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« April, 2006 »

Hippo Eats Dwarf   book icon  
by Alex Boese (2006)

read: 22 April 2006
rating: [0]
category: non-fiction

This arrived in my mailbox as a gift one day. I had really enjoyed the author’s book Museum of Hoaxes so it was a fair bet I’d enjoy this one too. And I did, sort of. This book tracks, instead of cultural hoaxes in the pre-Internet days, 'net hoaxes. As someone who spends a lot of time online, this book seemed to be the work of someone who spends less time online. No big issue that, but while I was impressed with the research that went into his last book, this one seemed to be mostly the result of a lot of Google searching and a few telephone calls. Actual “hoaxes” if you can call them that, are interspersed with gags, gaffes and just weird stuff on the web. The combination of the lax selection policy plus a book design that offers us pull-quotes in brown and green and sometimes a combination of the two meant that this was definitely my less-favorite of Boese’s two books. It was nowhere near as entertaining, not as well-researched and seeemd to favor the sensational story over one with real online-hoax cred. I was less surprised reading this book and the hassle involved in reading its edgy layout wasn’t as worth it in the end.

Big Mouth and Ugly Girl   book icon  
by Joyce Carol Oates (2003)

read: 13 April 2006
rating: [+]
categories: fiction, ya

Joyce Carol Oates does YA! I liked this book a lot. The YA-ness of it made me pretty certain that it wasn’t going to be as over-the-top creepy as some of Oates' other stuff, and I’ve been on a YA kick lately. The loose story outline is about a loudmouth kid who gets in trouble (or set up) for “threatening to blow up the school.” The resident weirdo jock girl comes to his aid. They deal with a lot of crap from school and parents. Things somewhat resolve the way things in high school always sort of do, meaning not really and not definitively.

The story is told in alternating chapters, third person with Big Mouth and then first person with Ugly Girl. This is not difficult to keep up with and gives the story some depth especially when you’re looking at these kids and thinking “Why did he/she DO that?” it doesn’t have a lot of dangly parts that don’t make any sense. If I had one criticism it would be that all the supporting family for these kids seem a little two-dimensional, first bad, then good, then possibly bad again. This may be due to the fact that we mainly see the family through the eyes of the teenagers, but sometimes it’s tough to see them as fully formed characters the way two main teens are. This is a warts and all YA book that does manage to deal with complicated teen issues without feeling like an issue-oriented book.

Bloodstream   book icon  
by Tess Gerritsen (1998)

read: 13 April 2006
rating: [+]
category: fiction

I like these medical mysteries. This one is by the same woman who wrote the medical space mystery that I enjoyed last month. This one is similar in some ways. Something is making the teens in a small Maine exceptionally murderously angry. A new doctor just moved to town to help her own teenaged son with his anger and behavioral problems afte the death of her husband, his dad. She finds the typical New England smalltown stuff a little hard to handle -- unfriendliness, reticence -- and this gets worse when she believes that there is something biological behind the temper outbreak.

There is a little too much weird medical dialogue that doesn’t add to the story, in both this and the other Gerritsen book I read -- seems to be a way for the author to establish bona fides early on -- but once you get beyond that (in this case an admittance to an emergency room where the doctors yell drug directives at each other for a few pages and you’re left thinking "huh?") and the story starts to unfold you appreciate that the author can also describe characters and not just diseases.

Small Steps   book icon  
by Louis Sachar (2006)

read: 9 April 2006
rating: [+]
categories: fiction, ya

A follow-up from the author of Holes. Armpit, the protagonist is back living at home with his parents and trying to get by as a teen with a record. I had thought I rememberred him coming into some money or fame at the end of Holes but it clearly didn’t follow him back to Summer school and back home. Armpit is still a sort of hard luck guy with an okay job doing some summer classes. His main companion is a ten year old neighbor girl who has cerebal palsy. People are not particularly nice to him and he has a hard time figuring out other people. His friend from the work camp elists him in a scheme to resell tickets to a pop star’s rock concert. The pop star is her own character in the story, isolated and lonely as her parents manage her career and misuse her money. It’s another wacky caper book, sort of, not as full of violence as the last one, but still having a lot of little side stories all of which wrap up neatly at the end.

Slant   book icon  
by Greg Bear (1997)

read: 6 April 2006
rating: [+]
category: fiction

In 1997, the world of “it’s all online” was even futher away than it is now, and Greg Bear did a pretty good job anticipating a lot of it. This story takes place in a future where the US is fractured into many different political regions and the unifying theme for people is their consumption of data feeds called Yox. These are sort of lowest-common-denominator geared entertainment streams or feeds that people on welfare can just barely afford. Through all this something nefarious is happening. People who received therapy -- which itself happens through the addition of internal nanotech that keeps things balanced -- are finding it failing, chaos is sneaking in, things are falling apart. This book follows a set of disparate characters who all play small roles until the big brouhaha at the end of it.

Readers who enjoy Bear will like this, there’s lots of fun science and verbatim quotes from the Yox while ring errily true to how a lot of Internet stuff seems to be going. On the downside, there is no central character and I spent a lot of time in the book keeping track of what seemed to me to be three or four separate stories. All of these stories were fine, none of them was so compelling that I was dying to know what happened next which is how I often feel when reading Bear’s books. This was a lot of balls to keep in the air at once and while I liked all the characters somewhat, I didn’t like any of them enough to really care and worry about what happened to them. As a result, the final scenes where they all come together were a little disjointed and cluttered with a bunch of characters I felt like I barely knew. It’s just a small kvetch though, overall I enjoyed Bear’s new world

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