Summer Sounds

When I was a kid, my brothers and I were always trying to come up with new ways to make old games more interesting. Usually this involved tools we weren't allowed to touch and heart attack inducing tree jumping. The heart attack being in my mother, not us. Sometimes we would ride our bikes up to the store to buy 35 cent sodas at Ace Hardware and baseball cards. We weren't baseball card enthusiasts in the slightest, we just wanted them for our bikes. I don't know who the first kid was who tested this out, but somewhere in history, some kid came up with this genius idea to stick baseball cards to the spokes of your bike rims. Going up hills there would be this soft thwap thwap thwap sound, in rhythm with your legs as you forced your way up, legs straining. With a devilish grin, we would turn around and zoom down again, the baseball card making zipping along. We were a motorcycle gang, each bike thrumming to the rhythm of their cards. Some kids even had three or four, making us the loudest gaggle of kids in the neighborhood. We went through a pack a week. That's how much we rode and new cards always made the best noise. I still ride a bike, although there is more ragged breathing up hills then there used to be. My bike is older, and despite numerous trips to the Bike Doctor and a heaping of oil, he (my bike) still makes a lot of noise. I know bikes aren't supposed to make the sounds that this one does, but it doesn't really bother me. I listen to the whir of my bike and I think, that is exactly how a bike should sound. My bike is singing in summer.

What are your sounds of summer?

Covers: New and Improved?

I don't mind publishers making new book covers for older books. In fact, if the books cover is screaming 80's then I seriously think a makeover is needed, however Publishers seem to be going down a route that I personally find asthetically stupid.

Take T.A. Barron's series The Lost Years of Merlin. The new covers are much more in your face, but take a closer look at the boy (Merlin) in the background. Is that stubble I see? On a young twenties looking man? Isn't Merlin supposed to be a pre-teen in this first book?

Tamora Pierce's Alanna series has also undergone a makeover. The first book follows Alanna (a girl pretending to be a boy) through ages 11-13. Yet, on the new cover Alanna looks to be in her late teens and she is very obviously a girl. I think if Alanna was that pretty she would never have pulled off her deception.

Perhaps the logic is that teen readers will grab a book in which the character on the cover is older, but then what about books like Hunger Games or the Book Thief that don't have the character on them at all? I know photography on YA covers is becoming the thing, to the point that I sometimes mistake one book for another because they are all beginning to look the same...some burnett or blond white girl looking fiercely into the camera conveying the need for you to buy this book because see....the character is intense.

Have you noticed any books that have had the covers re-done? Let me know. I'll add it.

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything Book Review

The Grand Plan to Fix Everything by Uma Krishnaswami

Dini is moving to India. Although unhappy about the move, upon arrival she grows more and more excited for she her favorite Bollywood starlet is staying in the same village and Dini just knows she will be able to meet her movie idol.

I will begin this review with a small caveat...I couldn't finish it. I tried. And tried. And tried. I managed to get past the middle and slogged through 3/4 and then I just gave up. Why? Because I didn't care. Not about Dini or Dolly Singh or any of it. Dini never felt like a real character to me. Written in third person omniscient, I always felt so far away from her. We heard her thoughts, but there was nothing about Dini that really made her stand out to me. Nothing about her voice that really grabbed me.

The hardest thing though was that this was the kind of setting that was ripe for description and sensory overload. Instead, India felt bland and boring with some monkeys and a few interesting villagers for some flavor. Either the author forgot that we (the readers) have never been to India or she thought that the pictures would help add flavor. Where was the sounds of the city? What did the air smell like? There was absolutely no description of the heat. For someone who hates hot, that would have been nice to hear about. Perhaps Dini doesn't notice it, but I know the weather has to be different from Maryland. On the bright side, Uma does capture some of the sounds of India like sneezing and car horns.

The illustrations were lovely and did help provide authenticity as well as insight into the country and characters, which is what good illustrations should do.

I know books about other cultures are all the rage with editors these days and who can blame them, the exotic feel to them linking young readers to other children around the world. I imagine that those who have grown up in this culture will get a lot more out of this book though. I desperately wanted to be transported to India, but I think there was too much I didn't know and didn't understand and I needed to author to take a moment and lay down a little more groundwork for me. Young readers may or may not have a problem with this, but I imagine for some this will be a magical adventure and for others a adventure story with not enough flavor. Sadly, I fell into the second category.

In the Belly of the Bloodhound Book Review

In the Belly of the Bloodhound: Being an Account of a Particularly Peculiar Adventure in the Life of Jacky Faber by L.A. Meyer

Jacky Faber is at it again. Wanted by the British government and once again separated from her beloved Jaimy, Jacky returns to London and the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls. She is reunited with her good friends Amy and Ezra and the ever terrible Clarissa Howe, but things are manageable and Jacky is safe. That is until the School plans an outing to the Boston Harbor Islands and the girls are kidnapped, taken as slaves to be sold in Arab slave markets. Jacky is smart and quick and has been in worse scrapes, but with thirty other girls to watch out for, Jacky knows this may be her biggest challenge yet.

If you haven't read the first three books then my only question is, what is wrong with you? Haven't you been reading my reviews? These books are amazing. Or you could just start with this book. I did. I have actually been holding off on this review because this was the first book I read of our Ms. Faber. However, since reading a series out of order appears to be something that only I do, I waited to review the other three first and then re-read the fourth.

Jacky is a star. Yet again, she manages to get into heaps of trouble although this time it isn't her fault, which isn't much of a comfort, but hey, what's a girl to do. With magnetic realism, L.A. Meyer gives us a glimpse into the bowels of slavery and even though this is only a small taste of what many Africans suffered within those ships, it is enough for readers to begin to grasp the severity of the situation. The descriptions of the rattling chains, the unsanitary conditions, rats, sleeping arrangements, dehumanizing, and despair that these girls are witness to brings the events of the time into sharp focus. L.A. Meyer is a clever historian who works in many elements of life aboard a slaver, all the way to Jacky having nightmares of the girls being chained and drowned as would happen if a slaver was afraid they were going to be caught with their cargo.

I have to say, this story is darker than the previous three. In Jacky's previous adventures, there was always room for merriment and joy, but within the Belly of the Bloodhound, that is a luxury. Jacky does come to terms with her arch-nemesis Clarissa Howe and helps some of the girls discover a strength inside themselves that they never knew they had.

A friend of mine (one who I am sure is reading this), bought the first book upon my recommendation. When I asked her if she had read it yet, she informed me that she had to stop reading them because she wasn't getting enough sleep at night. How's that for an endorsement?