Friday, April 30, 2010

Whiny Kid: Hangin' Out With Cici

Francine Pascal's Hangin' Out With Cici is the last book I read for the Shelf Awareness Challenge. It's from Chapter 7, and is my 7th book. I'm quite sure I haven't read this book before, because the whiny tone of the narrator seared into my brain, and the scars are life-long. If not longer.

Victoria, the whiny narrator, gets flung back in time where she befriends her young mother. Then she gets flung back where she gets along better with her mom because now she knows her mom used to be nice. And a crazy trouble-maker. The premise is fun, but the main character is a trial, being petty, self-centered, and not that bright. I'm not sure why the mom found her such an immediately great friend. I'm glad Pascal pulled back from her characters a bit for the hundreds of Sweet Valley High books.

This is the last day of the Shelf Awareness Challenge, and I managed to read 7 of the 8 books I wanted. I couldn't find any of my selections from Chapter 8 in my local libraries, and I wasn't ready to perform heroic searches. It was fun going back to the sort of books I read back then, and seeing what I like now and what I would have liked then. I think the tone and poetry of the book matter more now; I don't demand beauty but I'm impatient with ugliness. I guess that means I'm getting old.

Wimpy Parents: Domestic Arrangements

I skipped to the last chapter for this Shelf Discovery book, because I'm finding Cici (Chapter 7) rather whiny. I remember Norma Klein as writing about well-off New York City types, which fits with the city family in Domestic Arrangements. The most mature person in the family is fourteen year old Rusty, who has heard her parents talk about self expression and freedom and modern times all her life, and who really thinks people believe in that stuff. So she is surprised when her parents, well, actually only her father, gets so upset when he finds her having sex with her sixteen year old boyfriend.

The father can't bear to be the kind of old fogey who says "no," so instead he tries to have conversations about maturity and emotional consequences, but it's clear he has no idea what he is talking about. I wish he'd mention venereal disease sometime, though. Rusty knows about pregnancy (she asks for a diaphragm for Christmas), but the other dangers of sex are an unknown to her. Since the family already allowed Rusty to pose topless in a movie production, he's lost all the moral credibility he occasionally wishes he had. The mom thinks that everyone should feel comfortable exploring whatever they feel comfortable with, and Rusty takes a long time to figure out it's OK to say "no" to her boyfriend. (She already knows how to say "yes" when she wants to.) It's up to Rusty to figure out appropriate boundaries for herself since her parents are utterly useless in giving any guidance, even when she asks for some. But Rusty probably will be all right, since she does have faith in herself. I'm very glad she turned down the role of Lolita, though.

As a kid, I would have thoroughly enjoyed this titillating book, rooting for the sweet and generous Rusty and being glad that she didn't have to suffer for her lack of virginity (she even has unprotected sex once and gets away with it!). As a parent, I want to throw rotten tomatoes at her family and her boyfriend.

Hey, my library shelves this in Adult Fiction. I guess it was written before YA had its own shelves, but that's kinda funny. B+

Mommy Meanest: Don't Hurt Laurie

Poor Laurie. Willo Davis Roberts just won't let her catch a break in Don't Hurt Laurie. Her mother is a good stepmom to her new husband's kids, but when mom gets stressed she beats her own daughter. The stepdad travels a lot, so he doesn't really notice anything, and mom is smart enough to make sure they move frequently, so there is always a new hospital to take the abused child to.

But Laurie is plucky and keeps looking for reasons to be happy, including the new friend they make who shares a secret puppy with her. Sadly, the new friend has some mysterious disease that keeps him back in the hospital for operations, and the secret puppy chews his rope and comes bounding up to stress out mom. But don't give up! Laurie's step brother knows that it is just not right for an adult to beat a child with a poker, so he helps them all head for his grandmother's house. She's sensible, so mom is talked into going for counseling, and and soon as she is all better, the kids will go home. Police involvement not necessary.

Reading this as a kid, I'd appreciate the child centered options and solutions; Roberts has written many books that I enjoy. As an adult, I was appalled at how hard it was for Laurie to get help, and how easily the fix was presented. I read it as much as a sign of how attitudes have changed as for itself. This is my fifth chapter book for the Shelf Discovery Challenge. C+

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dead Sister: Beat the Turtle Drum

Since the Shelf Discovery Challenge is about to end, I have to hurry up and review the books I read. My Chapter 4 pick was Beat the Turtle Drum, by Constance C. Green, about two sisters who are good friends. Joss, the younger girl, is ready to celebrate her birthday with the gift of a horse in the garage for a week. The sisters are shown as good friends; different enough to irritate each other sometimes but also loyal and valuing their respective strengths. So it's rather sad when one sister falls out of a tree and dies (while the older one watches).The rest of the book covers the grief of the family, shock and rage and disbelief and denial and through to a hope of acceptance. It's a well done book, with little sentimentality but a lot of telling detail. I would have hated it as a child because I had a little sister and I would not want to practice her death. I wonder if I read it and managed to forget it? I did have a bit of deja vu as I read.I do have one question -- what is a turtle drum? Did I just miss that? B

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fluffy Vampires: First Drop of Crimson

I believe Jeaniene Frost has a long series out about her vampires; First Drop of Crimson appears to be a spin-off about a secondary character. It's a standard romance -- boy promises to help save girl from a demon, they fall in love but each think the other isn't serious, they face danger together and alone, and live happily ever after. And the "ever after" means just that, since vampires are immortal.

Denise, the heroine, is a widow who lost her husband to a supernatural attack. She's not sure she wants to get involved with a vampire, especially one who is just helping her because she blackmailed him. Spade, the hero, has everything, including looks, money, helpful minions, super powers, blah blah blah, but he doesn't want to fall in love with a short-lived human. And there is the demon, the demon-blood, the vampire drug-lords, and a few other plot threads whipping about. It's a fun, fluffy read, although at the end everyone seems to forget the huge problem they've spent most of the book worrying about. Hey, they are officially in their happy-ever-after, so I guess they know they don't have to worry about pesky vampire mafia types anymore. B

House Calls; Dr. Frau

Grace H. Kaiser's memoir Dr. Frau casually describes a time and place radically different from my own. She was a woman doctor in the 50's, when that was an unusual and often unappreciated female role. She made house calls, including many home births for Amish, Mennonite, or just anti-hospital families. She married and had four kids, while running her medical office out of her house and juggling the timing for the births among office hours, cooking meals, and home repair. It's a fascinating glimpse into the world of the Amish, where children weren't told about pregnancy so the mothers stayed quiet while birthing, as well as the world of a doctor fifty years ago, when babies weren't fed for twelve hours after birth but doctors drove through snow and floods to attend the mother. The foreword warns that it is highly fictionalized, since doctors aren't really supposed to attend and tell, but I hope the spirit is still accurate. Fun read; I wish I remembered where I heard about it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Little Pleasures: Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis

Barbara O'Connor's The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis is another Cybil's book, from the kidlit blog awards. It's a slim book about a boy, Popeye, who earned his nickname when his loser uncle accidentally knocked out his eye with a BB gun. Popeye is a bit timid and bored, and when Elvis and his noisy family arrive in an enormous camper, he's delighted to find a new friend. Both boys eagerly embrace the tiny mystery of the boats they find in the creek, and they have just enough time to solve the puzzle and push Popeye's boundaries open a little bit. It's a cozy read that I'll offer to my kids, especially the one who has been giving himself nightmares with more bloodthirsty fare. B

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Internet Free Status

We have started our Screens-off Week, a week behind the rest of the world because of family illness. So I'm writing my posts off-line and sticking them up with limited connectivity. This gives me an excuse to use hyperlinks even more rarely. I have found an icon lying around that sums up the family feeling towards this event.

On the book front, I'm pleased to report that for the second week in a row, all the library books fit in their case. I'd like there to be more room at the top, but the trend is good.

I seem to be starting a new book each day, but I'm finishing one most days as well, so I'm OK with that. I like to have a lot of choices on what to read at any second.

We had a fun time in the bookstore today, cashing in our March Madness winnings. We play for book money, so it's a hotly watched event. Or at least it was, until all my teams crashed and burned in a horribly early conflagration. It took us this long to find a weekend open for all of us to go and spend the winnings. I was seized with a fit of tidiness and only bought some cooking magazines (the ones with weekly shopping lists -- if you have a copy of Rachel Ray's current than you know what we are eating next week) and a replacement Bujold since I read my copy to death last week. I saw lots of stuff I meant to put on hold at the library, but I can't because that requires the computer. Stupid Turn-off Week! I have found an image for it, see above. Take that, you do-gooders who birthed this idea and convinced me it was a good idea to foist it upon my innocent children. And me.

Open books:
  • The Ages of Chaos, Marion Zimmier Bradley. Darkover book recommended by Jo Walton.
  • Hanging Out With Cici, Francine Pascal, for a challenge
  • First Drop of Crimson, Jeaniene Frost. I think this is a fluffy sexy vampire book.
  • The Pro-Child Way: Parenting With an Ex, Ellen Kellner. How to be nice.
  • And Falling, Fly, Skyler White. Not so fluffy vampire book.
  • The Firelings, Carol Kendall. The volcano awakes. Timely, eh?
  • How To Teach Physics To Your Dog, Chad Orzel.
  • Marriage and Other Acts of Charity, Kate Braestrup
  • Key to Rondo, Emily Rodda. Was supposed to be my K book. Hm, I have no L book ready either.
Two of those books aren't even library books!

I have no idea what I've read lately, since I keep that information online.
  • Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis, Barbara O'Connor.
  • Dr. Frau, Grace H. Kaiser. Doctor for the Amish.
  • Whatever it was I turned in on Thursday. So it was heavy, whatever it was.

Late Library Haul

Well, I turned in lots of stuff, and checked out less. So that was a win. I can't remember what my Spring Challenge is, and this is Screen Turn-off Week for us (postponed from last week due to illness). I can't look up anything on my blog, and there will be even less linking than usual. I had to get Special Dispensations to publish anything at all. We can all be grateful, although please do not comment on whether you are grateful I can put up anything at all, or that my posting will be limited by more than my innate sloth.

Wouldn't this be a good spot for a picture of a sloth? Tragically, I cannot search the Internet for one, because that would be cheating.

Anyway, last Thursday my hold shelf offered up:
  • Steering the Craft, Ursula LeGuin, more essays, this time apparently all on how to write.
  • Genesis, Bernard Beckett. SF book about a doctoral thesis, I believe.
  • Ender's Shadow: Command School. My son and my brother have both already read this graphic book. My copy, I mean. I make my books wait their turn.
  • The First Part Last, Angela Johnson. Teen-dad book I've seen recommended all over.
  • Domestic Arrangements, Norma Klein. I'd better get my Shelf Discovery Challenge posts written; I'd be done if I were caught up.
  • Snakehead, Anthony Horowitz. Alex Rider does something incredible.
  • Changeless, Gail Carriger. Another 2nd book. I'd better sign up for the challenge before I finish it.
I picked out four music CDs, and then Seanan McGuire's A Local Habitation (another 2nd!) leaped into my bookbag. Go figure.

Total Books from Library Elf (counting all the kid stuff that I'm legally responsible for even if I hope not to read it): 62. Stuff on my card: 52. Of course, about half of the kids' stuff is music I forced them to check out, but still, well away from triple digits.

I can't sign up for Library Loot this week, as that is on the internet. That's a weekly event hosted in turns by Eva's A Striped Armchair and Marg's Reading Adventures where bloggers can share their library finds of the week. But you should go do it for me!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Family in Books: Oath of Fealty and Irreligion

Elizabeth Moon writes fantasy and science fiction of the competence-porn variety; her characters tend to spend pages developing skills and rewarding competence. It grounds even her fluffier books with a strong sense of reality, whether the characters are rich clowns in space or sheep farmers turned fighters in a D&D style landscape. Her Deed of Paksennarrion is the sheep farmer story, infused with the sense that Moon probably does know how to train up recruits into an effective mercenary force.

Now, twenty years later, Moon wrote Oath of Fealty, which returns to the world of Paksenarrion to see what happens next. She has broadened her focus; instead of mainly staying with Paks on her journey from farmer to paladin, she hops about following the friends and comrades whose lives changed because of Paks's ascension. This is good, because Paks isn't as interesting now that she is minor god Gird's BFF. But Duke Phelan, Captains Arcolin and Dorrin, and Sergeant Stammall all get their own plot threads, spread across the world that Paks wandered through. It's not a complete book; most of the threads only pause at the end, but I'm willing to wait for the rest. Moon's strength is in the multi-sensory descriptions which she works into her text, making the lives of her characters real and important.

I'm sure Elizabeth Moon would be astonished to hear that she is my Doppleganger, but it is true. A double dopple -- we share both initials and a name. So I score another Take a Chance Challenge, as well as a tick of my self-imposed Spring Challenge. Go me!

I noticed that I can round my family out with dopplegangers. I already finished Gift of the Unmage, and I plucked Irreligion, by John Allen Paulos from the library recommended shelf because of its dopplegangerish properties. It's a short book by a mathematician that reviews the common logical proofs for the existence of God, and shows the illogic in each of them. It's a fun book from a logical point of view. I think that belief in God should never rest on logic but on faith, so I don't see it convincing anyone away from their religion, but maybe it will shorten some unwanted conversion discussions.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Icky Action: The Prisoner

Dang nab it, I forgot it was Wednesday. I almost started my K book just now, but remembered my 8AM meeting. I'll just be late.

Instead I'll mention this P book I read. It also starts with a consonant. The Prisoner, by Carlos J. Cortes, was mentioned by Jo Walton as a nominee for the Philip K Dick award, a prize for a science fiction paperback. (It didn't win; I just checked.) I admit, it wasn't my cup of tea, being a thriller more concerned with action, then ideas, and finally characters. The action involved a daring prison break and long slogs through the sewers of Washington DC, the ideas involved freezing human bodies alive, either to await medical treatment (for the rich) or to conveniently serve a prison sentence. Giant corporations run the "ice boxes" and some of the people heading these corporations are Not Nice. But the corporations are now controlling the government...

The bad guys were bad, and stupid, while the good guys were good, and not all that bright, honestly. The sewers were very accurately described, but my main reaction was "ick." I mean, it was awful for the characters to walk through them, but it was awful for me to have to read about it as well. There was action-y action, with assassins and runs through the city (above ground, a few times) and double-crosses, and two characters who fell in love because, well, I'm not sure, maybe there was something in the water in the sewer. Ew. Anyway, I finished it, which means it has something going for it considering how uncomfortable much of the action made me, but I can see why it didn't win. C+

Two minor annoyances for me: one character dies before we meet him; he doesn't survive the defrosting from prison. His friends are sad, and at the end they demand that he get the Medal of Honor. But he and his team all had the same risks; the survivors then had to run through a lot more dangers in the course of the book. I don't think dying is the main criteria of the Medal, and I don't think grieving friends is a criteria either. It just seemed to cheapen things.

The second annoyance is pathetic and has nothing to do with the book -- I'm vaguely trying to mark when I read a book by someone who isn't white (my PoC "person of color") tag, but sometimes I have no idea. It turns out I don't really understand the term Hispanic, and the internet is not helpful (who knew?). I hate having lists and not knowing how to manage them.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Book Lover: Cheek By Jowl

Ursula LeGuin knows about delicious words, and how to put them together into a satisfying meal. When I reintroduced chapter books into bedtime this year, I did it with my favorite books; her Wizard of Earthsea was the second book I read and it cemented the boys' love of this routine. Her fiction is still on my "grab on sight" list, but I also enjoy her essays about writing, either her own writing or other people's books. I stumbled across a little volume made up mostly of speeches she gave to various book-related places, so I ordered it from my library and had some delightful reading about the importance of words, of story, of imagination.

The title of Cheek By Jowl comes from the longest essay, which discusses animal literature, from animal biographies and friendships with people through fantasy and myth. It made me want to reread a lot of books and read a few for the first time. I'm going to investigate more to see if there are other books like this waiting for me. A.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Status

Another quiet week of reading, with no screaming or rushing about. I start a new book every day, and I finish one every other day or so. No problems there, right?

Open books:
  • And Falling, Fly, Skyler White. Haven't made much progress, but so far I like the human more than the vampire. Go figure.
  • The Prisoner, Carlos Cortez. They got back into sewage! Help.
  • How To Teach Physics To Your Dog, Chad Orzel.
  • Pioneer Woman Cooks, Ree Drummand. I'm paused on a recipe I hope I cook this week. I hate cooking, so we'll see.
  • Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones. I mostly hold it and smell it. I'm a bit scared to read it, because then it will be done. I do love me my DWJ.
  • Olivia Kidney and the Exit Academy. Book two, which means it's for a challenge I keep meaning to sign up for.
  • Wishing For Tomorrow, Hilary McKay. Sequel to Little Princessl, so either really good or awful.
  • Hanging Out with Cici, by Fancine Pascal. For Shelf Discovery

  • One last list: Books I Have Finished This Week.

  • Scorpia, Anthony Horowitz . Alex Rider joins the bad guys!
  • Ark Angel, Anthony Horowitz. Alex Rider and the Space Hotel!
  • Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin. Paleontologist looks at what fossils say about you. Well, about me.
  • Heart of a Shepherd, Rosanne Perry. Powerful book about a boy with a deployed army father on a ranch.
  • Rain Is Not My Indian Name, Cynthia Leitich Smith. Boy dies, girl lives with sadness, but good.
  • Cheek By Jowl, Ursula LeGuin. Essays about fantasy literature with a strong love of good writing and language.
  • The complete Miles Vorkosigan series, but skipping around and concentrating on the good parts (which doesn't actually save much time; the good bits are packed tightly). Thanks again for some great books, Lois McMaster Bujold.
  • Grief Isolates: Rain Is Not My Indian Name

    The title of Rain Is Not My Indian Name made me anticipate a book about fitting in as a Native American in a mainly white school, but in fact that is a minor thread in Cynthia Leitich Smith's book about a girl recovering from the death of her best friend. Rain is just emerging from her deep grief to notice the world around her -- her aunt running an "Indian Camp" that she decides to photograph rather than participate in, her brother and his girlfriend dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, her father's overseas deployment keeping him distant, the friends she backed away from after the death of Galen, the best friend who might have become a boyfriend if he had looked both ways before crossing the street last New Year's Eve.

    Rain is an interesting young woman, slowly waking up from months of isolation, linking back to before the tragedy, looking slowly forward to the rest of the summer. The book wasn't what I thought it would be, but it stood up on its own. I'll be looking for other work by this author. B.

    Saturday, April 17, 2010

    Alex Rider Goes Up

    Back in February I read the first Alex Rider book, and mentioned that I'd recommend it to my fifth grader. Wonder of wonder, he actually picked up a book from me, and devoured it. He then called for sequels. I've been reading along with him, although he grabbed a firm lead by borrowing from his school library. Also there was my little issue with a library explosion to deal with. I've almost caught up to him, since the last book is on a long wait list, heh heh heh.

    The entire series follows the pattern set in the first. Alex is trapped into working for various spy agencies, unless he is dealing with super villains without any help at all. He wishes he could go back to being a simple schoolboy, but it seems the world would collapse without him. Adults call upon him to do their missions, but refuse him respect because he is just a kid. Yet he out-thinks them all and saves the day, over and over again. He is amazing clever, athletic, and lucky, but never lets it go to his head. His only guardian is the timid housekeeper Jack, who blithely sends him off with brief acquaintances who keep inviting him over for a holiday. This is a very tasty brew for a child!

    I like the way Anthony Horowitz plays with cliffhangers, using ambiguous pronouns to imply that our hero gets shot or smushed or whatever. He even ends one book with a sniper shooting Our Hero in the chest. Alex keeps his innocence -- he never kills anyone, although people opposing him end up dead in droves all around him. Hey, if you are shooting at Alex Rider, don't be surprised to have him manipulate you into running up a see-saw and flinging yourself into the path of your own bullets.

    The stakes keep rising, although sometimes into side stepping directions. Maybe the spy agency will ignore Alex's information. Maybe they haven't mentioned killing his FATHER. Maybe Alex is the only one who can fit into the monkey-sized space suit so he can blast into space to disarm the bomb. Or maybe... Actually, I have no idea how Horowitz is going to top that space one. And I refuse to ask my son; I'll just wait to get the book back from the library. B-

    Friday, April 16, 2010

    New Library, Sick Kids

    Today was our first single library day; now that the city library is assimilated by the county, all my holds go there. We finished merging all the cards today as well, so if anything got lost in the shuffle I'll find out about it before they break down my door. It was a beautiful day to celebrate Library Week!

    The third graders had spent the day at home, sick (one in the American sense and one in the English) so I was planning for a quick drop off and pick up, but as usual we had some keystone cop moments where I kept losing a child. X wandered into the vestibule after doing his check-outs, so I spent a lot of time looking for him in all the chairs of the library, N had to be talked down from a MISSING PUZZLE PIECE which could destroy the planet, as you know, and P and A kept disappearing or threatening to feint or whatever. And the new hold section cleverly hid itself behind a pillar so it took me some time to find it.

    My shiny new hold shelf offered up:
    • The Demon's Lexicon, Sarah Rees Brennan. This is a reread because I went to buy it, and the paperback doesn't come out for two weeks! Humph. The 2nd book is due out soon after that.
    • The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemna, Trenton Lee Stewart. This has already be absconded by X.
    • The Hiccopatamus, Aaron Zenz. This picture book is by the author of a great blog, Bookie Woogie.
    • Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper. I've seen this kidlit recommended several times.
    • Pleasure of a Dark Prince, Kresley Cole. Vampire porn. 'Nuf said. :-)
    We then quickly picked out five music CDs, conveniently located directly behind the hold shelf. They sure look out for me here!

    Total Books from Library Elf (counting all the kid stuff that I'm legally responsible for even if I hope not to read it): 69. Stuff on my card: 57. Heading towards my goal! Sorta.

    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.

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Evolution Within: Your Inner Fish

    Neil Shubin's book about tracing the history of our bodies back to single-celled microbes shows a beautiful and enduring vision of humanity and all its relatives. Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body starts with a personal account of an expedition that found fossils of Tiktaalik, an animal midway between a fish and a terrestrial animal. Shubin describes the differences in head type (flat vs conical), and points out how the bones of fins morph into the big bone -- two bones -- lots of blobs structure of land-living limbs.

    The next chapters zoom in on the history of arms, heads (teeth were the first bones), bodies, describing how we are like other mammals, other limbed creatures, other vertebrates, other shaped animals, other multi-cellular groupings. Shubin looks at both anatomy and DNA, tracing the changes in both over the history of life. Then he looks at vision, hearing, and scent to again point out how we can judge similarities and the evolution of spectacularly complicated mechanisms. The chapters build a bit upon each other, although it's clear that Shubin is picking them to illustrate his points. His tone is clear and enthusiastic, with a mix of personal touches including stories of some of his own work and that of other scientists who pioneered the discoveries he chronicles.

    It's a great overview of evolution and the scientific method, but I also treasure the little facts I gleaned along the way. I didn't know you could sieve a sponge and it would rearrange itself back together. I didn't know that the three-bone ear was a solid indicator of a mammal; probably better than hair. I hadn't thought of my body as being organized as a tube within a tube, but now I do. I understand the differences in bone structure between reptiles and mammals better, because Shubin traces the changes made and their effects. His last chapters sum up some reasons this is relevant -- why our bodies fail in some of the ways they do, why men get hernias and couch potatoes get sick. B

    (This is an excellent book for my Science Book Challenge, because it is just brimful of science, both the making of and the love of.)

    Wednesday, April 14, 2010

    Just made J: Jeremy's Decision

    Today is Reading on the Beach's A-Z Wednesday, with J 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. Usually, I like to actually read (sometimes just finish) the book on that day, so I include my little review. This week I'm still recovering from my library avalanche, so I'm grabbing a favorite picture book instead.

    Jeremy's Decision is one of the books I got through Brighter Vision, a children's book club type company which would send us a box each month with a book, workbook, a craft, some stickers, and a music CD or cassette, based around some theme. Unfortunately my eldest never had any interest in doing the workbooks, but I loved them, so we kept it up. It turned out that they only have one set of everything, so I discontinued when my second grew up to where the first started, because who needs two sets of the same book, and the X only ever did a few pages of the workbook. Anyway, it was a fun little box, and it's a pity that it looks like the company has disappeared. We still have some of the workbooks, and I use them for N's homework sometimes. Copying letters is much more fun when you RIP the page out of the book before or after you do it.

    So, one month was music, and this was the book. We enjoyed it, and I kept it during several weedings of our picture books. Jeremy's dad is a orchestra conductor, and when the family goes to watch him perform, everyone asks Jeremy if he's going to grow up to do the same thing. Finally Jeremy speaks up with his real ambition (paleontology). What I really like is that the young kids go to the concert and enjoy it. (Jeremy reads his dinosaur book through the music, and keeps setting the dinos to the music -- the sad part is the mass extinction.) I like that his sister ends up being the conductor, even though no one ever bugged her with the question. The illustrator is Michael Martchenko, who is better known for his work with Robert Munsch. And the author is Ardyth Brott, who a little googling tells me is married to a conductor, so maybe this book is based on her family. So a cute little book, with good memories of my kids being young.

    PS. I skipped for two weeks, drowning in reading and bad internet, but the I book should have been Irreligion, by John Allen Paulos, and the H book was Chad Orzel's How to Teach Physics to Your Dog. I hope to review those soon.

    A Winner: Heart of a Shepherd

    A great place to get kidlit recommendations from is the Cybils, a kidlit blogger book award program. That's where I heard about Graceling and Boy Toy and other powerful books. I'm slowing working through this year's list of winners and finalists, and that's how I read Heart of a Shepherd, by Rosanne Parry, which I loved.

    Brother works on a cattle ranch somewhere in Oregon. His family has a strong service tradition, and his father's reserve unit is sent to Iraq at the beginning of the book. All of his older brothers are away, either in the army or at college or at the boarding high school his small town sends their children too, so he's left home with the grandparents to help run the ranch. I love books about lives so different from my own, from the ranching life to the deep but mostly unspoken religious faiths of the family (Brother, real name Ignatius, is Catholic like his grandmother, but his grandfather is a Quaker), to the lives of a small town where the entire volunteer fire department is in the same deployed reserve group. We see all this through the eyes of a twelve year old to whom it all seems as natural as the lives of the farm animals.
    Which sometimes die, so natural doesn't always mean accepted.

    I'm going to press this upon my fifth grader, and maybe onto anyone else who gets in my way. A.

    Monday, April 12, 2010

    Spring Break Status

    Well, my first mini-goal is accomplished -- all my library books fit in the library shelf; there is no precarious extra stack teetering on top. Only a few books come due each week. I may actually start reading books from my TBR book case, which is also overflowing and surrounded by piles of books.

    I'm staying up late reading a few books, but that's because they are from my kid's school, and therefor due tomorrow. Probably
    would have been a good idea to read them over spring break.

    This weekend I didn't really finish anything, but I did spend a lot of time skimming through Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books. I had pulled one out for X to bring along on his spring break, but he forgot it, so I read a bit, and this reminded me of this other bit in this other book, which sent me around to see how that theme was reinforced in two other books, and so a weekend was enjoyably lost. Bujold is like that. This is a deeply satisfying series. And somewhere in reading about all these competent honorable people, I did my taxes.

    Open books:
    • Scorpia, Anthony Horowitz (due tomorrow). Alex Rider joins the bad guys!
    • Hanging Out With Cici, Francine Pascal, for a challenge
    • Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin. Paleontologist looks at what fossils say about you. Well, about me.
    • Smart But Scattered, Peg Dawson. Actually, I like this enough that I'm returning my borrowed copy and getting my own so my kids and I can write all over the exercises. I think we all need some executive function boosts.
    • And Falling, Fly, Skyler White. Paranormal by a friend of a friend; looks good.
    • The Prisoner, Carlos Cortez. They got out of the sewers, thank goodness. I was getting squeamish.
    • How To Teach Physics To Your Dog, Chad Orzel. My cat thinks the dog is a doofus. Why chase a rabbit when canned food comes to you?
    • Pioneer Woman Cooks, Ree Drummand. I'll read this slowly in the hopes of cooking some recipes.
    • Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones. The postman hid this at my side door, so I didn't find it for days after delivery. Humph!
    Two of those books aren't even library books!

    One last list: Books I Have Finished This Week.
    • Kris Longknife: Undaunted. Mike Shepherd. These books may be taking themselves too seriously, which would be a mistake.
    • When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead. Nice little book that won the Newbery.
    • Nasty Stinky Sneakers, Eve Bunting. Worst contest ever! Funny book.
    • Son of the Mob: Hollywood Hustle, Gordon Korman. Cute, but the concept doesn't really stretch to two books.
    • Echo in the Bone, Diane Gabaldon. I'm not so invested in the characters anymore, which is good because most of the plots are left hanging. Smooth read.
    • NurtureShock, Po Bronson & um. Freakonomics for parents.
    • Chameleon, Charles R. Smith. Raunchier and rawer boy coming into puberty book.
    • Eagle Strike, Anthony Horowitz. Alex Rider on his own.
    • Muslim Child, Rukhsana Khan. Short stories showing each of Islam's pillar through the lives of Muslim children.
    So, five kidlit, a YA, a paranormal fantasy, one SF, and a pop science book. A good spring break blend.

    Saturday, April 10, 2010

    Leaving a Library

    Our local city library has enlisted in the ranks of our ginormous county library, so I'm now a regular patron of only one library system (with an occasional jaunt into the Seattle proper system). I'm a bit sad about this, but the pleasant news is that soon my hold shelf will be in the library within five minutes of my house, on the way to school, not the one fifteen minutes away not on the way to anything but a nice Thai restaurant and a pet shop that sells my finicky cat's expensive cuisine. They spent this week merging the computer system, so starting now all my holds can go to the beautiful library on a river, and this is my last regular stop at Fairwood, my usual haunt.

    Fairwood is a beautiful library, with a generous although not enclosed children's section, complete with nifty toys on the wall and a handy series book section, as well as a well stocked YA area and a dangerous staff picks wall near the exit. The worst thing about it, however, is their vending machines, which are magnets for several of my shorter companions. It seems sacrilegious to come into a library speaking only of your choice between mini-oreos and gummi worms, and to actually sit and consume your snack in the LIBRARY WHERE ALL THE BOOKS are grates on my nerves. Since this was our last visit, I let the kids go wild, which meant we had very little time for browsing actual library materials, but did keep me from getting too sentimental. Next week -- downtown!

    I checked out almost nothing, since I'm still in recovery. Two of them were re-loots, books that got triaged during the panic of last week:
    • How to Teach Physics To Your Dog. Chad Orzel. Which I was enjoying before the library demanded it back. I may recommend it to my book club, some of whom have dogs who may need remedial physics lessons.
    • Wild Life, Molly Gloss. All Jo Walton's fault (from Another reloot.
    • Space Viking, H. Beam Piper. Also Jo Walton's fault, although it was Scalzi's news that made me remember that she recommended it.
    N was the only kid who remembered to pick out music for me, and he chose more piano pieces. I'm down now to 58 total things, all of them mine, although I'm a bit worried that some books aren't listed on my online page because of the merge. I may start trying to count the number of books I actually plan to read, or maybe I'll make one of the kids check out all the music from now on. One picture book seems to have gone AWOL...

    Tesser Well: When You Reach Me

    The latest Newbery winner is When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. This is a book about New York, about kids who understand time travel and kids who don't, about friendship and about winning game show strategies. It has many short chapters with intriguing titles, and feels like a very cosy read most of the time, with small worries and small puzzles, although the final confrontation ratchets up the adrenaline a bit. I really enjoyed it, although I'm not sure all kids would. The aftertaste was refreshing and clear.

    I do think it is interesting that the protagonist isn't the brightest kid on the block, although she is friends with the kids who are. And she loves a book (a book I also endorse -- L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time) but she doesn't love reading. But I forgive her. A-

    Wednesday, April 7, 2010

    Hitting Puberty Hard: Chameleon

    I recently had a discussion with other moms about our kids hitting puberty, and I mentioned the possibility of leaving Judy Blume's Then Again Maybe I Won't around if I thought my son was in need of information he no longer wanted to get from his mom. Well, now I've found a book that covers the same information, but in a much rawer form. Charles R. Smith Jr.'s Chameleon follows a boy in the summer before he starts high school, as he hangs with his friends and ramps up the puberty slope.

    Shawn has different issues as well; he's choosing between a high school in a rough section of town near his mom's work, which means dealing with gangs and drugs but also includes his close friends and the girl he has a crush on, or the school near his home, which is smaller and safer and probably stronger. His budding sexuality is much more aggressive than the boy in Blume's story; Shawn is an ass-man, and his close attention to butts and bodies makes this book read much older -- it's definitely a YA rather than kidlit. But the "what's happening to my body" theme is much the same -- from wet dreams to erection worries. I felt the ending was choppy; it ends the week before Shawn decides which school to attend, but I liked the characterization of Shawn and his friends and found the depiction of black male friendship powerful, from the basketball games through the organized insults to the recognition of the fear their mere existence causes in people who see four boys standing together and immediately think "gang." B+

    Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    Foolish Flirt

    Laurell K. Hamilton's latest Anita book is Flirt, which the library delivered to me last week. It's a quick read, with an essay at the end describing how the book came about. I found that fascinating.

    Hamilton was out for lunch with some friends, and they flirted a bit with the waiter, and then started talking about how they could use the incident in their writing. Hamilton pointed out that she twists everything towards the dark and sexy, so that's what would happen. Her friend is more humorous, and they even include the comic her friend wrote about the same incident, which does seem to appear (a bit modified) in the start of Flirt: Anita goes out to lunch a few of her gorgeous lovers, they flirt with the waiter, and even Anita tries a bit of flirting and is startled to discover that the waiter responds.

    In the hilarious next chapter, Anita later goes back for a solo lunch at the same restaurant and again flirts with the waiter, who takes it more seriously since she is alone. She panics when he asks for her phone number, and decides the only way to tell him that she was just flirting is to ask for HIS number, but then never call. Whew! So far we are still on the theme of flirting.

    Then some bad guys show up, threaten to assassinate the boyfriends, and kidnap Anita. Sex and violence ensue. Except that nothing else in the story has anything at all to do with flirting -- the bad guys could have shown up anytime, no one flirts with anyone, there is no return to the theme at all. So I don't agree that Hamilton's imagination turns everything to the dark side, because the innocent descriptions of Anita's insanely stupid flirting attempts have no connection whatsoever with the rest of the plot. Better luck next time!

    PS. Even I know that if you need to communicate lack of seriousness to a flirt, try name-dropping your boyfriends before asking for phone numbers. Just saying.

    Monday, April 5, 2010

    Well, the library emergency is pretty much over. I returned a few books unread, two of which I had wanted to read, one of which is on hold again. Now I just have to keep from celebrating by checking out a dozen more... I still have to jump a bit because some books are new and not renewable, but I'm hoping to manage my hold stream better. Yeah.

    I'm still reading 90% library books, but I'm looking at some of my home library as well. Which is good, because the piles of books in my bedroom are getting a bit hazardous to my health. I started clearing them up, which helped me locate the lost library book, just in time to notice that I've lost two picture books. Hmm.

    So, I have many of my own books with bookmarks, but they all still doomed to the bottom shelf while I scurry about with due dates. I am actively reading:
    • Eagle Strike, Anthony Horowitz. My son has already finished this series, so I'd better hurry up here.
    • NurtureShock, Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman. One of the non-renewables. I'm enjoying this kind of freakonomics for parenting book.
    • The Prisoner, Carlos J Cortes. I think Jo Walton recommended this on Although I don't think she's read it -- I think it was from an award list. Pretty good so far, but also all action.
    • An Echo In the Bone, Diana Gabaldon. A chunkster that I shouldn't have checked out yet. Good airport reading while I waited for my sons' plane to take off.
    • Chameleon, Charles R. Smith, Jr. YA book about Black boys that I've just started.
    • And Falling, Fly, Skyler White. Written by a friend of a friend, so I hope I like it.
    • Kris Longknife: Undaunted, Mike Shepherd. The Longknife books are getting a bit creaky, but I still enjoy them. This is MY book.
    I'm currently on spring break, so I hope I get a lot of reading in. I have no idea how long it's been since I last updated, so here are some books I've finished in living memory:
    • Blaze of Memory, by Nalini Singh. I didn't buy the relationship, and I found the plotting silly.
    • Alex and Me, Irene M. Pepperberg. A woman and her parrot --for SCIENCE. Well, not really science. Science is icky.
    • Spellbent, Lucy A. Snyder. Fairly fun.
    • Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson. Famous book. Depressing. Silly paranormal twist.
    • The Year of the Bomb, Ronald Kidd. Strong sense of place, with a protagonist I found unconvincingly sensitive.
    • The Mark of the Demon, Diane Rowland. Second in the series, decent read.
    • Irreligion, by John Paulos. Short defense of the rational approach to the supernatural.
    • Enigma, C.F. Bentley. Second in a series, but I never read the first. Interesting space story.
    • Banana Heart Summer, Merlinda Bobis. Philippian story of growing up. I find books with abusive mothers very hard to read, but the writing was delicious.
    • Don't Hurt Laurie, Willo Davis Roberts. See above, but without the tasty writing.
    • Into the Tangle of Friendship, Beth Kephart. Engrossing memoir about relationships and parenting.
    • Dazzle of Day, Molly Gloss. Quakers in SPAAAAACE.
    • Flirt, Laurell K. Hamilton. Silly story, pasted onto a silly anecdote. Not as much about flirting as Hamilton seems to think.
    Well, that's a few weeks worth. I shall try to take better care of my blog. And my fish. And my cat.