Saturday, April 30, 2011

Too Little Plot: The Dark of Dreams

imageI'm a big fan of Marjorie M. Liu's Dirk & Steele romances, which involve fabulous magical people who band together in a do-gooding detective agency against the mean magical people of the Consortium. And find true love, of course. The best part of these books are their unrelenting accumulation of craziness.  The first book matched a female blacksmith with power over metal with the were-tiger enslaved to a puzzle-box by an immortal magician.  But the book was not complete without the betraying personal assistant, the male best-friends with their own special powers, and the vendetta with the tong-lords.

Her latest book, In the Dark of Dreams: A Dirk & Steele Novel, spends too much time pausing to wonder about itself. Marine biologist Jenny, somehow the only standard human in a family feuding with their relatives in the magical, evil Consortium, and Perrin, earth-bound exiled merman still suffering from losing the larval symbiote that linked him with the sleeping Kracken, met as children but never expected the draw between them as adults.  Unfortunately, without the somnorific connection with Perrin, the Kracken could awake and destroy the world.  Badness!

But the story kept pausing so Jenny and Perrin could angst over their dream-connection and the symbiote that wanted them both.  This slowed things down and gave me time to look back over the plot, which is always a disaster in stories of this sort.  Next time I'll have to hope that aliens or fairies appear to keep the pot boiling.  C+

Friday, April 29, 2011

Bitter Mosaic: Bird

I checked out Angela Johnson's Bird after reading Sweet, Hereafter because I thought it was another part of the Heaven trilogy, but that was just a relic of strange book advertising.  It's a lucky mistake, because this time I got it.  I felt the characters were real, the emotions strong, and the ending powerful.  Three kids struggle with loss and renewal, linked together by a runner, a man who inspires them but then heads away.

It's a book that I bet reads very differently for kids than for adults.  As an adult, I resented runner Cecil's habit of abandoning the kids, but as a child I would have seen him less as a person and more as a tool for the growth of the real characters, the young people.  Adults were just scenery, obstacles, and reference points, not characters with motivations of their own.  Now that I'm one of those adults, I tend to hold them to a higher standard.  And I worry more about the kids.  A-

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Creepy Tree: Dead Boys

The-Dead-BoysI'm in a Wii Rock Band with my children, although I only sporadically attend our performances.  Our band name is Invisible Trees, and we even have artwork to commemorate it.  About the only creepy feature the sycamore tree in Royce Buckingham's Dead Boys doesn't have is invisibility; otherwise it spans the landscape of horror fiction.  The Cybils Fantasy and Science Fiction (Middle Grade) category takes a dark turn here.

Roots that spring underground to catch you, drag you under, and bury you? Check. Gaping maw to devour you? Check. Ability to summon you into the dark reality of its true power? Check. Perhaps most devastating to my Houston-raised mind -- cunning enough to break the air conditioner on a hot desert day? CHECK. This action packed story skimps a bit on character development, but provides a rich suite of dead kids to balance that. I found it spooky, and I think I may only offer it to my sixth grader in daylight. The fourth grader would like it, but he's buried in books lately.  B

The link may benefit the Cybils committee, if I did it right.  Which is doubtful.  And if anyone clicks on it to buy the book, which is even more unlikely.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Club Pick: Tooth and Claw

Tooth and ClawIn honor of Jo Walton's new book, Among Others I talked our book club into reading her old book, Tooth and Claw. (We are a library using book club, so we often check wait lists before selecting new books. We were contemplating the Henrietta Lacks book until we saw the triple digit wait list, for example.)

Most people enjoyed it, except for my sister, who is blind to the charms of Walton. I don't think she's ever forgiven Suzien's rape in the first pages of The King's War, so all other books are treated with suspicion. I hadn't read it in years, and my copy has disappeared so I bought a new one, which had a disappointing white cover instead of the elegant red dragons on the paperback I remembered.

I mostly remembered the lawsuit, but forgot all the gender politics, which this time were my favorite parts of the book. I loved the parallels between dragon society and ours, both present time and in the England the book recalled. Tying wings, cannibalism (and not just of Irish children), women's reputations being ruined by a man's momentary carelessness or aggressiveness, train travel, it was all good.  A

Back to the Mines

Renton LibrarySpring Break is done, and school leers its early head again.  At least we have the library with which to console ourselves.  I needed consolation, since an annoying cold wore me and N down. 

Today the hold shelves delivered:Image of itemImage of item
  • The Hiccupatamus, by Aaron Zenz.  Picture book by the dad of Bookiewoogie
  • Kidz Bop 13.  I continue on my musical journey.

Notice my amazing restraint!  Unfortunately two books from the new book shelves also fell into my hands, one from each end of the library:Image of itemImage of item
  • Indulgence in Death, a J.D. Robb that I don't remember.  However, they tend to blend together.
  • Check It Out!, by Patricia Hubbell.  A picture book about librarians!  Irresistible.
That brings me to 79 items out on my card, not counting the ebook.  That is much lower than 86.  Maybe someday I can get back down to the 60's!  Hey, a girl can dream.  Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and Clare from The Captive Reader take turns with the linky for Library Loot. That's where all us library lovers go to compare our hauls for the week.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mistaken Recommendation: The Game of Kings

Game of Kings
I read The Game of Kings (Lymond Chronicles, 1) by Dorothy Dunnett because I associated it with the friend (MM) who got me hooked on Georgette Heyer.  Except when I asked her she had never read anything by Dunnett and wondered if the books were good.  It's a fortuitous misunderstanding because I ended up thoroughly enjoying the book but would never have persevered beyond the first seventy pages without the imaginary recommendation.

The main problem was my lack of education.  My Latin is weak, my French non-existent, my German rusty, my Greek juvenile, and my Spanish confined to menus.  So when the characters use quotes, make multi-lingual puns, and recite poetry that comes so easily to their lips, and which everyone in the scene usually immediately understands, I'm left sitting in the dunce seat feeling lucky to understand a single word.  Dunnett also takes her time setting up the characters, and spends a lot of the time blackening Lymond's name, but he's apparently the hero of the whole series, which is a bit confusing.  But at some point the sweep of the story caught me up, and then at the end when all the poles started to line up the pay off was terrific.  So I'm off to read the next one, and I shall just forgive myself for not understanding any of the non-English jokes.  I blame society.  A

Monday, April 25, 2011

Extreme Conservation: Kakapo Rescue

How far should we go to save endangered species? How about to save cute, endearing endangered species? In the case of the kakapo, flightless parrots from New Zealand, dedicated rangers and volunteers are going all out to pull the birds back from the extinction precipice they teeter on.

The Cybils Nonfiction (Middle Grade and Young Adult) finalist list led me to Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot, where Sy Montgomery's documents the efforts undertaken to save the fuzzy bird. Montgomery and Nic Bishop traveled to the bottom of the world to spend ten days on the only island where kakapo live, to observe the animals and the people devoted to them.  At the time of the book, only 86, no, 88, no, 87 kakapo survived.  Each chick was assessed many times a day, using video cameras and detectors.  When the mom left the nest to forage, kakapo minders sneaked in with heating blankets to encourage more growth.  If mom showed any signs of carelessness, the rangers whisked the chick to an incubator where people provided round-the-clock care.

Adult kakapo wear tags that allow the rangers to track them daily or weekly, and personalized hoppers of food catered to individual needs get refilled regularly.  Montgomery conveys the dedication, love, and hard work everyone working to save the birds bring to their efforts, and the grief or elation when a chick or adult dies or a new egg hatches.  The text and pictures work well together, although the birds are hard to photograph since they may not be disturbed.  My favorite moment is Montgomery describing Bishop's conflict when they are surprised on a picnic by Sinbad, a ten year old wild kakapo.  This is an amazing, unique chance for pictures, but he can't move quickly or interact overtly with the curious bird.

I did find myself wondering if there is really a viable genetic pool for a real future for the bird, but the book assumes the reader will love the endearing parrot as much as the writers and the volunteers do.  This does read as a kidlit nonfiction; some questions aren't asked and some short cuts are taken.  The account is personal enough that I wanted more pictures of the author and photographer.  

Looking at the web site provided at the end, I see that efforts have gone well -- the population is up to 120, and two islands now sport kakapo.  Their long-term future is still in doubt, though.  B

Monday and Back to the Mines

Each Monday Sheila at Book Journey asks about how the reading week went -- what people read, what they are reading, what they will read. This was spring break, so I had some days to just ignore the lawn and read, but I also had a lot more time to hang with the kids, make donuts, and check out bookstores.

What did I read?
  • Alien in the Family, Gini Koch (ebook)
  • Tales of the Vampires, comics
  • The House on the Strand, Daphne Du Maurier
  • Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000, Eric Wight
  • Scorpia Rising (Alex Rider), Anthony Horowitz
  • The Ghost in the Little House, William Holtz
  • A Presumption of Death, Jill Paton Walsh (& Dorothy Sayers)
  • You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know, Heather Sellers
What trends do I see? My over extension at the library is heavily driving my reading choices.  Oh, I also read two kidlit series books as part of the read-your-library adventure:

  • Cam Jansen and the Green School Mystery, David Adler
  • That's What Friends Aren't For (Dear Dumb Diary #9), Jim Benton
Right now I'm reading: 
  • The Man Handler, by Cairo.  I got this off a list of books challenged from a library.  I'm tempted to challenge it at my library.
  • Plain Kate, Erin Bow. Another Cybils book
  • Tiassa, Steven Brust.  A new one, lent by my brother.
  • Queen's Play, Dorothy Dunnet, my Nook book
  • Territory, Emma Bull (vacation book)
  • Hammered, Elizabeth Bear (vacation book)
  • Bad Prince Charlie, John Moore (vacation book)
  • Interior Life, Katherine Blake (vacation book)
  • Glass Harmonica, Louise Marley (vacation book) 
  • The Rogue's Return, Jo Beverly (vacation book)
  • The Hob's Bargain, Patricia Briggs (vacation book)
  • Flying Solo Ralph Fletcher (borrowed by a kid, now returned)
  • The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly.  Found under my bedside table with a bookmark.
  • How I Met My Countess, Elizabeth Boyle.  Also found.
I'm just poking at the vacation books; mostly I'm reading the top four.  I've got the new Walsh/Sayers on my list, as well as some books due next week.  My brother lent me some stuff that is now on top of my TBR pile, and I have the next bunch of Cybils books waiting for me.

Quick stats on my Challenges:
A-Z: 24/52.  One more down.  I'm just inching along here.
Cybils: 34/76.  One more.  I'm currently reading another though.
Michigan: 1/2 I just read the second book, but it's awaiting review.
Once Upon a Time: 6/5.  (Still)
Read Around the World: 7/20.  Half of my books will end up being Ranger's Apprentice books.  I'm signing up for a setting challenge because authors are hard. 
Stream: 3/3.  I found another biography in the references for my next read.
Take a Chance: 3/10. I haven't reviewed this many, but I've read three. I picked out the next one too.
20/11: 10/20.  Plus a few more waiting to be reviewed.
What's In a Name?: 4/6.  
Where Am I Reading?: 17/50.  I got to Florida, Missouri, and Nevada.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Play Ball!: Hank Aaron's Dream

Henry Aaron's DreamI knew Hank Aaron was a great baseball player who surpassed Babe Ruth's home run record, mainly because he got a chapter in the Little League Library's Baseball's Most Valuable Players, source of most of my baseball lore.  But  Cybil Nonfiction Picture book finalist Matt Tavares told me a lot more about him in Henry Aaron's Dream, following him from his childhood love of baseball through his career in the Negro League, the minor leagues, and the majors.

I didn't know that he played semi-pro in high school, or that he didn't figure out how to bat properly until his twenties, or that he helped push for racial equality in baseball and society.  I enjoyed learning that no one called him "Hank" until he played for the Braves.  The rich, painted scenes and varied text bring all this to life, and hold the attention of even baseball novices like me and the kids.  A has moved it to the top of the nonfiction list. A-

The Amazon link probably gives its tiny kick-back to the Cybils committee.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Loyal Reader Me: Emily Rodda's Raven Hill Mysteries

Raven Hill Mysteries: Ghost of Raven Hill/Sorcerer's ApprenticeI know Emily Rodda's works through her Rowan series, and my son X loved her Deltora Quests books.  So I when I saw a new book with her name on it at the Book Fair, I scooped it up.  It's a serviceable middle grade series book about six friends who band together to form Help-For-Hire, a chore-doing business.  They of course end up solving mysteries while doing the chores.

The first two books in the series are combined in Emily Rodda's Raven Hill Mysteries: Ghost of Raven Hill/Sorcerer's Apprentice, which also shows the pattern of having each book narrated by a different member of the team.  The stakes are high enough to be interesting, with arson and sabotage in the first book and violent muggings and kidnapping in the second, but with enough daily concerns to pretend that it's all possible in everyday life.  I've offered it to X, but he isn't nibbling because there seem to be no dragons involved.  He also doesn't think that liking one book by an author has any connection to reading other books by that author.  He's a bit dim that way, but he's cute to have around the house.

The setting confused me. I know Emily Rodda is Australian, so I assumed the books were set there. A few clues in the text make it seem Australian, or at least not American, but then the kids refer a few times to a character's dad coming "from Australia" to visit. But no one seems to think that is a particularly big trip. I appealed to the Internet, and the books were originally in Australia with the dad in America, so I guess when they were reprinted here they just flipped the dad's location. Which is amusing, because it doesn't actually work. But it turns out there are dozens of these books, some written by contract writers, and it's like an Australian Nancy Drew or something, which seems quite fun.  B

Friday, April 22, 2011

Vampire and Sister: Vampalicious

Sienna Mercer continues to provide fun times for the separated-at-birth twins Ivy and Olivia.  In My Sister the Vampire #4: Vampalicious! the bubbly cheerleader and the goth vampire spend their time trying to convince Ivy's dad to stay in town, but he is determined to separate Ivy from her human friends before tragedy strikes his family again.  The plot is a far distant second to the interactions between the girls as they try various schemes of matchmaking, job recruitment and just silliness in their attempt to save the day.  It doesn't really matter that it's a deus ex machina that keeps them together and ready for the next installment.

X also likes these books, so much that I've ordered the next from the book catalog despite it being held hostage by some kind of vampiric necklace or other obnoxious doodad.  I get warm fuzzies from seeing him read books clearly screaming "GIRL BOOK GIRL BOOK" all over the cover, let along books screaming "ELEMENTARY SCHOOL GIRL BOOK." I'm so proud of his independent reading stance, except when it leads him to avoid my clearly perfect reading suggestions.  B-

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reading My Library, Picture Books First

Somewhere there was a blog post bemoaning the plethora of children's books with children behaving badly while their parents stand by either admiring the cuteness or bemoaning their inability to control the heedless youth of today.  There's a lot of "get off my lawn" implied, and I think most of any change is that we let kids pick the books more rather than a massive change in society, but I have to admit to my own grumpiness about this issue.  I can't stand Falconer's Olivia books, for example, because the titular character is such an enormous brat without any redeeming characteristics.  She's selfish, rude, disrespectful, inconsiderate, and a bully, and we are supposed to applaud.  It's worse than characters like Rodney in the Wimpy Kids books, who even the author knows would make an awful friend or neighbor.

Anyway, that's on my mind as I read this batch of library books:
  • Image of itemThelonius Monster's Sky-High Fly Pie, by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Edward Koren.  Delightful rhymes about the creation of a delicacy, a delicacy with wings.  P and I enjoyed both the revolting rhymes, with their hints of The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly, and the delicious drawings by Koren.
  • Image of itemJohn, Paul, George & Ben, by Lane Smith.  Wacky take on some of the forefathers of American history, with an amusing True/False section on the end to confess any waverings from the truth (Paul Revere did not sell extra large underwear in his shop).  Great fun.
  • Image of itemToby, Who Are You?, by William Stieg, illustrated by Teryl Euvremer.  Soft, gentle illustrations accompany the quiet text as an anthropomorphic otter-like family go on a picnic.  Toby spends each page imitating a different animal, in a way that would get annoying to me quickly but that his parents lovingly encourage.  Sweet but not memorable for us.
  • Image of itemIt's Library Day, by Janet Morgan Stoeke.  A simple book about kids looking forward to library day and then getting the books they wanted.  Nice polite kids, too.  Not much to it, really.
  • Image of itemSplinters, by Kevin Sylvester.  Now these are the kind of kids we should be raising. Cindy is a tough kid who doesn't complain about her parents' poverty but busts her stumps to get herself on a hockey team.  But will Coach Prince select her for the All Stars?  My fourth grader and I loved figuring out the Cinderella connection; the pictures and text kept us laughing throughout.
  • Image of itemAn Interview With Harry the Tarantula, by Leigh Ann Tyson.  A well-timed choice as N spent the night, and he's currently on a spider kick.  This book uses the conceit of a radio interview with the victim of a child's snatch and release bug observation, and manages to include lots of information with the fun.  I was a bit worried about the safety of Katy Did, the interviewer, but all was well.
  • Image of itemSuper, Completely and Totally the Messiest, by Judith Viorst.  We enjoyed the illustrations and the speech patterns, but I was appalled at the parents' willingness to smile indulgently as the youngest sibling, the messiest, wrecked seven sand castles.  I mean, my kid wrecked a few, when he was much younger, but I caught on pretty quick and restrained him.  It wasn't funny to the kids who worked hard on their creations.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Beautiful Spring Break

Renton LibraryFor our first Spring Break Expedition, I hauled us off to a liquidation Borders store.  But of course we stopped at the library first, because their prices are EVEN BETTER.  There was some threat of mutiny among the ranks, because apparently spring break should be spent entirely in front of the TV screen, but I am bigger than them and so I win.   Also, I had holds waiting for me.  And books due.

Today I pulled down:
  • The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig.  Recommended by BookNAround
  • The Secret of the Yello Death, Suzanne Jurmain.  Cybils Nonfiction book.  Cheerful!
  • The Attenbury Emeralds, Jill Paton Walsh.  Not quite as good as a real Heyer, but I usually like Walsh anyway.
  • Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum, Meaghan McCarthy.  Younger Cybils nonfiction book. Less gruesome.
  • Ballet of the Elephants, Leda Schubert.  Picture book mentioned on the Book-a-Day Almanac that looked fascinating.
We've just about finished all the picture books from last week, and there was another article about the next library in the local paper, so I started down the next row and got some series books, from American Girl through Ga'hoole.   And then I grabbed about six CDs.

That brings me to 86 items out on my card, which doesn't count the ebook.  I need to read some stuff and send it back.  Oops.  Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader (this week's host) and Clare from The Captive Reader take turns with the linky for Library Loot. That's where all us library lovers go to compare our hauls for the week.

PS.  What did we get at the book sale? I got a Tanya Huff, A talked me into a special edition of movie Eclipse and a magazine, N talked me into a game, X got some manga and a Pokemon book, and P got bupkis (well he got a surprise for someone else).  X won my heart by forgetting to give me his book while we were ringing them up, so we had to get in line again.  It's nice when your kids prove how closely they are related to you.

Square:Tesserect:: Meanwhile

I remember (hey, I still have copies of) Choose-Your-Own Adventure books, where you pick options at the bottom of the page to direct the course of the story.  Jason Shiga's Meanwhile takes this to a new level, as a graphic novel version that lets the story arc into many different directions, sometimes looping back to itself.  This 2010 Finalist for the Cybils Graphic Novel (Middle Grade) does a great job of combining a graphic novel with an reader-driven adventure.

It takes a few minutes to master the reading process, since often a simple left-to-right panel read is completely wrong.  Instead you follow the pipe, and on a few pages I became quite confused as to which direction I was going.  My fourth grader once came over to help me out, in fact.  But it was definitely worthwhile, since the stories and pictures were different enough to keep me interested.  Different choices let to drastically different plots, let alone outcomes.  And there was plenty of humor, both overt and sly, to keep me amused, from the spaghetti string paths to simulate flipping a coin to the mystery page in the center that plays with the Mad Scientist's crazy acronyms.

My sixth grader liked the book, but the fourth grader was enthralled.  He brought the book to school and made multiple converts, so that I will be unable to renew my copy.  He brought it to the school librarian in hopes that a few dollars remain in the school library budget.  The other fourth grader also liked it, although her passion was not as deep, possibly because P kept stealing it back.  A

The link to Amazon should support the Cybils committee, if anyone clicks.  This would be a great gift for a middle-grade kid.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Past and Present: Mercury

Another Cybils book!  Hope Larson's Mercury is a Cybils Graphic Novel (Young Adult) finalist, so I ordered the library to deliver it to me.  Cowed, they obeyed.  It's a quick read, but I struggled with it.  I think part of this is my unfamiliarity with graphic novels, but I had problems telling the characters apart.  There's even a joke about this in the text, because Tara is mistaken for the boy she ends up dating, but I continued hating panels with just heads in them because it was so hard for me to tell who was speaking without clues from their clothing.  I think the main characters in both story lines were supposed to look like each other, but it was hard to be sure since I couldn't tell anyone apart.  I'm not very visually acute, I guess.

I also didn't really get what the two stories had to do with each other.  There's the modern line with Tara and the boy, and her house has burned down and she has issues with her mom.  There's the past line where Josie lives in the house that will burn down, and has a boy friend who is a bit shady (for values of "a bit" that vary widely) and whom her mom hates.  Which are both fine, but I didn't feel they added to each other, but maybe I was distracted by spending so much time figuring out on a page by page level who was who.  C

The Amazon link is from the Cybils page, so it should benefit them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Break Monday!

Each Monday Sheila at Book Journey asks about how the reading week went -- what people read, what they are reading, what they will read.  It's a good chance to see if any trends are developing.  Last week I spent a lot of time juggling ideas for spring break, although we ended up with the plan of staying home, relaxing, and maybe going to some book stores or museums.  I hope I get a lot of reading in.

What did I read?
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel, Emmuska Orczy
  • Simply Irresistible, Jill Shalvis
  • The Sorcerer of the North, John Flanagan, Ranger's Apprentice #5
  • Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot, Sy Montgomery.  Cybils nonfiction
  • The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner.  See, some of these books do get finished!
What trends do I see?  I'm very slow at reading nonfiction; most of my time was spent either reading or procrastinating about reading my biography of Rose Wilder Lane.  I also spent a lot of time figuring out how to get library books onto my NOOK, and I have now mastered that.  Woot!  Someday my book bag will be light.

Right now I'm reading: 
  • The Ghost in the Little House, William Holtz. Story of Rose Wilder, which I'm reading because of Borrowed Names.  Another one for my Stream challenge.
  • The House on the Strand, by Dapne Du Maurier, recommended by a friend.  Slow going.
  • The Man Handler, by Cairo.  I got this off a list of books challenged from a library.  So far my sympathies are with the challenger -- this looks like porn to me.  It's a battle between my squeamishness and my completion fetish.
  • Scorpia Rising, Anthony Horowitz.  Last Alex Rider, bought by my son.
  • Aliens in the Family, by Gini Koch.  First book bought for my NOOK.  Almost done.
  • Tales of the Vampires, a Buffy comic
  • Territory, Emma Bull (vacation book)
  • Hammered, Elizabeth Bear (vacation book)
  • Bad Prince Charlie, John Moore (vacation book)
  • Interior Life, Katherine Blake (vacation book)
  • Glass Harmonica, Louise Marley (vacation book) 
  • The Rogue's Return, Jo Beverly (vacation book)
  • The Hob's Bargain, Patricia Briggs (vacation book)
  • Flying Solo Ralph Fletcher (borrowed by a kid, now returned)
  • The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly.  Found under my bedside table with a bookmark.
  • How I Met My Countess, Elizabeth Boyle.  Also found.
I'm just poking at the vacation books; mostly I'm reading the top five.  I celebrate finishing a book with a chapter from the Buffy book.  My library pile now shifts to whatever is due on the 18th.  My brother lent me some stuff that is now on top of my TBR pile, and my next challenge book is a romance from one of the book-recommending sites mentioned in the Take-a-Chance challenge.

Quick stats on my Challenges:
A-Z: 23/52.  One more down.  These seem to be slowing down, dang nab it.
Cybils: 33/76.  One more.  I have a bunch of these waiting to be read.
Michigan: 1/2 No change.
Once Upon a Time: 6/5.  Which officially completes Quest One, but I'll keep going. I could have done Quest Two!
Read Around the World: 6/20.  Half of my books will end up being Ranger's Apprentice books.  I'm signing up for a setting challenge because authors are hard.
Stream: 2/3.  The Rose Wilder Lane book counts for this.
Take a Chance: 1/10. Jill Shalvis's book will count for this.
20/11: 8/20.  Scarlet Pimpernel will count for this.
What's In a Name?: 4/6.  Is it cheating to use a 2nd grade chapter book?  I think I have #5 out from the library now.
Where Am I Reading?: 14/50.  No change.  I read nothing located in an identified state this week.  Well, except for the duplicates.  Everything happens in California and Washington, apparently.  

Vacation Memories: Mouse Tales

My sister's family and mine had a delightful vacation at Disneyland, partly because my sister is an awesome vacation planner, partly because my family is a bundle of fun, and partly because Disneyland tries so darned hard to be a fun place.  To keep the memories going, I checked out David Koenig's Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland: Golden Anniversary Special Edition (Hardcover Book with Audio CD), a candid look at the history, business, secrets and problems of the Disneyland empire.

Koenig had many friends who worked for Disney, and he searched out and interviewed as many people as he could to get a sense of what things are like behind the guide ropes.  From the line operators and costumed characters smiling at the crowds to the carpenters and engineers keeping the rides and shows running, and including the sanitation crew smiling and keeping the streets mousey-clean, he gives a sense of the camaraderie and cynicism of the people making the magic real.  I can attest that they still smile that much, and other than not picking MY kid for the Star Wars show, I really had no complaints.  It was fun seeing which rides managed to injure, maim or kill people, but most of the big killers are gone now.  If I ever decide to Die By Matterhorn, I know have the knowledge, although the technology may have changed a bit.  The news that Disney will fight almost all suits isn't really that surprising.

All in all, it was a fun read, although it didn't leave me gnashing my teeth at all that I missed (which may be gone now; I read the 1995 version).  He wrote some other books, apparently figuring why not milk a cow until it moans, so I might go back when I want to revisit my February fun.  B+

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Private IG: Guinea Pig Detective

Colleen AF Venerable started a series about Sasspants the Guinea Pig, and immediate propelled herself onto the Cybils Graphic Novel (Middle Grade) category with Hamster and Cheese. When the G falls off Sasspants' cage, she, the new PI, gets hired to solve the mystery of the disappearing sandwich. Slapstick follows in both the text and the pictures, with visual jokes from the fish's special view of the world laughing alongside mockery of the pet shop owner, who doesn't have a firm grasp on zoology or anatomy. The sly snake tries to inject some menace, but the book is too good-hearted to fear him.

This is a fun and happy graphic story, good for hesitant readers or just anyone with a sense of humor. I'll probably pick up the next few books when I see them. Favorite line "Can I still call myself a koala inside my brain?" The sixth grader enjoyed it, the fourth grader laughed out loud and brought it to school to share.  B

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Magical Meta-Books: We Are In a Book

Mo Willems has a set of easy-reader books about Elephant and Piggy, which I haven't really paid attention to since my kids have learned to read.  N is about the right level for them though, so I was glad when the Cybils Easy Reader finalist list named We Are In a Book to remind me.  This was an excellent introduction to these characters as they suddenly notice they live on pages with word balloons and page numbers.

It's fun when you realize that Piggy isn't looking at something inside the book -- she's looking at you. She achieves the highest form of humor -- telling you the joke, telling the joke, and then making you laugh at the joke. BANANA! And the last joke that only comes the second time you read the book is lovely.

We all loved this book -- X, P, and A. And N even was willing to practice his early reading skills on it, so we got to test it in the field. We unanimously choose it as our favorite Easy Reader book. A+

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dangerous Ear-Worm: Scarum Fair

One thing I've noticed about the Cybils Poetry Finalist books is that several of them seem to fit better in other categories.  I'm remembering Borrowed Names, which I liked much better as a biography than a poetry book, and now Scarum Fair, which is a pleasant picture book but not really an earth shaking poetry collection.

Jessica Swaim's short poems wander through a ghoulish county fair, with skeletons and crocodiles and eerie sights, and the colorful yet spooky illustrations of Carol Ashley blend with the verses with charm.  But the poems and the pages are tightly linked; no poem really rises out of the book to stand on its own.  This meant that my fourth grader settled happily into reading the whole thing with me, despite hearing that it was "officially" a poetry book; it felt like a picture book about the fair, complete with a tiny plot moving from the front pages to the back.  A fun picture book, but not prize-winning poetry.  C (although a B+ as a picture book)

Our favorite page? "A Snap Decision" about the Crocodile Slide:

It's time to go, so you pick one last ride.
You climb to the top of the Crocodile Slide
and land at the bottom, in Thrash-a-Lot Lake,
with others who've made the same stupid mistake.

P and I thought that Shark in Shark Vs Train would have done a lot better at the Carnival Ride contest if he had set up in this fair, where more people would have passed the "You must be this Crazy to go on the Ride the Shark ride" sign.  Oh, links to Cybils books are meant to support the Cybils committee.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Heredity: The Widow and the King

Cover of The Widow And The KingJohn Dickinson, author of The Widow and the King, is the son of Peter Dickinson, who is married to Robin McKinley.  That's the main reason I pick up his books, actually.  He writes well enough to be read in his own right, but that's a big shadow he stands in.

Both title characters in this book are there because of their parents.  Even as children, men follow them from loyalty to their family.  It's a good book to look at the nature of hereditary aristocracy with; why should power pass to children?  The boy has some claim to magic talismans, perhaps magic affinity, but the girl has only her parentage.  Is that enough?

Dickinson tackles big issues; loyalty, betrayal, courage and what to do when it falters, responsibility to one self and to others, religion, feudalism.  His characters start out weak and immature, even for their ages.  That was hard for me, since I do tend to prefer characters I admire, and I don't get many of those in this book.  The boy doesn't listen to his mother, which makes things very hard for him, since (of course) she was right.  ALWAYS.  The girl stays selfish and blind about love; she never questions whether she has the right both to the loyalty of those around her and to pick her lover only for her own pleasure.  By the end both kids have grown up and faced some tough decisions and responsibilities, and the magic of the world addresses these issues directly and spookily.  I'll be looking for the third book in this series, as the writing and depth of character are enough to make me push past my rather childish wish that the characters I want to like be better than they are.  B

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Loyalty: Silver Borne

cover imagePatricia Briggs writes an urban fantasy series about Mercy, with werewolves and shapeshifting and vampires and stuff. What keeps them interesting for me is that Mercy's concerns are fundamental; in a situation with bizarre contingencies she has to concentrate on the same basic worries that anyone does. In Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson, Book 5), she's in love with an older man; he's richer and socially more important than her. How can she still maintain her autonomy and self-respect? The fact that the man is the head of the local werewolf pack and the pack has magic abilities to subvert her emotions just throws the problems into vivid relief; it doesn't make them alien.

So I care as Mercy juggles responsibilities towards her wounded friends, her fiance, his family, her employee's mother, her acquaintance who did her a favor and now seems to be in some danger because of it. The recurring theme is loyalty -- to oneself, to one's friends, to one's moral code. And I'm looking forward to the next installment in her life, so I can see how she handles her mother as well. I tend to buy Brigg's books for my shelves, because they stand up to rereading, probably because they do tend to organize themselves around a theme, if you look beneath the faerie glamor and silver bullets. I finished rereading this one just in time to move right on to the new book. A-

Book Breakthrough

Renton LibrarySince his hold had not arrived, X decided not to accompany us to the library.  I suspect the siren song of a Star Wars video game, but it did make for a more peaceful trip, since N's vendetta had nowhere to focus.  On a more positive note, I reminded N how much he enjoyed Mo Willems' We Are In a Book, and showed him more books about Elephant and Piggy.  He checked out them all.  There's a reading buddy after my own heart!  

My holds are ever present; today I pulled down:Image of itemImage of itemImage of item
  • A Kiss in Time, Alex Flinn.  A fairy tale retelling for Once Upon a Time challenge. (no picture)
  • Obsessive Genius, Barbara Goldsmith. I picked this one from the bibliography of the other Curie book.
  • Sharing the Seasons, Lee Bennett Hopkins.  Next Cybils poetry book.
  • Kidz Bop 12.  I've already recognized two songs! I'm so hip.  Just ask my kids.
I've also finished the previous batch of picture books from my goal of reading a book from every shelf in the library, so I went down the last row of picture books and pulled out nine books.  I hope I got some goodies.  The next section is series books, so I'll have to see if the fourth graders want to continue sharing picture books with me. (Preliminary answers -- hearty affirmative.  The heart glows.)

That brings me to 81 items out on my card, from 81 last week (I skipped posting).  I seem to be hovering.  Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and Clare from The Captive Reader (she's this week's host) take turns with the linky for Library Loot. That's where all us library lovers go to compare our hauls for the week.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Smart Fish: Bobby Vs Girls (Accidentally)

Bobby's just a fourth grader trying to get along. Sometimes he has good ideas that get misunderstood, sometimes he has bad ideas that get out of control, and sometimes things just happen. Just like in real life. Lisa Yee does a good job of portraying kids as they are, with the small things that seem huge and the big things that are huge, such as the death of a pet. Bobby vs Girls, Accidentally is a bit younger than her earlier books about Min and friends, but still a good read that my fourth grader would enjoy if he would just open the dang book. I read it on my Disneyland trip. B

Monday, April 11, 2011

WWII on the Axis Side: Don't Say a Word

I've mentioned my youthful obsession with WW II books.  Most book are written by enemies of the Germans, either Allies or Jewish refugees.  Occasionally there will be a book about a Hitler Youth, but they usually reform by the end.  There aren't many books about patriotic Germans who don't like what the government is doing but try to get along with honor and survival.

Barbara Gehrts' Don't Say a Word fits that description.  Gehrts explains in an afterward that her book is heavily based on her personal experiences, and the vivid descriptions and often clear viewpoint suggest that her memory is a good one.  She says she wrote the book after hearing a youthful debater dismiss the fear of violence as trivial, as she was appalled.  The story follows a German family in Berlin, at first protected by the father's position in the Luftwaffe but still precarious because they aren't Nazi's.  Neither are they heroic underground partisans; they are afraid to do much to help their Jewish neighbors or to let anyone hear their complaints about Hitler.  Their battles are small and believable, with spurts of bravery followed by hesitance and fear.  The father keeps his battles against Hitler as far from his family as possible, which means that they survive after his discovery and arrest.  I enjoyed viewing this new perspective, and seeing how the time lines of the war looked from inside the Reich.  I'm glad Alex at The Children's War reviewed this book so I knew to look for it.  B+

Situation Normal: Too Many Books

Each Monday Sheila at Book Journey asks about how the reading week went -- what people read, what they are reading, what they will read.  It's a good chance to see if any trends are developing.  The biggest change for me is my new NOOK, which will eventually make my muscles atrophy even further as I no longer cart about heavy pages.  First I have to clear off some old inventory, though.

What did I read?
  • Princess and the Penis by RJ Silver (first NOOK book)
  • Mouse Tales: a Behind the Scenes Look at Disneyland, David Koenig
  • The Privilege of the Sword, Ellen Kushner
  • The Curies: A Biography of the Most Controversial Family in Science, by Denis Brian
  • The Game of Silence, Louise Erdrich
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa
  • The Occupied Garden: a Family Memoir of War-Torn Holland, Kristen den Hartag
What trends do I see? My reading choices are heavily dictated by library-due dates.  Three books were nonfiction, which is a bit higher than usual but very pleasant.  Only one book was kidlit.  I recommend all these books -- this was a good reading week.  I also read a few pictures books for the Cybils awards:
  • Scarum Fair, by Jessica Swaim
  • Henry Aaron's Dream, by Mark Tavares
Right now I'm reading: 
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy.  Swashbuckling.
  • The Ghost in the Little House, William Holtz. Story of Rose Wilder, which I'm reading because of Borrowed Names.  Another one for my Stream challenge.
  • The House on the Strand, by Dapne Du Maurier, recommended by a friend.  Slow going.
  • Scorpia Rising, Anthony Horowitz.  Last Alex Rider, bought by my son.
  • Aliens in the Family, by Gini Koch.  First book bought for my NOOK.
  • Tales of the Vampires, a Buffy comic
  • Territory, Emma Bull (vacation book)
  • Hammered, Elizabeth Bear (vacation book)
  • Bad Prince Charlie, John Moore (vacation book)
  • Interior Life, Katherine Blake (vacation book)
  • Glass Harmonica, Louise Marley (vacation book) 
  • The Rogue's Return, Jo Beverly (vacation book)
  • The Hob's Bargain, Patricia Briggs (vacation book)
  • Flying Solo Ralph Fletcher (borrowed by a kid, now returned)
  • The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly.  Found under my bedside table with a bookmark.
  • How I Met My Countess, Elizabeth Boyle.  Also found.
I'm just poking at the vacation books; mostly I'm reading the top five.  I celebrate finishing a book with a chapter from the Buffy book.  My library pile now shifts to whatever is due on the 18th.  My brother lent me some stuff that is now on top of my TBR pile, and my next challenge book is a romance from one of the book-recommending sites mentioned in the Take-a-Chance challenge.

Quick stats on my Challenges:
A-Z: 22/52.  No change.
Cybils: 32/76. Chugging along.
Michigan: 1/2 No change.
Once Upon a Time: 5/5.  Which officially completes Quest One, but I'll keep going.
Read Around the World: 4/20.  The author requirement is killing me! I'm going to find another challenge that is just the setting.
Stream: 2/3. I have a third Curie book waiting at the library for me.
Take Chance: 1/10  I need to do more reviews, but I've started this.
20/11: 8/20.  I have to decide where to fit in a few more.
What Name: 4/6.  Is it cheating to use a 2nd grade chapter book?
Where Am I Reading: 14  Added Utah and Wisconsin.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saved By an Evil Cat: Happy Birthday Bad Kitty

I picked up Nick Bruel's Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty because I vaguely remember my sixth grader getting a Bad Kitty book for the second grader for Christmas.  And the book fair was at the second grader's school, so that justified the purchase of another book.  Then I forgot about it and it rode around in the car for a few weeks when it was time for an emergency dinner at McDonald's for me, the sixth grader and the second grader.

Now, those two boys have been clashing a bit lately.  In that the second grader falls about screaming if X breathes his air, watches his TV, speaks above a whisper, exists in comfort, whatever.  X usually bears this in patience for about thirty seconds, then starts screaming back.  So clearly the meal had few chances of success.  But I saw the book, grabbed it, plonked myself between the kids at our booth, and started reading aloud.

Both kids loved it.  The only screaming came when I went to fill my drink.  We almost finished by the time we had to move on to our next event, and it was then that I noticed that N had eaten about two bites of food -- he had been too busy cheering on Bad Kitty, commenting on the birthday guests, helping me read parts of the story, having a great time and not complaining about X's evil eyeballs battering his space or something.  Bruel and his Bad Kitty saved me from a bad evening with bad boys, so thanks!  A

Friday, April 8, 2011

Miraculous: Mirror Mirror

I believe I've mentioned that my fourth grader isn't a huge poetry fan; next to me singing to him his worst nightmare is probably me reciting poetry.  He barely survived the loveliness of Dark Emperor.  His cousin shares this attitude towards poetry, although I suspect her distaste is not nearly as deep.  So when she spent the night and chose Mirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer as our first read-aloud, I explained it was poetry with my hands ready to cover my ears from the loud groans.  But I promised we only had to read one poem, and then we could pick another book.

Reader, we finished the book.  The kids took turns reading the poems.  Then had me read them again.  We DISCUSSED the poems.  We marveled over the poems.  We evaluated the pictures in terms of the poems. Singer's trick of writing the poems up and down the page charmed the pants off them, and even lured my sixth grader over.  He wants to read the poems.  I marked two poems as entries in my poetry notebook.  This Cybils Poetry finalist has done the impossible, and I expect it will be hard to beat. A+

The Road

It may be such
a fairy-tale secret.
this much
I know:
The road leads
you need to go.

You need to go
the road leads --
I know
this much.
A fairy-tale secret?
It may be such.

Science Is Cool

April is Science Fair Month, and in honor of science I'm joining the Science Book Challenge.  I pledge to read 3 (or maybe 3.14) books with some connection to science or that I can argue convincingly belong to the theme "Science and Culture", and then tell the people at Scienticity about them.  I'll also pester my kids to read more books about science, but I do that anyway.

What science fair project are we contemplating? One that requires three bottles of soda.  The kids choose their science wisely in terms of getting the treats they like as part of their science equipment.  Then we'll use the bottles to examine water pressure vs gravity in the trajectory of water streams.  Thanks to for the idea for the experiment.

Because the whole point is to spread the news about good (or bad) science books, I'll go ahead and list what I've read so far that would qualify, although I feel I should read 3.14 books starting from now:
  • Dinosaur Mountain, by Deborah Kogan Ray.  The Cybils nonfiction finalist about early paleontologist Earl Douglas.
  • Dark Emperor, Joyce Sidman.  This poetry book is graced with a science sidebar on each page, discussing the traits of the animal featured in the facing poem.
  • The Global Warming Deception, Grant R. Jeffrey.  This awful book seemed to think it included a rational discussion of climate theory.  Well, rational if you get most of your data from opinion columns, which do not actually have evidence of anything in them.
  • The Hive Detectives, Loree Griffen Burns.  Beautiful and fascinating description of bee lives, bee deaths, and the scientists who investigate them.  Although a picture book it has a good degree of detail.
  • All Cats Have Aspergers, by Kathy Hoopman.  A simple picture book describing how many people with Aspergers perceive the world.
  • Ants, Melissa Stewart.  Easy read picture book that talks about what ants are, how they live, and who studies them.
  • Borrowed Names, Jeanne Atkins.  A poetry book about mothers and daughters, including a section about Marie Curie and her daughter Irene Curie-Joliot.
That's a pretty good start.  Five of those books are children's books from the Cybil's finalist list, which includes a nonfiction picture book category as well as a general nonfiction section, although the poetry and easy reader categories also provided some science books.

Now, books I've read after starting the challenge:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Disney Lite: Belly Up

Look at the cute cover on the left.  Isn't the hippo sweet? No, the cover isn't upside down.  That's a dead hippo.  A mean dead hippo, at that.  In Stuart Gibbs' Belly Up, a Cybils Middle Grade Novel finalist,  a Ross Perot type zillionaire builds a mega-zoo/theme park in the middle of Texas (well, I think it's east of the middle, fairly near San Antonio maybe) when his daughter complains of the lack of good safaris for seven year olds.  They need a hippo for their mascot, and the one they found is a nasty, projectile-pooping bully who floats up dead one day.  And our hero Teddy, son of two big game experts, learns that this was no accident -- it was hippocide.  And that the rich daughter (now thirteen) will join him in an investigation, which is nice because she's also cute.
Warning -- use your imagination selectively here.  Gibbs has no hesitation in revealing the grossest parts of nature, and his vivid language lets you fill in as much as you like. I often deliberately stifled my brain so that I didn't get the full impression of the swim in pools made murky with hippo excrement, or the olfactory rainbow of the hippo dissection, or ... (I kindly drop the curtain).  But most of the trip spent solving crime with Teddy and Summer sparkles with animation and minor boyish angst (does she like me? was that last text lame?).  It's off with my sixth grader now, but I don't think the fourth grader would get through it speedily enough.  B+