Friday, June 08, 2007

Book Three: Powers by Deborah Lynn Jacobs

183 pages; reading and writing time: 2 1/2 hours

Powers by Deborah Lynn Jacobs. Roaring Brook, 2006 (1-59643-112-1) $16.95

Adrian is a really cute guy, and he knows exactly how to use it. Gwen is a Watcher, hiding behind thick glasses and oversized clothes. He's meant to ignore her; she's meant to despise him. Until they accidentally touch and energy surges. Suddenly Adrian is hearing people's thoughts and Gwen, who already had strange, prophetic dreams, is having visions of people in danger.

Instantly hooked on the power he feels coming from Gwen, Adrian sets out to win her over, and his new gift of mind-reading makes it easy--until Gwen catches on and strikes back with power of her own.

Powers alternates between Adrian's thoughts and Gwen's, sometimes ricocheting between them within the same scene; the immediacy makes it compelling despite the fact that a lot of what's going on is unpleasant. Caught up in an inescapable love-hate relationship, both characters wind up using power in nasty ways--including Adrian's superior physical strength and Gwen's imaginative uses of his gift to punish him. (Refusing to eat so Adrian will feel starving, for one.) Although each character has positive sides, it can be hard to get past their manipulations enough to like them. The ending offers a pretty-good redemption and romantic happy-ever-after (which I have to wonder about, considering the whole creepy mind-reading thing, but I'll let it go.) Fans of paranormal romance will probably enjoy this one. (14 & up)

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Book Two: The Dream-Maker's Magic by Sharon Shinn

261 pages. Reading and writing time: 2 1/2 hours

The Dream-Maker's Magic by Sharon Shinn. Viking, 2006 (0-670-06070-4) $16.99

I came to this book with mixed feelings: I love Shinn's
adult novels (science-fiction/fantasy plus romance--just dip them in
chocolate and life could be no better) but the first book in this YA
series was simultaneously a bit dull and a bit creepy, and I don't think
I even made it through the second; I remember literally nothing about
it. Things are looking up in the third title though, which has an
intriguing premise and several appealing characters.

Kellen, a girl whose obsessed mother insists that she had been born a boy and somehow changed, has grown up with a sometime useful, but usually confusing androgyny, never feeling she fits in with other girls or boys and always feeling like a disappointment. "I did not really think of myself as a boy or a girl. I considered myself just Kellen. Just me. Just nobody." Kellen finally finds a friend in Gryffin, also handicapped from birth though in a more conventional manner of twisted feet and legs. The intelligent and thoughtful Gryffin has no trouble accepting Kellen and quickly becomes important to her: "I suppose other people saw him as being broken and a little sad. I saw him as astonishing." When Kellen grows older and begins to crave a feminine identity, Gryffin is accepting as always. But life has some major surprises in store for Gryffin--and for Kellen, it may mean losing her dearest friend and any future they might have together.

Shinn has created a mildly interesting fantasy world, a generic medieval sort of setting in which certain people have specific powers: Truth-Tellers always speak the truth, Safe-Keepers can be trusted to keep any secret someone needs to unburden, and Dream-Makers, the most powerful and revered, somehow make dreams come true. The small details of the society are the most compelling, such as the Wintermoon wreaths Kellen and Gryffin make every year, symbols of their deepest wishes. But it baffles me why Shinn, many of whose adult books are ideally suited to young adult readers, gets so tentative and lightweight when she's writing specifically for a YA audience. The Dream-Maker's Magic is a good read, decidedly the best of the series, but I can't see recommending it when I could recommend Angelica instead.

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we interrupt this book challenge for a crisis of conscience

I saw someone offering a damaged copy of Inconsolable at paperbackswap and my heart just went thud. The author of that book happens to be a mama friend of mine and so I happen to know that it didn't sell that well--despite the fact that she is an awesome writer and extremely funny. (It just hit me, I need to read Inconsolable for this book challenge! I'll save it for tomorrow, when I have a car trip.) She definitely did not make the big bucks on that book. It makes me feel really crappy about the whole swapping thing.

I need a ruling...

Do we get to count books we read for 15 minutes before deciding it just wasn't working out?

Book One: The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater

307 pages. Time spent reading and writing: 3 hours (not counting interruptions to water the garden and help my son through a freak out after he read about "grades" in a book and feared getting an "F." So much for the benefits of homeschooling.)

The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater. Houghton Mifflin, 2007 (978-0-618-59444-3) $16.00

I'm not that familiar with Homer, but shouldn't this have been named The Nedyssey? It's very much a classic journey story, filled with encounters with magical people and places, all told in typical laid-back Pinkwater style.

Ned leaves behind an ordinary happy childhood in Chicago when his wealthy father is siezed with a desire to "eat in the hat" (The Brown Derby restuarant) and decides to relocate the entire family to Los Angeles. On an event filled train journey, Ned meets a shaman named Melvin, who gives him a stone turtle, telling him to take care of it at all times. Ned does his best to hold on to the turtle, while various villians occasionally attempt to steal it, and other odd characters make vague hints that something really crummy will happen if they succeed, but he spends most of his time enjoying the trip and then the bizarreness that was 1940's Los Angeles, sometimes accompanied by several movie stars and their kids, the ghost of a bellboy, a mystical giant Turtle and fat men from space.

As in most of Pinkwater's books, the movement of the plot plays second fiddle to descriptions, which is easy to forgive since he makes even the simplest things worth reading about:

"Our waiter was Charles. He was smooth. He was sharp. Just watching him put a plate on the table, you knew that he knew everything about food and being a waiter. If you wanted more ice water, he would be pouring it into your glass at the moment you first knew you wanted it--and the way he poured it was perfect. It was impossible to imagine he might spill water, no matter how much the train rocked--but if he had, I'm sure he would have done it in a way that made you happy you were there to see it."

You can also forgive a lot in a book that is so darned funny. Some of the jokes only an adult is likely to get--one of the chapter titles is "My Yiddishe Shaman"--but most of the humor comes from well-timed repetition and low-key wackiness. (After the book's villian steals the turtle at gunpoint and parachutes from a plane, the pilot calmly remarks, "Well, that was a first.")

Although I prefer a tighter plot and a bit more resolution, I thoroughly enjoyed The Neddiad. It's probably the coziest book ever written about the possible end of civilation, if only one of the funniest. (10 & up)

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on yer marks

My Official Starting Time: 9:10 am Friday morning (PST)

My starting book: The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater.