Monday, July 24, 2017

Reading and Socializing

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?
Somehow I keep seeing people, despite my ambition to be a hermit. I saw Spiderman:Homecoming twice (once with my nephew, once with my brother) and enjoyed it both times, mainly because even the movie kinda noticed that Tony Stark is an awful man who should not be allowed near children. So I could relax into the fun school high jinks of Peter Parker and his friends.

Then I went out to a MiniFoolscap, which was fun although once again our inability to publicize made for a tiny turnout. At least we all liked the food, and I'm always game to go to a library.

I also slid into the last few minutes of a library Summer Reading Party, and now I want to go for more. People sitting around on a nice day and reading? The perfect amount of socialization for me!

I'm still doing my summer reading thing of starting a book every day, which will probably mean ending up with a few dozen bookmarks by the end of August, but that's how I like to roll in the breaks between routine. Currently Reading is about 22 books right now.

The Book Date does a weekly roundup of what people are reading, want to read, or have read each week called It's Monday! What Are You Reading and I'm going to sign up. There's also a version that is kidlit focussed, and as I finished a picture book, a Newbery winner, two YA mysteries and several SF books that feature teenagers, I'll check in with either Teach Mentor Text or UnLeashing Readers for their version.

This week I started:

Remnants of Trust (Central Corps, #2)What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical QuestionsThe Valiant (The Valiant, #1)Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)Strawberry Shortcake Murder (Hannah Swensen, #2)The Sunbird (The Lion Hunters, #3)Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen KellerA Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers, #2)


Remnants of Trust, Elizabeth Bonesteel. Part of my Reading My Library Quest, last shelf of this column.

What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, Randall Munroe. I've been meaning to read this since my son got it for Christmas last year. Or maybe the year before that.

The Valiant, Lesley Livingston. This was last month's Vaginal Fantasy alt read, and the main pick looks absolutely awful. But this starts off with the ruination of the protagonists life (her family betrays her, she reacts foolishly, and I suspect gets taken by slavers) so I'll just poke at it until the fun parts start happening.

Labyrinth Lost, Zoraida Cordova. The next Cybils finalists. Man, I am so far behind.

Strawberry Shortcake Murder, Joanne Fluke. I saw this mentioned so I ordered it. And it's set in Minnesota! Hooray!

The Sunbird, Elizabeth Wein. I suspect I will like this a lot and that horrible things will happen.

Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller, Sarah Miller. A book from the depths of my TBR list.

A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers. I enjoyed her first book, so I grabbed the next. Now I feel clever because it's one of this year's Hugo finalists.

I finished:
Brotherhood in Death (In Death, #42)A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers, #2)Strawberry Shortcake Murder (Hannah Swensen, #2)Black Butler, Vol. 8 (Black Butler, #8)

Brotherhood in Death, J.D. Robb. After I remembered that I had leapfrogged this book and read the next one the relationship signals made a lot more sense as prelude to what happens as opposed to retreating from it. It had rather gruesome murders but that was alleviated by having all the victims be really bad people (which probably shouldn't help, but does). A fun read that leaves me wanting more Robb.

A Closed and Common Orbit, Becky Chambers. This second book was even better, because in addition to engaging characters and setting, it had an underpinning of the meaning of life, of sapience and humanity, along with meditations on friendship and parenthood. Very satisfying.

Strawberry Shortcake Murder, Joanne Fluke. A cosy murder mystery set in a small town in Minnesota. There are bunch of books in this serious, and on book two people are already starting to notice the protagonist's unsettling habit of finding dead bodies. She's smart and a good cook, with an active social life that hasn't settled on a single person yet, and with a rich availability of side kicks, including her sisters and work mates. I will keep an eye out for more. It was also slightly nostalgic, with VCR programming featuring among the difficulties for our heroes.

Black Butler 8, Yana Toboso. This was a low point for me, because I frequently had great troubling knowing what was going on -- everyone is starting to look alike and I'm frankly awful at deciphering fight scenes. What I did understand appalled me. This is all me -- no one else had any problems and I'm notoriously bad at images, and the backward-to-me manga style does not help. I'll try a few more to see if I start liking them again.

Hmm, I started 8 and finished 4. This is why my currently-reading bedside pile is dangerously tall by the end of the summer.

Picture books:

None. Another sad week.

Bookmarks moved in:

Alliance of Equals (Liaden Universe, #19)The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy DogStrange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)

Alliance of Equals, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller. Part 9. I'm starting to feel very sorry for Padi, since the authors seem to have Plans for her.

The Inquisitor's Tale (7-8/8), Adam Gidwitz. The most dull narrator seems to be the finisher, so I guess I'm stuck with him. At least I can amuse myself my remembering my own trip to Mont-Saint-Michel, in between listening to horrific tales of slaughter which I'm apparently supposed to either be cheering or unmoved by.

Strange the Dreamer, Laini Taylor. A copy of the ebook came in just as the library called the hardback home, so I'm leisurely finishing this. We are now deep in the teen age romance, which is not as interesting as the strange setting and powers to me, so I'm not racing along.

These I'm barely reading; I use them as palate cleansers between books I'm actually reading.

The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does HappenKenilworthSammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen (Sammy Keyes, #9)The Emerald Atlas (The Books of Beginning, #1)Reading and Learning to Read

The Quantum Universe, Brian Cox.

Kenilworth, Sir Walter Scott.

Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen, Wendelin Van Draanen.

The Emerald Atlas, John Stephens. Fast moving action with clever uses of magic books -- this is the fun part.

Reading and Learning to Read, Jo Anne Vaca. Different levels of comfort with vocabulary.

2017 Challenge Progress:
  1. Cybils 2016! 7 / a lot. Almost done listening to  The Inquisitor's Tale. I started Labyrinth Lost. I also have a pile of picture books so that will move fast.
  2. Reading My Library:  Two are in progress! Oops, I'm supposed to read them one at a time.
  3. Where Am I Reading?: 26/51. Stumbled across a Minnesota so I'm over half-way. Actively looking for Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware and Georgia.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Social Butterfly

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?
Wow, so much social interaction this week. I ditched my online book club to sneak over to my "Read Across the Aisles" in-person club, where we read controversial books and try to stay polite about it. So far it has worked out pretty well, although we didn't disagree much for the past few books. We're hoping for more arguments with the next one.

Then I went to a Clarion West celebration for the conclusion of their yearly writing program, where I talked to a lot of aspiring writers and also some hugely successful ones (Connie Willis! Nisi Shawl!). I even wore almost-nice clothes (not blue jeans, decent top). And the very next day I had friends come over to my house for our monthly book club, where we tried an experiment of watching the movie for the book (The Dark is Rising book, The Seeker is the movie) even though the movie is fairly awful. There was wine involved, which is not typical for our book club. Also nice cheeses, pizza, and ice cream. And popcorn. It was a lot of fun hanging with these wonderful women.

I'm still doing my summer reading thing of starting a book every day, which will probably mean ending up with a few dozen bookmarks by the end of August, but that's how I like to roll in the breaks between routine.

The Book Date does a weekly roundup of what people are reading, want to read, or have read each week called It's Monday! What Are You Reading and I'm going to sign up. There's also a version that is kidlit focussed, and as I finished a picture book, a Newbery winner, two YA mysteries and several SF books that feature teenagers, I'll check in with either Teach Mentor Text or UnLeashing Readers for their version.

This week I started:
Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer, #1)Traitor's Blade (Greatcoats, #1)The Girl Who Drank the MoonBrotherhood in Death (In Death, #42)From Above: A Riley Donovan MysteryOut of TuneThe Dark Is Rising (The Dark is Rising, #2)Black Butler, Vol. 8 (Black Butler, #8)

Strange the Dreamer, Laini Taylor. For my book team.

Traitor's Blade, Sebastien de Castell. Another for my book team.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill. Because of Sunlit Pages's book blab.

Brotherhood in Death, J.D. Robb. I like this series.

From Above, Norah McClintock. I'm on a McClintock kick ever since I read about her death.

Out of Tune, Norah McClintock. Coincidentally, I received an ARC of the previous book's sequel.

Dark Is Rising, Susan Cooper. My friend's book club book.

Black Butler 8, Yana Toboso. I'm sticking with this series although I like the early ones better.

I finished:
Chasing Down a Dream: A Blessings NovelMarry in Haste (Marriage of Convenience, #1)A Gentleman in MoscowThe Ghost BrideFrom Above: A Riley Donovan MysteryEvery Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1)Out of TuneThe Girl Who Drank the Moon

Chasing Down a Dream, Beverly Jenkins. I thoroughly enjoyed this trip to an entwined community in Kansas, and I hope I get to revisit it again. I expected a kidlit story of children finding a home, but they were a background to a community that also dealt with growing pains, prejudice, envy, and greed in believable small town ways.

Marry in Haste, Anne Gracie. I really liked the romance parts and the wild young girls, but found the assassin side plot rather dull and didactic. I guess it was a way to keep the plot ticking along, but my favorite parts were the adults and teens learning to trust each other and working out how to be a family.

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles. This was another case of a book benefitting from a misconception. I assumed this would be grim and depressing, since it is set among aristocrats immediately after the Russian Revolution, but instead it has almost a fairy tale quality, with goodness rewarded and evil punished, and large time skips to let us miss the more depressing periods (World War II? Forget it!). The result was a warm hearted feel good story that matched my summer mood.


The Ghost Bride, Yangsze Choo. Last month's Vaginal Fantasy book. I never did warm to this book; the protagonist felt feeble and passive and unable even to decide between boy friends (one is rich and human and rather clueless, the other is an awesome dragon). The imagery was good and the layered description of the afterlife was interesting, but the first-person writing meant that my distaste for the main character kept me from engaging.

From Above
, Norah McClintock. My second Riley Donovan story; I'm uncertain whether it's the second book in the series or if there are more early ones. In any case, I like Riley; she's a typical McClintock independent teen. She has friends but doesn't worry too much about romance; she respects her aunt and authority figures but doesn't feel the need to blindly obey them. And she's loyal, persistent, and a little bit lucky.


Every Heart a Doorway
, Seanan McGuire. I felt very smug because I spotted the killer before the kids did, although I didn't spot the solution. I like the idea of the school and the series, so I hope I get a chance to read the other books.


Out of Tune, Norah McClintock. Because I am occasionally really lucky, LibraryThing sent me an Early Readers ARC of the next Riley Donovan book just as I finished From Above. I enjoyed this one the most, although I think it requires reading the previous books for that. Since I already know Riley's relationships and history of solving mysteries, I didn't mind the scant attention paid to establishing them or that another teen turned to Riley for help when she gets in trouble.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill. Now I can finally watch the video of Sunlit Pages book club. I can see why this won the Newbery -- I liked the resonances between the story and the fantasy and the themes and the emotional journeys of the characters. Even the cover art is lovely. Highly recommended. 

Picture books:
Rules of Summer

The Rules of Summer, by Shaun Tan. Gorgeous pictures and a lovely disconnect from humdrum reality. Also a beautiful fraternal relationship. I read this one twice while sitting. It's also a good feeling when I pick up a book for its cover and then find that it was on my goodreads TBR list, so that I'm not only reading a book I'm checking off a list! Not all kids will like the fantasy, but I think mine would have.

Bookmarks moved in:

Alliance of Equals (Liaden Universe, #19)The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy DogDesperate Hearts

Alliance of Equals, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller. Part 8-9. I hope the AI thread meets up with the trading ship threat or I shall be cranky.

The Inquisitor's Tale (7-8), Adam Gidwitz. Still disliking the faux historical feel, which is only historical when it is convenient for the author. Also sad the the children are distraught over the fate of the rotten Michael Angelo, which strikes me as an example of Stockholm Syndrome. Oh well, at least we got some "my ass" jokes to lighten the mood.

Desperate Hearts, Rosanne Bittner. This has not grabbed me yet, but it's a lightweight paperback so I take it with me for when I'm on the go but don't want to read off a screen.

These I'm barely reading; I use them as palate cleansers between books I'm actually reading.

The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does HappenKenilworthSammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen (Sammy Keyes, #9)The Emerald Atlas (The Books of Beginning, #1)Reading and Learning to Read

The Quantum Universe, Brian Cox.

Kenilworth, Sir Walter Scott.

Sammy Keyes and the Psycho Kitty Queen, Wendelin Van Draanen.

The Emerald Atlas, John Stephens. The final conflict -- will some of the people stay dead? I like how some of the kids are being smart.

Reading and Learning to Read, Jo Anne Vaca. Different levels of comfort with vocabulary.

2017 Challenge Progress:
  1. Cybils 2015: Done! I made my comparison post. I did better than I expected, with four matches! Although several times they picked what I considered the dud of the pack, so there you go. Tastes differ.
  2. Cybils 2016! 7 / a lot. Almost done listening to  The Inquisitor's Tale. And I've got Labyrinth Lost on my library shelf waiting to go. 
  3. Reading My Library:  Made a teeny amount of progress!
  4. Where Am I Reading?: 25/51. Finished the Kansas book. Actively looking for Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware and Georgia.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Cybils Winners 2015 -- Mine and Theirs

Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary AwardsI have finally finished reading all the 2015 finalists, so I can now go back and compare my ratings to the actual winners!

For each category, I present my top choice, and then the actual winner, with my opinion of both. I had four matches, three major disagreements, and four close calls. Also I think I disagree with The Committee on where nonfiction stops and picture books begin. But I'm glad I read them all, and huge kudos to the CYBILS team for all their hard work!

Young Adult


Me: 
The Truth Commission
 by Susan Juby. A girl is treated badly by her sibling, who is an artist. This brought back memories of I'll Give You the Sun, which I disliked, but I ended up finding this story about arty teenagers much more rewarding. Yes, people do horrible things, but then decent people try to help, and most people try not to be horrible. Even in families.

Them -- My 6/7:
Every Last Word  by Tamara Ireland Stone. Sam is a girl with OCD and a weekly therapist. She's also a member of the top mean girls at school, which makes her afraid. But somehow she never connects her fear of her friends to the damage she and the other kids do to anyone they can mock. But then the book starts and she's nice. I didn't buy the start, but if I forced myself to accept her as she did herself than it was an interesting read.

Young Adult Nonfiction


Me:
I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Martin Ganda.  I was surprised by how caught up I got in this alternating memoir. Caitlin starts out as a boy obsessed, math-hating, giant hooped earring teenager who has never heard of Zimbabwe and would have trouble finding Africa on a map. Martin is a shy and studious student who dreams of education but doesn't expect to achieve it. Within a hundred pages I was rooting for both of them, and despite having read the back cover I was still worried as college scholarships went down to the wire. I'll pass this on to the boys for reading.

Them -- My 4/7:
Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin. A clear biography of Daniel Ellsberg, with digressions into the people around him who influenced the events around the release of the Pentagon Papers that heralded Watergate and the resignation of Nixon. Ironically, the papers described in damning details the lies and coverups of Nixon's predecessors (Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson), but ended before his time. Sheinkin's narrative is simple yet gripping, keeping me interested and teaching me much I didn't know about this time and the court cases around it.  


Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Me:
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older. A girl discovers the magic in her family, magic that they've avoided explaining to her because of a recent decision that it's only for boys. So she has to dodge bad magicians and their minions while navigating her neighborhood and wondering who to trust. I liked it.

Them -- My 6/7:
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma. (My 6th place book). This is a ghost story that slowly weaves together its separate strands to build horror and redemption in the climax. The self-willed blindness of both narrators plays with ideas of guilt and innocence, and to what lengths vengeance is acceptable. But it also involves condemning fifteen year olds for choices they make under stress, which I suspect teens are comfortable with because they know they are practically grown up already, but I am not as I see them as fundamentally immature. So the ending bothers me.


Poetry

Me:
National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom! by J. Patrick Lewis. I love these kinds of books -- anthologies of short, varied, mostly wonderful poems with a background of amazing photography. I think they had one before? I recognize some of the poems but find many more that are new, and marked a few to add to my poetry notebook. And the astonishingly vivid photographs reinforce the images and sounds of the poems.

Them -- My 3/7:
Flutter and Hum / Aleteo y Zumbido: Animal Poems / Poemas de Animales by Julie Paschkis. Again I think I'm confused about the difference between picture books and books of poetry (this happens to me a lot in this category). I felt this was a beautiful picture book, with illustrations and words working together to create a more powerful whole. The mirroring of the English/Spanish pages enhanced the experience, with subtle and powerful changes in the pictures yet (probably) equivalent words adorning the images. The poems themselves worked as part of the pictures, yet none of them stood out enough that I'd want to save them as poems. And since I have very little Spanish, I couldn't evaluate the Spanish versions at all. It looked like some poems worked better in Spanish -- the whale page showed a Spanish version that probably had a lot more sound resonance. I think I would have rated this book higher as a picture book than I did as a poetry book; how much of that is just my poor understanding of categories I don't know.


Middle Grade Fiction


Me:
Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy by Susan Vaught. I thought I was going to hate this one, and I was completely wrong. It's not a problem of the week; it's a story about a girl whose community saw something horrible, and she's dealing with it as her family goes through some problems because of her mother's mental illness. Footer worries that she's inheriting her mother's condition, that she's disappointing her father, that her teachers don't like her, and that her best friend is kinda cute. So solving the mystery of the missing kids is a welcome relief, until it circles back to her own problems. It's very real, and a great read.

Them -- 2/5:
The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands. This was a fast moving historical that had conspiracies, murders, kings, explosions, and alchemy, so it should be popular in the upper elementary/junior high crowd. I found the child harm rather difficult to take -- although (spoiler) Christopher doesn't die, he sees some rather horrific stuff that a younger more callous me would have easily taken in stride. There's also a good feel for the time period mixed in with all the action, as well as mentions of Puritans and King Charles and other historical landmarks that will come up in history classes a few years on.


Graphic Novels For Young Adults


Me:
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. Wow, this one knocked my socks off. It eased me into a comfortable story of a villain getting a new sidekick, almost like Castle Hangnail but with a chaperone. Then the body count edged up, but instead of disengaging your emotions it instead made a sidestep to emotional realism. This book has dragons, knights, quests, and also thorny ethical issues and relationships, and a man learning to be a father and a friend. Wow.

Them: We matched!


Graphic Novels for Elementary and Middle Grades


Me:
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. I've read this! Roller Girl is moving into Junior High, and growing in a different direction than some of her friends, leaving her awkward and unsure. Also, roller ball is really hard, and so is keeping secrets from your mom. The art worked well with the story, which drew me in.

Them: We matched!

Fiction Picture Books


Me:
In a Village by the Sea by Muon Van. This was an unexpected delight! I love circular stories, and the delicate, rich illustrations led us in through the rhythmic words from the village to the house to the painting to the boat to the village... And the final picture with the cricket brought it all together in a safe way. This would be a delightful bedtime read with a small child, and also interesting through the preschool and early elementary ages.

Them: My last place - 7/7:
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson.  I read this at the library while browsing picture books, as I do while waiting for the bus. The flash of color as the kid picked flowers was fun, but overall the book didn't really excite me. I gave it three stars and didn't write a review; I think I remember guessing that it wouldn't be much fun to read to my kids and that I thought the child was annoying. Seems I missed something the rest of the world appreciated!


Elementary and Middle Grades Speculative Fiction


Me:
Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon. It has a lot of heart and takes some unexpected turns. One of my go-to gifts for this age group. Sadly I read it over my blogging hiatus (before it was nominated!) but I remember that I found that it took what seemed like common tropes and infused them with real emotion and several surprising twists so that the book had heart and tension and great potential as a read-aloud.

Them -- my 4/7:
The Fog Diver by Joel Ross.This is an engaging story with an interesting protagonists, spunky orphans who all excel at their favorite things, and a kindly adult who has accumulated them before conveniently falling ill before the start so our kids can be independent. As an adult I found some of the coincidences amusing, but I think it would be a fun read for less cynical audiences. Fun word play adds to the enjoyment.


Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction:


Me:
Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow. This had a strong narrative, solid information, and a gripping subject; I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I did contemplate a drinking game where I'd lift my glass every time the word "feces" appeared. It would have made reviewing rather fuzzy. I liked the pictures, each carefully captioned, and I enjoyed the even handed discussion of Mary Mallon and her imprisonment, inviting although not ordering the reader to make a judgment on its fairness. 

Them -- My 5/7:
I, Fly: The Buzz About Flies and How Awesome They Are by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas. This is a another picture book that doubles as nonfiction. The talking fly educates a class on fly anatomy, life cycles, and unsanitary behaviors before realizes the dangers inherent in being studied by humans. Obviously children are not supposed to believe in talking insects, but the book sets outs the facts about flies in a clear and unambiguous way. The line between fact and fiction is clear, so I'm happy to shelve and judge this as nonfiction. (See other picture books, such as Blizzard and Emmanuel's Dream, that don't have as clear a demarcation.)


Easy Readers


Me:
Ling & Ting: Twice as Silly (Passport to Reading, Level 3: Ling & Ting) by Grace Lin.  I'm not sure I really understand the boundaries of this category. This book has much more sophisticated sentence structures, although I suppose not hugely more so than the Mo story. It felt more like a short book rather than a picture book. And the sisters were delightful, charming, and silly. I'm still afraid I'm marking it higher because there was more meat there; the reading level of this one seems much higher than the Fox/Box story.

Them: We matched!

Early Chapter Books


Me:
Dory and the Real True Friend (Dory Fantasmagory) by Abby HanlonGreat, from Dory's wild imagnination to Rosamund's royal background.

Them: We matched!


I have attempted to preserve links from the actual Cybils page and hope that many of them still point to the Amazon page that gives a kickback to the Cybils award.