Friday, May 30, 2008

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D Schmidt

Any teen book that includes Shakespeare's plays as essentially a main character is one that I am going to appreciate. In this coming of age story, set in 1967, Holling Hoodhood initially believes that his exposure to Shakespeare is some sort of punishment.
By a rather strange set of circumstances, every Wednesday Holling is the only student left for the last hour or so of class. His teacher begins these Wednesdays by having him do chores around the classroom, but she soon progresses to offering him more schoolwork than she does the other students. As a seventh grader, Holling of course perceives this as more evidence of the fact that she hates him. While dealing with Wednesdays at school, in addition to the other normal seventh grade issues such as girls and bullies, Holling also has to contend with his family. His sister is growing up in ways he doesn't understand, and his father puts the burden of the family business constantly on his shoulders. Even in seventh grade he understands that he is expected to take over the business after high school, and his father makes him feel that his actions now have dire consequences for the business.
Throughout the school year, Holling learns that he has a choice about who he wants to become - the whole world seems to want to teach him this lesson: Mrs. Baker, his sister, even Shakespeare. This book is great for teens of all ages, but is especially appropriate for middle school.

*this book also reviewed by me at hip librarians book blog*

Monday, May 26, 2008

Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana by Anne Rice

This is the second of Anne Rice's series about the life of Jesus. When I read the first one, Out of Egypt, I was not aware that it was going to be a series. I did not like this one quite as well as that one. There is significantly less documentation of Jesus' life before he begins his ministry. The historical fiction that Rice created for the first book was wonderful. In this book, she is bound a bit more by the Gospel accounts.
The Road to Cana begins with Jesus as a carpenter in Nazareth, and does a lovely job of detailing the family and village life there. Jesus knows who he is, and he is conflicted, but knows what he must do. The village is focused on the current political turmoil, but also on little village dramas, such as who the village beauty will marry. This becomes pivotal to the story, as the wedding that ends the book is where Jesus turns the water into wine.
Rice describes the biblical events of Jesus' baptism by his cousin John, his forty days of fasting and temptation by the devil, the casting out of demons of a madwoman, and the wedding where he performs his first major miracle. She describes these events in the context of the time, and gives some very interesting historical and cultural information along with it. The book is intriguing, but it is difficult to say how further installments of the series will go.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Five Skies by Ron Carlson

This was a difficult book for me to read, because the author sets it up in a way that makes you feel that one of the main characters is not going to make it through to the end. The story takes place over a summer, and centers on three men who are working together to build a stunt ramp. The ramp is supposed to launch a motorcycle rider across a tremendous gorge. As much work and expertise as they are putting into it, the men aren't really sure that it will be enough to actually get the motorcycle all they way across.
The three main characters are Darwin, Art, and Ronnie, and they really only know each other as of this job. Darwin is in charge, and he hires Art and Ronnie from a job site, where they have recently met. He drives them out to a camp at the edge of the gorge in the middle of nowhere, Idaho. Art is an experienced engineer and builder, while Ronnie has only done a job or two since getting out of juvie. They all have a past that is trying to eat at them, while they have all come out to this job site to get away from that past.
The feeling of impending doom does not really let up throughout the novel, although it is difficult to say what actually creates that feeling. Carlson does a good job telling the men's stories, interweaving them with the present time. We are left wondering what happens to them after the summer is over, although Carlson does give you an idea of the direction they move their lives in. He creates characters that you care about, and you want this summer to have been a turning point for them; it becomes the story of a summer that moves them on to the next thing in their lives.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey

Another one of Mercedes Lackey's very readable fantasies, this one the story of Swan Lake. At first I thought that it may have been part of a series, but it is a stand alone tale. Lackey has written two other series that center on well-known fairy tales: the Elemental Masters series and the Five Hundred Kingdoms series. This book is closer to the Elemental Masters series, as it does seem to take place in our world, just a more magical version. (Whereas the Five Hundred Kingdoms are very fantastical and not at all real.)
The Black Swan follows Odile, who is the daughter of the antagonist of the ballet Swan Lake (Odette being the good swan princess). In this story, Odile learns to sympathize with the plight of the swans, Odette included. She continues to defend her father's actions, until she learns that she has also been a pawn to his machinations all along. This gives her the courage to overcome his power. The story goes along just like the ballet, but when Odette and her Prince Siegfried throw themselves into the lake to die, Odile kills her father and saves their lives, providing a happy ending for everyone.
Lackey's characters are intricate and have quite a bit of depth, and of course there is always some interesting psychology going on. In this case, it is Odile dealing with her love for her father when he shows her nothing but contempt. This is a very well done and satisfying rendition of the traditional ballet story.