those readers will discover the story with Victor and his young friend Michelle, who with the help of Victor's grandmother, Elizabeth, undertake the reading of the original novel.

The story is about more than just reading Frankenstein, though.  At its heart, Monster Talk is about relationships.  Relationships between friends, between boys and girls, between teachers and students, between parents and children, and, of course, relationships between monsters.  It's about growing up and discovering how relationships work, and how they don't. It's about figuring out which relationships you can live with, and which ones you can't live without.

This is a particularly strong debut novel. The character development in this novel is extremely powerful. I became quite attached to Victor, to the point of audible intakes of breath and laughing out loud, but I also found myself strongly attached to several other characters. Descriptions are detailed and clear but not overdone, giving the reader enough information to form his or her own vision of the characters and places.  While it is closely tied to Shelley's novel, the plot of this story stands firmly on its own.  The author weaves the story of Frankenstein into a contemporary setting seamlessly and skillfully, inviting the readers to believe.  

I highly recommend Monster Talk by Michael Jarmer for high school readers and up.  If you love a good story, strong writing, and excellent characters, you won't be disappointed.