Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Interrogation of Gabriel James

Sunrise was at 6:27, sunset will be at 7:52. Heading towards equinox!

Cold, rainy, the perfect weather for a hot breakfast because then there is a reason for TOAST! Melted butter toast; warm and buttery toast with spoonfuls of Colleen's strawberry with cherry and peach jam. Jam that looks like a jar of stained glass. Mmmmm.

Just finished reading The Interrogation of Gabriel James, by Charlie Price, also the author of Dead Connection.

Gabriel James is the main witness in a crime. He witnessed the killing of a couple of people and his story unfolds in a series of police interviews interspersed with his memories of what happened that lead to the final scenes.

The story opens with a burial. Two people are dead, a girl's life is damaged, the town won't be the same. Gabriel is a good boy, one just making his way through his junior year, not particularly experienced with girls, becoming more experienced with break-ups, and not certain what kind of a man he'll be. When he begins to realize that things aren't quite right, he sets out, without really thinking about the repercussions, to see what he can do to fix it.

Cult leaders, communes, drugs, possible child abuse, being a teenager, Gabriel finds himself dealing with situations far beyond what he can help with but unwilling to go to the authorities until he knows if what he's seen is really as wrong as it appears.

The Interrogation of Gabriel James is a hard book to read, my stomach hurt in anticipation of what might happen, but so well-written, so well-designed as story. It is told in alternating pieces, police interviews and answers and then Gabriel's more detailed memories about the questions. A book you will want to finish in one sitting just so you won't keep thinking about it.

It's considered a coming of age story, so it is aimed at an older teen audience, 14 and up, but adults will find it compelling as well. I especially liked the landscaping of the book: high school in Montana, Billings, specifically. It's good. (Farrar Straus Giroux. Hardcover, $16.99. Available now.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer

I got up earlier than usual today because it is the release date for Suzanne Collins' last book in the Hunger Games series, Mockingjay, and we're having a morning party.

Getting up this early reminds me why I love this time of day. A crepuscular time. An un-pretty word for a time of day full of mystery and promise. The moon is 99.8% full and it is so bright I could only look at it in quick little glances.

I just looked out and it was sinking behind Beacon Hill, a cool, summery, pale yellow, at almost the same time the sun will come up. Moonset today is at 6:24 am and sunrise will be 6:17 am. Isn't that cool? And you know what else is kind of cool? The moon will be full at 10:05 am. And then it will be less full immediately after that. And on it goes.

Sunrise at 6:17, Sunset will be at 8:05.

I am reading Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer, by John Grisham. It is surprisingly good!

I've had so many people ask if I liked it, I thought I'd better read it, and I think it was worth the time, unlike so many other books written for children by authors of grown-up books.

I am learning a lot about how a trial is conducted and a lot of little bits of simple law. It's the story of a murder in a small town and the boy who follows the trial. Along the way, Theo helps a few of his school friends out as they come to him with their problems, giving them pushes in the direction they need to go to get "real" help.

It's pretty good and I really like the way it's written. It's a little dry, it's matter of fact, it's logical, just like his lawyer parents have raised him to be. I am looking forward to finishing it so I can see how he solves the immigration problem that's come up. Ages 9 and up. (Dutton. Hardcover. $16.99. Available now.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jack Horkheimer, Star Gazer

Sunrise will be at 6:15, sunset will be at 8:09. It really is the end of August and the high today will be 63 degrees. It's raining and cold and the air smells like fresh fish. It was dark when the alarm went off, I stayed in bed, too cold and unhappy about the way the day was starting to be able to roll out and get up. Then the cat started spider hunting- you just can't sleep through that.

"Greetings, greetings, fellow Stargazers!" Jack Horkheimer's died. He was an astronomer who brought the stars to us. Every night, D and I would wait for the little pieces about the stars to come on between the Red Green show episodes late at night. In the years we've watched, he lost weight, got a toupee -we figured he had to have had a new girlfriend. He would take a jaunty little walk down the milky way and then sit on the edge of Saturn, dipping as his weight settled, and then explain what we would see in the night skies that week.

He pointed out the constellations, told us how many of our suns would fit in Antares, gave us distances in language that we could wrap our heads around. He is the reason I know that the air and the wind change when the sun rises and sets. He is the reason I get up extra early on the solstice and leave the radio off; he suggested that we take a moment before the sun rises and just pay attention to the changes as it does. A little like prayer, it is a way to connect to the birds, the wind, and the stars just once or twice a year, giving your complete attention to the world.

Standing above Battle Rock, watching the fireworks fade and seeing that the stars were coming out behind them, a flat horizon perfect for stargazing, I realized that the constellation emerging was Scorpio, Jack's favorite. And, since June, the only new one I could pick out of all the others. Beautiful, long, a graceful length of stars pinned to the sky.

We'll miss you, Jack.

"Keep looking up!"


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chaos Walking details

Sorry, forgot to add the publisher stuff:

The Chaos Walking Series is published by Candlewick. It is good for ages 12 and up. The first two volumes are now available in paperback, the third is in hardcover only: Paperbacks are $9.99, Hardcover is $18.99.

The Third Place Teen Book Group (a real, good, name will be determined later!) will start in September and the first book will be The Knife of Never Letting Go. We will arrange the first discussion at Mr. Ness' visit on October 7 at 4 pm.

Here is a link to Patrick Ness' website: http://www.patrickness.com.

Chaos Walking, Patrick Ness

Sunrise was at 6:00, sunset will be at 8:28. It's clear, sunny, going to be in the 70's today.

I'm reading the third book in the Chaos Walking series, Monsters of Men, written by Patrick Ness, and it is so good. He is coming to Seattle on October 6 and we are taking him to middle and high schools. Email me at work (rkirkpatrick@thirdplacebooks.com) if you are interested in hosting him! We are also having a meet 'n' greet with him on October 7, at the store, at 4 pm.

This series starts with The Knife of Never Letting Go and I have to thank Mary Jane Beaufrand for turning me on to him. I don't know if I would have picked it up without her recommendation. Since I am not the children's book buyer, I don't often get the backstory of a new kid's book or even a little something extra to hang a good reason to pick this one up over that one. So, I thank you, MJ. I'll see you later and we'll share some books.

Anyway, this series is pretty amazing. It feels like a "dystopian" society book but can a dystopian society book take place on a different planet? I guess it can.

Todd is the last boy in Prentisstown and in one month he becomes a man. Years ago, a group of people from earth settled on a new planet. After a war with the indigenous people, the Spackle, a virus was released that killed all the human women and allowed the human men's thoughts to be broadcast to the world at large, even animals can project their thoughts, no one can escape the Noise. It is the defining object in their world, a club of words, thoughts, ideas, hitting and hitting, there is no getting away, there are no secrets. Until Todd, walking by the swamp with his dog Manchee, finds a quiet spot.

Realizing that this is something he needs to keep (quiet) from the town elders, he runs away. His leaving sparks violence in the town and he is followed by people who want to make sure he doesn't tell what he knows.

I can't tell you much more because it will give too much away. It's good to come to these books without a lot of knowledge- you can learn what you learn along with Todd, and he doesn't know a lot. There are secrets withing secrets, even with all the Noise.

There are aliens, hmm- I guess the humans would be the aliens, too, bad humans, good humans, talking animals (I am really worried about one of the horses), and great adventure. It's one of those series that you can't put down and, if you haven't started it, yet, you are lucky: the last book is on its way and you will be able to sit and read straight through.

I love the way Patrick Ness writes, he won the James Tiptree Award for The Knife of Never Letting Go, and he uses different fonts for different characters in the story. It would be a good series for discussions in book groups and at school as there are many different issues brought up in the book: What happens in a single sex society; the treatment of the women; violence; empire building; treatment of the native people. All in all it is one of those really well-done, well thought-out series that adults will enjoy as well as teens.

This series of books is extremely fast-paced, great for boys and girls ages 12 and up, and is filled with humor and violence. We are starting a teen book group and it will be the first book we discuss. I have another hour before I need to go to work and I am going to spend it in the pages of Monsters of Men.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dark Song and The Space Between Trees

Sunrise was at 5:59, sunset will be at 8:30. Tomorrow, sunrise will officially (in my view, anyway) no longer be early. It is overcast, cold, and the high will be somewhere around 72, late in the afternoon. Yeah, it's summer.

It is, however, perfect weather for reviewing a couple of darker teen novels, very good, very intense ones. The characters in The Space Between Trees and Dark Song are so easy to identify with especially if you are lonely, sad, or a "disaffected" youth. Sometimes it is just easier to go along with someone who doesn't give you a chance to say no or someone who seems smarter and likes you for who you are, "not like those other people".

Dark Song, by Gail Giles, is a good addition to her canon of books that deal with difficult issues like death, violence, impostors, predators. The books she writes are good ways for people to look at these issues, edge up to and peek over at something without actually going through with it.

Ames is a young girl whose family has just flown apart. They have always been at the upper end of the economic scale, large house, good vacations. Her mother has always been controlling and insistent, her father funny and loose.

When he is fired for stealing from his work to support his family in the way they have become accustomed, the core of each person's personality begins to eat its way to the forefront. Her father gambles with the savings accounts, there is nothing to borrow against, he succumbs to alcohol, drinking to abandon.

Her mother becomes even more controlling, selling everything worth anything, holding onto the few things she knows they will need to be able to survive until someone can get work. She contacts her in-laws, people she has never met, people her husband said abused him, to get help.

They offer her one of the rental units they own and all hell breaks loose when he finds out what she's done. They move to Texas to live in and repair the house the in-laws have offered them and at this moment, Ames realizes that everything she has ever known in her life has been a lie. Not one piece of her past is built on anything solid.

The handsome young man who comes to help them put up walls and paint, offers her a way out. Marc, a man who looks at her as if he really knows her, tells her she's beautiful, tells her he knows how to keep her safe, that he will never hurt her or lie to her, and that he knows how best to help her by getting rid of her parents.

Ames, who feels she has nothing left worth holding onto, is ripe for Marc's compliments and ideas, and begins to basks in the constant attention and time he spends with her. He tells her that no one is like her and he is the only one she needs. Ames is drawn to the darkness and sadness she feels in him, his dark song calls to hers.

I couldn't stop reading Dark Song, I'm glad it was summer then. It's fast paced and chilling. It's a good book for discussions about physical and mental abuse between young people and how to recognize it. Ages 14 and up. (Little Brown. Hardcover, $16.99. Available in September, 2010.)

The Space Between Trees, by Katie Williams, is a beautifully written debut novel. I love debut novels, don't you? There is so much promise in them, so much more to look forward to.

This is the story of Evie, a girl without many friends; she's a loner who delivers newspapers on Sundays and has a crush on the guy who collects the dead animals out of the small woods near her delivery route, Jonah.

One morning, early, Jonah finds a body in the woods.

When Evie finds out that the body she watched brought out of the woods was her childhood friend, Zabet, things begin to get very complicated.

Everyone is talking about the murder and Evie feels connected to Zabet even though their friendship was a long time ago. She is fascinated by the friendship Zabet had with a girl named Hadley, her best friend for years. How did they meet? How could the gentle, quiet Elizabeth Evie knew, morph into the Zabet who is best friends with the prickly, loud, party going, Hadley?

When an awkward encounter with Evie's father at the funeral ends up with an invitation to come to dinner at his house with Hadley, a few quiet lies about their relationships with each other are told, there are made up recent memories, and Evie is snared into an odd friendship with Hadley.

Hadley is obsessed with what happened to Zabet, following clues through the woods, stalking anyone who might have information about the murder, and is ruthless in pushing Evie into coming with her. Evie has replaced Zabet as Hadley's best friend, only in a different way.

Evie has never had a friend like Hadley. Hadley is fearless, slightly slutty, scared, still young but wants to be older, kisses boys, drinks, smokes cigarettes, she's dangerous. Evie is so attracted to her, she loves the attention she gets by being with her, and when things go wrong, Evie is the strong one.

Complicated relationships, yearning for love, excitement, The Space Between Trees is a great story about growing up.

I like how complicated the characters are in this book. Evie does things that remind me of people I know, people who make me cringe for the way they are, the way they try and make friends. Hadley is one of those girls, like Lindsay in Before I Fall, who are afraid of so much that they have to attack it before it gets them. They do everything fast and early so they can think they have control over it. The book is kind of edgy, it involves serious issues dealing with emotions and sex, but it feels as if you are reading it through memory. It is hushed and quiet, like an early foggy morning, even during the yelling and driving.

I love the way Katie Williams writes. Evie's narration of what happened during this time is almost like reading a diary you know no one else will ever read. The things she says about having a crush, what if feels like when that accidental touch makes the hair on your arm stand up, she peppers the narrative with such personal notes you know exactly what Evie is thinking, because you've felt that way, too.

The Space Between Trees
is for ages 12 and up. (Chronicle Books. Hardcover, $16.99. Available now.)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Sunrise was at 5:53, sunset will be at 8:36, August 6, 2010.

Cool today, this morning, anyway. A nice breeze, wind chimes chiming, fountains fountaining, Blue Angels ummm...ROARING! The closer they are to the house, the higher the pitch of the engines. They really do scream.

(Photo by Greg Gilbert of the Seattle Times.)
I-90 is silent, no freeway noise at all. I can't hear I-5 from here and Rainier is barely audible unless we're upstairs. It's a little eerie not to hear the buzz and rumble, the almost oceanic lull, of the traffic on Blue Angel days.

I can only imagine the utter frustration of someone traveling from far away, just getting ready to cross the lake, and being stopped dead for hours while the jets practice their rollovers and side by side flying. I hope they brought something to read and a little something to drink. Some of those travelers will have exquisite views of the show.

D's office is on the 19th floor of a "skyscraper" downtown and he was in a meeting facing SW when they were practicing yesterday- they were probably just outside the windows, close enough to see smiles and thumbs up as they flew by.

I just finished Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver, the story of a girl who dies and then relives that last day, over and over. She's given the chance to try and repair the wrongs she's inflicted on other people through the years.

Sam has everything: looks, friends, she's popular, has the perfect boyfriend, and on this day, Cupid Day, things couldn't be going better. There are a few thorns in all the roses she's collected as valentines, an old ex-friend who still pays attention to her even though she is mean to him, a girl everyone calls Psycho, but nothing she can't deal with. She is nervously looking forward to the party at the end of the day, a party at her ex-friend's house, where she is expected to lose her virginity to her boyfriend. Finally.

When Sam's evening doesn't exactly go the way it was supposed to, she and her friends decide to go home, drive too fast and hit a tree. There are flames and screaming and then Sam wakes up to the alarm ringing in her ear, and it is February 12, again.

It takes awhile but Sam eventually realizes that she is reliving the last day of her life, and that maybe she can swerve the end of the night and not die if she can fix how she got there.

Over these seven days she begins to see how horrible she has become, how every word she speaks has the ability to strafe or inspire and that she always chooses the strafing, how she chose to go to the dark side because she was afraid to lose the friends she had. She begins to understand more about herself and how she got this way, and each day gains more insight and wisdom into her self and the people she loves. She also begins to realize that the end result isn't so much how to keep herself from dying, but how she can leave the lives she's made such a mess of better when she's gone.

It's a rough book to read. Life is such a hard thing to learn: everyone is scared, no one knows how it's supposed to go, and few people, even the grownups, maybe especially the grownups, really have any answers to anything - we all make it up as we go along, trying to find a place in our lives where we can feel safe. There aren't any rule books, you can only hope you're doing it right.

It was a page-turner, that's for sure. There was a lot of tenseness as Sam plays around with each day, as each day spins toward the inevitable end, a lot of head-slapping when she'd do something that seemed really stupid. I worried that she'd run out of days before she got it right, I wondered if everyone else who died in the wreck had their own 7 days that they were tweaking and smoothing and if it was affecting the way Sam was fixing hers. These kind of time warping books always leave so many questions behind.

Before I Fall is Lauren Oliver's first book, her debut novel, and her second book is Delirium, a novel about about surgically removing love and emotion from the brain to keep one from feeling the intense emotions that make us unhappy or giddy, to keep us blandly even-keeled. Not bad for a new author, to have two books in a row that are both one-sit reads. Yay, Lauren! Ages 14 and up. (HarperCollins. Hardcover, 17.99. Available now.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Horses, Fairs and Wolves, Boys and Other Things...

Sunrise was at 5:51, sunset will be at 8:39. Are you experiencing the harvest feeling of afternoon heat and slanting yellow light? It's time for county fairs, sheaves of corn leaning together in tan teepees, bales of hay, dust, and the most exquisite scent of all: horse dung. Maybe it's the feeling that the dung evokes, not the smell exactly, the knowledge that if there's dung, there's gotta be a horse.

(Yes, this is a photo of horse manure, left behind during the Port Orford Jetty Jubilee parade. Empty street, parade long gone. This is a memory of horse.)

The horse barns are the thing I save for myself at the fair. Most people don't like the flies, the smell, they don't understand how someone can just look at big animals in their cubbies. I love it all-watching draft horses get their tails and manes braided, watching them being led - that female sway of hip and bone, tails switching from side to side- the sound of their hooves, hollow and sturdy.

I'm a little jealous of the camaraderie of the kids who are part of the horse club, their joking and laughing as they sit on hay bales cleaning leather and metal, mucking out the stables, watering and feeding their babies. They are like two legged herds of the equus clan, jeans clad,long-legged and awkward among the rest of their peers, biting and pushing as they head out for pop and corn dogs.

Ooh, and then there are the chicken and duck pens, and I love the grange exhibitions (although, you really have to go the first couple of days to get the full benefit of these- before things start to turn!).

Wolves, Boys, and Other Things that Might Kill Me, by Kristen Chandler, is NOT about werewolves, it's about REAL wolves. This was a really good book about the politics and history of the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone.

KJ lives near Yellowstone National Park, her dad is a wildlife guide, she is his sidekick, learning the trade and running the little store in town. The first time KJ sees a wolf in the wild, she is immediately smitten by the beauty and strength in the animal. She watches the landscape in hopes of sighting the local packs.

When school starts, KJ and the new kid, Virgil, work together on the newspaper, writing articles about the wolves, kicking up a load of antagonism and discord among their friends, families and townsfolk, especially among the local cattle ranchers.

As KJ and Virgil begin to investigate the idea of being more than journalists together, feelings and actions among townspeople and ranchers are beginning to get violent. Guns are fired, traps are set, cattle are killed, the town is torn apart and the two of them are in the middle of it all.

How do we cope with feeding one's family and making a living when the thing that can take it away from you is protected from harm?

I really enjoyed WB&OTTMKM (what is it with all these long titles?). It's a book about a mythic animal that was hunted almost to extinction and is now plentiful in a number of places. The book is filled with wolf facts and lore, and it presents both sides of an issue that will only get more political as packs get stronger. I loved the parents of KJ and Virgil and all of their issues: Virgil's mom studies wolves, KJ's dad takes hunters out hunting, KJ's dad is a little protective, Virgil's mom believes the kids are responsible. Good stuff.

The book has a great deal of humor and will present some great talking points for use in classrooms. Even though the main character is female, boys will like it, too. The issues raised will appeal to many people. Ages 12 and up. (Viking. Available now. Hardcover, $17.99.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sunrise was at 5:49, sunset will be at 8:41, 2 minutes and 49 seconds less daylight today than yesterday and I can feel every second of it.

Some crazy man, I'm hoping he was, anyway, was yelling outside our bedroom window at 3:50 am. I could only hear whooping and then, "Look at my leg! What's hanging on my leg? Help me, help me!" A quiet woman's voice shushes between the words and then absolute silence as 4 police cars and a fire truck filled with medics arrived. One other person on the street at that hour told the police that he "went that way" and off they rolled.

A few minutes' searching for a man with something hanging from his leg and the medics pulled themselves up our hill and into the truck (hard to open those heavy doors when parked engine-uphill). A last police crew searched the street with their huge flashlights, flicking light into the blackberry bushes and along the hidden parts of yards, and then they were gone. Quiet, soft air, warm flannel sheets, and then the first of the day's airplanes overhead.

I finally fell asleep just after my alarm went off at 5. The best sleep of the night always comes after the alarm goes off.

It's cool this morning, and foggy. It's easy to remember that Seattle is an ocean front town when the weather is like this.

I have been reading, reading, reading this last week. I am on a book awards committee and we meet in a couple of weeks to make our decision. Almost everything I've read has been great, all local authors, some old friends, and it will be hard to choose just one picture book and just one book for older readers.

I can't really talk about the 6 books I've read this week that are up for the award but I can talk about the one that isn't!

As Easy As Falling Off the Face of the Earth, by Newbery Award-winner Lynne Rae Perkins, is one of the very best books I've read in months. It's funny, it's sweet, it's a little unrealistic but it could happen.

Ry is on a train, heading to summer camp, when he finally reads the last letter sent from the director that says that camp has been canceled, don't come, there won't be anyone or anything there. The train slows for some reason, technical difficulties, cows, maybe, and Ry steps off to find some sort of reception for his phone- obviously he needs to go home and his Grandpa is the only one there. His parents are on a second honeymoon so grandpa is the go-to man for any emergencies.

As Ry climbs a hill to get better exposure to whatever satellites will find his phone, hoping the single bar will stay on the screen, he watches his train begin to leave. He throws himself at it, running and rolling down the hill, as it picks up speed and leaves him in the dust.

At this point, Ry has no idea what to do. No one is answering phones, he doesn't know how far that little town he saw from the top of the hill is, and his luggage is still on the train. What to do? His only option is to walk to the little town, wherever and whatever it is.

What happens after that is true quest material. Ry finds Del, a mechanic with a magic touch for all broken things, who helps him out when he finally gets to that little town. After trying Grandpa again, getting fed, waiting for an answer, Del decides to drive Ry home. He has some errands he can run and some people he'd like to see, so they embark on a trip that starts in Montana, should have ended in Wisconsin, but eventually ends up in the Bahamas, a classic buddy road trip.

I just LOVED this book. Ms. Perkins weaves other stories through the main story so we do find out why Grandpa doesn't answer his phone, why his parents are incommunicado, and where the dogs are. She fills in the white spaces with details that let us believe this could happen to someone who was just a few hours from home.

There is a scene involving a cat and a cat door that made me laugh out loud, snorting and tearing up, and still, three days later, pops into my head and takes me by surprise.

I have read almost everything Lynne Rae Perkins has ever written, I thought Criss Cross was brilliant, and one of my favorite picture books is called Home Lovely. Most picture books rely on pictures to tell the story, to compel the buyer to take it home, but, in her case, the writing is so good, you don't need the pictures-although they are PERFECT for the books. I just went to her website (http://www.lynneraeperkins.com) and see that she does her own illustrations! Hulloo Hullay!

Anyway, AEAFOTFOTE, is a great summer read. I forgot it at home one morning, running late for the bus, and my entire day was slightly off. It was as if the secret whatever I was looking forward to enjoying later was missing when I wanted it. I was so disappointed that it wasn't in my bag.

Adults will love it, kids will love it. You should read it. (12 and up. HarperCollins. Available now. Hardcover, $16.99.)