Tuesday, August 22, 2017

An end-of-summer books round-up, part I: lighter reading

Hey folks, things have been super-crazy around here as we've ended our summer with a road trip to Oregon for a couple of days in Portland and, of course, the eclipse (pictures forthcoming!), which meant skipping the first day of school.  Yes, my 14-year-old missed her first day of high school!  So it's been a whole lot of school shopping, road trip packing, and homework up-making.  Both kids had summer assignments due on the first day of school and arranged to turn them in early through email.  The 17-year-old, who played summer grasshopper a little too long, wrote an entire paper on the road (thank you, technology!).  We got back very late Monday night and were all exhausted for the big school and work day.  We're still recovering.  But it was all worth it!

Meanwhile, I got a lot of reading done and the books have been piling up like nobody's business.  I'm going to have to surrender to the inevitability of....mini-reviews.  A riffle of reviews is what we've got coming up here; I have no fewer than thirteen books on my desk!  I think I'm going to do them by categories or something; I have light reading, world literature, religion books....well, let's see what happens.  I'll start with the lighter books:

The Hotel Under the Sand, by Kage Baker:  I'm a fan of Baker's Company series, which I've read twice during the lifetime of Howling Frog Books, but I didn't know she had ever written a children's book.  And what really made me decide to track it down was that Diana Wynne Jones gave it high praise!

Emma, age nine, is lost in a storm and fetches up on the Dunes, where there are no people except Winston, the ghost of a bellboy who once worked at the Grand Wenlocke.  It was the most amazing hotel in the world, but it disappeared under the sands a hundred years ago.  When a storm brings the Wenlocke back up, Emma and Winston go into business, along with a cook, a pirate, a little boy -- and some very interesting guests.  It's a truly charming fairy tale, with fun twists and turns.  Very much worth reading; in fact it ought to be much more popular, and considered a children's classic.

The Long War, by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett: I read The Long Earth just a few weeks ago, and loved it.  This second volume picks up 20 years after Step Day and ten years after the first book ended.  People are spreading out all over the Long Earth, and although at first it seemed like an opportunity for a fresh start for humanity, it doesn't work that way.  The uglier parts of human nature spread out right along with everything else, and there is a crisis point coming.  I don't want to spoil the story, so I'll just say that this was a great sequel and I can't wait for The Long Mars to arrive.

When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon: Jenny's review convinced me to put this title on hold right away, and I really liked it.  It's a YA romantic comedy, complete with disastrous first meeting.  Dimple, ambitious and completely uninterested in romance, is spending the summer before Stanford at a prestigious coding camp, where she meets Rishi, a romantic traditionalist.  There is a high-stakes coding competition, snotty rich kids, misunderstandings with family, and everything, it's a very fun story.  I did have a few quibbles with some details (why is a fancy coding camp at SF State, except to place the story in San Francisco?  If Rishi isn't an engineer in his soul, how'd he get into MIT's program?), but otherwise I liked it a lot.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel:  A famous actor has a heart attack in the middle of a performance and dies; that same night, a flu pandemic arrives in North America and modern civilization comes to an end in less than a month.  Years later, the survivors mostly live in tiny villages, but Kirsten Raymonde belongs to the Traveling Symphony.  When they get to St. Deborah, they meet a frightening 'prophet' who has taken over the settlement. The main characters all have connections to the actor, and as the narrative jumps back and forth in time, we get a picture of the pandemic and its aftermath.  It's a very enjoyable read, but I found the 'connections' theme to be a little on the tenuous side.

The Verse by the Side of the Road, by Frank Rowsome, Jr.: This is such a funny little book; it's a history of Burma-Shave signs!  Rowsome tells the story of how the roadside signs were invented and how the system worked (it was complicated!), and includes lots of cute anecdotes; my favorite was the Navy ship full of sailors in the Arctic who were astounded to see a set of Burma-shave signs on an iceberg...written in Russian.  The appendix includes all the rhymes, which is necessary but a little hard on the eyeballs.

Five books down, eight to go!  Maybe I can produce an International Edition.


Kristen M. said...

Yay for The Hotel Under the Sand! I was so surprised by it and I'm glad that DWJ loved it too.

Jean said...

Thanks so much for the recommendation! I never would have known it existed otherwise.