Category Archives: YA fiction

The Monday Book: FAREWELL SUMMER by Ray Bradbury

farewell-summer-ray-bradburyBradbury is one of my all-time favorite authors, even though he breaks all the rules of what I normally like to read.

He isn’t about character development or plot, and one of the reasons people have a hard time adapting his books to TV or Movies or Stage Plays (witness The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes) is that not much happens. What does happen is subtle. I mean, think about it, humans land on Mars and the theme of Chronicles is how it makes humans feel and act to have done that.

When the wind blows in Bradbury’s books, it is action, event, and plot development. His winds don’t blow, they dance, sprinkle the dust of mummies into towns, awaken strangeness, extend foggy hands to pull you into graveyards and make you explore your dark side. They might even slap you off a cliff, but they never just blow. And yet, that’s all that happens for three chapters: Bradbury describes the effect of the wind on people – mostly young boys and those who would force them to return to school at the end of summer: the Evil Old Ones who battle for control of the clocks.

I don’t know any other authors who can write such mundane clichés with so much beauty and elegance, you go back and reread the sentences for the joy of them.

Farewell Summer is actually the sequel to a book I didn’t get into all that much of Bradbury’s, mostly because it was written so much from a boy’s perspective that it left no room for a girl to say “Hey, me too! I want more childhood and to be grown-up at the same time, too!”

But that’s fair enough. How can anyone stay feminist-annoyed at an author who writes such incredible openings as this one in Chapter 19:

Grandpa’s library was a fine dark place bricked with books, so anything could happen there and always did. All you had to do was pull a book from the shelf and open it and suddenly the dark was not so dark anymore.

Yes, okay, just give me some more sentences and let me slide under the spell of his poetry where nothing happens except the wind blows and school lets out for summer. It’s lovely.

 

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The Monday Book: THE BAR CODE TATTOO by Susanne Weyn

First, apologies for last week, when dental surgery knocked me out of the world for a few days. I read Tattoo as escapism – somebody was having a worse time than me.

Weyn’s premise is interesting: everyone gets the bar code tattoo, encrypting all the data about them, on their seventeenth birthday. It isn’t mandatory, but it’s encouraged. Except it’s becoming mandatory. And as this takes hold, more and more people are getting the raw end of this deal, because the government knows everything about them. Promotions, health care, educational access: it’s not an open system  now that people are open books.

What’s interesting is that only one small dialogue in the book is devoted to the Christian take on what is essentially the Mark of the Beast plan. Weyn concentrates instead on the rebellion of teens and the growing awareness among people that the tattoo is ruining instead of assisting their lives.

While the writing is what I’d consider lumpy and the characters pretty thin, I liked reading it because I’m fascinated by dystopian lit, and YA fiction. And Biblical retellings, although this one ignored the religious angle. Her second and third book take up that piece a wee bit more, but overall this is more teen thriller based on futurism than any form of religious fiction.

It’s not the kind of thing I would read every day, but when you’re in the mood for frenzied, freaky, and futuristic, you couldn’t do better than the Tattoo series. (Weyn’s next books are Barcode Rebellion and Barcode Prophecy.)

 

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The Monday Book: NIGHT JOURNEY by Kathryn Lasky

It stands to reason that, having cleaned out the children’s room, I would have picked up a book or two to read for fun.

What’s really cool is when you start reading, and suddenly you remember a line from the book just before you read it, and you quote it as you read along. Which is how I found out I’d read this book a long, long time ago.

I picked up The Night Journey not because I remembered reading it, but mostly because it had a Samovar on front, and because Trina Schart Hyman illustrated it. She’s one of my two most favorite children’s book illustrators. LOVE her work.

Journey describes a great-grandmother and grandchild reconstructing the elder woman’s escape from pogrom-filled Russia when she was the age of the child to whom she is now telling the story. Filled with finely-drawn characters like Aunt Ghisa (a little bitterness from the unmarried sister who still loves her niece) and Wolf, the tormented loner who escaped an earlier Cossack raid at a cost higher than life. When Rache is first told her great-grandmother’s story, so intense is Wolf’s part in it that she writes it in a letter to be opened on Rache’s eighteenth birthday. The letter being opened is the culmination of the story, and it is intensely bittersweet.

Children’s books aren’t so layered and deep these day, methinks. The dismantling of the Samovar so the family can sneak it out with then, and the protection of the gold coins the family carries, run through the larger historic story like gold threads. It is a very satisfying read.

And fast. Which is fun sometimes, when you just want to spend two nights living someone else’s life from the safety of your pillow.

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The Monday Book: ENDGAME by James Frey

well-this-sucksOh dear God in Heaven, Frey, you make up a memoir about drug addiction and somebody gives you the keys to a fictitious city????

How many ways is Endgame bad – the writing that has characters doing abrupt turns from their previous hopes and dreams, all in the space of one sentence? The conceit of hiding a treasure hunt inside, along the lines of that golden rabbit buried a couple decades back, and getting people to buy the book so they can do the math and be one of the treasure hunters? The really, really stupid plot device of 12 ancient lines who all know about themselves but not each other, and who have successfully passed this secret from family to family without anybody else knowing? Kids killing each other – wow, where did you get such a great new idea in YA fantasy?

Shall I go on, or do we now have enough reasons to leave James Frey’s book alone? He’s the guy who wrote A Million Little Pieces in which he claimed to have had dental surgery without anesthetic, crawled into a crack house within weeks of getting clean in order to carry his girlfriend out and enroll her in a program holding a spot for her, and been taken into the fold of a gangster who treated him as a son during their rehab. At the time I was reading Pieces I was working with addicts in a literacy program, and I remember thinking about halfway through the book, “No way, man. He’s lying.” Which turned out to be what everyone else thought, too.

Give it up, world. There is no taste, no truth, and no future. The Sky Gods are coming for us all, unless we’re one of those ancient lines or found the golden rabbit.

Short version: this book sucks.

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The Monday Book: THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION by Jessamyn West

You know how you start thinking about an old friend, and then look them up, and find they were thinking of you? This book is like that.

west-persuasionWest wrote it (and its companion volume Except for Me and Thee) more than 75 years ago, but it’s still just as funny and sweet, mostly because it’s about humans. Just humans, and how they interact, living on a farm in the Midwest as Quakers.

Well, there’s that Civil War bit, and their brush with the Underground Railroad, which is somehow more intense now reading it in these troubled years. So much should have changed by now…..

Not much has changed in human courtship, either, and the stories around love affairs (would be or actual) are as hysterical as they are accurate. If you want to just escape into a world that pre-dates Jan Karon but echoes our own modern troubles, this is a good one.

The author was a woman ahead of her time. She wrote two of my all-time favorite quotes about writing: “Talent is helpful in writing but guts are absolutely essential” and “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.”

That kinda sums up The Friendly Persuasion. One of the reasons people will still be reading it years from now is its poignant accuracy in describing human interactions.

 

 

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The Monday Book: THE LAST MORTAL MAN by Syne Mitchell

deathlessSo I’m not the world’s biggest SF fan these days, but when THE LAST MORTAL MAN came into our shop, I was in a mood and needed a book in a hurry. I packed it in my bag and raced for my plane, train, or car pool, whatever it was.

Ironically, I soon discovered that I had picked up a novel that was one long futuristic chase scene. This book never stops, people running hither thither and yon getting disintegrated despite being immortal (which hardly seems fair) and willing their no-longer-human flesh into weapons and dropping buildings on each other while operating a mind-melding Facebook equivalent called Gaia-Net.

It is HBO’s animated wet dream, this book.

THE LAST MORTAL MAN is driven by violence and nano-science rather than characters. That said, Mitchell has a great imagination. (Well, hey, she’s a weaver. You can check our her fiber art stuff by googling her name.) She can find ways to kill people who have made themselves immortal and create landscapes with their brain. Also, underneath the VERY fast-paced killing and tech-willing, you find pieces of humanity-and-social-justice-oriented plot that could have been something special had they been developed. (Her series was cancelled after the first book. Which might explain why so many things obviously being set up were left unfinished; she expected to have more time later.)

The premise of the book is that the world is so full of tech, when you create tech that destroys tech, the only people left will be little kids and the Amish. Yep, there are Amish people in this book, and – wait for it – one of the girls is the love interest. Yeah, I about died laughing. All those Christian Amish romances, and it comes to this?

That sounds like I’m making fun of Mitchell’s work. No, just that it had a lot of potential that seemed to fall apart in the urge to write ever-faster hard-rock chase scenes where Immortal Girl in black rubber body suit wills her arm into a blade and defends little kids from big bad assassins sent by the Deathless Cartel because they’re mad at the Godfather of Immortality – whose henchman came up with the tech that kills tech.

It all runs faster from there, mostly downhill.

I wanted to like this book, and finished reading it because it was so…. silly. All plot and no people. No one you wanted to root for, and when it comes down to the finale the world is saved or doomed by a Siamese kitten and her girl, who are paired to be the perfect killers/saviors by releasing tech each of them holds half of. I like Siamese cats. I really do. But….

Normally I don’t review books I didn’t like, so you’re wondering why I did this one? Well, truth is, I did like it. It was so bizarre it amused me. Like every once in awhile, instead of getting chocolate cake, you choose Jello, just because.

This book is Jello. Flavorful, rainbow jello with sprinkles. And killer kittens.

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A guest blog from TWO BEARS FARM

This blog is from Lisa, who blogs at twobearsfarm.com, about her visit to our bookshop. Thank you, Lisa!

A while ago my mom loaned me a book called The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap.  A memoir, it sat on my bookshelf for a while before I read it and discovered it was so much better than I ever expected.  I fell in love with the quirky used bookstore in Big Stone Gap, and suggested to my parents (who both enjoyed the book, too) that we go there.

Big Stone Gap is waaaaayyyy down in the deep southwest of the state.  It took us a while to get there.  On the way we stopped at a farm to table restaurant in Meadowview called Harvest Table where I got the best grilled chicken sandwich ever.  I never even knew chicken could taste like that. On homemade focaccia with a remoulade sauce, it was the most tender, most flavorful chicken in existence.  If you are ever out that way (and you probably won’t be), be sure to stop in.

Eventually, we made it to Big Stone Gap, deep in the Appalachian mountains.  The bookstore didn’t disappoint.   The boys had a blast exploring all the rooms and carrying around the six (!) foster kittens in residence.  We all found a few books we needed.

On the way home we took a little detour through Lebanon so I could see the area where my grandfather’s family lived.  I enjoyed seeing his old stomping ground, imagining him as a young boy there with his siblings.

It was a lot of driving for one day, but included unique experiences, and I got to see some beautiful areas of the state I had never seen before.  Plus, that chicken sandwich?  Totally worth seven hours of driving.

Readers – have you ever gone out of your way to see a place from a book or a movie?

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