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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Sentence: Miranda July

As inspired by Fobbit author David Abrams, the best sentence(s) I read last week, presented without further context or commentary:

I wouldn't use a British accent out loud, but I'd be using one in my head and it would carry over.

-- Miranda July, The First Bad Man

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Sentence: Megan Mayhew Bergman

As inspired by Fobbit author David Abrams, the best sentence(s) I read this week, presented without further context or commentary:


What I hope, I guess, is that the right kind of callus will form around my heart.

-- Megan Mayhew Bergman, Almost Famous Women

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review: 'The Swap'

The Swap
By Megan Shull
Middle grade fantasy/contemporary setting
August 2014
Katharine Tegen Books
ISBN: 978-0062311696

Ellie's life doesn't look that great to her, especially when her best friend has a new best friend and they both ridicule her. What Ellie doesn't know is that to Jack, Ellie looks like someone who has her act together. She doesn't know the guy who looks like an in-control, popular athlete is the youngest of four brothers with a widowed father who has turned drill sergeant to keep his boys in line. He doesn't know she and her mother have been struggling to appear that everything is just fine since her dad left.

As school starts, when they both end up seeing the school nurse, they discover far more about each other from the inside out than either of them ever dreamed possible in Megan Shull's witty, wise and wonderful The Swap. Whoever that new school nurse is, she was able to switch things up so that Ellie is inside Jack's body and Jack is inside Ellie's.

The pair quickly agree to a plan that they will have a quiet weekend and try to get back to that school nurse as soon as possible. The plan, of course, goes awry because of their families and friends. But this is where Shull pulls off the fun with wisdom just underneath. Jack, as Ellie, is pampered by a mom who loves to spoil her only child. He could even get used to this spa treatment stuff. Ellie, as Jack, glories in being in with a bunch of roughneck brothers. Jack and Ellie may be in each others' bodies, but they are still themselves.

Being able to see how each other lives, Ellie and Jack also are able to take charge about the things that hurt each other the most -- Ellie's ex-best friend and Jack's distant father. As each other and acting together, they are able to accomplish things they never would have been able to do on their own. And, as they learn about the reality of each others' lives, they are not afraid to be themselves.

As these are tweens, the onset of adolescence from the other gender's point of view is handled with great humor and no vulgarity. This is one of the highlights of Shull's strategy of telling the story in each of their points of view in alternating chapters.

Although the ending at first felt a little too good to be true, it is actually far better than it might have been. Saying more would constitute spoilers, but let's just say sometimes, characters not only get what they deserve, they get an ending that is great for everyone.

©2015 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Sentence: 'How to be Both'

As inspired by Fobbit author David Abrams at The Quivering Pen, the best sentence)s I read this week, presented without further commentary or context:

We need both luck and justice to get to live the life we're meant for, she says. Lots of seeds don't get to. ... And I'm not a seed or a tree: I am a person: I won't break open: I haven't got roots: how can I be seed or tree or both?

-- Ali Smith, How to be Both

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Review: 'Things Half in Shadow'

Things Half in Shadow
By Alan Finn
Paranormal mystery
December 2014
Gallery Books
ISBN: 978-1476761725

Edward Clark has a quiet, staid life in post-Civil War Philadelphia. He has a quiet house, a private income, a society fiancee. Even his job as a crime reporter has an air of predictability about it. It's not going to last.

In Alan Flinn's Things Half in Shadow, Edward is about to have his secrets revealed, his life turned upside down and intriguing new avenues open up. It begins when his editor assigns him to a series of newspaper stories unmasking the fake mediums that have invaded the City of Brotherly Love, as they invaded many other cities, in the late 19th century. The first one Clark investigates is the medium whose leaflets are handed out in the street by an obnoxious boy.

The medium, Lucy Collins, may be a fake but she is a spirited heroine in the mold of Amelia Peabody and Lady Julia Gray. Clark may think he's got her number after attending a seance. But it takes Mrs. Collins less than a day to discover his secrets, confront him with her knowledge and blackmail him into becoming partners to continue his investigations. He will get the stories his editor wants and she will help eliminate the competition.

The first medium they visit, Mrs. Lenora Grimes Pastor, is not what they expected. She may well be the real thing. Too bad the seance ends with her death. Now Edward, Lucy and the others in the locked room are suspects in her death. Not even being best friends with the police inspector will help Edward Clark now. If only there was something in his past or any spirits to help him out ...

Alan Finn's Things Half in Shadow works both as a whodunit and as a paranormal story that involves family connections and possible further mysterious complications. Finn conjures up the feel of post-war Philadelphia and the craze for spiritualists. The novel wraps up the story but it also makes it possible for further adventures. I foresee a great future for a series featuring Edward Clark and Lucy Collins.

©2015 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Review: 'The Moor's Account'

The Moor's Account
By Laila Lalami
Literary historical fiction
September 2014
Pantheon
ISBN: 978-0307911667

Winners may control the narrative, but in Laila Lalami's latest novel, who wins and who gets to tell the true story depends on how one views it.

The Moor's Account is based on one line in a report of a Spanish expedition to the New World in the 16th century. Nothing is known about the black slave who survived, but that one line was enough for Moroccan-born Lalami to weave a tale of many stories in a densely packed novel.

Mustafa is the hard-working and greedy son of a trader who takes his life and freedom for granted. When his Moroccan city is captured by the Portuguese, times get hard and his family struggles for the basics. He decides the way to save the others is to sell himself into slavery. His years working for a Spanish merchant offer few moments of happiness, and his loyalty and ability to help his master make a fortune are not appreciated. He ends up the slave of a soldier traveling to the New World to seek gold and lands for the king of Spain in New Florida.

Just as hubris helped lead to his downfall in his native city, ignorant pride leads to disaster for the Spaniards. Their journey through the wilderness does not lead to the gold they thought would be found easily. As their number dwindle and they are reduced to the most base forms of trying to survive, Mustafa, who was renamed Esteban, then Estebanico, finds ways to survive and thrive.

Mustafa's inherent dignity and willingness to meet the circumstances of each day as they find him, or his resilience, are shown more than told about in the novel. Indeed, every aspect of the novel is subtle, whether it's how Mustafa and the Indians are regarded by the Spaniards, or the small differences in how individuals view the world and their changing circumstances.

Written in a highly formalized fashion, The Moor's Account is more like a series of fables than a fast-paced novel. There are adventures aplenty, but the action is not the point It is the appreciation for the sun, the rain, food and good company you can count on that matters. It is the opportunity to tell one's story so that one is not forgotten.

©2015 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission

Sunday Sentence: Ali Smith

As inspired by Fobbit author David Abrams at The Quivering Pen, the best sentence(s) I read in the past week, presented without further context or commentary:

It is both blatant and invisible. It is subtle and at the same time the most unsubtle thing in the world, so unsubtle it's subtle. Once you've seen it, you can't not see it. It makes the handsome man's intention completely clear. But only if you notice. If you notice, it changes everything about the picture, like a witty remark someone has been brave enough to make out loud but which you only hear if your ears are open to more than one thing happening. It isn't lying about anything or feigning anything, and even if you weren't to notice, it's there clear as anything. It can just be rocks and landscape if that's what you want it to be -- but there's always more to see, if you look.

-- Ali Smith, How to be Both