real-talk YA book reviews

Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Cardturner Big

Enjoyability:     smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 336    Copyright: 2010

                 The blurb: “The summer after junior year of high school looks bleak for Alton Richards. His girlfriend has dumped him, he has no money and no job, and his parents insist that he drive his great-uncle Lester, who is old, blind, very sick, and very rich, to his bridge club four times a week and be his cardturner.  
     But Alton’s parents aren’t the only ones trying to worm their way into Lester Trapp’s good graces. There is Trapp’s longtime housekeeper, his alluring young nurse, and the crazy Castaneda family.
     Alton soon finds himself intrigued by his uncle, by the game of bridge, and especially by the pretty and shy Toni Castaneda, as he struggles to figure out what it all means, and ultimately to figure out the meaning of his own life.” 

                  Honestly? Flawless. This book (which, in case you didn’t notice, is by the author of Holes) was flawless.

                  I was hooked on the story from the very first page, and I couldn’t stop reading. The Card Turner established its themes and then stuck to supporting them in a focused way, creating a lovely sense of cohesion without hitting you over the head with its insights. The character development was similarly subtle and natural, so that you got to know everyone the way you get to know people in real life—slowly and through experience, not by being told.

                Alton as a narrator was extremely easy to care about and relate to, while still having a strong self of his own.

                The details of bridge were handled well, with a good sense of how much needed to be explained and in how much depth to let the reader feel connected to what was going on, without making the book into a bridge manual. I’m still not sure how well I grasp even the basics of the game, but I was with it enough to know what to feel.

                The story takes a very unexpected turn around 2/3rds of the way through, which jarred me a smidge at first, but in the end, it was really moving. This was one of those books that when I finished it, I just had to sit there for a few minutes, exhale, and say “wow.” It was not a story I’ll soon forget, and it was really a beautiful thing. I recognize the Sachar who wrote Holes, and it sort of made me want to read that one again. In both books, Sachar weaves a rich history and an imaginative world for his characters, and both books share a powerful emotional truthfulness that makes them worthy of lasting fame.

Special Awards: 

eagle  Soaring Eagle Award because this book was really moving for me, and gave me a lot of feels about life.

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     Every Tuesday, the site The Broke and the Bookish posts a prompt for a top-ten-style list, and book bloggers around the web respond to it on their blogs. This week the prompt is Top Ten Books on your Spring TBR (to be read) list.

   Despite my valiant attempts to wear skirts and dresses, it’s still a little frigid to start any peppy Spring musical numbers with the birds and squirrels. Even so, a new season of reading is quickly heading our way, bringing, as always, many, many enticing titles. Here are the books I can’t wait to get my hands on this Spring.

United-we-spy_612x918beauty A really awesome mess

file92862 The Night Circus UK 15749186

  1. United We Spy by Ally Carter. I have it out from the library, but I’m making slow progress because I hate books that are the last in the series. Even if I feel ready to let the series wrap up, the sense of finality that permeates such books just gives me stress.

  2. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. I loved Going Bovine so much, but I have yet to try her arguably more trumpeted and very intriguing work.

  3. A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin. I had heard good things about this book and was already interested, but when I realized it was by the same authors as Notes from the Blender, that sealed the deal.

  4. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. I’ve read her other two, and kind of doubt Fangirl is going to be toppled from its position as my favorite, but we’ll see.

  5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I’ve been ordered to read this book, it sounds pretty shiny and glamorous, and it’s pulling a relatively positive reaction from the often cranky folks on Goodreads, so I think I’ll give this a try.

  6. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Apparently Jenny Han is very popular and has been compared to Sarah Dessen. And the premise for this one is very intriguing.

       There are some great covers in there, too. Can I somehow expand my mind to read them all at once? No? Well, I’ll get to them all eventually.


            Today, I’m psychoanalyzing myself about one of my favorite, oddly specific literary tropes: the little-known microcosm. I love stories that reveal weird, highly structured worlds and cultures that spring up around certain activities.

            Take, for example, my current loan from my school library, The Card Turner by Louis Sachar, author of Holes (which, incidentally, is also a perfect example, maybe even a better one than the one I’m about to describe.) The Card Turner is about a teenage boy who finds employment as card turner for his blind great uncle, a Life Master in the card game bridge. He attends a bridge club filled with regulars, and is intrigued by the complex written and unwritten rules of the game, the fast-flying and inscrutable lingo, and the suggestions of scandalous past bridge-related happenings.

            Another of my favorite examples is What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, which is partly about a committee that meets in the upstairs room of a small restaurant over a period of several weeks with the task of assembling an expansive model of their town for some sort of community exhibition. They develop rhythms of working together to match up little houses, buildings, and pieces of landscaping to their corresponding slots in the base.

            There’s no hard-and-fast definition of the phenomenon I’m talking about, but you feel it when you read it: people coming together to do something unlikely and unusual, and sharing a culture because of it that no one outside would understand or even know was there. And I rarely read a novel with this quality that doesn’t fascinate me, and stick in my memory long after the last page.

            Why is that?

            I think maybe this type of thing fits with the way my brain works. I’m the kind of person who has an elaborate internal ritual surrounding the front doors of my school every day: is that person behind me close enough that I should hold the door for them? Look at them in the reflection so you don’t trap yourself by making obvious eye contact. Is this a case for holding it as I enter so they can come along behind me, or a full hold it open, let them go first deal? I create complex sociologies in everything I encounter. So when I see my overanalysis of the mundane echoed outside of my head, my brain is thrilled to have found its kin.

            Furthermore, reading is all about being invited into a new world— and how cool is it to be a visitor in a tiny community whose existence would otherwise have never even occurred to you?

            Does anyone get what I’m talking about? Any time you read something with a microcosm aspect, let me know about it, because I’ll need little other reason to give it a chance.


dirk gently

Enjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2

Pages: 306    Copyright: 1991

“There is a long tradition of Great Detectives, and Dirk Gently does not belong to it. But his search for a missing cat uncovers a ghost, a time traveler, AND the devastating secret of humankind! Detective Gently’s bill for saving the human race from extinction: NO CHARGE.”

     The short review: ADJKDINFIEINE DOUGLAS ADAMS IS A FLAWLESS INDIVIDUAL.

      I really, really love Douglas Adams. His witticism is unchallengable. I haven’t read the entire Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, although I recently became the joyful owner of a beautiful black-and-gold omnibus of it, so hopefully that will soon change, but I was familiar enough with his work to be very excited when this was our first book assigned for the Sci Fi class I’m taking. It didn’t disappoint. Dirk Gently had exactly what I love: a million strings of complexity and running gags that all pulled together and tied up with orchestration more beautiful than you were prepared for. It also features the driest, wry-est British humor you could hope for.

        I feel like I should provide some supplemental explanation of the actual plot, since the official synopsis is pretty opaque, but honestly, I don’t know how to explain it without hashing out the whole book. There are five or so different storylines, and the book is all about figuring out how they connect to each other as Dirk and other characters try to solve, in essence, a murder mystery. It all has to do with the “interconnectedness of all things”.

      Douglas Adams strikes that perfect balance between ridiculousness and intelligence. I truly loved every page of this book. It will almost be a pleasure to write that essay about it. Speaking of which, my thesis is due Monday…

Special Awards:

comedy mask  ROFL for good humor.

moon   All-Nighter because even though it’s lighthearted, this was a pretty good page-turner.