Sunday, February 28, 2010

My reading focus right now is staring at the headlight of an oncoming library train-wreck. Most of my books are coming due NOW, no more renews. In a fortnight things get better, but it's a giant gulp to get there. On the plus side, so far I've enjoyed all these books I haven't bothered to read until the deadline, and occasionally I let myself remember that I could always, you know, check the books out again.

So, I have many of my own books with bookmarks, but they have all been relegated to the bottom shelf of my night stand while I keep one step ahead of the library due date tigers. I am energetically reading:
  • The Private Patient, by PD James. I really like the fine spotlight James puts on each character in turn.
  • Where Men Win Glory, by Jon Krakauer. The is the second book he's written about a dead young man; in this case Pat Tillman is vibrantly alive until he gets shot.
  • Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot. Boys and girls aren't THAT different after all. I'm on the preschool chapter, which doesn't resonate that much because my boys never did the girls-are-different thing. Of course, they never played much with dolls, either.
  • Promise of the Flame, Sylvia Engdahl. Another too-talky book about psychic people creating a new society. A bit too repetitive for me to love.
I inched along in a few books that aren't as pressing, mainly because they fit in my coat pocket.
  • Blaze of Memory, by Nalini Singh. Still don't think I'll like this one.
  • Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen. Got to keep up with my homework. I'm actually liking this one a lot; it helps me keep my cool when all around me are losing theirs.
I didn't read any of my home books, dang it. Maybe in the spring. I did page through LeGuin's Tombs of Atuan while putting it away, but I just read the good bits.

One last list: Books I Have Finished This Week.
So, three kidlit, a YA, two paranormal fantasy, poetry and science. Closer to a well-balanced meal, and mostly enjoyable reads.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Silly Ladies: Huntress

Huntress is an introduction anthology; four longish stories by four paranormal authors, each with a tough female magical lead who fights baddies and has sex. Hopefully good sex, but whatever.

I picked it up because I hoped that Marjorie M. Liu's story "The Robber Bride" was a Dirk and Steele entry. Those are her delightfully over-plotted books where it's never enough to have a shape-shifting seven foot warrior enslaved to your Chinese puzzle box, but you also need magical metal-reading powers and ruthless tongs avenging the murder of innocents, not to mention the immortal evil magician lurking in the shadows.

The story in this book wasn't as satisfying; too much time was spent worrying on the many mighty powers the protagonist had forgotten she had; it destroyed the suspense because I just figured something amazing would float up from her memory, which is basically what happened. The relationship with the crow man never seemed real. Still, it was the most satisfying story of the bunch.

"Devil's Bargain" by Christine Warren had two of my least favorite tropes. First, the characters feel deeply in love at first sight, with pledges of eternal devotion and stuff within hours, based apparently on them both being trapped in the same short story. Second, there is the choice between Lilli's death and the enslavement and doom of the entire world. Aaron throws a hissy fit because Lilli chooses to save the world, which would have meant he'd be lonely (sshh-- she's magically saved). Uh Aaron, I think your hideous death soon afterward would have helped you deal with your feelings. Idiots.

Caitlin Kittredge's entry, "Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go," is interesting because it plays with many of the rules. Jack Winter is a guy, and there is no happy-ever-after. He has sex with the evil woman, Ava, who uses her magic to enslave him. Nina, the good one, appears to be dead at the end. Jack goes beyond rough-edged into unlikable. The story had a lot of potential, but the confusion of the action scenes kept me from caring too much. Sometimes a death/disappearance was for real, sometimes it wasn't, with the result that I didn't know whether it mattered until I didn't care anyway.

I've read an other Cin Craven story by Jenna Maclaine, and I won't be looking for more. The characters were incredibly stupid. See, Cin and her sexy husband (he's really sexy) are vampire enforcers for the vampire king. In "Sin Slayer" they go after a demon who borrows bodies; if one is killed he just hops into another one. Michael (he's the sexy one) spots him immediately, and Cin mentions that she needs some supplies to contain him magically; maybe they should wait until they are ready. Michael sexily grabs his sword and runs after the guy, so Cin tags along. They catch him, and can't do anything. So sexy-guy Michael attacks and Cin throws fireballs and they kill the host body. Oh woe, Cin's sexy husband is now possessed by an evil demon! He says mean things to her! He kisses other women! She mopes around. My eyeballs start bleeding. Even Cin calling another woman stupid doesn't cheer me up. I prayed for Buffy to show up and kill them all, but no luck.

This is not a good introduction to any of these authors. D-

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tiny Rats: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat

People always tell kids to be good. But sometimes being likable is not enough. Lynne Jonell's Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat gives a good example of this limitation. Emmy starts out trying to be good enough for her parents to care about her, or for the other kids to notice her, but nothing works. The class rat advises her to try being mean, but that doesn't work either. So, luckily for the reader, she starts taking more direct action, first rather aimlessly and then figuring out exactly what is going wrong and hAdd Imageow to fix it.

Earlier this week I sat in during N's library period, and the librarian was talking about themes. (I confess that I whispered my answer to N so he could call it out. Good job, N!) With that on my mind, I think the theme for this book is being true to yourself. Emmy stops trying to please others and works things out for herself. The rat tries on different identities until he find one that suits. There's even a look at a parent forcing soccer on his son until the boy, a gifted athletic, longs for a break. And it's all fun. Emmy isn't even an orphan, although her parents leave her alone with her vast wealth (which is one of the problems she has to fix). There are evil scientists, nasty nannies, and sports mad chipmunks. I had a great time reading this book, and I bet my sons would like it as well. Too bad I waited until the day it was due to read it. B+

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Reluctant Spy: Stormbreaker, Alex Rider #1

What if James Bond had a nephew? And what if the secret service wanted a young-looking spy? Anyone who enjoys speculating along these lines can see what Anthony Horowitz did with Stormbreaker, the first in the Alex Rider series. I've been ignoring these because I'm a snob, but a friend talked me into trying one, and it's a lot of fun.

The boy, Alex, is grounded with realism but his exploits are larger than life. His uncle, who dies in the first chapter, encouraged him to learn solid skills such as driving, martial arts, and self-sufficiency. This pays off when the uncle's old office blackmails Alex into finishing the highly dangerous mission that killed his uncle. Armed only with the super-gadgets the lab provides, Alex sets off to thwart a super-villain, complete with killer jelly-fish, underground mind/secret factory, evil henchmen, and deadly chases on foot, on all-terrain vehicles, and by airplane vs parachute.

I won't tell whether he succeeds, but the zillions of sequels might be a hint. I'll definitely offer this to my fifth grader. B

Cute and Sad: The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen

Today is Reading on the Beach's A-Z Wednesday, with C the starring letter. Every week bloggers are invited to spotlight a book starting with the letter of the week. You show the cover, tell the title, give a synopsis, and post a link. Just to be annoying, I like to actually read (sometimes just finish) the book on that day, so I include my little review. Makes things more interesting. Then I sign up on her page to see what everyone else came up with.

This is a special week for me, because I think I started with the letter C. So I've come full circle. My kids are also now starting to play along, although sometimes they forget. So X has nothing this week, but P and I frantically rampaged around our picture books after piano lessons and came up with precious little. We only had fifteen minutes to read (P also believes in reading the text) so our options were limited. We looked at A Child's Garden of Verses, but only had time to read a couple (which P found much less painful than expected). But we also found Curious George's Are You Curious, an abridged board book featuring some scenes from the life of the monkey. P's review: Boring, but fast to read. The rhymes are lame.

My book was chosen because it's been out from the library the longest, and it is also short. M.T. Anderson writes edgy YA books which I keep meaning to read and also has a wacky middle school series floating along. X checked out

The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, the second in a series involving kid superheroes and Lily, a would-be regular kid. The series satirises mystery series such as Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and the Boxcar Children, featuring a Tom Swift like boy inventor and a zombie fighting girl, along with regular kid Lily. They stumble into an old-fashioned luxury inn with wacky characters, including many other heroes of books series. There are Lemony Snicket like asides and authorial comments, but what I found most interesting were the occasional dips into real pathos. Kate, the zombie fighter, wrestles with a desire for a real life, which become more poignant later when the real fate of action heroes is revealed. She's trapped forever (or for the duration of her books' success) at her current age. In between the slapstick gags, that's a real tragedy. B (X liked this one a lot, but I didn't ask him if he also found it sad between the jokes.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nine Cheers for Good Poems

My book club read some poems a few months back. We picked Garrison Keiller's anthologies (Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times), with the idea that we'd all get to pick one poem and we'd concentrate on those picked. My book club does not like to strain our brains; we are in it for the good times. But we had fun with the poems. They are all from his radio show, so meant to be heard while doing life; short poems that you could listen to while cooking, or driving, or cleaning.

Now, this was months ago. I checked our local library, but didn't see the book. I consulted a librarian, and she thought it might be lost, so she put in on hold for me and started an investigation. I forgot about it and got the other book from the county library and we had our meeting. Weeks went by, and suddenly I got a call from the librarian -- they found my book! Hooray.

Well, if they go to that much trouble, I figure I should read the book. Someday. So it sat, looking hopefully at me from my bedside table, until I noticed that I'd had it for 8 weeks and it had to go back on Thursday. So I've been living in poems for the past weekend, and it's fun. All the poems are short, which I like, because if I read a poem over three pages I want to get something out of it, but I'll experiment with short stuff. Also fun was that we had listened to the audio version a few months ago, and I could hear some of the words echoing back. I've got nine going into my poetry notebook, of which the family favorite is the pairing of Williams and Gambino's "This Is Just To Say" poems. P thinks they should assign this type to his class.

Forgive me
you were
driving me

Monday, February 22, 2010

Random: The Drunkard's Walk

I've signed up for a Science book challenge, because Science is Cool. No, really. And I like reading (or sometimes, having read) books that connect directly to the world, instead of all books that connect through a mirror. Here's my first entry!

Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers claimed that luck was a big component of success; that most big winners just happened to be in the right place at the right time, doing the right things. That's a conclusion Leonard Mlodinow also reaches in The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, a look at probability and randomness, and how we recognize and mistake them in daily lives.

He reviews the history of probability, which I hadn't ever really thought about. The idea of figuring out percentages and basing judgements on them is a lot newer than I realized. For one thing, if everything is an Act of God (and thinking otherwise is a sin), then there's not much use in figuring probabilities. But as math got more sophisticated, and calculus and actuaries and probability became hot topics, our understanding grew. Not that people's actions change much. Mlodinow is also interested in how we tend to judge things, and how people tend to see patterns in chaos. The gambler's fallacy is powerful -- how many people feel the urge to ride a lucky streak, or admire the "hot hands" of a sports player, or trust in the good history of a broker? Watching the Olympics, I heard an announcer mention that a skier had never had a serious accident, which was obviously a powerful jinx, and then I waved this book at the screen to rebut the jinx. And then the guy wiped out. But if he hadn't, this wouldn't be a story, right?

I like the entertaining tone, and the personal notes. When discussing variations in grades, he confesses to absent-mindedly rewriting his son's paper when asked for comments, and then noticing he had forgotten to do "save-as" at the beginning. So he just had the kid turn it in, and then to his son's smirking satisfaction only got an A-. But the point that teachers tend to grade to expectations -- good students get good grades, bad students worse ones, even when turning in the same work (sometimes literally), and that normal variation happens even in situations we'd like to think are more controlled was made without condescension. There aren't any equations that I remember, but it was a fun trip through some meaty flavors of mathematics.

Oh, and Mlodinow finds the idea that luck plays such a huge part in success comforting. The part that we control is how often we show up, so consistency and stubbornness really enhance your chances, and anyone can come up with those. B+

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gruesome Imagination: Unwind

Neal Shusterman's Unwind tells a gruesome tale of a society addicted to a supply of human spare parts. Medical technology allows safe transplants of eyes, organs, even limbs to replace broken or diseased originals. And the new ones come from teenagers whose parents have chosen to "unwind" their kids, usually because of the trouble the children have been getting into. Or because they are orphans, or otherwise unwanted.

Connor and Risa meet up when they go on the run, and they both have to learn to cope for themselves and learn how to disappear and find help from people appalled by the situation. The first part of the book is more about their personal situation, with Connor especially finally learning to control some of the impulsive behavior that drove his parents to unwind him. Shusterman also looks at how the parents' decide this, echoing and amplifying the feeling most parents feel at least momentarily during their offspring's more trying episodes. It's a true example of science fiction; taking a thought about "what if" and "if this goes on" and running with it to see how it plays out, using real people and solid motivations. It's not a prediction, but it is an exciting and suspenseful story.

Oh, for the squeamish, it's the ideas that are gruesome; we don't see a lot of gore and such. B+

Sunday Sanity Check: Low

My reading focus right now is based on dealing with my library addiction without actually not reading any of the books I've checked out. I suspect this is not the approach a ten-step program would advocate (Lord, give me restraint, in a few weeks). The trend is slowly improving, but I'm not sure it's fast enough to keep my head from exploding in about 2 1/2 weeks, when the moose in the digestive track of my library list python gets to the top. Oh well.

So, I have many of my own books with bookmarks, but they have all been relegated to the bottom shelf of my night stand while I keep one step ahead of the library due date tigers. I am energetically reading:
  • Good Poems, by Garrison Keillor. I also need to copy out some of the ones I liked. Is memorizing a poem copyright infringement?
  • The Drunkard's Walk, by Leonard Mlodinow. How we perceive patterns and randomness incorrectly.
  • Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelsen. Borrowed from a person instead of the library, but required for a class I'm taking on how to avoid using sarcasm on innocent children.
  • How I Met My Countess, by Elizabeth Boyle. I'm not reading this very energetically, because it's not that good, but I need something so I don't feel bossed around.
There are a bunch of library books I've started but that aren't pressing. I read those when I'm on track with the stuff that's due this week:
  • The Private Patient, by PD James. I thought this was due instead of Drunkards Walk, but I really have two weeks before this ones goes back.
  • Dragon Spear, Jessica Day George. I squeaked out an extra renew, so not as urgent.
  • Where Men Win Glory, by Jon Krakauer. I know I can't renew this, and it might be long.
  • Pink Brain, Blue Brain by Lise Eliot. Ditto.
  • Blood Memories, by Barb Hendee. This will be a fast read when I get to it, so I keep it around in case I get time.
  • Alex and Me, Irene Pepperberg. This fit in my pocket on my way out to the movies, so I started it.
  • Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz. I thought I couldn't renew this, so I read half of it, and then I renewed it. Off the hot burner!
  • Blaze of Memory, by Nalini Singh. I'm not actually expecting to like this, so I put it in my other pocket but mostly read Alex & Me while waiting for the movie to start. Hey, doesn't everyone take two books with them to the movies?
  • Huntress (anthology). I read the story by the person I recognize. Now I am honor-bound to read the others. Sometime. In the nearish future, but not today.
Next week I'll peek at all my books that I wish I were reading but not making progress on until this leetle library problem is resolved.

One last list: Books I Have Finished This Week.
  • A Touch of Dead (Sookie short stories), Charlaine Harris
  • Unwind, Neal Shusterman
  • Does My Head Look Big in This?, Randa Abdel-Fattah
  • The Lacuna, Barbara Kingslover
  • Black Angels, Linda Beatrice Brown
  • Rampant, Diana Peterfreund
  • Chalice of Roses (anthology)
  • Academy 7, Anne Osterlund
  • Sunshine, Robin McKinley (from my shelves, a comfort reread) (FOR BOOKCLUB)
  • Caught By the Sea, Gary Paulsen
So, four YA books, two kidlit, two fantasy, a Romance anthology, and a Real Novel. It says so right on Kingsolver's book -- The Lacuna, A Novel. I don't think I'm winning any intellectual awards this week, but the pile is smaller than before.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Giant Catch-up Post

The Library death march I've been on means I haven't been posting much about what I'm reading, because time spent writing could be time spent gazing in despair at my towering pile of library books on top of the book crate that is supposed to contain them all.

I guess I could also spend that time reading, but that would be productive. I'm not down with productive lately. Nor am I up with it. We aren't really talking much, really. Spatially, I mean.

Anyway, here are the books that I keep meaning to post about:
  • Does My Head Look Big in This? Shallow, appearance-obsessed Australian teen-ager decides to start wearing a Muslim headdress as her religion dictates.
  • The Lacuna. Kingsolver writes an interesting novel about a boy working for Trotsky during his Mexican exile, and a more predictable bit that teaches how insane the red-scare of the fifties became.
  • Rampant. Unicorns aren't extinct, but they are also carnivorous and only killed by those from the ancient hunter families. Is it better to stay chaste and try to save the world, or find a willing guy so you can go back to school?
  • Chalice of Roses: Four romance stories about women finding the holy grail and a man. Not necessarily in that order.
  • Academy 7. Elite futuristic prep school challenges two kids from opposing families.
  • Sunshine. Best vampire book ever. No, I don't mean evah. Reread.
  • Caught By the Sea: My Life on Boats. Gary Paulsen makes me wish I were athletic and adventurous, whether describing sailing or dog-sledding or wilderness crashing.
  • Ender's Game. Think sweet but carry a big punch. A reread for my book club.
  • Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess. Interesting story of a girl who travels so far to rebel against her parents that she meets up with them again on the other side.
  • Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall. Delicate gems of stories that are placed a little too close together.
  • Life Without Friends. This book should have been in Shelf Discovery.
  • Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector: A Scottish Immigrant in the American West, 1848-1861. Interesting description of the passage from Scottish hardship through conversion, immigration, and disillusionment. I learned a lot about Utah history.
  • Scandal. Fun regency romance.
  • Beat the Turtle Drum. For Shelf Discovery.
  • Son of the Mob. Life is tough when your dad is the godfather.
  • Isabel and Miracle Baby. Big sisterhood complicated by mom's cancer.
  • Picture This. Boy accidentally takes picture of the wrong man.
  • Prisoner Within. I finished it! Hosannah!
  • Captain Alatriste. Spanish derring-do and drinking.
  • Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits. McKinley and Dickinson go very well together.
  • Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-Up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World. OK, so my kids are just ordinary. I can live with that.
  • Deep and Dark and Dangerous. What your mother did that summer...
  • Lawn Boy. Economics and lawn mowers.
  • Shredderman: Secret Identity. Boy blogger defeats bully.
  • Scepter of the Ancients. Skeletons as secret agents -- nifty.
  • Kindred in Death. Uh, Dallas solved it?
  • Fire (Graceling). Lovely and rich.
  • Sea Glass (Glass 2) Still whining, still has the author on her side.
  • The Kids Are All Right. Four kids manage to pull their family together after their parent die. A bit too much drugs for me; I'm glad I don't live on the East Coast.
  • Dragon, Actually. The kinky bondage sex in the second part bothered me; I have this "consent" fetish.
  • Supreme Courtship. Crazy politics but no concept of law, which bugged me while I giggled.
  • Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year. Nifty concept, often lazily executed.
  • Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time. Asian parents who don't appreciate their kids breaking the Asian-kids-are-smart stereotype.
  • Millicent Min, Girl Genius. Forced to tutor Stanford, she also finds a friend (no, I don't mean Stanford).
  • The Tarantula in My Purse. Memoir of wild pets through two generations.
  • Flint. The doctor told him he had a brain cloud, so he went west to die.
  • Lord Caldwell and the Cat. Lame regency series book.
  • How to Ditch Your Fairy. Book club book, cute story, annoying protagonist.
  • Vanished. I couldn't ever really engage with this fourth Greywalker book.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood

It was a beautiful day, all four kids were with me, and best of all, no school all week! We do love us some free time. I hate school. Even when I'm not the one attending.

I finished up all the due books, and trotted off to both libraries holding firmly to my resolutions, and did fairly well. I think ordering pizza at our favorite place first helped, since I was already feeling gratified.

My hold shelf offered up:
  • Ender's Game: Battle School, the graphic novel version. X already read this, so it was clearly for him.
I then browsed the picture books, and accepted a few offerings from the children:
  • Owl at Home, by Arnold Lobel. From the recommended list.
  • How Obelix Fell Into the Magic Potion When He Was a Little Boy. Asterix is always cool. X already read this as well.
One book fell into my arms, from our soon-to-be-amalgamated local library, sniff sniff:
  • A Touch of Dead, by Charlaine Harris. Again, it hardly counts because I've probably read all the stories and I got it for my sister anyway.
X and A also got some books for themselves, and N found a movie, but that's not my fault. We paid off the lost Sonic thing, and those boys will repay me all $3 of it. I was practically begging for a restock fee to teach them the error of their ways, but I restrained myself. We also got 4 CDs for car listening this week, including one marked "Parental Advisory" so I guess I'll listen to that one by myself and just tell the kids if it was good...

Total Books from Library Elf (counting all the kid stuff that I'm legally responsible for even if I hope not to read it): 92. Stuff on my card: 84. And I think they haven't taken everything off that I turned in; sometimes it takes the county a day or so to check the movies and music since they don't take it off your record until they check the disc. I'm in the double digits! Go Me!

I'll go sign up for Library Loot this week. That's a weekly event hosted in turns by Eva's A Striped Armchair (this week's host) and Marg's Reading Adventures where bloggers can share their library finds of the week. Some of them make me look restrained.

Bonded for Life: Black Angels

Today is Reading on the Beach's A-Z Wednesday, with B the starring letter. Every week bloggers are invited to spotlight a book starting with the letter of the week. You show the cover, tell the title, give a synopsis, and post a link. Just to be annoying, I like to actually read (sometimes just finish) the book on that day, so I include my little review. Makes things more interesting. Sadly, none of the library books that are due tomorrow begin with a B, so I kept trying to read two books at once. But I finished one. Now I'll sign up on her page to see what everyone else came up with.

I found Linda Beatrice Brown's Black Angels in my library pile, so I promoted it to the top (there was at least one other, but I had no hope of finishing it in a day, seeing as I'm also reading 65% of Kingsolver's Lacuna today). Set in the middle of the American Civil War, it follows three orphans about the age of my children as they stumble across each other and try to survive. I suddenly find myself trying to substitute in my kids in children's books I read, both as a sanity test for the books and to see how my kids are doing compared to these fictional types.

Luke, the twelve year old (in the book, not my house) escapes from slavery because he wants to join the Union army. He misses the meeting and heads north on his own, finding Daylily, nine (hmm, right about my youngest's age) who didn't so much escape as find herself adrift after unspecified soldiers attack her home. And the youngest, Caswell, matches up with my nephew at seven. Caswell is white, lost in the woods after union soldiers burn his house and all the neighbors. The children come together because the dark is too big for any of them, although it takes a while for Caswell to fit in. They find various refuges, from caves that shelter them for an evening to generous adults who try to add them to a family.

Interestingly, the last third of the book splits them up. They promise to reunite in ten years; Luke joins the army as a messenger, Daylily and Caswell are adopted by a black family until Caswell's father finally finds him and, horrified, yanks him out of the hands of the despised ex-slaves. Brown skims over the children's lives for the next decade, watching Daylily become a teacher, Luke working for true freedom and fairness, and Caswell refusing to accept his father's racism and deciding to enter a seminary. The last chapter finds them all making their rendezvous, relieved to find their family ties still strong.

The first part of the book is the strongest, as the children battle for survival, forge their friendship, and confront challenges that stretch them to their limits. But seeing the last section as an extended epilogue kept me happy -- it was interesting to see how their lives were shaped, and for a kids book, I appreciated the author grounding the book in what was possible and what was happening. I'll offer it to my kids, although the cover is a bit different than their usual fair; the children are paused, waiting for action, instead of leaping about doing something, preferably with dragons.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Belated Library Haul: Pit of Despair

I've given up reading anything but book club and library books, and have frozen as many holds as possible. I'm really trying to get my library books down to a sane level. I've even put aside books that I started and disliked! Amazing. I'm not posting much because I'm frantically shuffling books around, which doesn't always translate into effective reading....

Last Thursday the hold shelf pushed onto me:
  • Attack of the Tagger (Shredderman 2). I shall pretend this is for the children.
  • Son of the Mob: Hollywood Hustle. It's the second of two -- reading the first doesn't give closure!
I then browsed the picture books, and accepted a few offerings from the children, and a few picture books from the recommended lists. And some music for the car. This is all last week's stuff; I haven't the heart to itemize because I'm getting more tomorrow.

Total Books from Library Elf (counting all the kid stuff that I'm legally responsible for even if I hope not to read it): 105. Stuff on my card: 87. Which includes one lost book, which the boys will be raiding their piggy banks to pay for tomorrow. A Sonic monstrosity, so I don't feel too bad for humanity.

I'm skipping Library Loot for last week, since I'll hopefully be signing up tomorrow for this week.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Queen Nerd and the Cripple: Are You Alone on Purpose?

Today is Reading on the Beach's A-Z Wednesday, with A the starring letter. We're starting over! Although I didn't start with A, so it wasn't a complete cycle. Every week bloggers are invited to spotlight a book starting with the letter of the week. You show the cover, tell the title, give a synopsis, and post a link. Just to be annoying, I like to actually read (sometimes just finish) the book on that day, so I include my little review. I pretend it makes things more interesting. It often makes my day more hectic, and I frantically read while walking through halls or while waiting for automatic doors to open or any other spare seconds I find. Then I sign up on her page to see what everyone else came up with.

This week I challenged my kids to play along. Their selections and comments were:
  • Astronaut Handbook, Megan McCarthy. If you were planning to use it to actually train to be an astronaut, you should give it to your worst enemy. It doesn't really give much information on astronaution. It might be good for second graders. (P)
  • Asterix Omnibus 1, Rene Goscinny & Albert Uderzo. It's a good graphic novel but the speech seems a bit misplaced. It is very funny. I recommend it for people of all ages. (X)
My book was Nancy Werlin's Are You Alone on Purpose?, a YA issue book. Alison has a problem -- her twin brother Adam has autism,

and somehow she has been relegated to the family role of Normal, Successful daughter, something she finds stifling. Harry also has a problem. At first his problem is that he's a bullying jerk mourning the death of his mother, but soon his bigger problem is that an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. The two come together and help each other deal with their problems. It's a solid, well put together story, but never breaks free of the constraints of the young YA issue book. Alison is a finely drawn intellectual girl, but looking back it is hard to see what she values in Harry; his development is mostly interior and his outward behavior doesn't deserve that much loyalty. Oh well, one of the points is that emotions are complicated. Still, Werlin has written better books; I'm guessing it was an earlier effort (yes, from 1994). B-

Hard Times and Whining: Ten Things I Hate About Me

It's hard work being a teenager, and any extra stress can seem to be too much. That's what Jamilah/Jamie tells herself as she hides her ethnicity and background from her classmates, staying silent even when her classmates toss around slurs and ugliness. She's so devoted to being invisible that she's afraid to stand out in any way, from making contact with girls who could be her friends to ignoring the official cute guys if they cast eyes in her direction.

Meanwhile her father sets strict limits (that she also can't admit to), making her feel even more isolated and unwanted at home. And she has a healthy dose of adolescent selfishness, not noticing that other people's lives aren't perfect, not recognizing that she's not the only one affected by her actions and those of her peers. Randa Abdul-Fattah gives a realistic feel to Ten Things I Hate About Me, the story of a Lebanese-Australian coping with a world that assumes Arab=terrorist and a home that assets that female=sheltured. But I'm at the wrong age to fully appreciate a book with a whiny teenager, as I gaze into that abyss for my own home. B-

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Roosting Chick: Colibri

Our local library (which is in danger of being agglomerated by the king-
sized King County system) has lists of recommended books for various grades. I do love a good list. So recently I started working my way through them. Most of them are good read-alouds for my third grader and me; the fifth grader lurks right outside the room listening or waiting to grab the book from us when we are done, but the fifth grade books are a bit long for our picture book reading session. So I've been reading them when the kids are running late or being ornery so that I sit in lonely splendor during the official read-aloud portion of the evening.

Colibri, by Ann Cameron is the latest book on that list. The cover art shows a sleepy girl resting among flowers, and I think this picture influenced how I think of Tzunun, nicknamed Colibri (hummingbird), the heroine of this book. The new cover has her standing up; I bet I'd picture her as more active if I had read that book. I know I'd have an easier time selling this book to my sons. Colibri's problems are mostly too big for her to handle -- she is exploited by Uncle, the cheating beggar who looks after her. Although she realizes that he's no good, Colibri can't help loving him because he's the only parent she knows; her real family are only a distance memory. Slowly she learns to find strength in herself, and as Uncle's demands rise she finds the courage to resist him, first almost passively but then actively and with great spirit.

The mystical elements of the story were a detraction for me; I don't like fortune telling and wish the author had kept things vaguer so as to allow me my rational thinking while still honoring the traditions and religion of Guatemala. Since I know precious little of Guatemala, either the geography or history or culture, I can't tell how authentic the story is, but it feels true and Cameron did spend many years there. The book read like a peaceful river that is funnelling down to a tremendous waterfall, with a powerful ending and a realistic refusal to make everything happy ever after. I think my fifth grade would like it, but he won't read it. B

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kids Making Good: The Grounding of Group Six

My next book for the Shelf Discovery Challenge is The Grounding of Group Six, by Julian F. Thompson. To my confusion, the copyright date was 1997, which makes me much much older than the original Shelf Discovery author, but closer inspection says it was originally published in 1983. I wonder what he changed for the new edition? Anyone know? The clothing makes a lot more sense in the original date.

I also found out that the author's name is Julian, not Julia as I thought for the past quarter century. I had skipped this book thinking it was all about the romance, and I bet a lot of that assumption was based on the author being a girl. Of course, a lot of this book IS about the romance, but a lot is about the hiding from the evil murderers. Five kids and a counselor head off into the wilderness, but will any of them come back? Will anyone not get laid? Because the new school is not all it seems...

I bet I would have enjoyed it a lot back in the day. It was pretty fun now, but I had a more detached perspective, watching the three girls pair up with the three boys (well, two boys and an awfully young "teacher"). It's also fun coming as a parent to the description of the five awful parents who pay for the grounding (permanent, as in in the ground) of their failed children. I suspect I had more sympathy with them now than then. And I had more of a gut issue with the pairing of the twenty-two year old with one of the sixteen year olds, even though he was a very immature guy in a lot of ways. It's good that it's a fast read, because otherwise the basic premise is a bit dodgy -- their decision to hang out lurking in the woods next to the murderers instead of driving away is rather odd. But suspenseful! Will Sully make a move on Sara? Will the sniper shoot her on the way to the cottage? Will they find proof before they get caught? B

Friday, February 5, 2010

Library Thursday started with a bit of stress. Having determined first that N. is uniquely eligible for a Seattle city library card (because his school is within city boundaries) and having also established that the Seattle library is in possession of a rare and elusive Transformers video, we decided to zip over and sign him up. This involved very careful timing, complicated by 1) me showing up late to his school because I forgot to get directions until I was driving away, 2) N having several bathroom calls at inopportune times, and 3) the librarian being both overworked and unfamiliar with the new card process. So we ended up being almost 30 minutes late to pick up the rest of the family, at a school which apparently does not think "send them up to the park to play until I get there" to be responsible parenting. On the bright side, as a proof of concept that library branch is totally doable, as long as all books are on the hold shelf and the computers are working. Ahem.

Anyway, we then went straight to our local city library. Here I exercised great restraint, only getting one new book from the lists. X got a bunch of comics, and N picked up a new Power Rangers DVD, which tragically turned out to be an old DVD with a new cover. Some children are born to sorrow, as N demonstrated today. A and P apparently are already reading a book. What that has to do with not checking out ten more I'm not sure, but we were too hungry to investigate.

After dinner I snuck out to the county library under the pretext of a PTO meeting. Alone. Without the support of my loyal children (did I mention N throwing himself between me and the new releases? It was truly heroic) I am at the mercy of the siren calls of new books. First, my hold shelf offered up:
  • The Sexiest Dead Man Alive, Jane Blackwood (I liked her other book)
  • Where Men Win Glory, John Krakauer (Uh, I've liked his other books)
  • Don't Hurt Laurie!, Willo Davis Roberts (for Shelf Discovery Challenge)
  • Poppy, by Avi, for X, because he lost his copy and refuses to organize his books sensibly
  • Pink Brain, Blue Brain, Lise Eliot, as a counterweight to Why Gender Matters
  • How to Teach Physics To Your Dog, by Chad Orzel (I hope it works for cats and fish too)
  • Taken, Norah McClintock. Actually, I mostly reading her backlist so I remember to get the sequel to Dooley Takes the Fall
  • Promise of the Flame, Sylvia Engdahl. Probably too talky, but I'll read it in homage to her wonderful YA books.
  • Power Rangers, Mystic Force #1 DVD. Um, this is not for me, actually.
I then backed away from EVERYTHING. Well, I did try to find the next Shredderman book, but it was missing, and one teeny little new kids book fell into my hands, but this and the picture book from earlier were my only new acquisitions, unless you count the four new music CDs I picked with my eyes shut.
  • Night Wings, Joseph Bruchac
  • Rabbit's Birthday Kite (I am a bit skeptical that this deserves to be on any recommended list, but I will try to rise above the name)
Total Books from Library Elf (counting all the kid stuff that I'm legally responsible for even if I hope not to read it): 106. Stuff on my card: 91. I think that is trending down (well, my portion, anyway). I can charge the kids for book they lose without help from me.

I'll go sign up for Library Loot this week. That's a weekly event hosted in turns by Eva's A Striped Armchair and Marg's Reading Adventures (this week's host) where bloggers can share their library finds of the week. Some of them make me look restrained.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Centering Without a Center: Zen In the Art of Archery

Today is Reading on the Beach's A-Z Wednesday, with Z the starring letter. Every week bloggers are invited to spotlight a book starting with the letter of the week. You show the cover, tell the title, give a synopsis, and post a link. Just to be annoying, I like to actually read (sometimes just finish) the book on that day, so I include my little review. Makes things more interesting. Then I sign up on her page to see what everyone else came up with.

This week things looked grim. Nothing from the library started with Z. I searched through my kidlit to-read shelf, but came up empty. I searched the fiction shelf -- nothing. I searched the highbrow shelf -- zilch. I searched the piles of books around the bookcase -- zippo. Finally, after reading something else (due tomorrow) I poked through the non-fiction shelf, which I had ignored because I figured they were all too thick to finish anyway. And I hit treasure! And I read it! Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel.

This thin volume helped popularize Eastern philosophy in the west, probably because of its unassuming tone and welcoming prose. Herrigel was a German philosophy professor who passionately wanted to understand mystical experiences, but he realized that by definition it was something to experience rather than study. When he spent six years teaching in Japan, he and his wife seized the opportunity. Told that the best way to learn to be without doing was to study an art, he chose archery and his wife took flower arranging (although they also studied with each other). He spends the next sixty pages detailing his slow unlearning and gradual learning until he came closer and closer to understanding the practice and art of Zen. It was a chewy read; one that had me stopping to gaze into space every few pages. I enjoyed it, and I'll leave it around for my kids to stumble over in a few years. A.

Poetic Prose: After Tupac & D Foster

After Tupac & D Foster, a slim kidlit book by Jacqueline Woodson, seems more like a poem than a novel. It's the story of three best friends, two of whom have known each other always, and one who shows up one day while wandering the city. D Foster, the new girl, lives a very different life, one with dark corners and gaps that the other two can only eye sideways. Yet all three know that know one is safe, that black children are at greater risk, and that friendship is forever.

Of course, it might have been even better if I knew anything about Tupac. I think he was a musician. A-

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Boys are Unpleasant: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Patrick Ness's The Knife of Never Letting Go literally puts you in the head of a fourteen year old boy who has been raised by a village of very unpleasant men. The result is, um, unpleasant. I spent the first half of the book looking at my eleven year old son out of the corner of my eye, wondering if he was about to erupt into despicableness. That Why Gender Matters book has made me deeply suspicious of the immature male.

Later into the book I found the action interesting enough to try to overlook my distaste for the viewpoint character. Yes, he was dumb as a post, and self-justifying, and obnoxious, but he lived during interesting times. He had been raised by monsters (although his immediate family only posed as monsters so they could stay and raise him). And maybe if I had cared more about him, it would have been harder to accept the troubles and horrors he went through. Although some of them were entirely self-inflicted, the consequences were still awful for a child. It makes me hesitate about giving my boy a knife before sending him off alone across the world to escape my horrible neighbors. I shall make a mental note not to get into a situation that would require it.

The ending is a deliberate shocker, reminding me that this is the first book in a series. I'm not in a hurry to get the second, but I'll probably read it eventually. A combination of a gripping read with a repelling voice = B.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Knowing They're Foreign: When the Tide Rises

Well, I accidentally got a bit ahead on this series, so I went back to find the one I missed. David Drake's When the Tide Rises continues to deliver on its promises, as do most of the books in the RCN series. There is action, there is political intrigue (based on actually history, this time in South America in the 1800s), there is friendship and marksmanship and skilled professionals and honor and fools and all the fun stuff I like in space opera.

Reading these books backwards highlighted the character development of the main characters. There isn't much, and it's easy to miss, but they are slowly growing and learning about themselves and their friends. Lots of fun, but not the sort of book that haunts your thought afterward. B.