Thursday, December 31, 2009

Uncle Boris in the Yukon: Unusual U Day



Technically it is now Thursday, but my internet went out last night when I tried to post this. It's was A-Z Wednesday (from Reading on the Beach), so I'm highlighting a Daniel Pinkwater book, Uncle Boris in the Yukon.

It took me a while to realize that this was a memoir, not another Pinkwater story of a quirky family. And since I've heard Pinkwater on the radio, I heard the stories in his rich, ironic tone, which only added to their strength. His history of his life with dogs, from childhood with his horrid family through raising sled dogs with his wife, is funny throughout and touching frequently. His awful parents make sense of the many strange adults that people his children's books, and the cheerful way he approaches his life is echoed by many of his protagonists. I recommend this book to all dog lovers and Pinkwater fans.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Library Loot: Post Christmas


Christmas meant my regular library day was impossible, since everything closes. And even I was a bit busy, what with watching my sister cook and frantically wrapping, and finding that I had in fact, shopped early for Christmas, only I then forget everything and frantically ran about buying more prezzies, only to find my hiding places filled up when I tried to sneak in the packages. Oh well, at least I thought of different things the second time around, and no one ever died of too many presents, right? Right?

So, it was Monday when N and I headed out to return some books, me because I had holds expiring and renews failing, he because hope springs eternal and just because your Transformer video is #7 in line at 6pm doesn't mean that it won't be waiting for you on the hold shelf by 6:30. (Well, actually it does, but he handled the tragedy with quiet maturity.) From the hold shelf, I got:
  • Xenocide, by Orson Scott Card, which I consider a weak book that undermines the power of the previous two Ender books, but X is a firm believer in the Pokemon school of series reading (gotta have them all!)
  • Shadow of the Hegemon, again by Orson Scott card, again for X, which is part of a parallel series to the above
  • Ariel, a book of the Change, by Steven R. Boyett, a book recommended on Scalzi's whatever blog
  • Fire, by Kristen Cashore, because I loved Graceling, her other book
N consoled himself from the lack of the Transformer DVD with a Care Bears DVD, and I encouraged him to also pick the DVD of Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom, because I highly suspected that one of them would play in the car on the way home. He has apparently renounced paper books as obsolete vestiges of an unfortunate past.

I had another book due from the city library, which I had to visit because I had a holiday book due that couldn't be renewed. It would have been helpful to bring that overdue book with me, but alas, it is still by my bed (Christmas Angel, a nice Christmas read-aloud). But since we were there, I pulled out my book lists for grades K, 1-2, and 3-4. Lists are good! Obey the lists! Follow your list!
  • Annabelle Swift, Kindergartner
  • Gus and Grandpa
  • Nasty Stinky Sneakers
  • Not on my list, but N found two Power Ranger DVDs
  • Also, Tasha Alexander's Tears of Pearl was on the new book shelf, and I just finished the previous book.
Library Elf puts my count at 74, but many are due tomorrow. I should clean the house, but... Also, today is Wednesday, and those books don't start with the letter U.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sunday Summary: Post-Christmas


Christmas was a great gathering of family and friends, with fairly well-behaved children running about and adults playing a lot of cards. I didn't read much, but I did scatter partly-read books all over my home.

Finished last week:
  • Truly, Madly. I got this ARC in the mail!
  • Al Capone Shines My Shoes
  • Ludell
  • Why Gender Matters
Bookmarks rest in many books, most of them untouched this week. I did open:
  • The End of Racism
  • Dragon, Actually
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go
  • March Towards the Thunder
  • Sea Glass
  • Ten Things I Hate About Me
And I've fallen behind on my reviewing. I'm going to try to catch up before the new year, but since Official Blogging Rules say you should only post once a day, that should give me a nice cushion for the New Year. It's nice that now I am an Official Blogger, I get to know all these rules. If you want me to share other secrets, you can bribe me. With books. That I will start and probably not finish for years.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Truly, Madly: T Day



It's Wednesday again (or it was), and in between crazed panicking over my complete lack of readiness for Christmas I snuck in a read for A-Z Wednesday (T). This is an arc that was sent to me, I'm not sure why, but that is very exciting for me. I warn you that my delight in getting a present from the winds made me enjoy the book before I even read the first page.

Heather Webber's Truly, Madly is a contemporary mystery/romance about a woman from a family that has always had a psychic gift for matchmaking. But Lucy's gift went askew and now she can find lost things instead. This makes her unsure of her place in the family, and she only reluctantly agrees to take over the family business during her father's absence.

She immediately meets sexy ex-fire fighter Sean who is clearly the romantic link. Although it may be cheating to have such a strong initial attraction, as long as the author shows their relationship developing I'm happy. They had no reason to like each other so much in the beginning, but they solved problems, made jokes, and flirted together enough to justify the relationship by the end. Meanwhile Lucy confronts her ability head on, accidentally outs herself as psychic to the press, and involves herself, Sean, and a client in an old murder case.

The book is a frothy bubble of plot (lost kids! blind dates! depressed friends! needy cats) and flirting, but done in a lighthearted and fun way that rarely makes me want to pop it. After finishing I can agree that many twists were unnecessary, and Lucy isn't the brightest of snowflakes, but I had fun reading it and will be looking for more books with Lucy. B

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dragonflight


Dragon Flight (Dragon Adventures) is the second book by Jessica Day George about a plucky farm girl, Creel, who goes to the big city and becomes a successful dress maker. She also wins the heart of the prince (not the heir, but the younger brother), and the friendship of a dragon. That was the first book, which also involved dragon mind control, small minded co-workers, and a prejudiced king.

The second book looks again at the politics between dragons and humans, who have trouble trusting each other. Humans think dragons are big, dangerous, and prone to attacking people (especially when mind controlled). Dragons think humans are pesky and far too quick to magically mind control dragons. And when an ex-royal dragon teaches another nation how to control dragons, conflict happens. Meanwhile Creel is trying to run her new dress shop, hoping not to antagonize the king, and wondering if she and the prince have a chance together. And then she has to save three kingdoms while whipping up an entire new style of clothes. There's a bit too much spunky girl who knows what's what, but that's because I am a jaded old person. It's a fun adventure book. B

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sunday Summary: Pre-Christmas


Some books moved off the Currently Reading Shelf, some even before they rested there for months:
  • Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time (companion to Millicent Min)
  • Shadowland
  • Someone Named Eva
  • Fire Dancer
  • How to Ditch Your Fairy
Of course, I started a few as well:
  • Sea Glass
  • Ten Things I Hate About Me
  • Why Gender Matters
  • Al Capone Shines My Shoes
  • Ludell
Bookmarks inched along in:
  • The Prisoner Within (I may finish this by the New Year, or not)
  • Clutters Last Stand (I read this instead of decluttering)
  • American Gods (it feels like a boy book somehow)
  • Whiskey and Water (I'm starting to get into this one now)
  • Heart of Gold (I peeked at the end, oops)
  • Stolen (still slow)
  • The Privilege of the Sword (about to burst into action, after a lot of suspense)
Bookmarks have rooted themselves to the ground in:
  • End of Racism
  • Powers
  • Broom of the System.
I'll get right on those.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fire Dancer Flickers


The book Fire Dancer by Ann Maxwell reminds me of Andre Norton and other SF pocket books I read in the 80s that already felt as if they were decades old. The gender roles seem steeped in traditional mores with a seasoning of sixties free thinking. It's hard for me to tell if the author put this in, or if I just projected because the font and pages felt so familiar to me, with a sexy woman on the cover and a powerful man backing her up.

A lot of science fiction ideas flew about -- a world destroyed by an expanding sun, a world based on gambling where anything goes as long as you have the license, slavery enforced by high technology, good guys with a sense of fairness and bad guys without, sex as a weapon (but only off stage), a categorization of different life forms, including sentient plants and rocks, and a galactic history including lost super races. All that is fun, as are the main characters, bonded together by need and by the loss of their home world. Everything worked as long as you didn't look too hard, and nothing in the text invited close scrutiny.

A fun read, and if I see the sequels in a used book store I'll pick them up, but I won't go looking. B-.

This is book #2 for my SF challenge; 1.14159... more to go.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Marcelo in the Real World


Francisco X. Stork's Marcelo in the Real World is another entry in the autism book category, but it's not a problem book, it's a book about a boy who happens to process the world slightly differently and the summer he spends working in his father's law office. Marcelo's father is worried about his eventual integration into society; he's been attending a private school that caters to children with various issues. Marcelo must prove he can handle a job in the "real world" for a summer, or else he'll finish his high school years in a public school.

Marcelo has something like Asperger's; that's not quite his diagnosis but it gives people an idea of how to relate to him. He sees the world in a concrete way, unable to be hurried and easily overwhelmed by the shifting environment's and stimuli in new places. But he knows and strengthens his ability to get around, to understand people, and to make tough choices. Because the story isn't about his problems relating, the story is about trust, between a father and son, between the people who are or who pretend to be your friends, and people you don't even know. B+

I Went to the Library Yesterday

Because yesterday was THURSDAY, I went to the library. Strange how I didn't even blink as I carried in my Wednesday book to read so I could finish it on time. You'd think being in the library would have tipped me off that it wasn't Wednesday anymore, Toto. Oh well.

Because my house was a disaster, my Christmas tree naked, and book club looming as a harbinger of all the Christmas hosting I'm signed up to do, I was stressed enough to resist all bookish siren songs. It helped that the hold shelf loved me gently:
  • Olivia Kidney, by Ellen Potter. I think this was recommended by bookshelves of doom.
  • Dragon Spear, Jessica Day George. Third dragon book. It tickles me that someone named George writes about dragons. Which reminds me, everyone who likes Trollope should read Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw.
  • So Totally Emily Ebers, Lisa Yee. Third book about the same summer by Yee; I'm enjoying seeing the different viewpoints of each kid. My son stole this from me, though.
  • Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits, by Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson. It is handy for me when two of my favorite kidlit authors marry and then write books together.
Three kidlit books, and one book of short stories I'm almost guaranteed to love. No problem! I also checked out a Xmas CD (which is awful, explaining why it was in the library a week before Christmas) and some books for my sons:
  • Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo. I thought I had a copy, but apparently not, and the class didn't quite finish this. Not that he really cared, but that bugged me.
  • Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures. I do not think this will tempt me.
  • The World's Greatest Valentine. A Spongebob book that I will also avoid.
  • Rockabye baby! Lullaby Renditions of Christmas Rock Classics. Songs that never should have been exposed to the glockenspiel. We listened and mocked these on the way home.
75 items out. A downward trend.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Someone Named Eva: Sinister Nazis Steal Sisters



Today is Reading on the Beaches' A-Z Wednesday, and the letter is S.

Wait, hold the presses. Today is (was) Thursday. Yesterday was Wednesday. I missed it! Ack!

But, looky-there, the book I accidentally reviewed yesterday matched. I am the luckiest woman alive. Hey, so did Tuesday's. This much be S week over here. S for SuWEET.

Today, to celebrate missing the challenge day and landing on my feet, I seem to have read another "S" book, Someone Named Eva, by Joan M. Wolf. I got this from my son's Scholastic catalog because I remember devouring WWII literature in my youth, and I'm still intrigued. Wolf's book is a new angle on the war; Malada is a blond Czech girl sent to be reprogrammed with Aryan propaganda and adopted by a German family. The Nazis razed her entire village in retaliation for the assassination of a German officer, separating the men and women, pulling out children who passed the racial guidelines, and shipping the rejects to camp.

Malada, renamed Eva, unwillingly learns German and history and proper Nazi behavior. She tries to keep the memory of her family alive, helped by her grandmother's pin, but the frightening circumstances and her youth (the book starts with her eleventh birthday) strip most of her past from her. I found the difference between her attitude and that of similar books with Jewish protagonists interesting; Malada has no sense of thwarting the Nazis by surviving; her secret is not as explosive. She hasn't completely forgotten her past, she knows that Nazis lie, and she knows that she inwardly rejects most of their teachings. But her life isn't constantly in jeopardy; no one wants to kill her for existing.

I was a bit disappointed when the mean, motherless disliked girl who also passed the racial tests turned into a committed Nazi. I prefer the trope where the despised classmate actually has some redeeming characteristics. As a mom, I was also interested in the adoptive mother's reactions -- she was a committed Nazi, but also sincerely believed that Eva was an orphan, and loved her as her own daughter. Mutter's abject sorrow when the Red Cross reclaimed Eva/Malada moved me, although Eva walked away without looking back, and the refugee workers, who had presumably also spent a lot of time at the concentration camp up the road, had no sympathy for the Nazi lady either.

I was confused for part of the book because I had misread an early sentence -- I read "I had been glad that no one I knew was Jewish" as "I had been glad that no one knew I was Jewish" and for a while I assumed her family had recently converted, so their lack of fear seemed odd, but eventually I went back to check and realized my mistake. That did focus my attention on the difference between this story and how the story would have read with a Jewish protagonist.

Although the characters are fictional, Wolf based the story on real events -- Malada's village was the one razed by Nazis, with all the men shot, and select children sent off for adoption. Many of the children were returned after the war, which was very unusual. B

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Blast From the Past: Shelf Discovery



Lizzie Skurnick writes breezy reviews of books she remembered from her teens growing up for the Jezebel web site. She's about the same age as me, so our reading overlapped quite a bit. She gathered many of those commentaries, and wrote some more, for this lively collection (Shelf Discovery: The Teen Classics We Never Stopped Reading: a Reading Memoir) that brings those books back to vivid memory. She organizes the books into various categories (Heroines, Puberty, Tear-Jerkers, etc.) and also sometimes invites other people to contribute their own essays. Her tone is light and cheerful, occasionally mentioning darker concerns or marveling at the ability of her younger self to overlook flaws or enjoy painful sections.

The book was a good reminder of many stories I enjoyed those decades ago, and I fun chance to dig up the few that I missed. There's also a challenge running along with it; I considered skipping the essays on the books I still have to read but then decided that was far too much organization for me. Not a deep book, but a fun one. It would be interesting to have a male bibliophile check it out to see how much lower his match rate was. B.

PS. It is sad how long it took me to get the pun in the title. Self Discovery/Shelf Discovery. My only excuse is that I find the latter much more interesting than the former. That's why libraries are so much more fun than meditation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shadowland Has Shadows of Greatness


Chitra Lekha Banejee Divakaruni's Shadowland is the third book about young Anand and the magical conch. It's a utilitarian children's story about Anand, a boy who has adventures, pretends to grow up a little, and goes home. It was OK, but not great. The Conch Bearer series is an Indian based fantasy, so the exotic factor works for it, but the author repeats herself too much. Every other page there is a situation where the author or Anand points out the best thing to do, and then does the opposite. A little of this can build suspense -- if a scary monster is chasing you, or you are climbing a precipice, then you tend to look back or down even though you shouldn't. But Anand is constantly shown a good course of action and then doing the opposite with no sense of irony or even deja vu. The most egregious case came when the super-powerful conch reached out mentally to urge Anand to trust a scientist, and Anand instantly decides to run away from her for no apparent reason.

Anand was supposed to be a bit older (fifteen) now, but the author had no real idea how to handle that. She mentions his new age heavily a few times, and his female best friend has many new restrictions placed on her, but Anand is baffled by a strange intensity for his friendship with Nisha. I guess he has an excuse for being sexually clueless; he does live in a monastery with maybe two women on the mountain, counting his young friend, but he takes it to extremes. His voice doesn't seem older or more mature than in the earlier books. The conch runs around messing with people's memories again, which always irks me a bit but I have to accept as part of the game here.

I sure sound down on this book, don't I? It wasn't really all that bad, it just had the potential to be really good and didn't bother to execute. Only Anand seems to have motivations or interests, or rather only when he is around does anyone act. All the other characters only react to him instead of seeming true characters on their own. This makes for a more more passive seeming book than the plot and language indicates. So instead of being a solidly mediocre book, it's a mediocre book that could have been special. I'm always crankier with books or kids not living up to their potential, even if they do fulfill the written requirements. B-

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Weed By Any Other Name Still Needs To Be Mowed


I checked out Nancy Gift's A Weed By Any Other Name because I'm very cranky about my lawn, which keeps growing and then I have to mow it or weed it or prune it or something, all of which I despise, or else it falls over dead. So I wanted to read about how lawns are awful and should be abolished. I sorta got my wish, but I also had a fun time reading about someone who does love plants and thinks it worthwhile to have a part of nature surrounding your house.

Divided into four sections marked by the seasons, Gift uses various weeds and plants to evaluate her career as a weed scientist, her hopes for her two daughters, and her feeling of responsibility for the earth. Not so much the Earth, but the dirt she shepherds in her lawn and in her neighborhood. She talks about the benefits and costs of different kinds of weeds, the dangers of pesticides both known and unknown, and the purpose of the lawn around your house. It's full of little facts, most of which I shall immediately forget, but I do remember that clover became a weed when major companies couldn't figure out a poison that would kill dandelions but not clover. Before that, clover was part of the standard lawn seed packet.

I am determined now to cancel my fertilizer company, and rely on clover and other weeds to cover my lawn in green. Although I still have to mow it, so I'll look into the moss lawn mentioned in one of the chapters. Should only take 25 years to cover my area... B+

Sunday Summary


I finished a few books this week:
  • Marcello In the Real World
  • Dragon Flight
  • A Weed By Any Other Name
  • Millicent Min, Girl Genius
  • Angels' Blood
  • To Take a Dare
  • The Tarantula In My Purse, and 172 Other Pets
  • Rover Boys On the Ocean
  • A Fatal Waltz
But I still have bookmarks in a few books, including the library books:
  • A Prisoner Within. It's a good thing this is a PB honor book, which means they don't track the due date.
  • Shadowland
  • How To Ditch Your Fairy
And all the books from last week; I didn't finish any of them. The non-library books that I finished up above were all new. I'm not sure what this signifies...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Library Loot: Defeat Snatched From Victory


I am still rather overextended at my local libraries, with no hope in sight. So clearly I need to buckle down and exercise some discretion, especially since I am hoping to get a lot of books for Christmas. So I've been grabbing chances to duck my local libraries (both of them).

Thursday my kids came home from school with my sister, so our regularly scheduled library run didn't happen. I made it to the local library to drop some things off, and managed to squeak out with only a few picture books.
  • Come Along Daisy, from the KG reading list
  • Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa, from the 1-2 grade list
  • On Angel Wings, which was wildly mis-shelved and I SAVED it by checking it out as an act of mercy. Christmas books are very seasonal.
That evening I had several school-related meetings, so I couldn't get over to our regular branch of the county library. Luckily another branch is located over by one of the schools (our school zoning is a bit insane, so our "neighborhood" schools are anything but), and I dropped off the ultra-due books. I was a bit early, so I browsed around and found some interesting books, but I didn't check anything out. Because I'm so mature and good at delayed gratification and all. No problem.

On Friday morning I noticed I had a library hold about to expire at the regular branch. So I swung by after dropping off the kids at school, but on my way to volunteer at another school library. There were two books on the hold shelf, and somehow I noticed two other books on the recommended shelf, but no real problem. After all, I had dropped of a bunch of books.
  • Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector: A Scottish Immigrant in the American West, 1848-1861. I saw this in the local paper review section (on hold).
  • Dragon Actually. Discussion book for Dirty Sexy Books, a blog I found recently (on hold).
  • The Private Patient. Newish (to me) Adam Dalgliesh mystery by P.D. James.
  • Blood Memories. Fun looking vampire book.
At this point I was feeling smug and in control. Even borrowing a book from the school library didn't chill my buzz.
  • Millicent Min, Girl Genius, by Lisa Yee.
Unfortunately, on Saturday I noticed that I had forgotten to pick up the Transformer DVD also on hold. Through an unfortunate combination of circumstances, I ended up heading over to pick it up with all four kids, knowing that we'd go straight from the library to piano lessons. How to entertain three kids for an hour while a fourth kid took a lesson? A and P each had 30 minute lessons, and lately have been forcing me to play chess during the wait. Horrors! So I grabbed a few books for each kid from the shelves, and also noticed another book for me on the hold shelf. Curse you, efficient librarian!
  • The Iron Ring, by Lloyd Alexander. Aimed at the eleven year old, seems to have missed.
  • Party Shoes, Noel Streatfeild. Aimed at any literate child, but doesn't count because I own it and am returning it since they can read my copy even if they got interested, which so far hasn't happened. Doesn't count at all.
  • Floating Jellyfish, non-fiction picture book. Aimed at 1st grader, solid hit.
  • Sea Critters, non-fiction picture book. Again, read and enjoyed during the lessons.
  • One Big Ocean, non-fiction picture book. Any guesses as to current obsession of the first grader? Another win.
  • If You're Happy and You Know It! Picture book read with great enjoyment by third grader to first grader, although a few hushes were needed during the more exuberant bits.
  • Saint Francis and the Christmas Donkey. Picture book enjoyed by the fifth grader. OK, not my target audience, but it turned out to be very text dense.
  • Merry Christmas Ollie. Picture book that the first grader stalled out in, because whiny goslings aren't as interesting as personal speculations on one's own Christmas prospects.
  • Yoon and the Christmas Mitten. Picture book, not chosen during piano lessons.
  • Who Wants to Be a Poodle? I Don't, Picture book by Lauren Child, not chosen but I have better hopes for bedtime.
  • The Kids Are All Right, by Amanda & Liz Welch , with Dan and Diana Welch. Book about rich orphaned kids, I think. Recommended to me somewhere (hold shelf).
  • Honestly, Mallory!, by Laurie Friedman. Requested by third grader.
  • Who Is Stealing the Twelve Days of Christmas?, by Martha Freeman. Aimed at a third grader, who has carried it around but I'm not sure if he started it. I found it on the shelf with the requested book.
  • And that Transformer DVD, something about MiniCons, or something.
So, that was a bit of a lapse, but it was because of the emergency situation. And since I managed to avoid playing chess, it was all worth while. However, the fifth grader had hoped to find Xenocide on the shelves, since he has been reading the Ender Wiggen books by Orson Scott Card. And I had to spend the afternoon in our little downtown area, right next to the local library. Of course I peeked in to see if I could make his day. Not quite, but almost. There was a slight bit of collateral damage, of course.
  • Ender's Shadow, a different book by the same author and about the same people. The boy was happy.
  • Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, by Lisa Yee, which is a book about the boy in the Millicent Min book I got yesterday. I love these parallel stories, and I think there's a third about the other main character.
  • Son of the Mob, by Gordon Korman. I got this while helping my sister get her own copy of our book club book. I've been meaning to read it for ages now.
Library Elf puts me at 81 items out. And it says I have another hold ready... Off to sign up for the Library Loot linky, so I can see people worse off than me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

In the Stormy Red Sky: Horatio Style Space Opera


I'm signing up for another challenge, the Sci-Fi Reading Challenge (Syfy?) from Stage and Canvas. I'm fairly sure I read enough SF to fulfill this accidentally, but if not August is a good time to frantically catch up. The challenge is to read either 3.14 or 8 SF books by August 8, 2010, and I'm aiming for the 8. I'm not sure why 8, other than that cubes are always lovely. 9.86 is the square of pi, so that seems like a reasonable higher goal. Am I super qualified for this challenge or what? Speaking of which, in many ways Dec. 11th is the birthday of science fiction fandom, so this is a very appropriate day for me to start this challenge. Anyway, here is my first qualifying book:

David Drake writes military SF (mostly), usually basing his books on historical events but placing them in his space-faring navy. He even tells you which events he's cribbing for his story, so now I have a very rudimentary knowledge of what happened in the Mediterranean basin around 214 BC. Drake does different things, but In the Stormy Red Sky is part of his RCN stories, with spaceships that read like the line ships of Horatio Hornblower stories and a RCN with many of the trappings of the British navy as well. That is all in fun, and it means I don't even have to pretend to pay attention to the technical details and war tactics bits, just as I don't in the Hornblower stories.

I do find it a bit strange that I like military space fiction so much, given how uninterested I am in the details the authors are usually so proud of. I gather some readers actually worry about whether it makes sense. Wow. The space travel uses a multi-dimensional hyperspace kind of handwavium, with sail things to move from one universe to the next, so it's science fiction but also harks back to the great days of sail. Computer technology and weapons have also advanced a bit, but human nature stays the same.

Anyway, I'm just here to watch the characters jump about, and Drake's characters tend to do a lot of jumping. I think I skipped one or two books in the series, but the character arc here is slow; the characters are fairly static with enough hints of growth to keep me interested. Daniel is the amorous super captain, and Adele is the sterile super-librarian whose computer and pistol skills tend to save the day while the captain's plans save the world. This one seems to be more about Adele and her understanding that the ship crew is her family. Well, it's also about a lot of sailing about and shooting things, and tricking people, and that sort of good clean fun, but that is pretty standard for the genre. What is different between the start and end of the book is Adele's understanding of her emotional limits, which are a bit broader by the end. B

Angels' Blood: Silly and a bit Squicky


In the paranormal genre of "tough women with interesting lives," where interesting means that they and most of their acquaintances have super powers and maybe are werewolves or vampires or something, Nalini Singh's Angels' Blood stands proud. I first saw this author in Must Love Hellhounds, and wanted to read more in her crazy world.

All my expectations were met -- it was a fun ride, I laughed in many of the wrong places (she shot him! he's got blue feathers! true love makes him exude pus!), and it had the same annoying relationship starter. The two main characters (she's a super-star vampire hunter, he's the supremely powerful archangel ruler of North America) love each other because they find each other really sexy. This instant powerful attraction is really it as far as the romance arc of the book (well, OK, she shoots him a few times, he invades her mind, but that is really incidental). Luckily I also like books about hunting down mean super vampire-angels, and in a silly book of this sort I have no problem NOT picturing the really gory and icky mass murder scenes. Let's go back to giggling at the aphrodisiac dust the angel wings shed, and the new places for hiding knives the hunter invents.

This book counts towards my authors of color quota, although I didn't really find it different from other books in the genre. Some of the characters aren't white (someone should tell the cover artist), but I couldn't always remember which ones while reading. Like I said, visualization isn't my strong point. I do remember that one of the angels has blue feathers, which is apparently very sexy. Hee hee hee. B

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rampaging Rover Boys Rile Me



Today is R day on Reading on the Beach's A-Z Wednesday. Finding a R book is child's play after last week's Q day, so I went with a child's book. The Rover Boys series is one of the Stratemeyer productions, written to specifications and churned out by the gross. My aunt had a shelf full of them at her summer house, and I read through that glorious reading room in her attic in the weeks we visited them. All the plots run together -- three brothers, Dick, Tom, and Sam, go to boarding school and travel about the world having adventures.

Somehow I acquired The Rover Boys On the Ocean, or a Chase For a Fortune, the second book in the series. I can't remember if I've read it before, but it doesn't really matter. My copy looks fairly original -- very beat up and dated 1899.

What shocked me is how awful the boys are. Not how awful the book is; it's about what I expected, with a straight plot and silly adventures adorning some chapters and the author sure that the Rover boys are just the dandiest thing ever. But I found them rather repulsive -- their practical jokes are humorless and cruel, their casual assumption of superiority just as abrasive as the smarmy ways of their enemies, and their limitless greed seems misplaced in a heroic children's tale. The chase for a fortune? The robbers had also kidnapped Dick's girlfriend as part of a dastardly scheme. But apparently the cash from the vault takes priority over a mere female. In an early chapter, Tom tricks a performing bear into eating pepper, going mad, and almost devouring a group of tourists. Ha ha! Dick thinks nothing of teaching a bully not to hit smaller boys by ganging up with his brothers to pound the snot of the bad kid. Sam is just around to get hurt and whine.

Is this what the youth of 1899 looked up to? I guess it was OK because the Rover boys were rich and had powerful friends, such as Frank, who never lets a conversation go by without mentioning his dad the SENATOR (state senator -- not all that impressive boys, sorry). As a window into the old days, it was revealing, but I don't think I'll be offering it to my kids. The casual racial slurs only cement that choice (the sexism I take for granted in this kind of book). C-

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sunday Summary, On Tuesday


What did I read this week? Well, the question really is what did I read on Monday, when I had to grab the easily finished books on my bedside table and make sure I finished the clear-your-shelves challenge. Then I went back to my old ways of reading little bits of many different books, until my table again towers higher than my sleigh bed, which is saying a lot.

I plowed through a classic western, a regency romance, a kidlit retelling of Snow White, and the last bits of an interesting memoir of the space industry, and then only finished a luminous SF book in the rest of the week.

I challenged my kids to help make a Christmas wreath around the room. Every time we finish a book, we add a link. At first we alternated colors for me and them, but that got stressful because, as you know, if you put two of the same colors next to each other on a paper chain, the world will end. So know we have a lot of different colors in the fruit basket, and you just add as many as you need each morning. Much more sane.
  • The Necessary Beggar
  • Flint
  • Lord Caldwell and the Cat
  • Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science
  • Fairest
What am I still reading? Ignoring the books lost in the limbo between Real Sunday and Tuesday-Sunday, I have bookmarks in these library books:
  • A Weed By Any Other Name. Has inspired me to cancel my lawn service.
  • Marcelo In the Real World. I snuck ahead to read the ending, which has slowed my urgency.
  • The Prisoner Within. Nasty torture scene is not making me rush back to this one.
Books I own with bookmarks that may move this week are:
  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman. Maybe I should read Coraline first. It's shorter.
  • Heart of Gold, Sharon Shinn. A book about a race war between the blues and golds.
  • Clutters Last Stand, Don Aslett. Reading about cleaning is more relaxing than doing it.
  • Whiskey and Water, Elizabeth Bear. I've bought the next two books, but not finished this one.
  • Stolen, Kelley Armstrong. Werewolves, witches and vampires, oh my.
  • Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner. A sharply faceted gem of a book.
  • Powers, Ursula Le Guin. I'm past the part where the sister dies, so I can read again.
  • Broom of the System, David Foster Wallace. First hints of great-grandma in many pages!
  • End of Racism, Dinesh D'Souza. Rather dry.
  • The Glass Harmonica, Louise Marley. I wish I knew how much of the music stuff was made up. I've met this author, by the way.
  • Downbelow Station, C.J. Cherryh. A reread. I've met her too.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Necessary Beggar Proves Your Happiness


I read a lot of science fiction, and I also read from the regular fiction shelves, and usually you can tell within a few pages where you are. A lot has to do with the reader's expectations, and how much explanation is needed before introducing new things. But other times the only difference is who is writing the story; Margaret Atwood would be shocked to find her blatantly SF books shelved over there behind Asimov. The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick is labeled SF on the spine because Palwick writes for TOR, and therefore is a SF writer. The book has a ghost, so I guess that is accurate.

It's a story about family, forgiveness, and trust. The family is exiled to Earth because of a crime; because family is sacred, exiling a criminal means sending the entire family, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews into the unknown. They land in America, refugees beyond any hope of returning home, and more prosaically, without any hope of getting the proper documents to justify their existence. How they adapt, from the grandfather who loves his family both in success and in utter failure, to the seven year old who pledges herself to succeed as an American to help bring her family into balance, to the wretched Darotti, whose crime they were exiled for and whose suicide solves nothing and leaves him as a saddened ghost watching the family struggle. For a while I slowed down while reading because I couldn't see how to reconcile the different dilemmas, but in the end Palwick provides hope for almost everyone. A

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Storm Glass: Defining Young Adult Books


Maria Snyder was the author of our recent book club book (Poison Study). Her fourth book in that series, Storm Glass, begins a new direction by following a different protagonist. Opal can do magic with glass, but isn't sure how much use she or her magic really is. Although she has adventures (the usual -- kidnapping, battling evil magicians, foiling jewel forgers, etc.), the story arc really concentrates on her growing self-acceptance and self-confidence, complicated by the trauma of her experiences in the earlier books.

Young Adult is a relatively new genre, and definitions of it vary depending on which book store or library is shelving the books. Lately it seems to mean "Older Children" or "Late Teen," with books aimed at about the high school level, sometimes even junior high. But to me, the genre means books where the characters are learning to be adults, and that is where this book fits. Opal is young, maybe twenty or so, and she is deciding how she wants to live. She's at a magic school, which gives her some of the leeway college gives modern kids -- out of the family shell, but not really independent yet. She wonders what kind of relationship she wants, what kind of career to aspire to, what kind of trust to have for herself.

And of course, she gets to do it with magic, which makes things even more fun. But her approach is an adult one, even if a naive and new adult. Not great literature maybe, but a good solid read. B

PS. My bookmark for this book was my movie stub from New Moon, the latest Twilight book-to-movie. There's an example of Young Adult meaning "Older Child" -- did anyone get the sense that Bella was making adult choices? Because I sure didn't, even in the last book.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Library Library!


Thursday morning I had 66 items out (including anything on the kids' cards). My library bag was bulging with things to return, since I didn't go the the library AT all last week. (Thanksgiving). Because my library habit is completely under control, and there is no intervention needed, thanks anyway family, I did not feel the need to go on extra days. I'm fine!

My kids just got Scholastic book orders in, so they didn't feel the need to go to the library. We arranged for me to go before I picked them up from school. I was just dropping things off, really, maybe picking up any holds that had come in. So I hauled in my bulging back of returns, and left with 68 items out. Which wouldn't be that bad, except I turned in a bunch of CDs and DVDs, and came out with almost all books. For me. They just attacked me, begging to go home. One book hadn't been checked out in almost three years! I couldn't just leave it.

The hold shelf gave me:
  • Transformers: More than meets the Eye. A highly prized DVD, which the kids watched avidly in the car on our trip to the city Friday night. No sound, but apparently Transformers are made of so much AWESOME that speakers are superfluous.
  • Ludell, by Brenda Wilkinson. For the Shelf challenge. This is my first ILL (inter-library loan) book ever. A whole new vista has opened to me...
  • Why Gender Matters, Leonard Sax. Recently recommended from two different directions; I took that as a Sign.
  • Unwind, Neal Shusterman. I really thought this was coming in next week. It's a young adult that was the only book I hadn't read on a list of recommended books, and I had liked all the other books. I just can't remember where I saw the list.
  • An Arsonists Guide to Writers' Homes in New England, by Brock Clarke. I saw a review of this, and the title alone sold me.
  • Picture This, by Norah McClintock. The author of Dooley Takes the Fall also wrote some other books, so I'm investigating her backlist.
  • Sea Glass, Maria Snyder. I wasn't expecting this sequel to Storm Glass until next week.
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness. This YA book has been showing up on award lists for ages, so I finally requested it.
  • Good Poems, which I already have out but the other library got it in. They thought they had lost it, so I got it from library #2, but then they found it. It really shouldn't count; I only checked it out because they were so excited at finding it I didn't have the heart to say I didn't want it anymore. Not My Fault!
A few other books caught my eye, especially since I found myself with a handful of lists. I love lists. I had a list for each kid; if I like the book I'll recommend it to the appropriate child. Maybe. Or maybe I'll keep all the books for MYSELF. I deserve them. I'm very special.
  • Bird, by Zetta Elliott. On the new shelf, chirping for me to take it home.
  • When the Tide Rises, by David Drake. The book before the one I read last week; I skipped a few in this series. Can't have that, can we?
  • Vanished, by Kat Richardson. The next book in her series.
  • Huntress. Some short stories, including one by Marjorie Liu, who invented extreme plotting. She's tons of fun. The library had a group of books whose covers featured people's backs; it took me a while to figure out the unifying theme. I had to reward such ingenuity by choosing one.
  • Caught By the Sea. Another memoir by Gary Paulson.
  • Mr. Williams. Picture book for our bedtime.
  • Ugly Fish. Another picture book.
  • Big Fat Hen. (picture book.) From the youngest list, the pictures are delightful.
  • Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mouse. (Picture book). Another list book.
  • Only Opal: the Diary of a Young Girl. From the third grade list. This book was orphaned on the wrong shelf, and hadn't been checked out for years and years. I SAVED it. I'm a hero.
  • Colibri. The fifth grade book.
I now have 68 things out, counting items on the kids' cards. I count those, since I'm the one who pays for things that get lost. On book is missing, but it's mine, dang nab it. I'd better look under my bed. Or in my kitchen.

I went back to the library today, for their family game day. P and I played some Yatzee, danced a few rounds of DDR, and taught Apples to Apples to another family. Then P used all of his burl to get me out without checking out anything new. I'm going over to Reading Adventures now to sign up for the weekly Library Loot. Compared to many of the participants, I barely check out anything at all.

Fortune and Fame, Redox


Rereading books you've read a long time ago is a pleasant time of nostalgia, but rereading books you've recently finished is self-indulgent. I am nothing if not self-indulgent, of course, so this is a frequent habit for me. There are the books that you reread as soon as you finish, because you want to see how it looks now that you understand the characters and the plot. There are other books that are instant comfort reads, so in a bad time you might go back to them several times.

Fortune and Fame is just good fun. I read it earlier this year, because I enjoy Sharon Shinn's books, particularly the ones in the Twelve Houses series, and when I saw it on the librarian picks shelf I grabbed it again. The main characters are new, with a few appearances from the jolly group that earlier books focused on. Wen, the super-cool fighter whose guilt over a failure keeps her on an endless quest to do good, has all the benefits of a supremely competent protagonist with a believable reason not to be smug about it. Her new boss, Jasper, is a bibliophile, so I liked him immensely too. There's a romance, which is fun because of the role reversal -- can Wen's lover handle her violent profession? There is intrigue, there is a young noble learning her responsibilities and capabilities, and there isn't really any danger of it all going bad. I had fun revisiting Wen's problems and adventures, and knowing what was going to happen didn't detract, since I knew even the first time that it would end happily.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Queens of the World



Michael Cunningham and George Alexander work together to produce the photographs and text of Queens: Portraits of Black Women and Their Fabulous Hair. The pictures are wonderful, ranging from candid shots of women at all stages of life through models in hair contests I had never dreamed existed.

Before reading this book I was vaguely aware that the hair of black girls needed different techniques and care than mine, but since I have always tended to ignore my own hair I didn't pay much attention. I knew bits from what our neighborhood friends drop, but never put anything together. So in addition to appreciating the gorgeous women and their hair I got glimpses into a world I barely knew existed (straightening, braiding, natural, etc.). I still liked the photos best because of their elegant black and white style, but the short vignettes by each woman fascinated me. Now I have a better sense of what I don't know. I rarely look at coffee table type books, but I think I'll use our library to check some more out, maybe starting with Cunningham's Crowns.

This is a bit of a cheat for me, because I read it a few weeks ago but just got around to writing the review, but I can't find any unread Q books! I think I will reread Queen of Attolia today, because that is also a wonderful book. But still, this is my official entry for the A-Z Wednesday, Q edition.

The Magician's Elephant Fell a Bit Flat


I've never completely leaped on the Kate DiCamillo bandwagon. Some of her books I've liked, but I haven't loved anything yet. My favorites are the realistic books; her fantasies don't hit the mark for me somehow. The Magician's Elephant left me a bit cold. It tries to be a beautiful fable about believing in yourself and working to make magic real, but the mix of magic and realism didn't work for me.

The central idea is that a magician almost accidentally performs an act of true magic, calling an elephant to fall out of thin air, and this event causes a transforming cascade of events in the lives of an orphaned boy, his lost sister, a police detective, a rich woman crippled by the elephant, and the magician himself. Unfortunately, the moment the rich woman's legs are shattered by the bulk of the elephant, I was lost. How did the elephant survive? The cover shows it falling from the roof -- there is no way the pachyderm can avoid serious injuries . And if the magic is protecting the elephant, why not the lady? So my balance of disbelief was shattered, and the rest of the story proceeded without the glimmer of fairy tale that it needed. The people were too sweet, the coincidences too frequent, and I just felt like a scrooge for resisting. C+