Thursday, February 15, 2007


Curse of the Blue Tattoo, L A Meyer, Harcourt Inc, 2004, 488 pp

In #2 of the Bloody Jack Adventure series, Jacky begins her days as a student at the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls in Boston. (The previous book ended with Jacky being found out as an impostor: a girl pretending to be a boy on an English Navy ship. She had a stash of money from a reward she received for helping to bring in a pirate ship. She was "released" from the Navy in Boston and her money put into the keeping of the headmistress of the above mentioned school. She also had to leave Jaimy, her one true love.)

Of course, Jacky is not really cut out for the life of a schoolgirl and continues to get into plenty of trouble. After each downfall she rises again and moves on. She makes friends wherever she goes and a few very dangerous enemies, including a Puritan minister who claims to want to save her soul but has much more dastardly intentions.

Curse of the Blue Tattoo was almost twice as long as the first volume and maybe a bit too long. Some of the incidents were quite improbable but I suppose that is part of the style in which he is writing. Overall I enjoyed the whole story.

I wish I was as intrepid as Jacky Faber, but then I almost was when I was younger. The question at the end of the book is: will she and her love Jaimy ever get to be together again?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Paint It Black, Janet Fitch, Little Brown and Company, 2006, 387 pp

Paint It Black is a very satisfying read. It is a gloomy, sad tale as you might suspect from the title but has an under layer of uplift. White Oleander, Fitch's first novel, had more power but Paint It Black goes deeper. The characters have more complex issues which are revealed gradually, like a developing photograph coming into clarity.

Once again set in Los Angeles, the story of a less-than-privileged young woman learning about love, loss and art and the idiosyncrasies of the rich, has a Raymond Chandleresque sensibility, both because of the clash of class and because a mystery of sorts is solved. Josie Tyrell ran away from poverty and a dysfunctional family in the San Joachim Valley to make her way on the streets of LA. She works as a nude model for art students and as an occasional actress in music videos and indie films. She has found the love of her life, Michael, whose mother is a wealthy concert pianist. But right at the beginning of the book, Michael is found in a cheap motel in the high desert, dead by his own hand.

Josie's life, her happiness and her dream of a perfect love are all shattered, yet her toughness and artistic spirit keep her from drowning (one time literally) in her grief. She does not rest until she solves the mysteries of Michael's life and death.

One of Fitch's strengths is characterization. In Paint It Black, she again creates LA types but each is layered, complex and has a story that illuminates the whole struggle that is life in contemporary times. I was also pleased that since the story takes place in the 1980s, we are spared the technological materialism that characterizes Los Angeles these days.

Michael was a painter and poet, Josie a lover of art and music, Michael's mother and grandfather musicians, making Paint It Black affect the reader like a work of art. Janet Fitch has risen above the curse of the second novel and produced a strong piece of fiction.

Monday, February 12, 2007



from The Mercy of Thin Air, by Ronlyn Domingue, page 5.

looked up in Webster's New World Dictionary Third College Edition

crepitate, vi. to make slight, sharp, repeated crackling sounds; crackle {from Latin, crepitare}

My sentence: She sipped from a glass of red wine as the fire crepitated and thought of better days.

What is your sentence?


Gifts, Ursula Le Guin, Harcourt Inc, 2004, 274 pp

Continuing a week of reading Young Adult fiction, I read Gifts. Ursula Le Guin is a favorite writer of mine for several reasons. One reason is that she takes the world as we know it with its wars and inhumanity and morphs it into a fantastical faraway place where she creates stories of other possible ways for mankind to co-exist. Gifts does not disappoint with its tales of special abilities which are used for harm but could be used constructively.

Because of the potential for destruction two young people, a boy and a girl who have been friends since birth, decide not to use their gifts. Fraught with consequences, this decision brings them grief, alienation and uncertainty as they grow in insight and strength. The mood of the story is thus tense and full of sorrow.

My only difficulty was keeping track of the areas, clans and individuals. A map would have helped immensely. As always, Le Guin's writing is perfectly tuned to the story and location. She has a way of carrying you through the harshness and bleak emotions with writing so beautiful that it protects you and delivers you to the denouement safe from any lasting harm. There you are at the end with the hero and heroine, at peace with all the lessons learned.


Holes, Louis Sachar, Scholastic Inc, 1998, 233 pp

Crime and Punishment for kids. This is one of those books I wish I'd read sooner. Because it is set in Texas, you get that special wacky dysfunctional Texas flavor. Because Stanley Yelknats gets busted for something he didn't do, you get injustice. Because almost any correctional facility is deeply flawed, you get a philosophy of punishment. As Stanley says, "If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy. That was what some people thought."

Stanley has been sent to Camp Green Lake for stealing; except he didn't steal. The facility has some weird stuff going on and all the "campers" have to dig a hole five feet deep and five feet around every day. But Stanley has a generations long back story and so does Camp Green Lake and kind of like digging a hole to China, the back stories eventually meet in a totally cool way.

Wonderful heartrending truth telling.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Big Mouth and Ugly Girl, Joyce Carol Oates, HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, 266 pp

This is Oates' first young adult novel. I didn't know what to expect but I should have known that it would be great because it is by Joyce Carol Oates. The setting is a high school in a Hudson River community not far outside New York City. The Big Mouth is Matt Donaghy whose life is ruined by being named as a suspect in a bomb threat at the school. Before the incident he was a popular, respected kid with a talent for writing and a reputation for being funny.

Ugly Girl is Ursula Riggs, whose successful and rich father does nothing for her socially because she has a big body and a prickly personality. She is an outcast at school, an athlete and an introverted teen yet she comes to Matt's defense though she barely knows him.

Throughout a semester of school. Matt and Ursula become friends and each grows because of the gnarly circumstances which they must live through. Oates deals with all the issues with just the right touch: teens vs parents, terrorism in the schools, identity, reputation and trust. A family of religious fanatics is unflinchingly portrayed for what they are and she even brings in some Germaine Greer feminism.

I was impressed because there is no glossing over of the way it really is in today's suburban high schools but she never overdoes it. And she tells a good story that keeps you wanting to know what is going to happen.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007



from Gifts by Ursula Le Guin, page 180

Looked up in Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition

cark (kark) vt, vi {Archaic} to worry or be worried
n. {Archaic} distress; anxiety
derived from ME carken

My sentence: The cause of her cark was too much to do and not enough time to get it done.

What's your sentence?

Monday, February 05, 2007


A week ago I was claiming to be right on top of my next chapter. Well, that was a week ago. A lot can happen in a week.

Last night was the music performance and it all went off fine. Attendance was a little low due to it being Super Bowl Sunday, but us folk nerds had no idea until a couple days before hand. It was fun to perform again and I am happy to say that my set was pretty much flawless. But I am glad it is done and I can get back to reading and writing.

Today was a day off for me and I sat down, fully intending to polish up my chapter and get it posted here. The personal stuff about that year is fine but 1950 was the year the Korean War started and I know very little about that event. I found myself immersed in history books and here it is my bedtime. That is my excuse.

I've got two great history books to recommend though. Postwar by Tony Judt (subtitle: A History of Europe Since 1945) is an 851 page tome with small print but this guy really knows what he is talking about. I am only on page 40 and already I have had to actually learn European geography, pre-WWII and postwar. In fact, learning about all those Balkan countries makes me feel that someday I can get through Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which is an account of her journey through pre-WWII Yugoslavia and which I tried to read back when I was reading the books for 1940, since that is when it was published. Postwar however is filling in for me where the Upton Sinclair books ended. Luckily by page 241 he will be up to 1953 which will get me through four chapters of my book.

For basic info on what happened when I was using A Pocket History of the United States by Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager, but that is one of those America can do no wrong history books, like the ones we all read in school and I knew I was not getting a full picture. I had been hearing lately about Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, so I picked it up at the library this weekend. While most history books tell the story from the perspective of rulers and wars, Zinn tells it from the viewpoint of the actual citizens of our country, which includes the workers, the women and various minorities. Let me tell you, that is a whole different story, possibly biased in its own way but at least giving me a more balanced look at it all.

Since I am doing this whole reading project because I want to learn about the world around me and how we got to where we are, there is no point in rushing things. I had the idea that I would keep my reading lists for each year and the chapters in consecutive order here on the blog, but that has caused these weeks when I post nothing as I struggle with a new chapter. So I am moving on. My New Year's resolution (I knew I needed one, but couldn't come up with anything until today) is to post something every day. When I get the chapter done I will post it. Meanwhile I have plenty of other books to write about as well as words of the day and we'll see what else I can come up with.

Now you must keep me honest and check back and see how well I am keeping my resolution. Please, comment away. I love those comments. It really keeps me going.