May 17, 2013
There were five of us -- Carruthers and the new recruit and myself, and Mr. Spivens and the verger. It was late afternoon on November the fifteenth, and we were in what was left of Coventry Cathedral, looking for the bishop's bird stump.
From To Say Nothing of the Dog: or How We Found the Bishop's Bird Stump at Last by Connie Willis
From Connie Willis, winner of multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, comes a comedic romp through an unpredictable world of mystery, love, and time travel...
Ned Henry is badly in need of a rest. He's been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called the bishop's bird stump. It's part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier.
But then Verity Kindle, a fellow time traveler, inadvertently brings back something from the past. Now Ned must jump back to the Victorian era to help Verity put things right--not only to save the project but to prevent altering history itself.
May 10, 2013
Although the label on the hair shampoo said Paris and had a picture of a beautiful girl with the Eiffel Tower behind her bare shoulder, it was forced to tell the truth in tiny print under the picture. Made in New Zealand, it said, Wisdom Laboratories, Paraparaumu.
Again, as in The Haunting (1982), New Zealand writer Mahy proves that all-out supernatural stories can still be written with intelligence, humor, and a fearful intensity that never descends into pretentious murk or lurid sensationalism. Laura, 14, living with divorced Mum (a bookstore manager) and little brother Jacko in a small New Zealand town, is a "sensitive." She gets "warnings" when big disturbances--like her parents' divorce--are imminent. She has the ability to take one look at older schoolmate Sorensen Carlisle and know that he's a witch. And when an old junk-store owner named Carmody Braque playfully stamps Jacko's hand with a smiling replica of Braque's own face, it's Laura who soon realizes that something ghastly has happened: "the stamp was part of him now, more than a tattoo--a sort of parasite picture tunneling its way deeper and deeper, feeding itself as it went." Jacko falls ill, then becomes seriously, mysteriously sick, wasting away, comatose, in a hospital bed. Laura's distraught mother, now growing closer to a librariansuitor, can't even listen to her daughter's ideas about the supernatural causes of Jacko's decline. So Laura desperately turns for help to "Sorry" Carlisle, who lives in a forbidding ancestral manse with his mother and grandmother--good witches who tried (in vain) to give Sorry a normal life away from magic. At first the Carlisles are cautious, distant, slow to admit their witchly powers; Sorry, deeply ambivalent about witch-hood, is sarcastic, sexually teasing. But eventually they agree to guide Laura in her battle for Jacko's life against Carmody Braque, a demon who must feed on human souls and bodies. The first step? Laura must make the "changeover" into witch-hood--something her psychic sensibility makes possible. (The visionary ritual involved is a perfect mix of the chilling and the comic, with Laura taking pot-shots at the poor literary quality of Sorry's chants.) Then, with moral support from Sorry, Laura must have a one-on-one confrontation with demon Braque, hiding her new witch-hood behind dark glasses and stamping his hand with a sign of her power. And finally, after Braque's Oz-style annihilation ("he continued to change back through the centuries of stolen life until his clothes collapsed around what at first appeared to be a rotting, heaving mass"), Laura can celebrate Jacko's recovery--and her own recovery from "a secret illness no one had ever completely recognized or been able to cure": the post-divorce hatred of her father, the jealousy of her mother's new boyfriend. Mahy thus invests the occult evils here with a metaphorical, psychological undertow; at the same time, however, while filling out all the characters (including the witches) with textured charm, she never stints on thoroughgoing creeps and scares. In sum: the best supernatural YA fiction around, with Stephen King power and Mahy's own class and polish.
May 3, 2013
On my fifteenth birthday, January 16, 1977, I slogged through a New York City rainstorm of hurricane proportions to buy the Sunday paper.
From Not Exactly a Love Story by Audrey Couloumbis
A late-night phone call turned bad…turns good.
After his parents’ quick divorce and his mother’s even quicker remarriage to his gym teacher, Mr. Buonofuoco, in 1977, 15-year-old, half-Italian/half-Jewish Vinnie Gold relocates from New York City to Long Island with his mother and Mr. B. The loner teen knows that Patsy, the “foxy blonde” next door, is out of his league, but after discovering her private number, he musters the courage to call her at midnight. His nervousness and bumbling, however, leave Patsy thinking he’s an obscene caller. The potential creepiness of the situation is not lost on Vinnie, and it fuels his desire to right his wrong and prove himself. So he calls back, and this time Patsy keeps listening—and even talking. With a shield of partial anonymity, their midnight repartee continues night after night, developing into an unusual romance that keeps Patsy guessing at Vinnie’s identity and Vinnie watching the school’s football star abuse her. In a first-person narration that ranges from humor and quirkiness to insecurity and anger, Vinnie struggles between two personas. Can he ever reconcile both selves and still keep Patsy’s interest? Even if Patsy doesn’t fall for Vinnie, readers will grow to love his vulnerability and sincerity. His parents’ evolving relationships echo his own maturation.
Not exactly a perfect story. But it comes pretty close.
April 26, 2013
It was after midnight and Mike Kowalski was driving fast -- too fast -- down County Line Road. He glanced at the dashboard clock and groaned.
He was late.
From On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave by Candace Fleming
Ghost stories sure to send chills up their spines. Set in White Cemetery, an actual graveyard outside Chicago, each story takes place during a different time period from the 1860's to the present, and ends with the narrator's death. Some teens die heroically, others ironically, but all due to supernatural causes. Readers will meet walking corpses and witness demonic posession, all against the backdrop of Chicago's rich history—the Great Depression, the World's Fair, Al Capone and his fellow gangsters.
April 19, 2013
"A bright star shone outside the castle window and the Prince's Fairy Godmother
appeared. . ."
"Fairy Godmother, eh?"
"She waved her magic wand and said, "Your wish is granted."
"Very neat! . . .I don't suppose I've got a Fairy Godmother? By any chance?"
From Barnaby by Crockett Johnson
This collection introduces Mr. O'Malley to the Baxter family (although only Barnaby believes in his Fairy Godfather). Barnaby and O'Malley visit a child psychologist, appear on the radio, inadvertently undermine a test blackout and expose a "Hot Coffee Ring" (the action takes place during the Second World War, when coffee was rationed). We also meet McSnoyd, Gorgon, Jane, and Gus.
April 12, 2013
It's true. There's something about the light here. It's hazy golden, as if it's moving through honey. I've seen all kinds of light. Wet green glow in the Amazonian jungle, squid luminescence in the Pacific, indigo dawns through a waterfall in the Andes. But this particular light -- this southern French light glinting off my tiny espresso cup -- this is something else.
From The Ruby Notebook by Laura Resau
Thoughtful, intense Zeeta and her free-spirited mother return in this follow-up to The Indigo Notebook (2009). Perennial travelers, the two have now settled in the atmospheric city of Aix-en-Provence. Zeeta eagerly anticipates the arrival of her boyfriend Wendell from Colorado, but when he changes the terms of his visit, Zeeta is hurt and confused. Their relationship is further strained by her involuntary attraction to Jean-Claude, a member of a street dance troupe. At the same time, Zeeta begins to discover strange notes and items left in her bag. Weaving bits of magic, city lore and bittersweet romance into each of the many plot lines, Resau has again crafted a complex and satisfying novel that is both a mystery and a tender, wise meditation on love and self-identity.
April 5, 2013
Happy birthday to my favorite little sister! I've been trying to recollect the day you were born so I can gush about it in an appropriately sentimental fashion, but I'm afraid it's all a blank.
From A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper
Sophie is a princess living in a crumbling castle on a tiny, remote island kingdom. Upon receiving a journal on her 16th birthday, she begins the saga of a pivotal year in her life and that of her isolated, impoverished and very eccentric family. It is 1936, and the madness that has begun to envelop Europe manages to affect her world and change it forever. Along the way she experiences loss, danger and Nazis, facing it all with a previously unsuspected reservoir of courage. There is much humor as well, in the antics of tomboy sister Henry and in the effervescence of brother Toby, who is heir to this improbable kingdom. Cooper has created a strong cast of odd, interesting characters and makes even the strangeness of the setting and events seem completely plausible. The author consciously echoes elements of Dodie Smith’s classic I Capture the Castle, but it is no mere copy. There is romance, adventure, a touch of the supernatural and a winning heroine who will touch the heart. Compelling.
March 29, 2013
A drumbeat wakes me. Ba-Boom. Ba-Boom. It is bearing a funeral dirge.
When I was my little sister Zi's age, we rarely heard those drums. Now they wake me so many Saturdays. It seems somebody is dying all the time.
From This Thing Called the Future by J. L. Powers
Set in an impoverished South African shantytown where post-Apartheid freedom is overshadowed by rampant AIDS and intractable poverty, this novel takes a loving, clear-eyed look at the clash of old and new through the experience of one appealing teenager. Khosi, 14, lives in an all-female household with her sister, Zi, and frail grandmother, Gogo, subsisting on Gogo’s pension and Mama’s salary as a teacher in the city (she comes home on weekends). Everyone in Khosi’s world is poor. Where the struggle to survive is all-consuming, family loyalty trumps community. Clashes between Zulu customs and contemporary values further erode cultural ties and divide families. A scholarship student, Khosi loves science, but getting to school means dodging gangs and rapists hunting AIDS-free virgins. After a witch curses Khosi’s family and Mama falls ill, Khosi and Gogo seek aid from a traditional Zulu healer, which Mama dismisses as superstition while fear and poverty keep her from accessing modern medicine. As stresses mount, Khosi’s ancestors speak, offering her guidance. Supported by them, her family and classmate Little Man, Khosi vows to create a better future by synthesizing old and new ways, yet the obstacles she faces—some inherited, others newly acquired—are staggering. A compassionate and moving window on a harsh world.
March 22, 2013
When the train stopped in Tucson, everybody else got their stuff together and jammed the aisles, but I ducked into the bathroom and put Sunblock 15 on every inch of exposed skin I owned.
From The Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge
From the moment sixteen-year-old Billy steps off the train in Tucson, he knows this will be a summer unlike any he's seen in small-town Bradleyville, Missouri. For starters, he's staying with his cool gay uncle, who has managed to get him a job at the racetrack caring for horses. Still, Billy doesn't expect the horseracing world to be quite as rough and tumble as this — toiling side by side with a macho survivalist and falling hard for the feisty, romance-shy "exercise girl" Cara Mae. With his trademark fast-paced dialogue filled with wit and compassion, Ron Koertge tells the tale of an insecure teen who discovers that gaining stature involves more than Stetsons and boots — and that lessons on love and manhood come from the places you least expect.
March 15, 2013
When Portia Blake and her brother Foster set out for Creston that summer, it was different from all the other summers. It was different because it was the first time they had ever made the trip all by themselves.
From Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
Summer has a magic all its own in Elizabeth Enright's beloved stories about two children and their discovery of a ghostly lakeside resort.
"[Has] a brilliance and a humor that make it seem as if it were happening right this minute."—The New York Times Book Review