Sunday, January 9, 2011

A la Carte by Tanita Davis

Plot: High school student Elaine "Lainey" Seifert wants the same things any teenager would: an end to trigonometry and physics, her mom to stop nagging her, her own cooking show...Wait, what? That's right. Lainey dreams of being America's first famous African-American female chef. Tall order? Maybe. Between trig homework and helping out at her mother's restaurant, Lainey barely has time to make friends, but she manages to practice cooking whenever possible.

Comments: I liked the way this book was written, and I especially loved the recipes in between chapters. I think it's a great touch, and every recipe connects with food in the story. I even copied down a few to try out later. Lainey's "voice" is definitely present in the recipes, as throughout the whole book. Though she's not exactly Miss Social, she has a kind of "page presence" that dominates the story. Unfortunately, the confidence she gives off while cooking doesn't apply to all the other parts of her life. I didn't like how easily Sim, her so-called best friend, could - and did - push her around. It pissed me off how he used her so casually, and it annoyed me how she let him. I understand that they used to be real tight, but when he all of a sudden says he's sorry and wants a favor or two or four, Lainey lets him right back into her life like he never left.

I also have problems with how Lainey's so mean to Topher, a boy in her class. It seems to me like he's really nice to her, sweet and thoughtful - and cute, but that's beside the point - but all Lainey ever does is avoid him or be rude to him. She ignores his friendly attempts at conversation and is openly hostile. Why? All other evidence indicates that Lainey is a caring, compassionate girl, so why Topher? It just doesn't make sense. The drama between the two certainly creates a nice bit of drama towards the end of the story, but it feels like the author had Lainey be rude just so they could clash later. It feels wrong.

I really like Lainey's creativity in her cooking and her ambition and determination to become a celebrity chef, as she calls it. There are a lot of cool details of the restaurant kitchen (what happens behind the swinging doors) and the food. The descriptions of ingredients and dishes added a bit of spice to the story and made it more interesting. It was funny how Lainey's mom was always bringing home food and how food was their comfort. I'm glad that the author talked about Lainey being overweight because it wouldn't have made me personally feel good about myself if Lainey was able to eat a bunch of yummy food all the time and be skinny. It's like watching the slender, pretty actresses on Gilmore Girls pigging out on Chinese and pizza and ice cream every day. Anyway, back to the mom. I didn't like her. She wasn't very supportive or trusting in Lainey, and she didn't seem like a very good mom. But then, Lainey made some stupid choices.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

Plot: After her father is killed in a random shooting, Davey, her mother, and younger brother Jason all move to live with relatives in New Mexico. Struggling to accept her father's death, Davey's relationship with her grieving mother deteriorates as she feels suffocated under her relatives' constricting lifestyle. She meets a boy called Wolf and he begins the healing process by making her laugh.

Comments: I thought this was a great story, but I didn't like several large parts. The plot is believable and sounds very real. As a teenager, Davey already has enough stress in her life, and her father's death starts a snowball effect. She hates New Jersey - or more accurately, she hates living with her aunt and uncle. They think everything is dangerous, and this starts getting on my nerves, too! Her aunt is especially controlling, and Davey thinks she's trying to make Davey her own daughter; convincing them to stay in New Jersey for longer, enrolling Davey in the local high school, making decisions for Davey's mother. Davey is frustrated and feels like no one will listen to her.

When she meets Wolf, I think her reaction is a little weird. Admittedly a girl would probably be defensive and scared if she were approached at the bottom of a deserted canyon by a strange boy, but she seems to be overreacting. I suppose I wouldn't know. I like Wolf, but I wonder why he didn't tell her his real name. And "Wolf" seems a little childish. I like that he listens to Davey and makes her laugh and talks to her. Davey gets a little too dependent on him, though, and she seems slightly desperate as she counts down the days (approximately) until she can see him. I didn't like Davey's friend Jane. She seemed like a nice girl, but then she turned out to be an alcoholic, claiming she could stop whenever she wanted. Davey tried to help her, but for some reason Jane didn't want to be helped, and that was annoying. Maybe that sort of thing happens all the time.

I hate how Davey's mother just folds in on herself and stops taking care of her children. It's despicable the way she allows other people to make decisions for her and take care of her. I understand that she needed time to grieve and to recover, but she was a horrible parent at that time, and Davey suffered for it. Especially when she starts dating. If her mother was well enough to date again, isn't it about time she starts looking after her kids and maybe seeing if they are okay? If she'd been a better mom, she would have realized how bad "parents" the aunt and uncle were to Davey. At one point during an argument, Davey's uncle smacks her across the face. I find that unforgivable. Davey shuns him and ignores his feeble apology, but I don't understand why she didn't tell anyone. She starts talking to a councilor and even then doesn't mention it! That really irked me. I couldn't accept that she just pretended it never happened. I wish she had stood up against him by telling someone what had happened.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten. It's a good story about grief and moving to a new, unfamiliar place, but I didn't think the writing was very good, nor did I think the main character, Davey, was portrayed well as a teenage girl.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Jingo by Terry Pratchett

A book in the Ankh-Morpork Watch section of the Discworld series.

Plot: When the city of Ankh-Morpork and the great nation Klatch are preparing to go to war against each other, Commander Vimes of the Watch knows he has to do something. Along with Captain Carrot, Sergeant Detritus, and pretty much every single watchman/woman/dwarf/troll/undead in the whole city, Vimes travels across the sea to Klatch, hoping to find a way to keep the peace.

Comments: Once again, Terry Pratchett has written a complex story made up of seemingly random characters and events that will keep you laughing out loud throughout the entire book. His witty remarks and odd tangents contribute an ambling style to the writing, and it appears as if he has carefully considered every word to fit perfectly. This story was different from other Watchmen stories I've read because it had quite a bit of politics mixed in, or at least in this story Vimes actually paid attention to the politics. It was interesting, but also a little repetitive at times, when Vimes was going over the attempted assassination mystery again and again; he was trying to figure out who wanted the Prince dead and who they wanted him to think wanted the Prince dead and why they wanted him to think that and how they would get him to think what they wanted him to think. I apologize for the confusing run-on sentence, but it imitated the style of writing when Vimes was thinking.

There was some good character development of Corporal Nobby and Sergeant Colon, and I felt rather attached to Nobby. I don't really like Colon, but then, I suppose you aren't necessarily supposed to. I guess I felt sorry for Nobby. He's probably a good person somewhere deep, deep inside. There wasn't much focus on Carrot or Angua in this book, which disappointed me because I loved Carrot in the past few books. I did grow to like Vimes better, and I like his loyalty, moral compass, and most of all his willingness to disobey direct orders (and sometimes, laws) if he believes its what is best for the city. I don't like how Lord Vetinari, the head of the city, is always keeping Vimes in the dark and relies on Vimes acting as he predicts. I like Lord Vetinari because of his cleverness and obvious skill in keeping the city alive and working, but it's just annoying how he manipulates Vimes. I think the Commander deserves better.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten.