Friday, September 28, 2007

Main Street: Welcome to Camden Falls by Ann M. Martin

I just finished reading the first book in Ann M. Martin's new Main Street series, Welcome to Camden Falls.

Michael laughed at me when he saw me checking this book out from the library. He knows that I read young adult and children's books from time to time -- in fact, some, such as Tuck Everlasting and The Giver, happen to be among my favorites -- but he said the cover of this particular book just looks so much like a kid's book.

I did read it, though, and I enjoyed it immensely. In some ways, it is very refreshing to see (and read) a children's series book that's not either about a fantasy world or teen drama (the Sweet Valley High series comes to mind). Instead, this book is an honest and sensitive portrayal of two girls, recently orphaned, who have been transplanted to their grandmother's small hometown.

I found out about Main Street through this story on NPR. Ann M. Martin is the author of The Babysitters' Club, a tween series that dates back to my own childhood. In fact, when I was diagnosed as diabetic, practically all I knew about the condition was from The Babysitters' Club. (Unfortunately, that information was also rather outdated, so for the first few days of my hospital visit I thought I'd never be able to eat ice cream again!)

Personally, I think Ms. Martin has outdone herself with Main Street. The characters and the story are much more enduring than those in The Babysitters' Club. In addition, I think the idea of writing a story about small town life -- and not only that, but small town life as seen through the eyes of two "city" girls -- is very appealing. I will probably be reading more of these as they come out!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Practically Perfect in Every Way by Jennifer Niesslein

If you are amused and mildly disgusted by the self-help genre, Jennifer Niesslein's Practically Perfect in Every Way is the perfect book for you.

In Practically Perfect, Niesslein decides that something is missing from her life, and that self-help may hold the key to happiness. To make things more interesting, she decides to write a book chronicling her experiences. The result: lots of sarcastic humor, but also a good, quiet look at why self-help is overrated.

The book focuses mostly on self-help in the areas of the household, relationships, and parenting. (If you think Feng Shui is kind of silly, like I do, you'll especially like the commentary in the first chapter.) As you near the end of the book, Niesslein obviously starts losing steam. She is not as gung-ho in her experiments, but at the same time you start getting more down-to-earth, insightful observations about self-help.

The very last chapter of Practically Perfect is my kind of chapter: Niesslein deals with the issue of The Soul. In doing so, she delves into the world of religion, but she also talks a lot about why she isn't particularly religious — something I can totally understand. It is fitting that this is the last chapter, because by this point Niesslein has decided that taking every one else's advice is a really bad idea.

To conclude, I would like to post a quote from Niesslein's chapter on The Soul, one that pretty much exemplifies her humor and the way she came to view self-help:

Are my morals proof of the existence of God? If anything, they seem to me to be proof of the existence of my mother.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

Michael finally finished The Amber Spyglass, so I was able to finish reading Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. And I have to say, the third book lived up to -- and perhaps even surpassed -- The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife.

One of the things I like best about this trilogy is how original it is. It's not just a Lord of the Rings or Narnia knock-off. It is completely original fantasy at its finest.

I'm not going to say any more than that, because I don't want to spoil the third book for anyone. All I'm going to say is that I highly recommend reading this book. It is one of the best fantasy trilogies I have ever read, right up there with all-time favorites such as the Tolkien and Lewis's books.

Of course, I dare the Religious Right to find a way to spin this trilogy as a Christian analogy... Hahaha!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Member of the Wedding, by Carson McCullers

I heard about Carson McCullers's The Member of the Wedding thanks to NPR: Another author I have read, Augusten Burroughs, reviewed the book on NPR's website.

The book was short and written in a very different style than I am used to, but it was quite good. The narrative is rather sinuous, almost like the stream-of-consciousness narrative style of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway (but not as annoying, and with more of a plot!). The main events in The Member of the Wedding take place only over a couple of days, but the narrative is constantly meandering into the past and then returning to the present again, pulling in the back story as it goes along, and weaving it all into one seamless piece.

There is also a fair amount of foreshadowing and suspense regarding the main character, a 12-year-old girl named Frankie, and a soldier that she meets. The hints of what was to come surprised me, as did the outcome of her relationship with the soldier, as I didn't expect a novel published in the 1940s to be so explicit -- I usually think of literature from that period as being rather conservative.

The ending was somewhat startling, too, as it demonstrates the degree of change possible in the attitudes and beliefs of a girl that age. The Member of the Wedding is a pretty accurate and poignant story of what it is like for a girl to be on the verge of adolescence, but still a child all the same.