Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Old and New: Fledgling

I've sorta read Sharon Lee and Steve Miller's Fledgling (Liaden Universe) twice; once as they posted it on the Internet in a story bowl format, and now in published form. It's the story of a pilot's growth from clumsy duckling to super-reflexes swan, with scholarly intrigue and mysterious Liadan meetings thrown in for laughs. It was interesting comparing the book with my memory of the first draft, and seeing where ideas that evidently came along later were worked into the start, and how the main changes came at the end, which had more action-packed-action than I remembered. B

(Very short post, because I am driving to my vacation.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Saving the World, Again!: Crocodile Tears

Poor Alex Rider keeps trying to retire, but fate wants him to be a master spy. In Anthony Horowitz'sCrocodile Tears (Alex Rider, No. 8) Crocodile Tears (Alex Rider, No. 8) he rescues his date (and her dad) from the depths of a Scottish loch (I guess he watches Mythbusters), then steals industry secrets from a bio-engineering firm in return for protecting his secret identity. This annoys the super-villains, who attempt to feed him to hungry crocodiles.

Did I mention the nuclear explosion? Or the ricin attacks? Or the school suspension?

In other news, the new prime minister is shocked to find he has a fourteen-year-old agent, although I expect Alex to have his fifteenth birthday soon so that problem will be solved. I'm starting to notice the high body count -- bad guys tend to drop like flies around Alex, but since they are all bad, I don't think it bothers my son, who is still a big fan. B-

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Part One: Blackout

I found Connie Willis's latest book, Blackout, rather unfulfilling. She seems to have learned an incredible amount about the early days of World War II in England, with an emphasis on the Battle of Britain and the bombing of London. Unfortunately, much of this book seem to exist mostly to convey this information to me.

Her usual strengths of dialog and capturing the essence of young researchers drew me in, and I quickly became interested in the projects of Polly, Eileen, and Mike (I'll use their project names so they don't get confused). Obviously the three of them would somehow have to come together, but my patience wore a bit thin after four hundred pages. Each page was fun to read, but the story wasn't progressing much. The book feels like part one of the entire novel; a novel I'll probably enjoy, but one that is definitely not complete yet. Those of my friends who are waiting for the next book to come out will have a much better reading experience. Yes, I knew going into it that there was a second book, but I still hoped for a more complete fill; I was happier with the ending of Lois Bujold's Sharing Knife: Beguilement, and that I knew had never been planned as a stand alone book. I shall think of it as a library book that I didn't finish and that I have to request again to get the last bit; there, that's better! (no grade until the end)

Extra Days = Extra Books

X is officially a Library Teen now, because he's in Junior High. And therefore eligible for the exclusive library Teen Events, such as Wednesday's Game-On. Attendance was low, so they opened the doors to cool siblings such as P, and both dived into some kind of Mario Smash Brawl Kombat thing. I went home.

But of course, I had to come back to get them (I've got to help them figure out bus lines someday). And it turned out that it wasn't over yet, so I was left wandering the new branches shelves, unchaperoned. Which meant that I picked up a few books, mostly of the brain-candy pool-side variety:
  • Blood From Stone, Laura Anne Gilman. I think there is a vampire involved.
  • Storm From the Shadows, David Weber. Honor's friends in space.
  • White Road, Lynn Flewelling. I like this series.
  • Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, Novella Carpenter. Raising chickens in Oakland, CA.
  • Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life, Adam Gopnik. I like this author.
  • Bone and Jewel Creatures, Elizabeth Bear. Very pretty cover.
  • 30-Minute Money Solutions, Christine Benz. I need to control my paper clutter.
  • Pride/Prejudice, Ann Herendeen. Perhaps a worse desecration than zombies.
Then the video game party ended, and I felt it only polite to encourage my boys to get books. X has a pile already, but P claimed there was nothing he'd like. I told him to try nonfiction, and led him to the 000's where his eyes lit up at the sight of:
  • Admit It, You're Crazy!: Quirks, Idiosyncracies, and Irrational Behavior, Judy Reiser.
Unfortunately for me, books about books are also shelved in this area, and one attached itself to me:
  • Between the Covers: The Book Babes' Guide to a Woman's Reading Pleasures, Margo Hammond and Ellen Heltzel.
This all happened before the official library day, where I got 5 new CD's and the hold shelf decanted:
  • Fantasy in Death, J.D. Robb
Total Books from Library Elf (counting all the kid stuff that I'm legally responsible for even if I hope not to read it): 76. Missing book: 1. Book sent to library with a friend, and apparently not turned in: 1. Stuff on my card: 68, but I'm still checking some stuff out for my sons.

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.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

One Way Doors: Exit Point

Laura Langston's Exit Point is published by Orca Books as a high interest low-reading level book, and despite the dreary sounding genre most of these Orca Sounding books are quite good. Langston's idea is that everyone has a mission for their life, and your life is planned to end at Exit Point Five after completing that mission. But there are earlier exit points you can grab if you can't bear to go on to the next portion. Logan wakes up dead; he killed himself in an idiotic drunk driving race, but he learns that really he just couldn't face the next set of problems in his life -- he bailed rather than stick around to force his parents to acknowledge that their good friend was molesting his sister.

(Yes, most Orca books revolve around a Problem. They are written for YA, after all.)

Logan decides to stop taking the easy way out, especially now that it is apparently too late, and he uses his meager post-life powers to try to help his sister. It's an interesting story that held my attention enough that I didn't really notice that the words and sentences aren't quite at the third grade level. It's the first Orca book that I think my tween kid would enjoy. B+

Friday, June 25, 2010

Zombies and Snowflakes: Forest of Hands and Teeth

Move over vampires --- in Carrie Ryan's The Forest of Hands and Teeth, it's zombie time! After zombies take over the world, the only survivors huddle in low-tech villages ruled by the Sisterhood and constrained by strict societal rules. Our heroine, Mary, finds rules that keep her from sleeping with her preferred boyfriend really annoying, and thinks they should be repealed. She's learning about the secrets kept by the Sisterhood, and the shocking news that other people may be alive elsewhere, but her interest in these matters waxes and wanes with the attention Travis pays to her.

The story gripped me -- the zombies attack the village, with only a small remnant escaping to search for refuge elsewhere, but the first-person narration was limiting because Mary was so selfish and self-centered. I had no idea why any of the boys liked her -- maybe she was large-chested? B-, but I may read the next one in hopes of a different narrator.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Feel the Power! The Power of Reading

The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research by Stephen Krashen covers the research about reading's effect on reading skills, literacy, and language proficiencies such as spelling and grammar. It turns out that reading a lot correlates with being a better reader! More interestingly, scores on reading capability, spelling, and grammar are about the same if the time spent on explicitly teaching things is instead spent on offering people books they might like to read and encouraging them to read them. This is true both for elementary age children and for adults learning a second language.
The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research
I enjoyed reading out parts of the studies to my kids (they highly endorse the plan of not bothering with grammar instruction or spelling words), especially the ones that confirm common sense. School libraries with more books encourage more reading! And libraries that are open more also increase reading! Librarians help kids find books! Kids read more if books are interesting to them, and if books are available! I wish schools had more strength of character to keep plain old reading time in the curriculum; it seems that too often it feels like not doing anything and a waste of time, when in reality it's probably one of the most useful things kids in school could be doing. Calling it by an acronym helps a bit -- schools like doing SSR (sustained silent reading) or DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) or even BURP (Burst of Uninterrupted Reading Program, P's favorite) but it still seems like it's the first thing to get squashed to make room for less useful things like grammar worksheets.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Clean Up in Aisle All: Clutter's Last Stand

Don Aslett is apparently a famous cleaning guy; he runs a cleaning service and had a farm and raised six or so kids and wrote a lot of books. Clutter's Last Stand: It's Time To De-junk Your Life! has been cluttering my shelves for years, so I feel proud of finishing it and sending it off to greener pastures at the used book store.

I read the book mainly for inspiration because I'm trying to clear out a lot of stuff, especially from my bedroom and the kids' playroom. It's a good way to focus on what things really bring beauty or value to your life. Aslett also pokes his nose into mental and spiritual clutter; he finds that clutter in one area (junk in your house) leads to junk in your body and soul. I don't buy most of his preaching, but I do need to toss a lot of stuff, and with the hints and encouragement of this book I've made a decent (if slow) start.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Try Something New: Rachel and the Hired Gun

I'm plugging away on the Take a Chance Challenge, and I've knocked off #6 -- Genre Switch-Up. I don't believe I've ever read a western romance before, so Rachel And The Hired Gun (Zebra Historical Romance) by Elaine Levine was a fun read for me. I've read some westerns (mostly L'Amour) and some romances (mostly regency) and the blending of the genres amused me enough to finish the book in a day.

Rachel was a bit of a moron, but her actions made sense so it wasn't too annoying. Hearing her inner thoughts revealed her innate ditziness, but she found herself a western bound wagon train, seamlessly took over cooking for her dad's large ranch population, and seemingly effortlessly parried all the social darts hurled by the region's evil matriarch, who of course was the mother of the man she is supposed to marry. Her seduction of the bad-man-turned-good-by-her-love Sager was accompanied by increasingly silly artless explanations ("I'm lonely! Can you sleep in my tent with me tonight?"), and when they finally got down to the deed she never once thought of pregnancy.

The good people were solid, and the bad people were relentlessly evil. This was handled lightly enough not to be too annoying, but lead to some rather strange scenes, such as the reconciliation between the step-brothers (because they are both decent people). The cause of the strain between them? One man's beloved mother had paid to murder the brother's adopted mother and sister, had him kidnapped, seduced him at age fourteen, spent ten years trying to poison any contact between him and his father, and then hired more assassins to kill him and his girlfriend. On the other hand, he had been a real grouchy presence in the family, and he apologized for being such a downer for his step-brother. They both forgave each other handsomely. And I liked when the western plot stopped in its tracks so the romance could introduce some people to be couples in the sequels.

The writing was energetic, and the plot silly enough to be entertaining. I might pick up another of Levine's books. B.

Spring Wrap Up

Spring has sprung, so it's time to look at my Spring Reading Thing Challenge goals. I read all the books I wanted to read, and they were all worthwhile. I've stuck chapter book reading back into our bedtime routine (current book, L.M. Boston's Stranger at Green Knowe, which is getting nice reviews. Gorillas are always popular.)

I'm close to my goal of 20 library books out, but I think I'm a teeny bit over. That's still a lot better than my starting point. My currently reading list is officially at 13, but the active reading books are at six, so that's close to a victory. Go me!

My summer challenge is another book a day attempt, but I'm not so gung-ho as I was last year. I hope to get through a lot of my kidlit, though.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Reading: Victorious

Victorious (The Lost Fleet, Book 6 of 6) is the final book in the Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell, who used to be John G. Hemry. It's a dry space opera, with a fleet commander facing tremendous odds to bring his troops home, and then to finally defeat the Evil Empire. And, for fun, face off with the mysterious aliens who have been encouraging the war between the two space empires.
I like watching the corrupt politicians and the occasional honest one interact with the mostly honorable but occasionally fanatical military. The hero, Black Jack Geary, gets to wrestle with his gigantic shadow -- he woke up after decades of cold sleep to find himself a legendary figure who inspires thousands into insanely stupid feats of bravery, the kind of mindless heroism that he finds abhorrent. Luckily his fame is great enough that the military may even follow him into intelligent tactics, but not without kicking.

There is a silly romance subplot, because the True Loves can never touch -- she's in his line of command. Really, the romance reminds me of Lensman type characterization, except the women are military officers instead of fluff. Hemry's best work is still his Stark books, and I don't think it's a coincidence that the rumors of Stark's girlfriends are all false. However, the trope of putting honor above personal wishes is one I enjoy, so I'll keep buying the books. (I think some new books will follow the aftermath of the final victory, so we can learn more about the aliens.) Unless you can hear them in Hemry's ironic, humorous voice I'm not sure the Black Jack books really work. B-

By the way, this is the official first day of summer; we'll see how well I do on the book-a-day goal I set last year.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Last Spring Haul

Again I forgot a pile of books that I've finished. Well, not so much forgot but ran out of room in the library bag. That is good news, right? We make make an off-schedule run to unite N with his beloved Pokemon movie tomorrow, in which case I'll dump some extra books off.

My hold shelf offered up:
  • Rachel and the Hired Gun, Elaine Levine. A western romance.
  • Serpent in the Thorns, Jeri Westerson. Medieval mystery, seen on another Library Loot.
  • Resenting the Hero, Moira J. Moore. Recommended on another blog. Plus Moore is a good name for an author.
  • A Dixie Chicks CD.
  • Something X requested, which disappeared before I could record it. Maybe a Warriors book?
Then I wondered over to picture books and grabbed the next six shelves worth of Reading-My-Library. Yes, this project is just zipping along; I'll probably be done by the end of summer. Again, this is assuming that I don't slow down when reaching books with more than 32 pages.

The kids also found four more CD's for me to listen to, since I had threatened to start singing in the car unless they provided me with musical tribute. Zip! They were a the music section eagerly grabbing anything.

Total Books from Library Elf (counting all the kid stuff that I'm legally responsible for even if I hope not to read it): 72. Stuff on my card: 65; I think 19 are those are unread books. Missing books: two, but I renewed them so I hope they turn up somewhere.

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.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Henrietta Lacks: Immortal Woman

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksSixty years ago, a doctor took a sample of cells from a woman complaining of a lump on her womb. Within a short time, the cancer forming that lump killed the woman, but the sample became the first to survive in the lab, dividing and growing and dividing again. Suddenly doctors had a new tool -- human cells available for research and testing. Samples of Henrietta Lack's cancer cells, labeled HeLa on their labels, were sent all over the world, giving researchers tools for examining all sorts of diseases and problems concerning the human condition. The polio vaccine was tested using hundreds of thousands of samples of HeLa. Labs sprang into existence, selling samples to researchers needing human cells for analysis.

Meanwhile, Lack's family struggled without her. Her children were young; the baby not even one when she died. The eldest languished forgotten in a mental institute with horrifying conditions. No one had any idea that Henrietta's cells lived on, providing benefits (and profits) to hundreds of scientists and millions of patients. HeLa cells were so robust that any contamination of other lines usually resulted in HeLa taking over completely, meaning that accidental contact destroyed several other lines years before anyone noticed. Researchers went back to the family for samples to help identify markers for HeLa to detect other contamination, but the Lacks family only understood they were being tested for their mother's cancer; when no follow up arrived they were left in suspense and fear.

Rebecca Skloot's interest lay in both the sample and the family -- in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks""">she traces both the path of the cells and the arc of the the Lacks family, from Henrietta's birth through the lives of her descendants. Poor, black, often uneducated, the family went years knowing nothing about HeLa, and then more years wondering why they saw no benefit from something so valuable their mother had given. Skloot gets in touch with Deborah Lacks, the surviving daughter, who was a toddler when her mother died. After slowly building trust, they search for more information together, Lacks wavering between paranoia that Skloot is another white usurper out to get more from the family and joy of learning more about her mother and her family. Together they uncover the fate of Deborah's older sister, and visit a lab to see HeLa cells dividing and thriving. Skloot ends with a discussion of the ethics of tissue samples, a field still confused and murky.

Although occasionally the book seemed unfocused, swerving between the often baroque troubles of Henrietta Lack's descendants and the varied uses of the millions of HeLa cells still growing, both threads held my interest, as a historical record of a huge advance and a sociological record of the prejudice against poor black patients. A.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Getting Better Every Day -- Another Round-up

I noticed that I've read four books I can generously classify as self-improvement, so there's another group for catch-up posts. This should get in shape for my summer goal of a book-a-day.

Positive Discipline, by Jane Nelson, was the textbook for a parenting class I took through my kids' school last winter. It counsels parents to look at effects when doling out punishment, and to search for causes when evaluating children's behavior. It has many common-sense proposals and ideas, some of which are hard to implement in the heat of the moment. The last bit of advice in the book was to reread it, and I think it's the kind of thing I need a lot of reinforcing on. But it definitely leads me to a calmer, kinder, and more effective parenting style.

Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, by Ursula Le Guin, provides a guidebook for a writer's group or a solo writer to master the tools of their craft. It discusses grammar, syntax, and tone, with examples from Le Guin's favorite authors and writing exercises with each discussion. I should give it to my brother when he next starts his novel-writing attempt.

The Pro-Child Way: Parenting with an Ex, by Ellen Kellner, was a good refresher in concentrating on your child and making things right for the kids, not getting your own back from the ex. Some of it seemed too specific; as if the author thought everyone's situation matched her own. Also, the bad examples of "the old way" sounded very mean and nasty to me; I haven't hadexperience with doing stuff that way and it made me wonder if the author had. I liked the many different situations addressed, and the constant push that the kids don't make the divorce and that kids don't need to take sides. I also liked the idea that you can only control yourself; even if the ex isn't doing stuff the way that the kids prefer, it still helps if you are. However, I hate the cutesy writing with the heart between the words Pro and Child. It demeans adulthood.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl, by Ree Drummond gives all the recipes you need for the cowboys in your life, of which I have none, actually. But the step by step instructions, complete with about a zillion pictures, de-mystify the techniques addressed in the book, making cooking seem something I could someday do. And I prefer having recipes on paper rather than on my laptop, for obvious reasons, especially as I try to push more of the cooking onto my kids. They also like this book because it makes the food look good.The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Recipes from an Accidental Country Girl

Monday, June 14, 2010

Four YA Books

The four The First Part LastYA Cover for Powers, by Ursula K. Le Guinbooks I read during the readathon were all good enough that I'll sign up to read more from each author.

Angela Johnson is an author that I've slowly discovered. The First Part Last is a problem novel, with Bobby's problem being that he's a sixteen-year-old single father. The story is told in alternating "now" and "then" sections, with now his struggles to balance school and his infant daughter, and then the countdown through his girlfriend's pregnancy. And then there is the kicker at the end (* see spoiler below), which for me just seemed silly. Trying to raise an infant is hard enough, let alone doing it before you finish high school, so throwing extra problems into a problem book just gets melodramatic. Sometimes I found Bobby hard to understand -- his passionate love of graffiti painting, for example, but most of the time this slim book works as the story of a boy learning to be a father, experiencing the love you feel for your tiny baby.

I spent most of Ursula K. Le Guin's Powerswaiting for more horrible thing to happen to the protagonist, but his life was much pleasanter than my fears for him. Since Gavir starts off as a slave in a Roman type city, this seemed reasonable. Le Guin does a realistic job of describing Gavir's loyalties and growing comprehension of his status and responsibilities, both as a slave and later as an escapee and a free man. This is the third book in a loosely connected trilogy, once again confounding my expectations because I kept expecting everything from the earlier books to come together in a grand knot; instead we just meet some people we've seen before. I think I'll like it even more on a second read, when I'm not tripping over my mistaken preconceptions. Which is odd; usually I read without really worrying about what comes next -- I'm not sure what made this book all about the foreboding for me.

Maureen Johnson's Suite Scarlettwas easier. Yes, I kept worrying that the romance plot would take over, but the book stayed true to its heart as a caper story, juggling some eccentrics just touching the line of implausibility. The family was quirky but real; I was glad that efforts were made to bring the bratty youngest daughter back into line with the other siblings. Fluffy but fun.

Maggie Stiefvater's Lament is another book about a early high schooler facing an interesting time, but here the interesting stuff is faeries and deadly assassins and other high energy problems. The cute boy is more front and center, but I didn't mind that as much as the issue seemed to be whether he intended to break her heart or her entire body. This cover is much better than the one on my library book (update -- but now it seems to be gone. Sorry!).

I like how these four books fit together. Two books have black boys on the cover. Two books are by a Johnson. Two star girls, two boys. Two fantasies, two realistic fictions. The boys end up with daughters to care for, the girls stay carefree and young. All of them are written by women. Silly trivia, but I like stacking up books and comparing them.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Shelved in SF -- More Catchup

I've recently read three fantasy novels that really show what a diverse spread that term covers, because these books have very little in common except that they'd all have a little unicorn on the spine in my childhood library.

theswordS.M. Stirling's The Sword Of The Lady is the latest in his saga about The Change, a magical moment when most techonology ceased to exist. The first three books covered the efforts to survive without most of modern conveniences, such as transport and refrigeration and all the other stuff that brings food to us. Now he's jumped ahead about twenty years to the kids who grew up in the new world, who find old people a bit quaint when they reminisce about the old days and stuff that doesn't work any more. Modern kids believe in magic and honor and sword-brothers, and in acting instead of thinking about what it means to want to do things. Stirling moves around a lot, showing his main characters as they fight their way across North America, but also cutting across to see what their mysterious enemies are up to, or what politics are like back home in Oregon. There is lots of sword fighting, with blood and guts, and lots of details about how things are done and the new way of approaching life that the Changelings have. Good fun, although a bit repetitive after five books of it. B-
Then I read Five Odd Honors, the third Breaking the Wall book by Jane Lindskold. This is more urban fantasy -- the magic takes place in San Francisco (well, Silicon Valley, really), and the main characters drive to their warehouse where they built the magic gate to another world. The magic has strict rules, although this book does address the idea of different kinds of magic and each has their own theories and techniques. The characters juggle work and careers and college educations (some are young, some retired, others in between; a few are from that other world) in between studying the magic system that provides defense against an unknown opponent. B+

Product DetailsJo Walton's Lifelode takes place somewhere else, in a place where time moves differently depending on which direction you travel in, where a typical seeming medieval village has vastly different social mores and expectations, where magic is commonplace in one town but almost disappears if you go East enough. Walton never explains anything but lets her characters and situations slowly reveal what is going on, what has happened, and what this society values and expects. Her book is the most literary, with a complex interweave of tenses that slowly reveal the plot through flashbacks and different framing situations. A-

All the books were fun, but Walton's book sticks to your soul after you read it, while Stirling's book stays inside its covers; Lindskold's characters ring more true but the emphasis still seems on what the characters do, not who the characters are and how they resonate with how humanity believes in itself and changes itself through that belief.

Finished the First Row!

I've powered down the first row of picture books, and now I'm starting around the other side. Zoom zoom! Again, P reads most of them with me, and X comes and takes them off if it sounds like we are having too good a time. He's almost in junior high, so I guess he doesn't want to sit around reading picture books with mom.
  • Book JacketNo Time For Mother's Day, Laurie Halse Anderson. Hey, I know this author -- she wrote Wintergirls and Speak and lots of other stuff. Wow. This book address the vital issue of choosing a great present for your mom, and P got very tired of me stressing the vast importance of this crucial topic. We enjoyed the dreary cousins the most; the pictures were a bit too cartoonish for our taste.
  • Book JacketAunt Pitty Patty's Piggy, Jim Aylesworth. Left to my own devices, I do gravitate towards pig books. Barbara McClintock's careful illustrations charm the text, which quickly resolves into the old song about getting the piggy through the gate. P liked that the cat was smart enough to negotiate, which really gets the ball rolling. Or the stick beating.
  • Book JacketI'm a Turkey, Jim Arnosky. P initially recoiled at the blurb promising a free song download, obviously in terror that I would sing along. But we are technology-free during our read, so we relaxed in the spoken word as the brash turkey paraded about, the bold-faced words shouting out from the vivid illustrations. Thanksgiving does not make an appearance in this book based on wild turkeys, but there are foxes and dangers.
  • Book JacketHow the Amazon Queen Fought the Prince of Egypt, Tamara Bower. Serendipitously this hieroglyph heavy book comes right after P's class did a study of the Rosetta stone. The Egyptian style flat-perspective text comes with lots of Egyptian references and writing, which add to the story of the clash of two armies.
  • Too Many Books!, Caroline Fuller Bauer. Books about pigs, and books about books, two of my picture book obsessions. P and I both enjoyed the descriptions of the house filled with books, piles and piles blocking doors and covering all the surfaces. I doubt the efficiency of the solution (a huge book-swap event) because you borrow books back, but it made for a fun story. (Sorry, no picture. Imagine a happy kid buried in books.)
  • Book JacketThe Wildest Brother, Cornelia Funke. Another book by an author of famous chapter books, Funke's story of a patient big sister and a pesky but loved crazy little brother amused both P and A (who was sleeping over) with its reflection of her life. Especially the part at the end when the boy relies on his big sister's comforting and strong presence.
  • Book JacketWilloughby & the Lion, Greg Foley. The black-on-white ink drawings slowly shine with the gold paint of the magic lion in this story of a boy getting wishes. We both enjoyed the crazy wishes part (I want the big house! with a large staff) more than the learn-a-lesson bit at the end, but we did get to argue about what was the tenth wish -- the most wonderful thing of all.
These next two books aren't from the right shelf section; one we picked up because it looked fun and the other is from the recommended lists the library gives out that I am working through, but I figure a picture book post is inclusive.
  • Book JacketTen Little Mice, Joyce Dunbar. Recommended for preschoolers, this book did not charm me or P. We found the repetition dull instead of reassuring, cheering when the pattern changed at all and fake-snoring when it didn't. The calm pictures did not soothe us. Younger kids would probably like it; I highly enjoyed P's nine year old snark; he read it out loud and his sophisticated highlighting of the annoying repetition pleased me tremendously. Our copy had the same picture as shown, but much darker.
  • Book JacketCaptain Raptor and the Moon Mystery, Kevin O'Malley. The boys would not read it to me -- on the first page P declared it more manga-like and unsuitable for a read-aloud. It then disappeared into their rooms for a week (X also enjoyed it). I finally got it back and enjoyed the larger-than-life illustrations and text. A dinosaur superhero in a rocket ship cannot be wrong. The librarians stuck in on top of the shelves, where it caught my eye.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Urban Fantasy!

I've recently read four books that fall under the "urban fantasy" label, meaning that they take place in a modern setting but with some kind of magic added -- usually magical creatures but sometimes just magic. And, as in most urban fantasy, there's both a romance and a mystery.

My favorite was Embers, by Laura Bickle, finished during the read-a-thon. The heroine has a pet fire-demon, and can snack on ghosts. The bad guy is using fire magic to mess up Detroit. Anya has to foil his plans (with the help of her side-kicks), while pushing through her relationship issues (which include the pet, because it turns out that having an ever-present fire demon can get inconvenient at times). Anya makes some bad decisions, but she has reasons for them; I don't remember wanting to throw the book against the wall. I'll probably look for others by this author. B

Next was HEART OF STONE (NEGOTIATOR TRILOGY, NO 1), by C.E. Murphy. The heroine is just an average woman, a do-gooder lawyer with a shaky sense of the law but who manages to win some cases anyway , but her client/paramour is a gargoyle who turns to stone by day. Her cop ex-boyfriend suspects stoney of murder, and complications ensue. There were several moments of dumbfoundedness, but mostly the book was OK. (Strange visit to the bad guy's office for no reason whatsoever -- huh? And she takes the gargoyle home to make out, then gets really upset when her roommate asks why she has to make out with this murder suspect in their apartment. Then she buttons her blouse back up.) I won't look for the rest, but I might pick them up if the library flashes them at me. B-

Stolen: A Novel, by Kelly Armstrong, is part of a series about werewolves and vampires and stuff (Women of the Otherworld). The mystery is more an escape attempt. Elena, the arrogant werewolf who continuously brags about her invulnerably, only pausing as she gets beat up. injured, or kidnapped by bad guys, spends most of the book as part of the menagerie of a rich guy fascinated with otherworld type creatures. I can't really be fair to the book because I was so offended by the heroine leaving the little witch girl behind when escaping the bad guy's clutches. Not so much that she took her chance to escape (after sending the child away from the best chance at a get away) but that she then spent days rolling in the sack with her lover before remembering the other victims. INCLUDING THE KID. So Elena the werewolf is on my coal-for-Christmas list. I'll avoid other books by this author, given how incompatible we are right now, although she'd be fine for people with different hang-ups. C

Finally, Dead To Me by Anton Strout has a rookie paranormal beat cop battling evil cultists.

The main problem was the cliches rampaging through the story. The cops battle paperwork and red tape, they play good-cop/bad-cop, etc. It all felt like it came from TV and movie cop shows. The protagonist fell in love with every female of child-bearing age he met (all two of them), regardless of any characterizations. One of them was dead -- a ghost whom he pretended to help without actually doing anything for her. Nothing felt fresh to me. I don't want to read more, even though I picked up the sequel when I got this book. I'll hand them on to people whose humor bone resonates with the author, because I think it was supposed to feel lighthearted and fun, but I just gazed dully at the text. D

Friday, June 11, 2010

Forgot to Turn Stuff In

I'm falling behind in my reviewing, which inflates my library count, since I have a big stack of books waiting to be released. Ah well, I have been catching up on the laundry. Not quite as much fun as rolling about in books, but it keeps pants on the kids.

Anyway, I've been restricting myself to books on hold, and trying to slow them down. Annoyingly, the new and improved hold system won't let you put a book on hold and then freeze that hold for later (unless there is a long queue). So if I'm asking for unpopular books, they come in torrents.

Anyway, I tiptoed into the library and averted my eyes from all but the hold shelf, coming out with:
  • The Wave in the Mind, by Ursula Le Guin. Talks and essays on the writer, the reader, and the imagination, to quote from the subtitle.
  • Scarlett Fever, Maureen Johnson. Sequel to Suite Scarlett.
  • Deliverer, C.J. Cherryh. Cherryh has a new book in this series, but I seem to have completely forgotten the last few. So I'll skim this in preparation for the new one.
  • Power of a Woman, Robert Fripp. Biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
  • Ballad, Maggie Stiefvater. Sequel to Lament.
Total Books from Library Elf (counting all the kid stuff that I'm legally responsible for even if I hope not to read it): 79. Stuff on my card: 69. Books bought: one. Apparently they frown on dipping a book in cool-aide. I'm going to to a lot of catching up so that drops next week, because spring is almost here. I forget my exact goal, but it was much lower than that.

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.