From SALON: Is Chick-Lit Dead?

This morning in the newsletter, there was a piece by Laura Miller asking, “Is Chick-Lit Dead?” I can see her point that characters like the Shopaholic really don’t translate to the current economic climate, but one of the reasons I like chick-lit (or, as I call it, “bathtub reading”) is that it does have an element of escapism. Sure, sometimes I want to read deep, thought-provoking novels, but other times, I just want a little literary mind-candy.

In any case, Ms. Miller’s piece begins:

Is chick lit dead? Less than a decade after commentators clucked at bookstore shelves lined with cartoon high-heels and pink cocktail glasses, the only debate that the once-flourishing genre inspires now is over when to run its obituary. Some say chick lit is well and truly defunct, while others insist there’s some life in the old girl yet. Since there has never been much agreement on what, exactly, chick lit is, perhaps the question can’t be settled.

You can read the rest by following this link. It opens in a new window.

Review: Wizards at War

Wizards at War
by Diane Duane

Product Description (from Booklist):
The youthful wizards Kit and Nita preceded the trainees of Hogwarts by more than a decade, and they are still clobbering the forces of Death in the name of the Powers That Be. In this eighth volume of Duane’s Young Wizards adventures, the Lone One has corrupted the basic structure of reality, causing the universe to expand and all wizards past “latency”–in other words, grown-ups–to lose their abilities, leaving it to the kids to prevent cataclysm. The novel is overlong and densely crammed with bewildering jargon, but the basic plot strands are compelling, particularly one set among a hive society reminiscent of Orson Scott Card’s buggers. Even early series fans who have since outgrown Duane’s particular brand of pseudoscientific mysticism may be attracted by the cameo appearances of previous books’ characters and references to past story lines. The full-cast-reunion aspect prevents this from standing alone, but keep the overall series in mind for Harry Potter buffs whose interests are broad enough to allow them to easily move between Rowling’s genteel, mock-Eton fantasy and traditional sf.

My Thoughts:
I hadn’t read any of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards novels in years, and then, while cleaning up for Christmas, I found book seven, which a friend had given me months before. I read it, then had to re-read books 1-6, and then re-read book seven. Then, while my husband was away, I ordered books eight and nine.

The thing I love about Duane’s series is that while it’s technically a young adult series, or even meant for kids younger than middle school, it’s deep enough to appeal to adults as well. (I find, actually, that much of what is considered YA today is more interesting and provocative than the literature marketed as contemporary fiction or literary fiction for adults).

Kit and Nita, along with Nita’s sister Dairene, and some wizardly foreign (very foreign – not-of-this-earth) exchange students have grown up somewhat, and the stories now take place in a “now” that’s post-9/11, even though the timeline remains consistent within itself. (That’s confusing, I know, but basically it means that even if time outside the books has jumped years, the book that was written in 1988 is still a month before the book written in 1990, or whatever, but both are in whatever was “now” at the time of writing), so it’s nice to see them using current technology at home.

This book, however, with the expanding blackness, the adult wizards losing sight of their magic, etc., seems very much a post-modern fairy-tale, and the darkness in the book-world, while exaggerated, seems to fit perfectly with the tensions going on in reality. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Duane had worked in an “Occupy the Crossroads” plotline, except this was written a few years ago.

Even so, the stories continue to be gripping. Dairene’s maturation as a person is interesting to watch, and there are hints of changes to the dynamic between Kit and Nita.

Dog-lovers will appreciate both the sensitivity with which a certain character’s story is ended, and the humor that comes in an old joke.

Goes well with: macaroni and cheese. Trust me on this – it’s a book that requires comfort food.

Review: Unsinkable: A Young Woman’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas


Unsinkable: A Young Woman’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas
Abby Sunderland with Lynne Vincent

Product Description (from
The stirring narrative of Unsinkable tells sixteen-year-old Abby Sunderland’s remarkable true story of attempting to become the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world.

More people have flown into outer space than have sailed solo around the globe. It is a challenge so immense that many have died trying, and all have been pushed beyond every physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual limit. In Unsinkable, readers follow Abby Sunderland into those depths. This biography delivers a gripping and evocative firsthand account that starts prior to her departure, travels through her daring (and sometimes near-death) encounters on the open sea, to her dramatic rescue in the remotest corner of the Indian Ocean, and the media explosion that happened upon her safe return to dry land.

Along the way, readers discover what it means to boldly face any challenge, to strive after something great, and to plumb the depths of faith, fear, and desperation only to emerge changed, renewed, and emboldened. In this day and age, when the most productive thing a teenager may do is play videogames, Abby’s ambition and tenacity is a real-life parable of what can happen when we choose to exceed our own limits, embrace faith, and strive after what all the naysayers say is impossible.

My Thoughts:
Having recently re-read one of my favorite books ever, Tania Aebi’s Maiden Voyage, I was in the mood for more stories of circumnavigation. I find the idea of circling the world alone in a sailboat both romantic and insane, as all the best adventures tend to be. I download samples of two books: Abby Sunderland’s story about her attempt to to a solo, non-stop, unassisted campaign was the first I read, and I finished it this morning over coffee, yogurt, and a croissant with Seville marmalade, the grey weather outside my window meshing nicely with Abby’s final days on her boat, Wild Eyes.

As I’m not a parent, I can’t speak to whether or not it was the responsible thing to allow Abby to make the attempt to sail around the world. As I’m no longer sixteen (and haven’t been for more years than I care to count), I can’t speak to whether or not that age is “too young” to do things. I don’t know Abby, but I do know that her story comes across as honest, interesting, and ultimately inspiring. How many of us, after all, have Bucket Lists of things we will never do, let alone attempt?

As a left-wing, liberal, non-evangelical Christian, I was concerned that the religious aspect of Abby’s story – and of her life – would be off-putting, but instead, I found her faith to be representative of what the best religion should be: supporting, uplifting, and helpful, rather than divisive. Her faith seemed to ground her, and her ability to poke a bit of fun at herself endeared her to me.

So, for most of the weekend (when I wasn’t busy shopping, doing laundry, recovering from strep, cuddling dogs, and cooking), I was with Abby on her voyage. At first, the convention of having symbols to mark the changes in point of view bothered me (an anchor for the ‘narrator,’ a sailboat for Abby, and a cross for the rescue team that eventually plucked her from the middle of the Indian Ocean after her boat had rolled over and become dis-masted – and that’s not a spoiler because it was in the news), but the symbols quickly became invisible, and the switches in voice enhanced the over-all story, allowing us to experience the care and concern of the land-based “Team Abby” – which included her family, friends, and a cadre of experts – and even the perspective of the rescue team.

My ultimate impression? Abby is a very lucky young woman, not just because she survived a horrible accident at sea, but because she had the courage and the support to go on her adventure in the first place. Does it matter that she ultimately didn’t succeed in her circumnavigation? Not one iota. Her story is satisfying, and even after all of it, her life is just beginning.

I can’t wait to find out what further adventures she undertakes.

Goes well with: Hot coffee and warm croissants, especially on a cold rainy day.

Unsinkable: A Young Woman’s Courageous Battle on the High Seas
Abby Sunderland with Lynne Vincent
Thomas Nelson Press, April, 2011
240 Pages
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Sunday Salon: Maiden Voyage

Maiden Voyage

About once a year, I re-read the book Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi. I originally read it when it first came out, and I remember being curled up on the bed in my dorm room on a cold, grey, San Francisco morning, drinking hot tea and living vicariously on Aebi’s solo voyage around the world. At the time she made the voyage, she was just a couple of years older than I was. At the time I read it, I was the same age she was in the book.

It’s a cold, grey Texas Sunday, and even though I have a thousand things I should be doing, I can’t help but want to escape into this book. It’s technically a memoir, but it’s such a great story that it reads like a novel, and whenever I return to its pages, I’m also sailing along with Tania on her sailboat the Varuna with her cat Dinghy (and later Tarzoon), as she discovers life and love and learns about celestial navigation and engine maintenance.

I’ve made this journey many, many times with Tania over the last twenty or so years, and every time, I find something new in her story, or it evokes something new in my head.

And of course, with each reading, my fantasy of living aboard a sailboat for several months is rekindled.

Except, of course, that I don’t really want to live that basically. I mean, I am the woman who hates camping, and thinks “roughing it” is a hotel that doesn’t have room service or free wifi.

Even so, it’s nice to relive Tania’s Maiden Voyage from time to time.

Just as it’s nice to relive any favorite dream, and enjoy the wishing as much, or more, as you would the fact of what you’re wishing for.