Sunday, October 30, 2005

Rome

Thanks to HBO On Demand, I have just started watching the HBO miniseries Rome.

It's great. I like the acting, the plots, the pace, the set design, the costumes. Is it accurate? It appears to be. But then, my knowledge is mainly from a mix of I, Claudius (book and DVD), The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence, and The Grass Crown (and sequels) by Colleen McCullough.

Ghosts of Albion

Amber Benson and Christopher Golden have a new book out, Ghosts of Albion: Accursed. From the bit I've been reading, this originated as an online story.

I love Amber Benson. She was great in Buffy and posted at the Bronze, (now Bronze Beta) when she was getting flack for the storyline and her size and well, she is amazing. (Bronze posting: scroll down here for her reactions to comments about her weight (which, BTW, is normal except on TV compared to stick people, yet she got grief for being "fat." Fat at 118 pounds!!!), and go here for her love of Susan Cooper, which made me like her all the more.) (For the record, I probably posted all of six times at the Bronze, under coma girl.)

So, because it's Amber and because it sounds like the type of book I'd like (ghosts and horror and gothic and victorian), I plan on ordering a copy.

And because I know there are Buffy fans out there, I'm asking you for some advice.

Here my questions: what, if any, online GofA do I HAVE to read before reading this book? Is this book retelling what has already happened on the online story, or is it independent? What would be the best order for reading GofA stories? Should I be reading up all the info on the GofA website, or should I wait and read the book first then explore the world further? I don't want to be spoiled about anything in the book, but I also don't want to feel as if I've sat down to watch a movie half way thru.

National Novel Writing Month

Sara Z. said on her blog, stories of a girl, "Speaking of which, if you have often said to yourself, "One day I will write a novel," now is your chance. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). If I can do it, you can do it!"

I've written stuff in the past but lately I've been a bit lazy about writing.

So now I've been inspired. So I joined. Thanks to Sara!

Simply put, the goal is to write one 50,000 word (175 page) novel in a month, starting November 1 and ending midnight November 30.

Is it cheating that I have an idea, plot and main character in my head already? And that this is the nudge to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) in a serious way?

More information at the NaNoWriMo site.

Twenty Random Things About Myself

I've been tagged by Kelly. This is my first tag, so I'm excited. (I've also had my first nasty comment and first spam. Hhmm, what other firsts are left?)

Twenty Random Things About Myself:

1. I've been to Ireland four times.
2. I've been to Disney World five times.
3. If I won the lottery tomorrow, yes, I'd quit my job. And travel. And read.
4. I can't wear heels. I can only wear shoes with good soles & support like Dansko.
5. I like shopping when I have money to spend. If I can't buy anything, why bother?
6. I practiced corporate law for almost ten years.
7. I wanted to be an archaeologist until I realized that I stink at languages.
8. My hair began going gray when I was 22.
9. I hate driving.
10. I love television.
11. I am 39 so don't get people who complain when people think they look young. Looking young is a gift from the gods! I have had people at work think I just graduated college (if you're looking at number 8, yes I dye my hair.) I love those people.
12. I don't have kids of my own, but I do have a wonderful niece and nephew who I adore. And they are the reason that number 2 will increase to six after this summer.
13. I love writing fiction. Which is why I just signed up for National Novel Writing Month. I also love reading other people's drafts and making suggestions.
14. My dream job would working for the movie/TV business picking YA/ Children's books to be adapted for movies. Or, working for a publisher's, doing editing and acquisitions for YA/ Children's.
15. My favorite band remains the Pogues; other than that, I have an eclectic music taste; I like a lot of various things, from folk to grunge to classic rock'n'roll.
16. I just passed the 200 mark for books I read this year. Included are picture books and graphic novels and audio books.
17. I love English History.
18. I'm addicted to cinnamon Altoids.
19. I get terrible migraines, especially when it's damp.
20. Despite number 11 and the clock ticking, I want to have kids. But first I want to get married, and I'm still looking for Mr. Right.

My turn to tag someone. I tag Gigi at Lite as a rock.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Horn Book Blog

Roger Sutton, Editor-In-Chief of The Horn Book, has started a blog at Read Roger. It's a mix of info about the magazine and children's literature. Very interesting.

I just read Gail Gauthier's comments on A Whole Section of the Blogosphere Ignored in her blog, Original Content. As Gail says, a lot of people still don't "quite get blogging." It's nice to see that Roger and The Horn Book get it.

Fantasy

I read a lot of fantasy as a kid and a teen. Sometime around college I stopped. At the time, I thought I had gotten tired of it or outgrown it.

Then I read Harry Potter. And I began reading fantasy again.

And I realized what my problem with fantasy really was: that I had begun to read too many books that were derivative and poorly written. That it seemed as if "fantasy" meant that all the rules went out the window; and that the main characters and plots were more wish fulfillment than well written books. Had I known the term Mary Sue back then, I would have said, aha, too much fantasy with Mary Sue type characters.

Anyway, I shall always love JK Rowling for showing me that well written fantasy exists and for getting me back to reading and loving fantasy.

When I saw The Fantasy Novelist's Exam I had to laugh. Because, seriously? Published books that pass (or is it fail?) this exam is why I stopped reading fantasy. This exam is spot-on (even if it does come close to describing my favorite fantasy series, The Belgariad. Which just means that many people are being "inspired" by it.) And it describes the book I will not name, but which I cannot get beyond page fifty.

All laughing aside, there's a serious question here. Why are so many of these derivative books being published? This is not a recent event; this is what I observed back in the late 1980s. Fantasy can be great, well written and original. It's almost as if everyone -- and yes, I'm including publishers and reviewers -- views fantasy as the "special" child, where not as much is expected.

Fantasy can be great. But if too much derivative stuff continues to get churned out, I think you'll see more people with my experience: they just stop reading it.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I'm going to ask you if you want to go out tomorrow night. I'm actually kind of nervous about it. It's interesting."
-- Oz, Ep: Surprise

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a film now available on DVD. It's based on the book of the same name by Ann Brashares.

Sisterhood tells the story of four best friends, Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget and the miraculous pants that fits each one of them perfectly. There have been two sequels.

Sisterhood is a brilliant concept: four different girls with four different personalities and what happens to them during their sixteenth summer. It's like four books in one, and the movie works the same way. In a nutshell, Lena goes to Greece, where she discovers first love and also bonds with her Greek grandparents; Tibby is stuck at home, making a documentary and reluctantly befriending a 12 year old girl; Bridget is at soccer camp, crushing on a college age coach; and Carmen has gone to spend the summer with her divorced father's new family.

In both the book and the film, Lena's and Tibby's stories didn't do much for me. Carmen's and Bridget's stories, though, I found extremely compelling, realistic, and layered. (Which is why this is genius -- as long as a reader connects with at least one of the four stories, you have a fan. Bloody brilliant.)

Carmen's father is weak. No other way to describe it; the type of man who will say he loves his daughter; and no doubt, does love his daughter; yet does nothing, n-o-t-h-i-n-g to show or tell his daughter he loves her. To add insult to injury, he has stepped into the "dad role" in his "new" family, where to all outside appearances he is a loving father. (My ten bucks says that if he gets divorced again, he'll also emotionally abandon that family. He's the type that can be a Dad when someone else -- his wife -- makes it easy.)

After trying for several weeks, Carmen snaps, breaks a window in Dad's house, and runs back home. And here's where my blood boils. Tibby encourages Carmen to make the first move and call her father; Carmen responds that her father should be the one calling; and Tibby says, no. Carmen calls her father.

I'm with Carmen on this one. I hate, hate, hate, story lines where the child has to be the mature one -- the one reaching out -- while the parent is the immature one. Realistic? Sadly, it is a realistic situation. The teens in these situations have gotten a raw deal; but I think it adds insult to injury to say that the responsibility for a healthy relationship lies on the shoulder of the teen or kid. I think its unrealistic to give a Hallmark ending where the child's reaching out, by letter or phone call, ends in the parent changing. Because you know what? Nine out of ten times, the parent will say all the right things but the parent won't change. And the result is a kid who thinks that they are doing the wrong thing, it's all about them, if they had only called or said the right thing.... One of the reasons I LOVE Storky is that Mike realizes that how his father acts is about his father, not himself. I wish that Sisterhood had been clearer that the reason for Carmen to call and reach out to her father was not because it would "fix" the relationship, but because it was necessary for Carmen's peace of mind.

The other storyline that sticks with me is Bridget, because she's such an amazing mix of qualities. In the book, she had been the most "real", and in the movie, she steals the show. On the one hand, she's action girl, the soccer star, the leader. She's confident in her body and her sexuality; she aggressively goes after the soccer coach. On the other hand, she's still a child, who knows she has the body and the sexual attraction -- but once she gets what she wants, the coach, she doesn't know how to deal with the consequences. An interesting question to ask those who have read the book or seen the movie: what do you think happened between Bridget and the coach? The answers differ greatly. I know what I think.

Bridget's story, and my belief of what happens between Bridget and the coach, is why I think this is a great book for teens. It shows unintended consequences; it shows that wanting and getting are two very different things. For some reason, we've had girls as young as ten coming in to read this book. Given how Brashares handles the situation, they won't "get" what happened; but when they are older, and the situation will have more meaning for them, these girls will think that they already read this book; that it's a kid's book; and that is just sad. It's a perfect book for your teenaged daughter; not so much so for your fifth grader.

The Costume Party

The Costume Party, written and illustrated by Victoria Chess.

The Plot: It's raining, and Nico, Fanny, Claude, Daisy and Rose (five dogs) are bored. Madame Coco has the perfect solution to boring raining days: a costume party, just like when she was little and it rained and rained.

The Good: The story itself is solid: a bunch of bored dogs, then Madame Coco thinks up something fun to do, and the boredom goes away not only because of the party but also because of the fun preparing for the party.

Sometimes kids get rushed out of picture books because the books are viewed as suitable only for those who can't read "real" books. As soon as a child is reading on his or her own, away from the picture books and on to the "real" chapter books. But this ignores that we live in a visual world, a world that is not just words but is also pictures. Good picture books help us to pause and look beyond the words. (On another post I'll talk about picture books that, because of the story, are for older readers or adults).

The most obvious information a reader gets from The Costume Party is that Nico & co. are dogs. But there are other things, also. Chess writes, "They were very, very bored. It had been raining for many days, and they could only go outside for a tiny moment at a time." And the picture shows five little dogs doing what little dogs do outside. And I'm not talking playing fetch. My mother looked at this page and said, "Ingrid (my niece) won't be able to stop laughing when she sees that."

This book was originally published in France, and the author lives part of the year in France. One of the touches that shows this is that the language of items in the pictures is French; it hasn't been changed to English. The telephone book is "pages jaunes". Again, not an obvious detail -- but that's what makes picture books fun. The details.

Overall, a fun book with bright, detailed illustrations.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Poison

Poison by Chris Wooding. Wooding wrote one of my favorite books of last year, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray.

It's almost impossible to talk about Poison without giving away the ending; part of what makes this book wonderful is the twists and the unexpected.

The Plot: Poison is the name of the main character, a girl raised in the Black Marshes. One bleak night, her baby sister Azalea is stolen by phaeries and Poison resolves to get her sister back, no matter the cost.

The Good: Poison is a lover of stories, including phaerie tales. As she goes out into the world beyond the Black Marshes she discovers that having been a reader helps her out: much that is in those phaerie tales turns out to be true, or, at least, to have enough truth in them that Poison can triumph against the endless hurdles thrown in her way.

But then -- about two-thirds of the way through -- just as you are thinking that this is just another fairy tale retelling, another fantasy that is paying tribute to other fantasy works -- there is an unexpected, brilliant turn. Keep reading. I won't say any more.

This is beautifully written and there are tons of references to fairy tales and fantasy books. One of my favorites is a when a stranger encounters Poison and some of those who have joined her quest and comments, "At least you're not the typical muscle-bound warrior, beautiful sorceress, and amusing thief sidekick. By the waters, did that become stale fast." I love Polgara and Silk as much as the next person, but yes, why so many sidekicks who are both amusing and thieves?

Finally, Poison herself is -- dare I say -- delightful. Delightful because she is contrary, sullen, moody, altogether unexpected. She'd hate being called delightful, but how nice not to have a spunky, hopeful, cheery main character.

It's original, with a page turning adventure, unexpected twists and turns, references to other works, and believable characters. So one of my Best Books for 2005.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"Another Slayer? I knew this 'I'm the only one, I'm the only one' thing was just an attention-getter!'
-Xander, Ep: What's My Line? Part 2.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs by Benedicte Guettier.

Dinosaurs is an oversized board book with a big hole in the middle. Open to the first page:

"I love ferns," says Diplodocus. Crunch crunch."

And the hole? Right were the head of the dinosaur is. So you can put your face there and be the dinosaur, or have the child you are reading it to be the dinosaur. The big ending?

"Grrrrrrr! roars hungry Tyrannosaurus. "I could eat five or six dinosaurs! Who wants to be first?"
"Help!"

One of the things I love about picture books is the details that you don't get the first time around. The details that you pick up only by multiple readings and looking close. (Heck, I've done storytimes where I've asked kids to comment about pictures in a book and that's been the first time I've learned about some of the details!) What my third reading revealed: Tyrannosaurus is chasing after five dinosaurs, but all you see are the tails. Look closely at the shape and color of those tails, and you realize its the five dinosaurs that were introduced on the earlier pages.

This will be a great book to use for storytime. The pictures are simply drawn and are in bright colors, and it's interactive: both having the reader or the kids "become" the dinosaur thanks to the hole, but also because of all the great sound affects: "crunch, crunch" and "grrrrrrr!"

I googled the author to try to find out more about her. I knew from the tiny blurb on the back of Dinosaurs that this was originally published in Belgium. I found out that this book was published in the UK under the title Dinosaur Dinners. I also found out she is going to be at the 18th Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival next week. Way to far for me to go, but it looks like a most excellent festival.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Shakespeare's Secret

Shakespeare's Secret by Elise Broach is a historical detective story for middle grades.

The Plot: What is worse than always being the "new kid" at school? Having a father who is a Shakespeare scholar who names his children after characters in the play. And the character he picks for you is -- Hero, from Much Ado About Nothing. And on the first day of school, someone says, "hey, that's the name of my dog!".

Meet Hero, the delightful heroine of Shakespeare's Secret. She's in 6th grade, and a dismal looking year may turn itself around, thanks to the nextdoor neighbor, Mrs. Roth. And the mystery Mrs. Roth shares with Hero: a diamond from a 500 year old necklace is hidden somewhere in Hero's new house. And cute, popular, 8th grader Danny is interested in the mystery and in Hero.

The Good: A mystery that doesn't involve ghosts. And while there are coincidences, as the book says, "but really, there are no coincidences. Coincidences are just other people's choices, plans you don't now about." Coincidences don't drive the plot; they are not some mystical message.

The kids -- Hero and Danny -- act. Mrs. Roth supports them, and is a source of information. But Hero and Danny are the ones who actually do things; and they are the ones who take that information and make conclusions. They are the ones who think and do.

Like Down The Rabbit Hole, S'sS uses working parents to get the parents out of the way so that the kids can investigate. Like DTRH, there is no guilt or drama to parents working. It's a simple fact.

I loved the history in this! It turns out the missing diamond may have something to do with William Shakespeare and with the "real" author of the plays. S'sS offers one possibility. I don't want to give away the "secret", but I think this book will inspire readers to learn more about Shakespeare and English history, much like Konigsburg's A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver led to my lifelong love of history.

Hero and Danny are real kids -- despite her name and her father's occupation, Hero has never read a Shakespeare play. Hero has trouble making friends -- her difficulty in school brought back painful memories. Hero and her sister have a great sibling bond, sometimes arguing, sometimes getting along.

Cynthia Leitich Smith's interview with Broach can be found at her cynsations blog.

The Historian

How much did I love The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova? While reading, I never once flipped ahead to see how it would end. I read the last 50 pages slowly, because I didn't want the book to end. And, even tho it's over 600 pages, when I got to the end I wished for more.

The Plot: The sixteen year old narrator stumbles across an old book of her father's. She discovers that the book is part of something more: that her father had discovered that Dracula was real and spent years tracking him down. He relates his search to his daughter and she is pulled into the mystery, and into the danger, as it quickly becomes apparent that this all has something to do with the death of her mother when she was a baby.

The Good: Saying everything isn't enough, is it?

In an interview in the Guardian, TH was called "Buffy With Books."

TH tells several stories at once, layering them brilliantly. The narrator begins at some future point in her life, looking back at her 16th year; then there is the story her father tells of his Dracula quest; and the story of his own mentor's search for the truth. I was impressed with how well this worked; how something in one story ties into the other, how the "reveals" are paced.

I loved the research. How can someone solve a mystery if they aren't looking things up? By using historians as detectives, Kostova provides new depth of research. It's not just reading a bunch of letters, it's taking note of the order they are found in because that might be important. It's not just looking at a document or a fact or a story in isolation.

Kostova makes the research process come alive, makes it exciting. The characters find a document that sheds some light on the mystery of Dracula, but that document also points the way to another item or another possible source, and of course they have to go to the new place to find it. What makes this exciting: it's set in pre-Internet days, so the people literally have to pick up and go to find that new bit of information. And some of it is set during the Cold War, with much of the research taking place in Eastern Europe, so the travel arrangements aren't easy. The search is also a race, a chase, a running away, because there are sources at work -- Dracula and his minions -- who want to prevent the searchers from finding out the true story.

Kostova shares the full text (or at least the important bits!) with the reader, so engages us in the story. If I figured out something a bit before the characters, they weren't far behind me.

What else? In addition to the mystery elements and the detective story and the research and the history, there is also romance. And travel.

Finally, I loved that at no point does Kostova present her "history" as real. She's not pretending that Vlad the Impaler really was Dracula and these documents do exist. Some of the stuff in here may be "real", some may not. It doesn't really matter, because they are real in the context of the story, and that is what counts.

My only pet peeve: terrible binding. My copy from the library was already falling apart.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tam Lin

I'm not quite sure when I encountered the Tam Lin ballad.

One of my favorite modern retellings of this story is Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. Not only is it a great retelling that is true to the original work, it's also captures the university world very well. It also does a great job of portraying smart people who are unafraid of being smart. The book has so many literary and historical references that there are sites dedicated to annotating the book, such as The Annotated Tam Lin.

Other Tam Lin retellings I like:

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, set in 16th century England; and

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, set in modern times.

If you're totally unfamiliar with Tam Lin, the best place to start would be a book that is more traditional, such as An Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughton or a picture book, like Jane Yolen's Tam Lin.

Please share your favorites! I would especially love to read one that totally turns the legend around, making Tam Lin and Jean the bad guys to the Queen of Faery's good guy. (Tho if it isn't out there, I may have to write it myself.)

For a movie related link: Roddy McDowall (one of my favorite actors ever) directed a movie version (AKA The Devil's Widow AKA The Devil's Woman) of this that I have never seen. It's the only film McDowall directed, and Hollywood lore says that McDowall did a great job but the studio treated him and his work poorly. It's not available on DVD, but was released on VHS.

The, queen of the fairies,
being there,
bade me with her to dwell,
And still once in the seven years
We pay a teind to hell.

Buffy Quote of the Week

"I'm sorry. Staying calm may work fine for Locutus of the Borg here, but I'm freaked out and I plan to stay that way."
-- Xander, Ep.: Prophecy Girl

Monday, October 10, 2005

I'm Not The New Me

I'm Not The New Me by Wendy McClure. Just like sometimes, I watch grownup TV, sometimes I read grownup books.

On Thursday, October 13, the author is going to be at the Stafford Branch of the Ocean County Library. A friend of mine at the Stafford Branch said INTNM was funny, so I read.

The book had been described to me as "a hilarious and sometimes poignant look at the absurdities of weight-loss culture from an appealing and original new voice." As I'm always dissatisfied with my weight, I read this memoir. This is so much more than another book about our culture and weight. It's also about relationships and modern life.

But most important: it's more than funny. It's snarky. The proof: McClure was a part time staffer at Television Without Pity and did the commentary on those 1970s Weight Watchers cards. To get a further feel for the book, check out the author's website Pound. None of which I realized until I began reading the book.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Author Visits

October visits to the Ocean County Library include E.R. Frank (October 24) and K.L. Going (October 20). Alex Sanchez will be visiting in November.

ALA | ALA Midwinter Meeting

Thanks to my library, which is very supportive of professional development, I'll be going to the ALA Midwinter Meeting in San Antonio. Please let me know if you'll be there!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Serenity

The movie opened on September 30. Keith R.A. DeCandido wrote Serenity, the novelization of the movie.

So, why read the novel version of a movie? Especially since I also bought the screenplay? For the same reason I read books-upon-which-movies-are-based. I want more; I want to find out what characters are thinking, maybe get multiple viewpoints on the same event. I want to read scenes that weren't in a movie, because it was only two hours long. I want background. And while I know how the story will end, I also know that a book will tell a story a bit differently from a movie. I want to read that different version.

Admittedly, many novelizations fail to deliver and are poorly written.

But some novelizations are great. Serenity does deliver; DeCandido's novel is a real treat. He obviously cares about his finished product, and the book contains flashbacks, additional scenes, insights into characters. As with the film the focus is Mal and River; but there are also glimpses into other characters. Here's a tease: we get a bit about Wash, flightschool, and Mr. Universe.

Other novelizations that deliver: the original Battlestar Galactica novel tie-ins were some of the best I have ever read. (OK, so I was ten at the time...) No, seriously: they included scenes and backstory that fleshed out the story and created moments that I still remember.

If you're interested, To Some, a Movie Is Just an Outline for a Book is a fascinating look at the book based on movie business.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Buffy Quote of the Week

"It doesn't matter how you got here or where you came from. You are my sister. There's no way you could annoy me as much if you weren't."
-Buffy, Ep: Blood Ties

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Hitler Youth: Growing Up In Hitler's Shadow

Hitler Youth: Growing Up In Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

SCB traces the history of the Hitler Youth from its start in the mid 1920s, to the 1930s and 1940s when membership became mandatory. She explains why it was attractive -- why it was something teens wanted to be a part of. And she shows how it was used to indoctrinate.

HY is full of pictures, and full of stories about teenagers: those who joined and believed, who believed and then became disullisioned, who believed and were betrayed. Included are the teens who joined voluntarily, like Herbert Norkus; the "Swing Kids" (yes, that movie is based in fact, teens were prosecuted for the music they listened to); and the Scholl siblings, Hans and Sophie, of the White Rose. Solomon Perel's true story, of a Jewish teenager who survived by "passing" as Aryan and joining the Hitler Youth, is included (Perel's story is recounted in Europa Europa).

How and why did Hitler come to power? In looking back, it is easy to wonder why. HY helps explain.

HY is full of illustrations, photographs, and propaganda, all which help to bring alive the times and the people. It also lets you know what happened next to the people mentioned and provides a detailed bibliography.

Medium

See, I do watch TV for grown-ups.

Medium stars Patricia Arquette and Jake Weber, and is based on the book Don't Kiss Them Good-bye by Allison DuBois.

The Plot: Allison DuBois (Arquette) is a medium who works for the local police force. She is also married to rocket scientist Joe and has three daughters.

The Good: Let me say this right up front: the weekly mysteries aren't all that. Half of them the viewer can figure out without the help of a vision. This isn't a show to watch for the whodunit.

So what is good?

Rather, what is great? There are 2 reasons to watch this show: first, the family dynamics; second, the visions.

The family dynamics: This is the only TV show that "gets" families. This is a real family, living in a real house, wearing real clothes. But it's more than the set design, with laundry baskets half full and a home full of the usual clutter created by a family of five. It's also how this family interacts. They fight, they argue, they love, they like, they fight. There are no easy answers or pat emotions.

Also? Joe is my TV Husband. (Plus, I loved the TV show American Gothic.)

A perfect and ongoing example of the realness of this show about psychics: the constant ongoing squabbling about who drops the kids off to school and who picks them up. Joe's "I have an important meeting" meets Allison's"I have a murder investigation" and both are important and both are frustrated and finally one gives a little and they move on. Their is no very-special-moment when it is talked out and resolved and someone miraculously changes their job to make it all work. Nope, this argument will happen again and again and again.... just like it does in homes around the country.

The second example: upon occasion, Allison self-medicates with a drink; a drink keeps the visions away. It's been alluded to as a past issue, and we've seen her do it. And this show has the courage to say, Allison can take a drink -- and not be an alcoholic. Yay!!

And now the visions: I love it because, while Allison's visions are critical to solving the mysteries, they aren't pure. These visions are less clear than Cordelia's. Other things going in in Allison's life can get in the way: the face of the murderer in a vision may not be the face of the real murderer, but comes instead from a menu looked at the night before. The visions have to be decoded. They aren't obvious. They may be messy.

Also noteworthy: Arquette is excellent as this soccer mom/ psychic. She deserved the Emmy. And even better: she isn't some perfect looking, made up, TV person. Arquette plays Allison as the woman who you see in the supermarket, at the playground, in the PTA meeting.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Veronica Mars

What wonderful thing has happened?

No, it's not Rex Manning Day! It's better than that.

Say no more, mon amour.

Veronica Mars is back.

Down the Rabbit Hole: An Echo Falls Mystery

Down the Rabbit Hole: An Echo Falls Mystery by Peter Abrahams

The Plot: Ingrid Levin-Hill is 13, loves soccer and acting, and is impatiently waiting for one of her busy parents to pick her up at the orthodontist. She decides to start off for the soccer field on her own, gets lost, is helped out by an eccentric woman, and accidentally finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation.

The Good: Ingrid is a great teenager. She has friends, she's smart, she's got courage. But she isn't perfect; she isn't annoying; she isn't always right. She makes mistakes. She learns. And the whole time, she's guided by what's right, what's wrong, and what's necessary as she tries to discover who murdered Kate.

Ingrid realizes that things don't just happen -- you have to work for it, whether its studying for the math test or memorizing the streets of her hometown so she knows her way around.

This can easily turn into a great series: it's well written and perfect for middle school. The middle school, like Ingrid herself, is normal and typical.... tho, like Veronica Mars, I think that she may find mysteries aplenty to investigate in quaint-sounding Echo Falls.

Some other cool things: instead of the usual "kill Mom" to allow Ingrid the freedom to investigate, Abrahams has given Ingrid two working parents. At times they may be a little overworked, which is why Ingrid can become the teen sleuth, but they clearly like and love their daughter.

Older brother Tyler and Ingrid have a contentious sibling relationship (and I suspect a mystery with her brother to be solved down the road.) Grandpa is a trip -- part of the reason Ingrid likes spending time with him is he's teaching her to shoot. He's independent. He's cranky. He's smart. (And I think there's a secret involving his World War II activities.)

Ingrid's involved in local theatre; the title of the book comes from the play Ingrid is in, Alice in Wonderland. This is another clever point for the author: Ingrid's involvement in community theatre, rather than a school production, means she knows people outside the school/family circles.

Abrahams usually writes for adults; I haven't read any of those books. What I like is that DTRH is tightly plotted, has well-rounded characters, and is respectful of the audience. Unlike other adult authors who suddenly discover the teen market, Abrahams does not write down for his audience. He also does not indulge in heavy-handed moralizing. Instead, he gives us a fun, involving, scary mystery.

Rumor has it the next book is Behind the Curtain: with a new mystery for Ingrid to solve and a new play about the Wizard of Oz.

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