Monday, August 23, 2010

Checkered Flag Cheater

Hailing from Indianapolis, I may have a greater interest in car racing than most, but I can't get enough of Will Weaver's Motor Series. I just finished Checkered Flag Cheater, the third in the series, which finds Trace Bonham racing on the super-stock circuit for Team Blu. His face graces billboards advertising his corporate sponsor’s sports energy drink, and he is the next boy wonder on the track. However, when Trace begins to suspect that his mechanic is illegally juicing his car, he struggles with what to do.

Saturday Night Dirt, the first book in the Motor Series, introduces ten characters of varying ages and ethnicities who all are involved in the world of car racing at Headwaters Speedway, a small dirt stock-car track in northern Minnesota. One Saturday night, when rainstorms at other tracks force cancellations at other tracks, big name racers join the local kids at Headwaters for a night they’ll all remember. Weaver fleshes out each character enough to leave a lasting impression on readers. The track owner is Johnny Walters, a former racer left paralyzed after a severe crash. His 17-year-old daughter Mel struggles to keep her father's track financially solvent. Promising stock-car racer, Trace Bonham, finds that his jealous mechanic has sabotaged his engine. Other racers who are introduced include Beau Kim and Sonny Down Wind. Additional track personnel round out the group. Racing terminology is accurate and the play by play of the races is exhilarating.

In Super Stock Rookie, the second book in the series, Trace Bonham is chosen as the face of Team Blu and now has a hot stock car and his own racing team. Overnight he makes the transition from amateur dirt-track racing to representing a large company as the face of their new sports energy drink. However, he has to go on the road, leaving behind Mel who haunts his dreams, as well as his parents whose marriage is on the rocks. As he questions the legality of his engine and the way his team operates and he is told to just worry about the driving and looking good, he begins to wonder if he made the right choice.

The third book, Checkered Flag Cheater, takes up where the second left off. Trace is now the leader in the competion for points on the Midwest super stock circuit. His romance with Mel is heating up, even as he is tempted by "fence bunnies" while on the road. As he racks up one win after another and the other racing teams begin to protest his car's engine, he begins to wonder what's behind its superior performance. His own racing team continues to tell him just to worry about the driving. When he finally discovers the truth, he must decide whether to look the other way or quit Team Blu and jeopardize his racing career.

According to his book bio, "Will Weaver lives in Bemidji, Minnesota, and is the owner of two Modified cars which he reaces in the WISSOTA circuit in the upper Midwest." He definitely knows his way around under the hood of a car and his insider information about racing strategy and technique seem very realistic. This series would be a great recommendation for reluctant readers. A few non-graphic romantic scenes lead me to caution against giving it to younger students.

Somebody Everybody Listens To

Influenced by my family, I seem to be listening to more and more country music lately, so I was intrigued by Suzanne Supplee's new book called Somebody Everybody Listens To. The main character, Retta Lee Jones, heads to Nashville after high school graduation to pursue her dreams of becoming a country music star. Borrowing her great aunt’s car, she ends up living in it as one catastrophe after another occurs.

First, she runs into a brick wall and has to have her car towed and repaired. However, Ricky,the tow truck driver takes pity on her, and after listening to her sing Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man," offers her a job so she can work off what she owes. He becomes one of her biggest allies as she navigates the Nashville music scene.

After losing all her money in a mugging on Music Row, she ends up living in her car and taking spit baths in public restrooms. She takes a second job singing in the bar at a run down hotel in Franklin. There she meets the bartender, Chat Snyder, a former country singer who at first tries to intimidate her, but then advises her to stop singing covers and sing her own music.

Even more difficult than living in her car and dealing with rejection from people in the music business are the pulls from home where her parents’ marriage is dissolving. As an only child, she struggles not to side with either parent in their squabbles. When Ricky gives her two tickets to the Mockingbird (which is based on Nashville's legendary Bluebird CafĂ©) for open mike night, she sings an original song about her family problems. She touches the hearts of the people in the audience when she sings "I'm not ready to decide which one to choose in your it's over ride."

Retta is inspired, as was I, by the hard knock lives of successful country singers, whose biographies are included at the beginning of each chapter. It is amazing how many country western singers dealt with poverty and tragedy before they made it big. For instance, Shania Twain lost both parents when she was twenty-two and became the guardian of her three siblings. Retta perseveres in looking for that first break to ignite her career and is ultimately rewarded. This book will appeal to fans of country music, as well as any reader who enjoys a good story about a plucky heroine following her dreams.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Paper Daughter

The Nehls and the Lantzys rented a house in Nathrop, Colorado this weekend at the base of the Chalk Cliffs. While the boys headed off to conquer another section of the Colorado Trail on their mountain bikes, Terre and I visited the galleries in Salida. A gallery filled with colorful sculptures of alien beings was probably the most unique artwork we viewed. My favorite piece was an alien mother reading Where the Wild Things Are to her alien baby. As I marveled at the artist's creativity, I began to think about the many connotations of the word alien and a book I read recently. Paper Daughter by Jeanette Ingold is the story of a young girl who discovers her deceased news reporter father was actually the son of an illegal alien.

Maggie Chen, an aspiring journalist who is still mourning her father's death in a hit and run accident, takes an internship at a Seattle newspaper, where she uncovers a story that links her father's death to political corruption. At the same time she is investigating her father's lies about his family's origins. After finding and reading his journals, Maggie discovers his family does not have East Coast blue blood ties, but rather he is the son of Fai Yi, a man who entered the US as a "paper son." Fai Yi and his twin sister's history is interwoven with Maggie's present day story. In a flashback to 1932, Fai-yi narrates the tale of their illegal entry into the United States using a "paper father," a ruse used to avoid the Chinese Exclusion Act.

At the Herald, Maggie and her mentor are investigating a local government scandal that ends in murder. When they find a connection to her father's death, she is taken off the story. Maggie realizes that finding the truth about her father's past will help to clear his name. As the suspense builds, Maggie wonders, "Why would my father, who'd always said a person was only as good as his or her word, have lied about his parents and about how he'd been brought up?"

The historical information about Chinese poverty during this period, which prompted mass immigration to the US and the resulting laws prohibiting Chinese immigration, as well as Maggie's struggle to understand the truth about her cultural heritage will keep the reader engaged. Coupled with the mystery of the government scandal and murder, the story of her search for the truth makes for a real page turner.