Monday, January 31, 2011

Where Are You Reading Challenge?

I have already learned something with this challenge -- how to make my own little google map.  I'm so excited!

Book Journey is hosting the 2011 Where Are You Reading Challenge to read your way around the United States.  The idea is to read a book about (or set in) each of the fifty states.  Which has immediately set me off to reading books set in imaginary worlds or invented places, but I'm sure I'll come around.

So far I can only find two books I've read this year from real places that I can identify; the others are either unspecified or in fairy land or otherwise not available to google maps.  For example, did anyone who read American Born Chinese notice where the boy grew up? The first few pages were in San Francisco, but then they moved to somewhere... And I've got another book set in Canada, which is awfully unspecific.

Anyway, so far I've got Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho,  Illinois, Indiana, IowaKansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine,  Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnisota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, NebraskaNevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New MexicoNew York, North CarolinaNorth DakotaOhio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina Texas, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia,  Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming for the states, with England and Canada also appearing.

I still need South Dakota (High Planes Tango).  I am accepting recommendations for books set in these states!

Luckily I'm reading more books!  Like the one set in a far future space station.  Hmm.  Or the one in an imaginary town with vampires, location unknown.  Or the one set in the land of ghosts.  This challenge may be harder than I thought.

Here is my map:

View Book Trip in a larger map

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Worlds Colliding: American Born Chinese

Gene Luen Yang's book American Born Chinesewas so far below my radar that I wasn't aware that it was a graphic novel.  I knew it had won an award, but somehow missed that the award was the 2007 Printz, the biggie librarian award for YA literature, for books too old for the Newbery(*).  Go figure.

Anyway, I had it on my TBR list (probably from that award) and finally brought it home, and wow, I see why it ranks so high.  At first I wasn't sure what the three strands had to do with each other, although I was suspicious of the Danny/Jin Wang connection, but the surprise ending packed a wallop.  Strand one tells the story of the Monkey King, strand two the life of an Asian Jin Wang in elementary school, and strand three the life of all-American Danny and his characature Chinese cousin Chin-Kee.  It was uncomfortable reading and seeing the Chin-Kee sections, and I was a little hesitant to give the book to my twelve year old since he might not recognize how offensive some of the jokes were.

It works both as a good story and as an eye-opener to another perspective; I don't remember prejudice against Asians as a kid, and I don't notice it in our schools, but that probably means I'm missing stuff, not that it isn't there.  A

Commentary from X:
Confusing, but good.

Then he stole the book to re-read in the bath.

* There are two types of people who find my blog.  Book-people, who obviously know what the Printz is, and my mom.  Actually, I'm not sure my mom reads this blog, but I think my siblings do.

Literary Vampirism: Why Buffy Matters

I'm enjoying my sideline of reading critiques of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a TV show that I completely missed while it was on air. That isn't unusual; I rarely watch any TV until years after it is produced. I have to go to my sister's house to watch, for one thing, except for the power of hulu and such. That's probably why my children are so intellectual (cough, cough, violent coughing).

Rhonda Wilcox specializes in Buffy, and her articles in Why Buffy Matters: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer bring back cozy memories of my college English major. Why Buffy Matters is a good example of why it's worth learning to examine literature -- it works just as well on popular (or not-so-much) shows as it does on Dickens and Shakespeare. Most chapters are coherent and interesting; nothing is earth shattering and sometimes the connections make the base material tremble under their weight (but honestly, that's true for most texts). I'll have to remember this book when my sons whine in high school about the pointless nature of their dead English text studies. It proves that literary analysis is a living art.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fairy Tales Can't Count: The Thirteenth Princess

Diane Zahler's The Thirteenth Princess retells the story of the twelve dancing princess, but adds an extra as our viewpoint character. The last princess incurred her father's wrath by being first, another girl, and unsurprisingly, one birth too far for the poor mother, who expired on the spot. So Zeta not only doesn't get an A-list name, she is also sent to the kitchen to grow up with the servants instead of among her pampered older siblings.

Luckily this gives her the chance to wander the forest and meet helpful witches and stable boys and soldiers, so when the twelve blond princesses -- our Zeta is a redhead -- start wasting mysteriously away, someone can go for help. I liked how pieces of the fairy tale stay unobtrusively; there is drugged hot chocolate to put Zeta to sleep, the trap-door in their room is a forgotten dumb-waiter that Zeta has been using to visit her sisters from the kitchen, the elder sister gets to marry a soldier (although he isn't quite grizzled, albeit for a twelve year old reading the book there probably isn't much difference between 27 and 63). Also, the princesses are trapped in a spell, not sneaking out in glee, and their dad has grown bitter over the years with the lack of an heir and the death of his wife, which even he has to admit was mostly his fault.

It's a fun retelling, not incredibly rich but not annoyingly shallow. I liked how Zeta didn't put on trousers and start swinging a sword; she's a good cook and determined to save her sisters but isn't magically perfectly brave and heroic. This book inspires me to consider the A-Z challenge again, because look -- a Z author!  B

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Old Beyond My Years: Limits Are Bad

So, I had to choose between new music for the car and breaking my silly age-limit on library items.  I need my music!  And rules are meant to be broken!  And I'm sure I have time to read all the books, and anyway I shouldn't even count CDs and movies and, and, and...  Anyway, this is clearly the season to wear my "Excuses are Fascinating" t-shirt.

Because of a elementary school patriotic music concert, normal children pick-ups was waived, so our usual after-school library trip didn't happen. Instead I snuck in by myself on the way to the school district's "we have no money and so don't expect any learning next year" meeting.  On the plus side, I was all by myself (as the librarians noticed).  Unfortunately I was also running late, so I only had time to grab my holds, pick some CDs mostly at random, and dash out.

On hold was:

Turning around, I grabbed a CD from each shelf of the music section, so that we are listening to:
The kids also hid the case from last week's Kidz Bop, so that's still in as well; N requests it whenever he remembers; he's not a string quartet fan.

Which brings my total to 48, which is a leeeetle older than me.  But not much, really. And I've already finished four books.  Not including the one due tomorrow, unfortunately, but still.  The library loot button is at Marg's Adventures of an Intrepid Reader this week; I'm off to sign up.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The World is Wired: Brain Jack

Another Cybils book!  Although I'm quite pleased at how hard it can be to get my hands on these things.  I was originally going to read The Call, but it's been confiscated by first the 6th grader and now the 4rth grader.
BrainjackI fell back on a YA title, Brian Falkner's Brain Jack.  We follow Sam, a gifted teenage computer programmer who knows how to hack the world's biggest computers.  He's not malicious, although a little theft doesn't bother him, but he hates the idea of finding places on the 'net he can't go.  And he's very pleased with his latest technology toy -- a neuro, the electronic beanie that lets him connect directly to his computer with his brain instead of a clumsy keyboard or mouse. But if brains can connect to the 'net, what can connect to his brain? DUH duh DUH.

Sam doesn't have much depth, but he's usually too busy infiltrating secret fortresses or running like crazy from people annoyed at said infiltration to worry about it.  His friends are even thinner, but since some of them don't make it, perhaps that's just as well.  I had to swallow hard at some of the descriptions of programming, which often took a metaphor and then rode it kicking and screaming into the hills, but once I got over it the ride was exciting and swift.  The ending seemed unexpectedly ambiguous; (SPOILER) they spent the last bit of the book fighting against control by a sentient web but did not succeed in stopping one. And I thought the magic hand wave that saved some key players cheated a bit. I'm going to offer this to my 6th grader and see what he thinks. B

PS.  He thinks it was worth reading in a day, so that's a thumbs up.

Not a Challenge, an Experience

Continuing with my plan of avoiding challenging challenges at all cost, I'm signing up for the Sci Fi Experience (despite my vast preference for SF over Sci Fi as a nickname; I'm a snob).  There's no committment and no number requirement; I'm just noticing the SF books that I read from January 1 through February 28th.

The Experience is hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings in a hope of encouraging more people to try science fiction.  As a life-long SF reader, I guess my role is to try to provide some ideas for those people to try.  

So far I've read:
Oh, I'm still on target (or above) on the Comment Challenge; I haven't dipped beneath 5 comments a day.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's All My Fault!: All Clear

All Clear is the second half of the story Connie Willis began in Black Out, about historians in the future using time travel to research historical bits that catch their eye. World War II is a popular research destination, and the story follows three students who find themselves trapped in their research posts when their retrievals go awry. The first book is spent with them wandering about separately; in this book they come together except when they go apart again. And then there are the non-chronological bits, as you expect in a time-travel book.

Willis always has strong page-turning abilities, so despite the huge numbers of pages the story moves quickly. I'm not sure why it was two books; it seems like the story could have fit more neatly into one, as every point was made several times over. Several times things went wrong because one person knew something but didn't share with the others, and only realizes too late what a mistake that was. The first time I can accept, but they did this over and over again, without ever learning from the past. Usually the reason for keeping a secret was to avoid worrying each other, which became even more silly as they face the increasing problems of the blitz.

Another few hundred pages were spent on them angsting over having changed the future, which struck me as extremely silly because they had inserted themselves into the past on purpose, after having discussed for pages on why it was safe. Then they (and especially Polly, the main character) notice that they do actually have effects on people -- they talk to someone and make them catch a later bus, for example. Sometimes that's the difference between life and death, if a bomb lands just right. Perhaps they've affected the future so there is no one to pull them out? And so now the Germans will win WWII? But it never made sense to me, especially with all the talk about time as a chaotic system. Of course sometimes people miss a bus. Get back to details of shop life or something.

Willis is wonderful at tight connections, especially ones just missed. The night St Paul's cathedral almost burned down is done brilliantly, with all three characters weaving crazily in and out of danger and history and close encounters with other historians, but never quite getting rescued or killed. Mike's contrast between his initial thesis on "heroes in history" and his actual understanding of people in war touched me. One of the best parts was watching the historians move from treating the people they were studying from test subjects (the 'contemps' do such and such) to actually believing they were worthy of consideration and respect. Sometimes I just wanted to shake the time-travelers for their arrogance, which made their final actions even better.

Oh, I don't believe in Polly's final love story either, but it didn't seem that important.  B-

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cybil One: Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa

My first Cybils book was from the Early Reader Category: Erica Silverman's Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa Spring Babies, with illustrations by Betsy Lewin. This is the sixth book about these hardworking friends, but my first.

It was cute, but nothing really shone for me.  The girl and her horse work nicely together, the Kate keeping them focused while Cocoa prefers a little extra snoozing.  Cocoa was deeply suspicious of Kate's new puppy, reacting as a typical literary older sibling with jealousy instead of anticipation, but he quickly got over it and the world was nice again.  The pictures were nice but not memorable; I have a much clearer vision of the cows in Lewin's Click Clack Moo from last year than the horse of last night.

My sixth grader thought it was probably all right for little kids; he read the whole thing when I left it on the breakfast table. My fourth grader has been very tired at reading time lately; he can't keep his eyes open for more than one chapter, so clearly it's not gripping him.  Cowgirl Kate has not replaced Mr Putter in our hearts (that sentence will only make sense to Early Reader readers).

Disclaimer: For the Cybils Challenge, I'm trying to link my Amazon through the Cybils page, not my Amazon account.  If it works, and someone actually buys something, I think the miniscule kickback goes to them.  As far as I know no one has ever bought something through me, but Amazon lives in hope and continues to provide me with easy links.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Stay On Target: Library Haul

Now we have two spots to check on the hold shelves, because I've split my kids off from precious card (and they have a different last name).  I'm serious about this age-limit rule, even for me.  Not serious enough to not check out something I want, of course, but pretty serious.

An unexpected PTO meeting (well, unexpected in that Tuesday is not usually the first day of the week, but it was this week) made our visit very speedy, so I wasn't tempted to browse.  I also talked my son into checking out most of the music (I like to listen to library CDs in the car) because I was a bit surprised at the weight of my hold shelf.  Three books had shown up since I checked that morning.

I got:
  • Image of itemDo Unto Others... Michael Z. Williamson.  Libertarian military SF
  • Image of itemShotgun Sorceress, Lucy A. Snyder.  Last book club from Dirty Sexy Books.  The library got it to me just in time.
  • Image of itemThe Widow and the King,  John Dickinson.  2nd in a series by Robin McKinley's stepson.
  • Image of itemRanger's Apprentice: The Burning Bridge, John Flanigan.  Next ranger book.
  • Image of itemScarlet Pimpernel, Baraness Orczy.  I have a friend dealing with cancer, and she recommended this book. I hope she gets my good vibes as I read it.
  • Image of itemThe Occupied Garden, Kristen den Hartog and her sister.  This is totally MotherReader's fault, because her comment challenge (which I'm current on) led me to den Hartog's blog, with the result that I want to read her books.
  • Image of itemBird, Angela Johnson.  I actually ordered this one because it was listed with the other Heaven books, but I don't think it is related.  
  • Image of itemKidz Bop 18.  We've skipped to the end in our enjoyment of these fine works, but never fear, N and I are determined to hear them all.  I'd like to point out that in the song Naturally they put the thunder before the lightning, which is meteorologically incorrect.
So my total is officially on 41, which is MUCH smaller than my age.  I win! This week's library loot is at Marg's The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader, and I'm off to sign up and see what everyone else got.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Plot Before Character: Scumble

I enjoyed Ingrid Law's first book, Savvy, quite a lot.  I'm not the only one; it garnered an Newbery Honor. So I was very chuffed when I received an ARC of her second book, Scumble.   This was many months ago.  I started it quickly, but when my fourth grader saw the cover illustration he asked to read it.

I had forgotten what a glacially slow reader he is.  He brought it to school and read it in their 30 minute reading periods, of which 20 minutes are usually spent chatting with his friends, probably about where he could have put his book -- oh wait, there it is in his desk, just like yesterday, and yes, this is an ARC that he got so he's reading this book before anyone else except yes, there it is in the book catalog because if you read a book for MONTHS it eventually gets published.  I eventually checked another copy out of the library so he could read it at home as well.  Also, he loved it and I suspect kept going back to reread favorite passages.

By the time I got it back I had to start from the beginning, which is one of the weakest parts of the book.  The voice of the first person narrator is fresh and believable, but his habit of wallowing in guilt for things that are clearly not his fault bugged me.  And his mother's savvy horrified me and left me gasping in disbelief that her family still tolerated her.  But once Ledger got left by himself in Wyoming I settled down and enjoyed myself.  I still felt that the author had some Ideas she wanted to say about children following their own dreams instead of their parent's plans, and how facing your fears is better than ignoring them, and sometimes she really forced events and people to illustrate these Ideas.  I don't remember bothering about that with her first book.  B

My family is group reading a book each month (well, that's the plan) and for this month P picked Scumble.  Since I just finished it, we'll probably be going out for a discussion soon.  I'll report back then. Oh, and my real book club just met for our January Movie Meeting, which was a fun Katherine Hepburn farce.  I missed the beginning because I was cheering A along at a gymnastic meet.  Kids today are amazing, and especially the ones in my family.  She was all over the bars and on top of the beam and doing something on the vault and flipping herself around on the floor.  Go A!

Monday, January 17, 2011

TwentyEleven Challenge

The TwentyEleven Challenge

I don't think I have a firm understanding of what the word "challenge" means. I like to sign up for ones that I'll probably do accidentally anyway (like the ABC challenge, which I may sign up for again this year). Or ones that just nudge me to pick books a little bit differently, or to try things I might not try without them.  Definitely not ones that make me work hard or anything.

Bart's Bookshelf is hosting a TwentyEleven challenge, with a goal of reading 20 books spread among eleven categories.  You can pick which categories get short-shifted.  I'm not sure what he'll do in the year 2021, unless you just get to skip a category completely.

His categories (link goes to his list of reviews) are (and hopefully I'll keep a list of what I use for these categories):
  1. To YA or not YA (probably means not for me, so Adult Fiction books)
  2. With a Twist -- twist up a favorite genre.
  3. Hot off the Presses (2011 publish date)
  4. It Wasn't Me -- book recommended by a blogger, with the post that did you in
  5. Show It Who Is Boss:  Books from the TBR pile
  6. Bablefish -- translated book
  7. Will-Power? What will-power?  Book bought new in 2011
  8. Mind the Gap -- finishing up a series
  9. Back In the Day: a re-read
  10. Way Back When -- book written before my birth
  11. Slim-Pickings -- novellas (90-150 pages)
Total: 20! Books In other challenge news, I'm current on the Comment Challenge, and have checked out books but not started them for the Cybils and Michigan ones.  Both kids read the MG graphic novel (Athena, Grey Eyed Goddess) and gave it thumbs up, though.  I like my new habit of storing challenge books next to their computer.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Uh...: Sweet, Hereafter

Sweet, HereafterSometimes I read a book and get the feeling that I completely missed something, that there is probably a giant bear dancing about and I just didn't notice.  Sadly, Angela Johnson's Sweet, Hereafter (The Heaven Trilogy), gave me that impression.     

Shoogy is a girl who doesn't like school much, who has left her home and moved in with a college guy who has bad memories of his time in Iraq.  She has some good friends and a sharp, assertive way of viewing the world.  But Johnson barely sketches her in (maybe deliberately) so I don't have a feel for what her family life is like, what her dreams are, who she is growing into.  The other characters are even more shadowy, especially Curtis, the veteran whose crisis drives the entire short book.  The entire effect was of a delicious eclair -- beautiful and sweet, but really mostly air. But it's gotten great reviews so I suspect I just missed something.  Also, it's the third in the Heaven trilogy, and I've read one of the other books without recognizing anybody in this one.  Maybe the first book provides some background?  B-

I'm Hungry: Fueling the Teen Machine

Although the information in Fueling the Teen Machine, by Ellen Shanley and Colleen Thompson is solid, I didn't get a good sense of the intended audience. It seemed a bit condescending towards actual teenagers; I would have found it childish as a high schooler. My son is in middle school now, and not motivated to eat well. This book wouldn't help with that motivation, although for teens coming in strongly motivated it provides good information. I may leave it around for him; I'm not sure it has information he doesn't know, but maybe seeing the same facts again might eventually force him to believe that truth also applies to him. My dinner tonight? Chicken & corn in a tortilla. His dinner? Well, you can't count the bite of chicken he didn't eat, but he did eventually melt some cheese onto the chips we had on the side.

My favorite part of the book was the recipes in the back. Nothing fancy, but when cooking for my kids (or having them cook for me) I don't want fancy; I want simple and good tasting. I tried one last night, and was pleasantly surprised (I'm always surprised when something I cook tastes good). The almost-teenager wouldn't eat it, but his elementary school brother finished up a bowl of bean and corn chowder.

I received this book as part of the Early Reviewers program on LibraryThing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Five Elements: Troubled Waters

Sharon Shinn's books often feel like a warm and cosy quilt wrapping me around. The characters are all basically good -- no one thinks of themselves as a villain, not even the bad guys. Also, most of them are smart and expect others to be smart as well. Not witty -- there isn't any sarcastic bantering, but more complex sentences and perfect vocabulary, even in dialogue.

I found the religion in Troubled Waters fascinating. Each person associates themselves with one of the five elements -- bone/wood, water/blood, air/breath, fire/spirit, earth/flesh. Temples have blessing coins you can pick from when you want guidance. More important, the characters treat all this with naturalness and dignity -- they know what they do from superstition but also how it seems to help their lives. The society seems richer and deeper because they all know things that they don't need to talk about, but which influence them in ways significant and trivial. The story itself wanders a bit (like the river the main character associates herself with), but I was happy to float along for a ride.

I'd recommend this to my 6th grader, but it's due at the library tomorrow and I think it's too cerebral for him -- he'd want all the characters to yell at each other a lot more.  A-

And here's a pet peeve. I like to grab the image of the book from the author's webpage, but Shinn doesn't have a picture available. That's just silly. Yes, I know I can go to Amazon, but that's messier.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Bridge Too Far: Winter Duty

I grabbed Winter Duty: A Novel of the Vampire Earth from the library favorites shelf because I like vampires and E.E. Knight's book had "A Novel of the Vampire Earth" on the spine with a little swirl that looks like a 1 but turns out to be part of the grass under the feet of the hero on the cover.  It's actually the eighth book, I think.  It does avoid the romance angle that I was dodging, so that was a plus, but I never really got into the story.  It's definitely the next stage in the history of David Valentine, rugged fighter with a dark past, with references to many people who were probably important in previous books, and events leading from other stuff that also probably happened in previous books.

Since I don't know any of that history or those people, I never managed to care about much.  It looks like a serviceable future history, with deadly vampire aliens fighting the remnants of humanity, but this is not a good entry point.  C

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monday Arm Strain: Challenges, Challenges

Time to descend on our library again.  I've decided to try to read all the Cybils Shortlist books, as per Melissa Wiley's challenge, so most of my haul deals with that, all neatly stacked for me on the hold shelf.  I also grabbed a few picture books and some music for the car, but with new library cards for the boys I ducked adding the pile of videos to my count.

I got from the hold shelf:

  • Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams, a book for my Michigan challenge, which seems to be an anthology. 

  • Image of itemBorrowed Names, Poems About Laura Ingalls Wilder, Madam C J Walker, Marie Curie, and Their Daughters (Cybils, Poetry)

  • Image of itemBones (Cybils, nonfiction picture book)

  • Image of itemThe Dark Game: True Crime Stories (Cybils, nonfiction MG/YA)

  • Image of itemBecause of Mr. Terupt (Cybils, Middle Grade novel)

  • Image of itemGhostopolis, (Cybils, YA graphic novel)

  •  Image of itemAthena, Gray-Eyed Goddess (Cybils, middle-grade graphic novel)

  • Image of itemA Beach Tail (Cybils, fiction picture book)

  • Image of itemBrain Jack (Cybils, YA SFF)

  • Image of itemThe Call (Cybils, Middle-grade SFF)

  • Image of itemCowgirl Kate and Cocoa: Spring Babies (Cybils, Early Readers & Chapter Books, which I can't tell if this is one category or two)

  • Image of itemThe House of the Stag, because I loved Kage Baker's Anvil of the World so much

  • 3 Yu-Gi-Oh books, but the next set will definitely be requested on X's card, so I'm not even counting these

  • I then looked at the new picture books until two of them fell into my hands:
    • Image of itemCalvin Can't Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie, because I'm a sucker for books about book lovers
    • Image of itemMonsters Eat Whiny Children, because I like reading books about annoying children getting their come-uppance
    • And I got 4 CDs to listen to in the car.
    This puts my total at 45, which is within three of my age and still includes 4 Yu-Gi-Ohs, so I'm declaring victory.  I'm off to sign up for Library Loot, the weekly chance for us library types to compare our catch.  This weekly event is hosted by either Claire from The Captive Reader  (this weeks host) or Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader.

    ETA: Oh, I'm still on track for the comment challenge.