Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wild Horses by Jenny Oldfield

iconA few weeks ago, I was surprised to get an email from a representative of Sourcebooks, a publisher with a new tween series, The Horses of Half Moon Ranch by Jenny Oldfield. She had found me via my Pony Tales Blog, and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing the first two books in the series.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I enjoy children's and young adult books. Plus, like any other horse-crazy girl I read a lot of horse stories when I was younger, so I was interested to see what the girls are reading these days.

I thought Wild Horses was a good debut book for the series, although as you'll see in my next post, I actually liked the second book better.

Wild Horses has all the makings of good juvenile fiction: The main character was a couple years older than the intended readers, the action started quickly, etc. The adults aren't absent, as in many children's and young adult books, but the main character is always the hero of the hour — that is, the adults aren't stepping in to save her. Instead, she's usually getting rid of the adults and saving the day herself.

Of course, the book is fairly short (about 150 pages with larger text and spacing), so it didn't take me long to read — but it was kind of like a little vacation, reminding me of when I was a kid and would devour Black Beauty and The Black Stallion and the other classic horse books in one or two sittings. I'll bet this series is going to make quite a few little horse-crazy girls very, very happy!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

iconiconI took a break from my current read, Traffic, in order to read this book: Dashiell Hammett's classic murder mystery, The Thin Man, which is the One Book, One Denver selection for 2008.

I was surprised not only by how much I loved this book, but by the fact that I've managed to never read it before. First of all, I love period novels like this, and The Thin Man is rich with 1930s culture. You can almost hear their voices in your head when you read the dialogue; and at least in my head, they sounded just like characters out of an old 1930s movie.

One thing you'll notice in The Thin Man is that they are constantly drinking. The story takes place in New York City during Prohibition, and since it was written by someone who lived in New York City during this time, I guess it's probably a pretty accurate picture of big-city American culture during this period.

Besides being a delightful piece of 1930s culture, The Thin Man is also a very well-written murder mystery. The book is short but compelling, and Hammett ties up all the loose ends quite nicely.

Of course, now I have to watch the movie, which came out the same year (1934). I'm really looking forward to it!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale

iconiconWith this post, I am officially caught up with all the books I read during my two-month gap in posting.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher is well-researched nonfiction, but it reads similarly to a novel, much like Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, which I read a couple of months ago. It is the story of a horrible murder — the murder of a 3-year-old child — committed in Victorian England, and the repercussions on all involved (the family and their servants, the detective in charge of the case, etc.).

The story of the murder and the aftermath are well-told. Kate Summerscale does a good job of creating suspense to draw the reader along. The two inserts of pictures — of the family, the house, etc. — also make a nice touch and help to bring the characters to life. There is also a lot of information on the history of detective work and how this case impacted the detective fiction that came afterward.

The book requires careful attention in many places, and therefore (like The Devil in the White City) makes for slow going at times, but is well worth the effort!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Stable Smarts by Heather Smith Thomas

iconiconI picked up this book on impulse the other day, when I saw it at Barnes & Noble: Stable Smarts, by Heather Smith Thomas.

The book is a really useful collection of all kinds of horse advice, from building fences and taking care of leather, to treating wounds and warding away flies. Honestly, of all the horse books I owned and have read, this one is probably the only one that was actually worth spending the money on. I'm even considering buying another one to keep at the barn — they ought to make a really durable (i.e. spiral bound and laminated covers) edition just for that purpose, since at the barn is where most people's copies will probably be kept!

Please also check out the more in-depth review of this book on my horse blog!

What Horses Say by Anna Clemence Mews and Julie Dicker

iconiconI got interested in learning more about horse communication after reading several stories that mentioned it in Angel Horses. Partly because of the connection I seemed to have with my horse (a rescue) and his mother (who was euthanized in front of me that day) from the very beginning, I decided to look up more information on the subject.

What Horses Say is one of several books on horse communication that I got out from the library. The book is written by Anna Clemence Mews and a horse communicator, Julie Dicker. There were some really fantastic stories about how horse communication has helped Julie's clients' horses, but I was a little disappointed in the lack of insight in how to actually communicate with horses.

If you read this book, I would suggest reading it primarily for the stories, and only secondarily for information about horse communication. It's more of a "See how great horse communication is" memoir than a how-to on how to do it. Even so, the stories are wonderful and the advice — to be patient and listen to your horses — is sound, whether you're "listening" telepathically or simply paying attention to body language!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Rumors by Anna Godbersen

iconiconNote: The image links to a bargain book on B&N's website, where you can get the hardback for $5.38.  This isn't likely to be available for long, so get it while you can!

Again, I'm not positive in what order I read some of these, but I know at some point here I read Rumors by Anna Godbersen.

This book is the second in a trilogy that started with The Luxe, which I read back in March. The third book, Envy, is due out in early 2009, according to Anna's MySpace blog.

I am a big fan of YA fiction, even being all grown up. And I have to say, I think Godbersen's books are an excellent cross between YA and adult fiction. A lot of teenage girls who wouldn't normally be caught dead reading YA would absolutely love The Luxe and Rumors.

My biggest complaint is the cliffhanger ending Rumors leaves us with. I read the entire book in a day because I wanted to find out what happens — only to discover that now I have to wait six months to find out! Sheesh!

No, but seriously, Godbersen's books are highly addictive — particularly Rumors. I only recommend them if you can afford to get so wrapped up in them that you, say, forget to do your homework or stay up all night reading!

A la Cart by Hillary Carlip

iconiconWhen I first heard about Hillary Carlip's A la Cart on NPR, I wasn't sure what to think — but the idea sounded really interesting, so I decided to give the book a shot.

I was a little surprised when I got the book how short it was. The essays about each character are only a couple of pages long; the book is printed on thick, photo-quality paper to make it look thicker.

Still, though, it's an amusing book for an afternoon or evening read. The important thing to remember is that it's all about the idea, not the writing — what's interesting about it is reading the grocery lists and seeing the pictures of Carlip dressed up as the characters she created from them. The essays themselves are, as far as I'm concerned, fairly unimportant when you consider how she came up with each character. It's the process that's important in this one!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Angel Horses by Allen and Linda Anderson

iconiconAt this point I start forgetting again which book I read next, but I'm pretty sure it was Angel Horses by Allen and Linda Anderson. At any rate, I read it somewhere around this point.

Anyway, I heard about this book several months ago, when a fellow writer sent me information on the Andersons' next anthology writing contest. Their previous books are listed on their website. I remember making a note of the Angel Horses book, but I forgot about it (and the contest) until I saw the book at Tattered Cover a few weeks ago.

Seeing the book reminded me not only that I was interested in reading it, but also that I wanted to enter the writing contest. The book is technically "research" as it demonstrates what they like to see in submissions, but it was also a learning experience in other ways. For instance, I learned that I am not the only one who has felt like they communicated wordlessly with a horse — and that there is actually a whole industry for horse communication and animal communication.

Wish me luck in the writing contest!

Monday, September 8, 2008

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

iconiconI'm a little shaky on what order I read some of these books in, but I believe Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion came next. In any case, I know I was on an extended YA lit kick, and I read it at about the same time as the others.

When I first picked up this book, I wasn't sure I could get into it, but my husband had read it and really liked it. It's a classic theme in YA lit — a dystopian fantasy — but it's better done than most of the ones I've read.

The book is set in a world where there is essentially no morals — clones are created and raised as organ donors, and people's brains are destroyed to justify making slaves out of them. In the midst of this, one little boy — a clone — is being raised with his brain intact, enabling him eventually to rebel against it.

The House of the Scorpion is an award-winner, and it's easy to see why. Besides its unique story, it is also very well-planned and a compelling read. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

iconiconThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher is another book that I heard about on NPR. (See a pattern here?...) It was in the same column as Before I Die, listed as a book to interest teens who dislike reading.

Thirteen Reasons Why was a very suspenseful story about a teenage boy who gets a set of cassette tapes from his former crush, who just recently committed suicide. She blames a number of her classmates for basically ruining her life and leaving her no other option, and makes these cassettes to tell them all why.

The story is a mixture of the boy's narration, and embedded in that, the girl's narration on the tapes. It's a beautifully done narrative, and an intensely compelling story with a surprising lesson learned.

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

iconiconWhen I told my husband the premise of Jenny Downham's Before I Die — that it was about a girl with terminal leukemia who was trying to get through a list of things before she died — he commented, "That sounds depressing."

I guess to someone who's not reading the book — or to someone who doesn't know and understand the YA lit genre — it probably does sound depressing. But I found the book to be absolutely captivating.

In a way, I thought the book was also rather uplifting. Yes, the main character acted out and did crazy stuff as she was dealing with dying. But she also made a commitment to doing a bunch of things and trying to enjoy what was left of her life.

I also have to say that I think Downham perfectly and very realistically captured the inner turmoil of what a teenage girl dying of leukemia might go through.

As with many of the books I read, I heard about Before I Die on NPR. It's a good book and a quick read, though you will probably need to have a box of tissues handy at the very end.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Thin Place by Kathryn Davis

iconiconI honestly cannot remember what book I read after Sunshine, but I do know that it was not long afterward that I tried reading Kathryn Davis's The Thin Place. Since it was recommended in the same radio story on NPR that got me hooked on Sunshine, I thought maybe it would be just as good.

I was disappointed on this one. I read the first 30 or 40 pages, and just couldn't seem to get into it. The book has a rather schizophrenic narrative style, jumping back and forth, and I just couldn't find the rhythm — or even sometimes the connection — between the different scenes and chapters.

I don't often give up reading a book once I've started it — I like to see them through to the end, even if I'm not totally sold on the writing style or the story. The Thin Place, though, I just couldn't do, so I guess this one goes into the short list of books that I don't recommend.

Sunshine by Robin McKinley

iconiconAfter reading Garden Spells, I read Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I heard about the book on NPR, and immediately recognized the author as the one who wrote my favorite books in high school: Beauty. So of course, I couldn't pass up Sunshine!

And I have to say, I was not disappointed. I love vampire books like the ones written by Anne Rice — darkly sensual stories with lots of detail and the kinds of characters you can fall in love with. And although Sunshine is kind of a different take on vampire fiction — it's about magic and defeating vampires, albeit with a vampire sidekick — it was just as alluring as Anne Rice's best.

Maybe even more so.

Whether or not you are a big fan of vampire fiction, I highly recommend Sunshine. (In fact, I plan on reading it again sometime soon — perhaps when the new edition comes out next month!) As the NPR story indicates, Sunshine is the kind of vampire books that anyone can enjoy — whether or not they are normally a fan of such stories.

Playing catch-up

I forgot to mention before publishing the last post that I am playing catch-up over the next week or two. Although it's been a while since I last blogged about my current read, I have been reading as voraciously as always, so I have about a dozen books to blog about.

Stay tuned — I'll try to post something every day or so until I'm caught up!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

iconiconCompared to what I usually read, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen was pretty light reading. It was definitely enjoyable, though. A sweet story about sisters in a "different" sort of family, it reminded me a little of the movie Practical Magic.

Unfortunately, I read this book so long ago now that I don't remember many of the finer points of what I wanted to blog about. So suffice it to say that it was a great lighthearted read, and that I recommend it if you have an evening (or two) that you need to fill with a good diversion!