Monday, April 14, 2014

It's Monday! What You Are You Reading? 4/14/14

I am excited to be a part of the conversation at #IMWAYR! Thank you to SheilaJen and Kellee
for inspiring and hosting this meme.

I read two very different middle grade books this past week, both of which were memorable in their own ways:

Skies Like These (by Tess Hilmo, author of With a Name Like Love) is both spare and descriptive, which is a relatively rare combination in a middle grade chapter book.  It tells the story of Jade, who is initially disappointed to have to leave her home in Philly and spend her summer with her aunt in Wyoming.  Quickly, though, she finds a friend in Roy, a boy who emulates Butch Cassidy (and believes he is a descendent of Butch). Together they scheme ways to re-open Roy’s father’s hardware store, which was forced to close when a big box store came to town.  Although Jade is uncomfortable with some of Roy’s wild west ideas (e.g robbing a bank) they forge an unlikely alliance.  There’s a lot to like here - great characters and setting, a solid but realistically imperfect resolution and brevity on Hilmo’s part that will make this accessible to an array of readers.

I would describe Nightingale's Nest by Nikki Lofton as "magical realism," although it is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Nightingale," so it reads a bit like a fairy tale as well.  Although the story is heartbreaking, the writing is lyrical, befitting the title.  Little John is helping his dad with some landscaping and tree work at a wealthy business owner's home when he meets Gayle, a girl whose songs seem to have the power to heal.  Gayle's mysterious past, combined with her other worldly voice, make Little John feel protective of her and they forge a close and sweet friendship.  The darkness in Little John's home life is hard - his mother is grieving and unbalanced, his father drinks away their meager savings and it is easy to see why Little John makes the difficult choices that he does, even though his decisions put his friendship with Gayle into peril.  Magical realism is sometimes a hard sell for me - I either want magic or reality and I tend to find it jarring when the two are entwined.  In this case it worked for me, though, because Gayle herself is such a magical creature and seems to defy the regular rules of logic.  There's already some Newbery buzz about this title, with good reason,  I think!

Finally, I indulged in a hefty adult book about one of my favorite places in the world - Romania.  Patrick McGuinness' The Last Hundred Days is an absurdist sort of story about a British professor who moves to Bucharest shortly before the fall of communism in 1989.  McGuinness himself lived in Romania at that time, and his descriptions of the era are stark and seemingly pinpoint perfect.  The characters - from the British professor who is obviously entirely out of his league, to his Romanian lover who may or may not be a double agent, to the securitate agents who are everywhere and nowhere - are often ironically and always vividly drawn.  I landed in Romania in 1995, not long after the fall of communism and so often I wondered what it was like for my friends there behind the iron curtain.  This book gave me a glimpse.

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