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covers the finest in thinking women's reading, plus mysteries, non-sexist children's books, and news from women's publishing. Written by the owners and staff at Women & Children First, and friends.
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Books for Women
- October 2006 -
Volume 2 Number 9
Welcome to this issue of More Books for Women. You'll find recommendations
from the women at Women and Children First as well as from Mary Ellen Kavanaugh,
Sara Luce Look, and the mystery column from Nan Cinnater. In the kids' section,
there are many suggestions for middle readers this time, and then we follow
up with some news.
And for those who have sent their well-wishes to Carol, thank you. Carol
did make it safely to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and is enjoying her first days as
the new Director at Mslexia.
Ann Christophersen recommends...
I had intended to read a novel by Edna O'Brien for years. With her seventeen
earlier works of fiction, one would think that during that broad span of time
and work I might have accomplished that modest goal. When I received a reading
copy of her latest novel,
The Light of Evening, I determined the time
had come, especially since my most revered writer, Alice Munro, had this to
say on the back cover: "Reading O'Brien is like going into a special place
full of radiant energy and intense understanding, unlike any other reading
enclosure I know." Alice is resoundingly accurate. This novel about two generations
of mother-daughter relationships is deeply resonant and nuanced: one feels
the keenest sense of the love, dependency, pain, and irresolution that so
many women feel, whichever side of the relationship they occupy. Dilly is
the main character, an elderly and very resilient woman who, at the beginning
of the novel, is suffering from a potentially terminal illness - she is on
the way to the hospital to find out. She is also suffering the painful distance
her daughter, Eleanor, has imposed on their relationship. Eleanor left home
at a young age and, after a disapproved marriage, has stayed abroad ever since,
with only brief visits home. In the course of the narrative, told in eight
parts, sometimes in the first person, sometimes the third, we hear of Dilly's
early adulthood as an Irish immigrant to the United States and her return
home at her mother's request after the death of Dilly's brother. Many of the
features of her relationship with her mother parallel to some extent the powerful
but difficult connection she has with her own daughter. She longs for her
daughter's company at this fragile, frightening time for herself, but Eleanor
simply does not have the capacity to care for her mother - she is compelled
to flee after a much too short visit to the hospital. The end of the narrative
is heartbreaking in many respects, but there is resolution of a kind. The
artfulness of this novel is simply stunning, and what gives the story its
tremendous power. Houghton Mifflin, $25, 9780618718672.
Many months ago I recommended one of my all-time favorite books by a woman
athlete, Swimming to Antarctica,
by Lynne Cox.
In that book, this long distance swimmer captures the feelings of being in
the water for hours on end, battling waves, currents, extreme cold, shifting
weather - and her own psyche at times, faced with the enormous effort of keeping
it together. In addition to the thrills of the physical sensations she relates
and the amazing prowess she displays, Cox's story was very inspiring, too:
she was motivated to take on challenges literally no one else had ever attempted
not just "because they were there," but in order to accomplish political goals.
Her new book,
Grayson, tells a simpler story, but it is a very pleasurable
book, too. In it she describes swimming one pre-dawn morning, doing her regular
workout, when she senses that something is in the water near her - something
large - swimming in pace. She fears it might be a shark, but after a period
of time and some anxiety, she discovers what it is: a baby whale, on its own,
clearly separated from its mother at a too tender age. The rest of the tale
is of her attempts to help the babe she calls Grayson find its way back, and
the sort of attachment the two form in the process. It's very sweet, a lovely
near-parable about the connections that can develop when two parties look
out not just for themselves but the other as well, even when those parties
are of two different species. Knopf, $16.95 hardcover, 9780307264541.
Linda Bubon suggests...
Small Acts of Sex and Electricity is written in a voice
wholly her own and captures the surreal sense of chaos and upheaval that often
follows loss. Mattie, a single Chicago woman and art appraiser, flies out
to the California coast to help her friend Jane, married with two daughters
ages four and fourteen, in the wake of Jane's grandmother Franny's death.
Franny has left her beach house and considerable estate to Jane and her sister,
and Jane has become unraveled trying to sort through Franny's priceless antiques
and hodgepodge of art and collectibles (including 59 bottles of bubble bath).
Then Jane roars out in Franny's Jaguar, leaving Mattie the option of climbing
into Jane's bed with Jane's husband, Mike, whom Mattie dated first and still
loves. Mattie, Mike, and the two girls ricochet around the house, drinking
too much, crashing into antique vases and each other, wondering if Jane will
return. The chaos of the present is gradually revealed to be a legacy of Jane's
and Mattie's childhood, a poignant mess of neglectful parents and too much
independence, in which Franny was the one loving caretaker. Rich with metaphors,
yet spare in description, Small Acts of Sex and Electricity is a compelling,
memorable read. Unbridled Books, $23.95, 9781932961270.
New in paperback, Zadie Smith's
On Beauty brought me much pleasure
in its opening scenes, reminiscent of E.M. Forster's Howard's End,
one of my very favorite books. But there's so much going on in Smith's book,
so many balls are tossed in the air and then brought crashing down at the
end, that my reading pleasure wasn't completely sustained. That said, On
Beauty is definitely worth reading, and, I think, would make a great book
for discussion. No one I've read gets at the nuances of class and race issues
like Zadie Smith. And her skewering of the pretensions of academics - particularly
the insular, East Coast variety - is priceless. Penguin, $15, 9780143037743.
Speaking of books for discussion, our book group recently discussed Barbara
Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie, which
we found very relevant to current commentaries about the female brain and
the dearth of women in science. Goldsmith does a wonderful job of helping
the reader understand the enormous contributions of the Curies to nuclear
medicine and energy. We all agreed that the book reads like a novel and gets
at the essence of Marie Curie's amazing, admirable, and in many ways, tragic
life. Raised in an intellectually rich but materially impoverished Polish
family suffering under Russian repression, Marie, the youngest of five children,
was kept physically distant from her tubercular mother and educated by her
stern father. While still a child, two of her sisters and her mother died,
triggering profound depression which would haunt her all her life. Goldsmith
carefully traces her path to scientific greatness, her collaboration with
her beloved husband Pierre, her lifelong pacifism, her heroic contributions
during World War I (she was responsible for setting up, and with her teenage
daughter, Irene, running mobile X-ray units at the front), the enormous competition
among scientists to unlock the secrets of radium and its uses, the making
of her iconography, and the legacy passed on to her daughters and granddaughters.
Norton, $14.95, 9780393327489.
Angelique Grandone is enjoying...
A Field Guide to Getting Lost is a deeply
felt meditation on exactly what you would think: the art and science
of "lost." At times the book feels almost like a metaphysical dictionary
entry comprised of essays, with each new section taking on a different
fragment of meaning. We roll through an intoxication of themes,
most notably the blue of distance, a recurring subheading for several
sections of the book. Color theory plays its part, as does lost
love, lost keys, abandoned buildings, forests, punk rock, the desert,
and memory. Reading this book was like meeting a road-worn traveler
at a small town bar and staying up talking until dawn without noticing.
It was that good. You can't have my copy. Go buy your own. Penguin,
Helen Thomas was in Chicago this month to keynote the Chicago Foundation
for Women’s Annual Luncheon and to promote her new book,
Watchdogs of Democracy?:
The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public (Simon
and Schuster, $25, 9780743267816). I haven't yet had a chance to read it (maybe
next month!), but her previous book,
Thanks for the Memories, Mr. President:
Wit and Wisdom from the Front Row at the White House is a wonderful collection
of her recollections, both profound and anecdotal, of life in and around the
White House through the past eight administrations. Her wit is razor sharp
and she is not afraid to tell a story on herself, but the insight she offers
into the daily lives of great - and not so great - leaders is the most powerful
aspect of the book. Her unique vantage point allows an uncommon proximity
to our presidents' successes, failures, and everyday humanness. Simon and Schuster,
Mary Ellen Kavanaugh is reading...
I just loved
Save Your Own, the debut novel by Elizabeth Brink. Now,
I do have a thing for debut novels, it is true. I think that they are often
exceptionally well written - they have to be to get the attention of a publisher.
That said, this one falters a wee bit, only in the construction (more later
- and I am willing to own my criticism as merely a personal quirk of my own).
Our protagonist, Gillian Cormier-Brandenburg, the daughter of two cold and
dry college professors, is herself in the process of writing (or, more to
the point, not writing) her dissertation at Harvard Divinity School.
At 26, she knows herself to be quite the outcast - she is physically homely,
overly intellectual, and quite lacking in relationships of any kind with other
human beings. The topic of her dissertation - secular conversion experiences
- is not such a hit in her department, and, in truth, she is not entirely
convinced herself that she really believes in them. On the brink of losing
her funding, she takes a job in a halfway house for women - where she hopes
to meet people whose life experiences will help her with her dissertation.
As she struggles to connect with the women she meets, and what this brings
up for her, she experiences what one could argue is her very own secular conversion.
The book is laugh-out-loud funny. The characters are quirky and memorable.
It raises interesting questions - about ethics, about "the academy," about
doubt vs. faith, about desire, about knowing ourselves - and it is an interesting
story line. (I know, so what could be the problem, you fussy reviewer, I hear
you asking). Here it is: the essential story seems to "end" with a strong,
but not entirely satisfying scene. Then, the last chapter is an epilogue -
fast forwarding to Gillian's life twenty years hence. My quibble with this
kind of ending is that I have been so involved in the details of Gillian's
life (indeed, the book reads like a memoir), and I am quite invested in how
she works out these life transitions on a day-to-day basis). If there is to
be more, then I want more - not a summary! That said, do not let my personal
bias against the ending prevent you from enjoying this delightful, intelligent
read. Houghton Mifflin. $23, 9780618651146.
Fan of Virginia Woolf? How about feminist literary criticism? You'll want
Rooms of Our Own by Susan Gubar in your library, for sure! Gubar, whose
name you most likely know from the classic The Madwoman in the Attic: The
Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, has here,
an interesting work. Written in a style which mimics Woolf's own work, this
much respected literary critic takes on issues of feminism and writing/literary
criticism in the academy. Although the writing is, at times, dense, and obscures
the points she is making, it is, nonetheless both useful and informative.
As a non-academician myself (but with degrees in literature and years of teaching
said and bookselling experience going on), I have often felt excluded from
academic discussions of literature - a point I often raised with the women
of the "Textual Studies" department at the local university when they came
in to my feminist bookstore. I appreciate Gubar's inquiry into the place of
postmodern theory in literary studies, her look at how race is dealt with
in feminist literary criticism, and more, all filtered through a memoir-like
telling of an academic year. Univ. of Illinois Press. $19.95 paperback, 9780252073793.
Sara Luce Look loves...
In Jim Lynch's
The Highest Tide, a 13-year-old boy named Miles O'Malley
is obsessed with Rachel Carson. He lives near Olympia, Washington, by Puget
Sound, and he loves examining sea life. When Miles discovers a giant squid
washed up on the beach, scientists gather to speak with him. He becomes a
sort of cult hero, and his quiet life changes. This beautiful coming-of-age
novel is interspersed with Rachel Carson's writing. Bloomsbury. $13.95, 9781582346298.
Seattle based, Judith Rhine Hendricks wrote 2001's
Bread Alone (Harper,
$13.95, 9780060084400), the story of Wynter, a woman in her thirties going
through a nasty divorce. She gets a job in a bakery, learns to love herself
again, and by the end of the book, has begun dating a guy named Mac. In the
recently published sequel,
The Baker's Apprentice, Wynter has bought
into the bakery and Mac has left for Alaska. His story is interwoven with
Wynter's and with the story of the bakery, which is quickly becoming a victim
of gentrification. A good read - with recipes, too. Harper, $13.95, 9780060726188.
South Mountain Company, located on Martha's Vineyard, is a worker-owned
resource-conscious design / build firm. In
The Company We Keep:
Reinventing Small Business for People, Community, and Place,
South Mountain founder John Abrams explains how the company grew,
how they work by consensus, as a cooperative, what it means to
work within your community as a small business, and how to put
ethics into your workplace. There are chapters on cultivating
workplace democracy, being environmentally sound, how to use consensus,
etc.... Many feminist businesses do this already, but I still found
this book very interesting. Abrams also discusses the concept of cohousing;
South Mountain designed and built the first cohousing community
on Martha's Vineyard. Chelsea Green, $18, 9781933392196.
Karin Slaughter writes a mystery series set in Grant County, Georgia, featuring
medical examiner Sara Linton, but this year she's released a stand-alone thriller
Triptych. In Atlanta, several young women, most involved in the
sex trade, are dying. The story of these deaths is told in several different
voices, with many subplots. We don't generally stock books at Charis with
these kinds of crimes, but Karin's writing is so good, her characterizations
so interesting, we make an exception for her books. Triptych is very
suspenseful, taking you on lots of twists and turns in its complicated plot.
Random House/Delacorte, $25, 9780385339469.
(ed: A conversation between Karin Slaughter and Mo Hayder discusses, among other topics,
why they write about violent crimes against women:
New in Paperback
Making It Up, Penelope Lively, Penguin, $14, 9780143037842.
Saving Fish From Drowning, Amy Tan, Random House/Ballantine, $14.95, 9780345464019.
The Painted Drum, Louise Erdrich, Harper, $13.95, 9780060515119.
The Last Days of Dogtown, Anita Diamant, Simon and Schuster, $15,
An Atomic Romance, Bobbie Ann Mason, Random House, $13.95, 9780812975208.
Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream, Barbara
Ehrenreich, Henry Holt and Company, $13, 9780805081244.
The Solitude of Self: Thinking about Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Vivian
Gornick, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $11, 9780374530563.
Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists, Jean H. Baker, Hill &
Wang, $16, 9780809087037.
By Nan Cinnater
One of my all-time favorite mystery writers is Gail Bowen. Who, you may
ask? Many U.S. readers have never heard of Bowen, doubtless because she's
Canadian and her Canadian publisher (McClelland & Stewart) does not get
great distribution in the States. Bowen's sleuth, Saskatchewan academic, widowed
mom, and leftist politico Joanne Kilbourn has a full, complicated life. In
The Glass Coffin ($7.95, 9780771014772), it's December
in Saskatchewan (a balmy twenty degrees below zero), and Joanne's best friend
Jill is getting married to Mr. Wrong, a filmmaker whose strangely detached
documentaries about his first and second wives, both suicides, created a sensation.
Joanne is helpless to change her friend's mind, even when she finds the best
man's body in the snow on the eve of the wedding. He appears to have died
from natural causes, but appearances are deceiving.
Bowen has a genius for melding realistic details about Joanne's family,
friends, and daily life with the dark reality of murder. Thus she avoids the
cozy cliche of an amateur sleuth who blithely keeps tripping over dead bodies.
In Joanne Kilbourn's world, murder has an impact on her and those around her.
One reviewer called these books "small works of elegance that assume
the reader...is looking for more than blood and guts, that she is looking
for the meaning behind a life lived and a life taken" (Catherine Ford,
Calgary Herald). Bowen just published her tenth Joanne Kilbourn
The Endless Knot ($22.95, 9780771016547). Her most recent
The Last Good Day ($7.95, 9780771014680). Her first six
books are available in omnibus editions:
The Early Investigations of Joanne
Kilbourn ($16.95, 9780771014673) and
The Further Investigations of
Joanne Kilbourn ($18.95, 9780771014697). Especially if you're a fan of
unabashedly feminist, intellectual writers like Laurie R. King or Amanda Cross,
her books are worth special ordering.
Not nearly as masterful, but certainly worth
picking up in the airport or reading on vacation are the academic mysteries
by Dana Cameron featuring historical archaeologist Emma Fielding. In
Bitter Than Death, Emma attends a conference at an isolated New England
hotel, which, in time-honored mystery tradition, is snowed in. The conference
was organized to honor a legend in the field - legendary for his temper, overbearing
opinions, and bad behavior generally. Not surprisingly, he turns up dead.
The best part is Cameron's depiction of the relationships, politics, and gossip
behind the scenes in academia, but we could have used even more of the intriguing
archaeological details about pipe stems and blue China patterns. Avon, $6.99,
Like that grand master of the mystery genre Tony
Hillerman, Margaret Coel is not Native American, but she writes convincingly
and respectfully about an Indian society in her mysteries set on an Arapaho
reservation in Wyoming. Coel features two sleuths, Arapaho attorney Vicky
Holden and Jesuit priest Father John O'Malley. Father John is the pastor of
the reservation mission, a white-man's-burden position that should be more
politically problematic than Coel acknowledges. If you can get past that,
the characters are well drawn, the mysteries well-plotted, and the Arapaho
history and culture fascinating. In Coel's latest,
The Drowning Man
(Berkley/Prime Crime, $23.95, 9780425211717), the title refers to a 2,000-year-old
petroglyph, or rock carving, that Arapahos believe embodies a protective spirit.
The drowning man is stolen - cut right out of the rock - to feed the black
market in Indian relics. Meanwhile a logging company threatens to run a highway
through the sacred canyon that is home to many other carvings. Another subplot
involves the church coverups of pedophile priests. In
Eye of the Wolf
(Berkley/Prime Crime, $7.99, 9780425208090), a modern-day crime echoes a historical
massacre of the Arapaho, and threatens to bring back a state of war between
the Arapaho and Shoshone peoples.
Back in the days before John Grisham, books about the judicial
system were called courtroom dramas rather than legal thrillers.
Real-life Massachusetts trial attorney Rose Connors writes courtroom
dramas, short on thrills perhaps but long on drama - and long
on charm of the Cape Cod variety.
False Testimony has a
plot right out of yesterday's headlines: the senior senator from
Massachusetts (guess who) is implicated in the disappearance of
an attractive young intern (well, assistant, but you get the idea).
Former prosecutor, now defense attorney Marty Nickerson is tapped
to represent the senator. Marty is a likeable single mom and an
intelligent lawyer who lives on Cape Cod. The trial scenes in
particular ring convincingly true. A separate homicide case is
intertwined with the senator's, keeping Marty and the reader guessing.
Pocket Books, $6.99, 9780743492706.
Batya Gur, who died of cancer in 2005, was in many ways the P.D. James of
Israel. Like James, Gur wrote psychologically complex novels featuring an
attractive, brooding, and highly ranked police detective, whose investigations
often take him into a somewhat cloistered world of the intellect or the arts.
Gur's first book,
The Saturday Morning Murder (Harper, $11, 9780060995089)
- punningly subtitled A Psychoanalytic Case - was set in a psychoanalytic
institute, and subsequent books were set on a kibbutz, in a university, and
among classical musicians. In
Bethlehem Road Murder (translated by
Vivian Eden, $14.95, 9780060954925) Chief Superintendent Michael Ohayon investigates
a murder in an actual neighborhood defined by geography and ethnicity, making
this Gur's most overtly political book. A woman's corpse is found on the roof
of an abandoned building in a Jerusalem neighborhood with a large Arab population.
The victim turns out to be a Yemenite activist who was looking into a historical
scandal, the kidnapping of Yemenite babies in the 1950s. Ohayon must sift
through the victim's family and professional relationships, as well as the
implications of her activism, in a neighborhood full of tensions - not just
between Arabs and Jews but between Yemenite and Ashkenazi Jews. In Gur's sixth
and last book,
Murder in Jerusalem (Harper, $24.95, 9780060852931),
a television set designer is killed by a falling pillar, bringing Ohayon into
the world of Israel's national TV network, Channel One.
Creating the Fictional Female Detective: The Sleuth Heroines of British
Women Writers, 1890-1940 by Carla T. Kungl is an excellent academic study
of Victorian and Golden Age British women detectives which "explore[s]
the ways that creating female detectives...helped women writers shape their
own professional authority...." Inspired by the parallels between Dorothy
L. Sayers and her fictional detective Harriet Vane, who also happens to be
a mystery writer, Kungl looks at the historical "problem" of professions
for women, as it is reflected in detective fiction and in the lives of the
writers. I'm just happy to see attention paid to such early women characters
as Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (a fictional policewoman decades before that
was a reality), created by Baroness Orczy, and Mrs. Bradley, a psychoanalyst
detective created by Gladys Mitchell. Kungl's style is readable enough to
make this of interest to zealous fans as well as scholars. McFarland &
Company, $32 paperback, 9780786425280.
At first glance,
The Fat Man's Daughter
by Caroline Petit looks like one of those fabulous 1930s movies set in an
exotic location with, of course, Sydney Greenstreet as the fat man of the
title, and maybe Myrna Loy as the young, sexy but cynical daughter. Petit's
book is both more and less than that. At its best, it is a very literary recreation
of wartorn China, occupied Manchuria, and the invasion of Nanking. Less successfully,
it is a dark, psychosexual coming-of-age tale about a young woman who can
depend only on herself in a very dangerous world. Leah is the nineteen-year-old
daughter of a European expert on Chinese antiquities living in Hong Kong.
When her father dies, Leah is left with debts and the bad faith of those around
her, except for An Li, her caretaker since she was a child. Leah's best chance
to save her father's business is to cooperate with a Chinese Nationalist soldier,
travel to Japanese-occupied Manchuria, and steal a treasure from the Emperor.
The real mystery in this novel of suspense is Leah herself, who remained opaque
to me. We know about her beauty, and the reactions of other people, especially
men. But the flat, factual narration, so effective in evoking place and period,
stays on the surface of the characters, and Leah remains an enigma to the
end. Soho, $12, 9781569474242.
Mysteries Newly in Paperback:
Grave Sight, Charlaine Harris, Berkley, $7.99,
Death and Judgment, Donna
Leon, Penguin, $7.99, 9780143035824.
Predator, Patricia Cornwell, Berkley,
$9.99 (in the new slightly larger, easier-to-read pocket book format), 9780425210277.
What They're Reading...
at Women & Children First
1. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel, Houghton Mifflin,
$19.95 hardcover, 9780618477944.
2. A Field Guide to Lesbian and Gay Chicago, Kathie Bergquist and
Robert McDonald, Lake Claremont Press, $15.95, 9781893121034.
3. The History of Love, Nicole Krauss, W.W. Norton, $13.95, 9780393328622.
4. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen, Algonquin Books, $23.95, 9781565124998.
5. Runaway, Alice Munro, Random House/Vintage, $14.95, 9781400077915.
6. Fire Sale (V.I. Warshawski), Sara Paretsky, $9.99, 9780451218995.
7. Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL, Esera Tuaolo,
Sourcebooks, $24.95, 9781402205057.
8. Hit by a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn,
Catherine Friend, Marlowe & Company, $14.95, 9781569242988.
9. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson, St. Martin's Press/Picador, $14, 9780312424404.
10. Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life, Erica Jong, Penguin/Tarcher,
And at Charis Books & More
1. A Song to Sing, a Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice,
Emily Saliers and Don Saliers, Jossey Bass, $16.95 paperback, 9780787983772.
2. We Speak Your Names, Pearl Cleage, Ballantine, $8.95 hardcover,
3. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel, Houghton Mifflin,
$19.95 hardcover, 9780618477944.
4. Shattering the Stereotypes: Muslim Women Speak Out, Fawzia Afzal-Khan,
Olive Branch Press, $20 paperback, 9781566565691.
5. Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks,
and Other Outlaws, Kate Bornstein, Seven Stories Press, $14.95, 9781583227206.
6. Behind the Pine Curtain, Gerri Hill, Bella Books, $13.95,
7. A Taste of Sin, Fiona Zedde, Kensington Publishing, $14, 9780758209207.
8. Courage of the Blue Boy, Robert Neubecker, Tricycle Press, $15.95
9. Hit by a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn,
Catherine Friend, Marlowe & Company, $14.95, 9781569242988.
10. There is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me, Alice Walker
and Stefano Vitale, HarperCollins, $16.99 hardcover, 9780060570804.
For the Kids
Recommendations from Linda Bubon
Esme Raji Codell has followed up her terrific book for middle-schoolers,
Sahara Special, with an even better one,
Vive La Paris. Paris
McCray is in fifth grade (with Sahara), a real smartypants who starts a newsletter
for a class reading club and a lending library. She also has her hands full
trying to keep her 8th-grade brother Michael from getting beat up on daily
by a much bigger, tougher 5th-grade girl classmate. She and Michael
both spend afternoons with the endearing "old white lady," Mrs. Rosen,
who is giving Paris piano (and life) lessons while Michael listens to her
old recordings of cabaret music. Mrs. Rosen has a lot of joie de vivre which
she tries to impart to the preoccupied, serious Paris. She also gives Paris
her felt yellow star from her memory box, which Paris interprets as a badge
of honor from a gang Mrs. Rosen was a part of, and so wears it to school.
All the kids in class make paper stars, wearing them proudly, ignorantly,
until they are brought up short by an enraged teacher and older Jewish student.
Paris' "punishment" is to read about and write a paper on the Holocaust. Stunned
and depressed by what she learns, Paris has a crisis of faith. The subplot
about Michael and his nemesis is intriguing, too, and a subtle introduction
to kids about children possessing a gay sensibility. Codell handles these
weighty, complex matters deftly, never losing the charm of Paris' voice while
conveying the humor and innocence of kids figuring out life. Hyperion, $15.99
I'm always bemoaning the fact that way too many children's books are either
pink or blue, princess-y or superhero-ish, clearly intended for one gender
or the other. And then Darcy Pattison delights me with
19 Girls and Me,
illustrated by Steven Salerno. Kindergartener John Hercules finds himself
the lone boy in a class of 19 girls, and his second-grader brother keeps warning
him, "Those girls will turn you into a sissy," which worries him. But each
new day is a new adventure as the girls dig to China, paddle a boat into the
Amazon, hammer together a skyscraper to a space station, and build a super-fast
race car which they name the Sarah Louise, a "sissy name," declares John;
"No," Faith Gish said, "that's my grandmother's name." In the end, John's
brother agrees that the 19 "tomboys" in John's class are pretty cool, but
John corrects him: "Nineteen friends." For ages 4 to 7. Philomel, $16.99 hardcover.
For the youngest listeners,
Brave Bitsy and the Bear by Angela McAllister
and Tiphanie Beek promises to be a big hit. A sweet story with a nicely paced
beginning, middle, and end, it concerns a brave little lost doll who helps
a sleepy bear to his hibernating spot and, with the help of other forest animals,
covers him with a blanket of branches and moss. Bitsy finds her way home to
her little girl's bed, but in the spring she finds Bear again and he thanks
her for her kindness. I loved the soft illustrations that will help children
learn about the seasons, too. Clarion, $16 hardcover, 9780618639946.
For 5- to 9-year olds who pick up on the cultural buzz around Marie Antoinette
Moi & Marie Antoinette by Lynn Cullen is the
perfect book. Narrated by Sebastien, Marie's pampered pug pooch, this offers
an illuminating and endearing look at the young queen's life, from girlhood
through parenthood, showing both the glittery court life of 18th-century France
and the constrictions of endless costuming and hairdressing. Sebastien's take
is both witty and sympathetic. This will be a good book for both home and
school libraries. Beautifully illustrated by Amy Young. Bloomsbury, $16.95
From the talented team of Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell comes
Really a Human Race?, written for all ages. I found the two-year-olds
could sit through a reading of this book because of the bouncy rhyming verses,
but the parents listened to the wisdom within:
"So, take what's inside you and make big, bold choices./ And for those who
can't speak for themselves, use bold voices./ And make friends and
love well,/ bring art to this place./ And make the world better/ for the whole
I loved the final artwork which shows the bottom of a globe stretched across
two pages, and in one corner, a Jew and an Arab are playing "go fish" on a
park bench, while in the other corner a mom is blowing bubbles while her child
is playing an accordion. HarperCollins, $16.99 hardcover, 9780060753467.
Recommendations from Sara Luce Look
Blow Out the Moon by Libby Koponen, new in paper, is a coming-of-age
novel based on the author's diary, written in diary form - with the author's
photos included. Set in the fifties, Blow Out the Moon is the story
of an American girl whose family moves to London, where she attends a boarding
school for girls. This book is entertaining for kids, capturing the romance
and mystique of British boarding schools. Little, Brown / Megan Tingley Books,
The latest book by Ella Enchanted author Gail Carson Levine is the
Fairest. Commoner Aza lives in a kingdom where singing
and beauty are prized above all else. Aza, who at fifteen is homely and awkward,
has the most beautiful voice. When a new queen - who cannot sing - comes into
town to marry the king, she wants Aza to sing for her. Fairest is about
finding yourself, learning to love yourself, and is a reminder that beauty
is only skin deep. Harper, $16.99 hardcover, 9780060734084.
The Green Glass Sea, set in the forties, two misfit girls who live
in Los Alamos, New Mexico, become close friends. Dewey, who lives with her
scientist dad, is a tomboy who loves to create her own gadgets. She walks
around with a book called The Boy Mechanic (since there are no "girl
mechanic" books) and hangs out with her friend, Suze. Suze is an artistic
type, whose mother and father are both scientists. Their parents are working
on a secret project, referred to as "the gadget," which is supposed to help
end the war. The Green Glass Sea is a well-written, issue-driven book
which lends itself well to the sequel the author is currently working on.
Viking, $16.99 hardcover, 9780670061341, available October 19.
Books To Watch Out For From Ann Patchett
The author of Taft¸ The Magician's Assistant, and Bel
Canto hasn't had a new book out since 1994's memoir Truth and Beauty,
about her friendship with writer Lucy Grealey (Autobiography of a Face).
This October, you can get an idea of her taste in short fiction by checking
The Best American Short Stories 2006 (Houghton Mifflin, $14, 9780618543526)
for which Patchett was this year's guest editor. It was also just announced
that she's signed a two-book deal with Harper: one is a short nonfiction
book based on a recent commencement speech she gave while the other is a novel
tentatively titled Run, scheduled for publication in fall 2007.
Mixed Media - For Kids of All Ages
Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy has often been referred to as
"Harry Potter for girls," with its strong girl protagonist, Lyra Belacqua.
This December, New Line Cinema will release a movie based on the first book
in the trilogy, The Golden Compass. And recently Scholastic U.K. and
New Line have made a deal with Sega for a series of computer/video games based on the
trilogy. This is great news for adventurous girls who will be able to see
girls like themselves in the games as leaders, not merely sidekicks or victims.
And hopefully these games will lead kids back to the original books.
Ms. recently published an interesting article about feminists and
Oriana Fallaci 1929-2006
After battling cancer for a decade, Oriana Fallaci died in Florence, Italy,
in September. She was infamous for her political reporting, especially during
the Vietnam War and the Middle East conflicts in the seventies and eighties,
and for interviews with world leaders, including Henry Kissinger, Golda Meir,
Indira Ghandi, and Yassar Arafat. She also wrote fiction, such as the 1992
novel Inshallah, about the peace-keeping forces in 1983 Lebanon. In
later years, Fallaci became much more conservative in her views and was especially
critical of Muslims and Islamic extremists. Several of the obituaries remarked
about this shift and how critics labeled her as both racist and a notorious
homophobe the last several years of her life.
New York Times obituary:
A tribute and information site:
Ann Richards 1933-2006
One-time Texas Governor and Democratic National Party firebrand Ann Richards
also died in September; she learned she had esophageal cancer this past March.
Ann Richards was an unapologetic feminist politician, who included the remark
that Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in high
heels, in her 1988 Democratic Convention keynote address. She also wrote two
books: a political memoir penned while she was state treasurer of Texas, Straight
from the Heart: My Life in Politics and Other Places, and more recently,
I'm Not Slowing Down: My Battle With Osteoporosis.
Molly Ivins remembers Ann Richards:
Liz Smith on Ann Richards' passing:
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Graphics © Judy Horacek
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