Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Hero Next Door Short Story Collection


This is a cool collection:  short stories with diverse characters and all manner of heroes.  The range is broad and the quality very good. 

Some of my favorites: 

-One Wish, by Ronald L Smith.  Great voice and setting, with a folk-tale sort of moral.

-Home, by Hena Khan.  Very warm and relatable. 

-Ellison's CORNucopia; A Logan County Story, by Lamar Giles.  Imaginative and tech-y with some nice subversions of stereotypes.

-Rescue, by Suma Subramaniam.  Though the dilemma and solution related to the dog seem a little forced, the emotions and situations are powerful.

-The Save, by Joseph Bruchac.  Great cultural details and internal conflict.

-Reina Madrid, by R.J. Palacio.  Great characterization, great sense of time and place, great cultural meshing.    

All the others are good too.  A couple felt a bit rushed, unfinished, or too easy at the end, one was a little slow, a couple just weren't my favorite style or topic.  But despite that, I can honestly say there wasn't a single one I disliked. 

The styles, subjects, and tones vary a lot, but the collection brims with good writing, characterization, setting, plot, imagination…and diversity.  Yay! don't often find short story collections for middle graders.  Double yay!

4.5 stars!

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Prairie Lotus, by Linda Sue Park


I love the premise of this book—a girl facing not only the normal challenges of life on the prairie—but also facing severe prejudice as a second-generation immigrant with a Chinese-Korean mother (now sadly deceased) and a white father.  It's a sad but beautiful and hopeful story.

Hannah did seem a bit too perfect and some of the other characters a bit too horrible, but I still really liked her and was totally rooting for her the whole way—often rather angrily because people can be so cruel and bigoted.

I was hoping for more historical detail of the kind I loved in the Little House books, like how to make this, and how to preserve that, and how to live without the other thing.  What was included in Prairie Lotus was great  I just greedily wanted more.  I loved the dressmaking and entrepreneurial details.  I loved her interactions with the Native Americans.  I loved the school curriculum.  These were all great.  I just wanted to know more about…I don't know…how to make soap.  Or prime a pump.  Or make salt pork (which was mentioned). Or communicate (by letter? telegraph?) with the stores they order things from (is there a catalogue?).  Or find mushrooms to dry for her soup.  Sigh.  I should just stop being greedy.  Or maybe beg Linda Sue Park to write a sequel. 

Occasionally it did feel a bit like historical-fiction-through-a-modern-mindset. That will bother some readers, but I didn't mind. 

The writing was smooth, engaging, and powerful.  The pacing was good.  The plot was interesting.  The ending was not too perfect but yet still satisfying.  I loved the slow development of her friendship with another girl.  Her difficult relationship with her father was well drawn.   

I was sad when it ended—not because of what happened, but because I had no more left to read—always the mark of a good book.

This is at least 4.5 stars, almost 5 (which I don't give out very often to novels).

I've only read one other book by Linda Sue Park:  the phenomenal A Single Shard.  This book has convinced me I need to read all her other books. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Story That Cannot Be Told, by J. Kasper Kramer


This middle grade novel takes place in Romania in the 80s, under the reign of a dictator who remains nameless in the book but not nameless in history.  

The storytelling is beautiful, with a graceful weaving in of folklore and other stories. The folktales themselves are cleverly twisted, filtered through the inventive mind of a child of communism. Ileana's reality is scary, and it reminds readers of a dark period in not-so-distant history that we should be careful not to forget. The writing is very good. The danger is high in a chillingly quiet way. The characters are interesting. The village setting is atmospheric and reminds me so much of my own experiences living and traveling in rural parts of Czechia (and Poland and Slovakia), other European countries once controlled by communism.

I'm sure that my love of the book came partly because I'm so interested in the culture and history and because it reminded me of my beloved home away from home. Toward the end I did come across some confusing and unrealistic parts. And I have a sneaky suspicion that this is the type of book that might play better to adults.

But I still highly recommend it.   

4.5 stars

Sunday, February 14, 2021

More Snow in the Desert


We went hiking at White Tank Regional Park on a rainy January morning--complete with thunder and lightning.  I had a good rain jacket on, but I was pretty much soaked everywhere else when the rain stopped at the wind came up.  And boy did it rage.  My wet hands and legs started getting colder and colder.  And then, suddenly:  hail.  The wind whipped it so hard against us it felt like buckshot.  I don't think I've ever been caught out in such vicious hail.  The little balls of ice started collecting along the sides of the trail.  In Phoenix!  By the time we got back to the car, my hands were so cold and numb that  I almost couldn't get the key in the lock and then almost couldn't turn it once I did.  It took about ten minutes of warming up our hands in the car before we could even use them to open our sandwich bags.  I've been on much, much colder hikes in colder climates.  But on those hikes I had gloves.  Or snow but no rain. What an adventure!

So...half an hour after our hands thawed out, here came the sun.  After our car-nic, I took another trail and...this is what I saw:     

Two hours later, in shady, rocky parts of a slightly higher elevation trail, I found little piles of unmelted hail.  

Fantastic hike!

One of the eponymous white tanks: