Thursday, June 21, 2012


by Diana Wynne Jones
New York : Greenwillow Books, c1994.

All is not well at Hexwood Farm, and Sector Controller Boranus is not happy. The Reigners won't be happy if they realize some underling awoke the Bannus, a machine that can create theta space and cause real people to go through somewhat manufactured events in order to see the best course of action. Meanwhile, on Earth, Ann Stavely has been sick and, the first day she feels better, she enters a wood where she meets Mordion, a strange man who says he has been in stasis for years and Hume, a boy she seems to have some responsibility for. But odd things seem to be happening with time and the sequence of events when she goes in the wood...

If that sounds confusing, well, let's just say this is the sort of complex story that doesn't sound at all right when I try to sum it up without spoilers. Ignore the awful cover art (yes, that really is the book I own). This story has a little bit of everything: complex storyline, sympathetic characters, and a dash of humor. I've been making my way through Diana Wynne Jones' oeuvre, and thought I'd found my favorites already (Howl's Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm, in case you're wondering), but Hexwood surprised me by turning out to be one of the best.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Super Bowl Monday

Super Bowl Monday: from the Persian Gulf to the shores of west Florida: The New York Giants, the Buffalo Bills, and Super Bowl XXV
by Adam Lazarus
Lanham, Md. : Taylor Trade Pub., 2011.

*NOTE: This review refers to the book I received through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. As per the rules, I receive a free book in return for a review, and whether it's positive or negative has no affect on my receiving books in the future.*

Super Bowl XXV was held at the end of the 1990 season, a fantastic game between the Buffalo Bills - the new team on the block with a dynamic offense - and the New York Giants - the old guard, big on defense and a running game. Headed up by Jim Kelly and backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler, these teams competed in an exciting, closely contested game devoid of turnovers.

The subtitle "From the Persian Gulf to the Shores of West Florida: The New York Giants, the Buffalo Bulls, and Super Bowl XXV" is a little misleading. The Persian Gulf War is more of a backdrop, going on behind the scenes, and affecting the game in such ways as increasing security, and the discussion over whether or not the game should go on during a war. Really, it's all about the football. Lazarus begins by showing Hostetler and Kelly rising through the ranks in college to play in the NFL, overviews the season and playoffs, before diving in to the heart of the narrative: Super Bowl XXV. The play-by-play of this game is at the heart of the book and where Lazarus' writing really shines. He throws in other things, too, such as flashbacks to previous Super Bowls and a chapter on the assistant coaches working with the Giants who would go on to have fantastic careers of their own (Belichick and Coughlin, anyone?), but I found this gave the narrative a staccato rhythm, instead of building up momentum to the final play of the game. Also, he goes on a bit too long in the final chapters of "after" the big game, and I started to lose interest. Lazarus has clearly done his research and extensive interviews in 2010, so the inclusion of players' and coaches' reminiscences add a lot. If you're a Giants or a Bills fan - or even if you're just a football fan - it's worth a look.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Book Thief

by Martin Zusak
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.

Death narrates the story of Liesel Meminger, a nine-year-old girl who goes to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann in the late 1930s Germany.

I first read this when it came out in the United States in 2006, and read it this time around for a book group. I was shocked to find that while I had the impression of the book - a thought-and-tear-provoking read - deeply ingrained, I didn't remember much of the story at all. As a result, this reread was just as powerful and moving as I remember my first being. Death as the narrator is eminently appropriate, not only because of the subject matter but because, while he is sympathetic, he makes observations of humans as an outsider. This is at once a troubling and beautiful read that I highly recommend.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Frontier Wolf

by Rosemary Sutcliff
New York : Dutton, 1981, c1980.

Alexios is twenty-three, young to be as highly ranked as he is in the Roman Eagles, but his uncle is the Dux Britanniarum, and he has risen quickly. When his superior, Centurion Critos, is killed in battle young Alexios suddenly finds himself in command, and he makes an ill-fated decision. Now, he faces the consequences and is sent to the north to lead the Frontier Wolves. Can he ever recover from his mistakes and earn the respect of these men?

I've been slowly reading through the Dolphin Cycle series in chronological order, leading up to the book that I own, The Lantern Bearers. Up until this title, I've been enjoying the books alright, but a little bemused at how lauded Rosemary Sutcliff is. Frontier Wolf changed that for me. I found myself drawn in by the rich descriptions, slowing my reading down so that I could pick up on details (if I blinked and scanned a page too fast, I found that I had missed key information about a character or a season change). The plot unfolds slowly, so that for the first half of the book I wondered where it was going to end, and for the second half I realized how inevitable the results were. There is nothing to mark these as exclusively children's books: the main character is in his twenties, and the pace develops slowly while the characters and description carry the book for some time. Not to mention, this one deals with war in a very realistic way and had such a melancholy tone. I don't think most children would pick up on the nuances of the story, but perhaps I do not give young readers as much credit as the author obviously does. While it's not perfect - the dialog still sounds stilted at times, for example - this book left me excited to read the next book in the series.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


by R.J. Palacio
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

August Pullman, Auggie for short, is going to start fifth grade this year. He's been homeschooled all along, because he's needed multiple surgeries and has a genetic disorder that means he just doesn't look like other people. Told in multiple voices, Wonder tells the story of his first year in school, dealing with the challenges of family and friends from the perspective of a person whom people look at differently because of his appearance.

I found this story heartwarming and powerful. I rooted for Auggie, and really loved him as a character. He acknowledges that people see him as different, but because of the parts of the story in his perspective, we also see that inside, he's just a normal 10-year-old kid. We can also see the perspectives of his sister, Via, and a boy at school, Jack. Each voice is unique and adds to the overall picture readers have of Auggie and the challenges he faces in school. If you loved Rules by Cynthia Lord, I highly recommend this book as well. Not many books make me cry: this one did.