Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Recently Read...

I've been doing a lot of reviewing in other venues lately; between that and the stress of good old Hurricane Ike (yes, we were in a mandatory evacuation zone), most of my leisure reading has been comfort re-reading of childhood favorites. I did manage to sneak in a few new books here and there, though.

Hell Week by Rosemary Clement-Moore. I really enjoyed this fun, well-written book, especially because it helped pull me out of my post-hurricane funk. In this second volume of Maggie Quinn: Girl Vs. Evil, Maggie goes through sorority rush, but only because she intends to write an anonymous exposé column for the college newspaper. Naturally, she finds much more than she bargains for. One of this series' strongest features is Maggie's voice, and if you've met the author, you just can't help but picture her as Maggie because they have the same spunk and humor. I also particularly enjoyed this story because I was once in a sorority myself, although it was a local instead of a national. Being in the sorority was good and perhaps even necessary during the rather anti-social period that comprised my first two years of college life, but I ultimately "deactivated" from the sorority at the beginning of my senior year, in part because I just couldn't face the ridiculousness of Rush, which if I recall correctly was dragged out over several weeks. I felt I had outgrown the rituals and structure of sorority life, although certainly not the friendships, by that point. But I digress. In any case, Hell Week also treats Maggie's relationships in a touching but not overly sentimental way. And I adore the cover -- Stepford Sorority Girls! I'm looking forward to next year's Highway to Hell, when we'll see what Maggie gets up to on her Spring Break.

Once Upon a Time in the North by Philip Pullman. This is another little companion to Pullman's His Dark Materials, much like Lyra's Oxford. It's essentially a single but significant episode in the life of Lee Scoresby and his daemon Hester. For its length, I thought the politics were a little dense, but Lee and Hester are such fun characters, and I enjoyed "hearing" Kathy Bates' voice as Hester as I read. This book is also a lovely little object to hold, with its quality cloth cover, pull-out board game tucked in a pocket inside the back cover, and fun little facsimile snippets sprinkled throughout the text.

A few months ago, in preparation for an encyclopedia article I was writing on author S.E. Hinton, I read Hawkes Harbor, her 2004 adult vampire novel. In addition to re-reading all of her YA novels that I remembered from my younger days, I also read for the first time her picture book (Big David, Little David), her children's chapter book (The Puppy Sister), and the one YA title I didn't happen to read back when it was published (Taming the Star Runner).

I hate to say it, but I'm afraid Hinton just does not seem comfortable writing in genres other than YA, at least not so far. Both of the children's books were slightly odd and creepy, in a way that felt unintentional. Hawkes Harbor, while populated with interesting and nuanced characters, was ultimately a bit of an unfocused mess, with an ending that to me felt cheap. Still, I would read anything new she puts out, regardless of the genre. Writers worth their salt are constantly evolving and rediscovering themselves.

As for those books I reviewed elsewhere? They included Venomous by Christopher Krovatin (reviewed for VOYA) and Vicious Circle by Mike Carey (second in his Felix Castor series; reviewed for Magill Book Reviews), both of which I recommend highly. Also for Magill, I reviewed The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff and Reconstruction by Mick Herron.

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