Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hit and Miss: Strange Blood

The Take a Chance 3 challenge has several options that use a web page offering to select your book.  Whichbook has the most interesting method -- by selecting your preference along a variety of axis the site finds a book with elements you like.  There are twelve options (happy/sad, safe/disturbing, gentle/violent, and so on) and you can set up to four of them and then ask for the recommendations.  Or you can switch to the other screen and call for a book based on character, plot, or setting options.

I used the form a month or so again and have completely forgotten my selections, although I remember that I had to fiddle with them a bit because my first choices had no matches.  Proof that I'm weird, I suppose.  But finally the all-knowing computer spat out Strange Blood: A Crime Novel (Forensic Psychologist Megan Rhys Crime Novels) by Lindsay Jayne Ashford, so I spoke to my libraries computer and had it sent over.

Strange Blood is the second book about Dr Megan Rhys, a Welsh forensic psychologist called in by the police during violent murders.  Ashford moves around a bit, putting her spotlight on various people, and each time getting intimately inside the character's viewpoint so that I quickly felt I knew them, even as they made mistakes.  The crime fighters have lives outside their jobs; Rhys worries about her new boyfriend, both about his loyalty and whether her family and colleagues will approve; her sister is as important to her as the case, and when those two worries start to collide she reacts instantly.  Occasionally we dip into the killer's mind too, so we know that more badness is coming.

I liked the sense of the detectives and reporters as people, but I found some of the suspense manipulative.  There conflict with the boyfriend seems forced, and I found myself unsympathetic with Rhys's reaction.  Although I liked the individual scenes and found hte characterization skillful, I'm not enough of a crime fan to want to continue, despite the enjoyable loose ends left by the author (I dislike books that magically tie everything up).  Also, the main motivation of the bad guy was that he was crazy, which is a bit weak.

Rotton Kids: Smile

After a long wait, the next Cybils Graphic Novel (Middle Grade) finalist arrived. Confusingly, Smile by Raina Telgemeier, is a biography, which as a genre usually pretends to have some difference from a novel, but I didn't notice this until I read the liner notes at the end. It's also right on the cusp of the age group; my elementary kids have no interest in the story, especially the boy. My library thinks it is a YA book.

The art really worked for me; it kept the story moving and the pages turning. The characters were all distinct and immediately believable, which the writing supported. The story follows Raina's junior high and early high school years, the years bracketed by an accident where she fell and lost her front teeth, instantly heightening her preoccupation with her looks, already a sore point for any middle school girl. Raina matures in spurts and spots, often humiliatingly out of sync with her ruthless friends. At one point I noticed that almost all these kids (and definitely all Raina's close friends) were deeply unpleasant, although Raina wasn't much better. We never see her do or feel anything for anyone else; the story is all about her feelings and experiences, which makes sense in a biography but I noticed it when I started feeling all judgemental about her so-called friends.

Luckily the last episodes redeem things a bit; Raina finally realizes she can leave her old cronies for people who respect her, and she starts focuses on what she likes to do rather than what she looks like or what her current boy crush is looking at. It's a heartening sign that caterpillars can turn into butterflies. As the story and Raina's dental work ends, she is looking forward to an active and fun high school career.

My sixth seventh grader read this and gave it a thumbs up, although he thought it was a bit unrealistic. I asked what part, and he said the part where Raina thought those mean kids were her friends for so long. I was quietly delighted to hear my middle-schooler so clearly articulate such a common misconception among kids -- people who are always mean to you are not your friends, even if they have been in your girl scout troop for years. You don't have to hang out with people who aren't your friends. I only hope this understanding rubs off on the fourth fifth grade girl too.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Debt of Gratitude: Margaret Sanger Pioneer of the Future

Margaret Sanger: Pioneer of the FutureMargaret Sanger: Pioneer of the Future by Emily Taft Douglas is also a history of reproductive freedom for American women. It was a bit frightening to read about Comstock's utterly sincere and reverential contempt for women, and how many people casually dismissed the death and suffering of women through uncontrolled pregnancies. Sanger started as a nurse and saw the devastating medical effects of children spaced too closely together, as well as the social problems of family size far exceeding the capability of parents to support.

I hadn't known that Sanger fled the country to avoid her first trial, focusing attention on her cause but also leaving her children behind to the care of her family and friends. Luckily she had a large extended family to help out (the stress and poverty of that large family was one of the life experiences that reinforced to her the importance of safe birth control). She spent a lot of time learning about the methods of birth control in various countries and fighting to bring back the effective ones to America. The underhanded tactics used by the government to try to stop the spread of information was chilling, proving again how unimportant the lives of women were to many influential people.

Sanger's crusade for birth control was both personal and political -- she emphasized both the individual suffering and the economic and politic effects of uncontrolled population growth. Some of the arguments sound sinister now, after the horrific use made of concerns about "race purity" and "substandard children" but most of the discussion takes place before the terms became tainted. She also learned about and embraced the free love theories of many sex researchers, which means there is probably a scandalous biography out there as well; this one respects the privacy Sanger maintained for herself. Even her second marriage didn't become public knowledge for several years. This is an interesting albeit uncritical story about a complex woman who greatly improved the lives of millions of people (women and men and countless children) through her work.

I came to this book through the bibliography of Ghost in the Little House, and it will be fun to see where this Stream of Suggestions leads next.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Vampires and Flying Cars: Fray

Evil twins, horned mentors, one-armed cute kids, and flying cars are just some of the treats inside Fray, Josh Whedon's first graphic novel. I have no idea of the chronology of the other comic books with his name on it, so I'm not sure if this one came first or was just the first one that he dreamed up on his own, but I had a lot of fun reading it.

Since he set this story far in the future (flying cars!) there's no worry about remembering details from the Buffy show; everything is all changed up anyway. The characters look different enough that I can tell everyone apart (one of my biggest peeves in comics; I'm terrible at comic recognition) and the story flowed strongly along without pausing in angsty pools. I still have no desire to read Buffy Season 8, but I have a much better appreciation for Dark Horse comics.
School is finally over, and we spent the first half week of summer vacation in limp laziness, enjoying the bursts of sunshine and complaining about the low temperatures.  Several days saw us warm enough to venture to the pool, but the boys found the warmth of the TV screens much more entertaining.  Sadly, the rest of the summer will have a much more restricted screen availability, so life may get harder.  They'll probably be begging for more school soon.

So, did I read anything in between mocking the children's couch potato competition?
  • Trick of the Light, Rob Thurman
  • Penderwicks at Point Mouette. Jane Birdsall
  • Margaret Sanger: Pioneer of the Future, Emily Taft Douglas
  • In the Teeth of the Evidence (reread), Dorothy Sayers
  • Fray, Joss Whedan & artists
What trends do I see? I read nonfiction really really slowly.  The biography of Margaret Sanger was amusing but I still crept along at barely fifty pages a day, even when I restricted my other reading.  I really liked the Penderwick books and I'm delighted to hear that more are scheduled.

Right now I'm reading:
  • Feng Shui, Robin D Laws. On loan from my brother.
  • The Battle for Azeroth, ed. Bill Fawcett. Analysis of the World of Warcraft MMORPG.
  • Little Fuzzy, H. Piper.  In preparation for Scalzi's relaunch, I got this for my NOOK.
  • Omnitopia , Diane Duane (audio).
  • Territory, Emma Bull (vacation book)
  • Downbelow Station, C.J. Cherryh. Reread.
  • Bad Prince Charlie, John Moore (vacation book)
  • The Rogue's Return, Jo Beverly (vacation book)
  • The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly. Found under my bedside table with a bookmark.
  • How I Met My Countess, Elizabeth Boyle. Also found.
  • The Terrorists of Irustan, Louise Marley.  I snuck this into my vacation pile.
The first book is borrowed from my brother, so I only read that in one place at home instead of carting in around, so it moves slowly.  None of the others are my main reads; I have to pick my next book from my stack and start something from my library pile. I'll see what I feel like when stumbling about preparing for swim lessons tomorrow morning.

Quick stats on my Challenges:

A-Z: 38/52. Nothing new.  Can anyone recommend a book whose author starts with an "N"?
Cybils: 45/76. We're in the middle of the next poetry book.
Global Reading Challenge:12/21. All American lately.
Once Upon a Time: LOTS/5. I'm an overachiever. Way past time to start the Shakespeare.
Read Around the World: 12/20. The library has some stuff on hold for me, though.
Science Book Challenge: 2.141/3.141... No change.
Stream: 3/3, 1/3, 3/3, 3/3. This is really fun.  I have to rein myself in from splitting in too many directions, though.
Take a Chance: 4/10. About to start challenge #8.
20/11: 17/20. If I caught up on reviewing, I'd be done.  This is still true.  
What's In a Name?: 5/6. The movement in the title one is hard.  I just noticed that my jewel book also had movement in the title.  Humph.  Still looking.
Where Am I Reading?: 22/50. I added Maine. Why is Oregon so hard? I thought stuff happened in Portland all the time!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Family Fun: Penderwicks at Point Mouette

book jacket Point MouetteJeanne Birdsall has a talent for nailing a child's perspective exactly, and she hits the spot with each of the four Penderwick sisters, from young Batty through responsible Rosalind.  Most of the attention in the third book about their family, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, goes to second oldest Skye, who reluctantly assumes the job of responsible older sister so Rosalind can have a relaxing vacation with a friend while their parents trot off on a delayed honeymoon.  A kindly aunt takes the remaining three and their friend Jeffrey to a small cottage in Maine (new state!  Yay!) where they make new friends, collect golf balls, and react to one of the giant coincidences that can only happen in children's books of this genre.

I'm torn about the coincidence; it pulled me out of the book a bit but on the other hand it was so important to the characters and their happiness that I want to be in a universe where it would happen.  I love how the sisters take care of each other, even when arguing or getting frustrated with each other.  I liked the look at love and relationships as seen through Jane's first crush; and I liked the friendship between the youngsters Batty and Mercedes.  The dialogue between them reminded me of listening to my five years olds when they couldn't see me.  I'll offer this book to my son, but I think the shadow art cover will make it a hard sale.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

No Good Guys: Trick of the Light

TrickOfTheLight Web TRICK OF THE LIGHT: The Trickster Novels, Book 1Rob Thurman's Trick of the Light (Trickster, Book 1) features a hard-boiled bar owner who cradles her grief for her brother close to her heart. She's tough as nails and pounds that home over and over again. This is standard urban fantasy, especially when the sexy and conflicted demon shows up to tempt her. Not that she's inclined towards temptation, being tough as nails and all that, but it can't hurt to listen, can it?

Most of this book reads as paint-by-numbers urban fantasy, with angels and demons as the opposing bad guys. Demons are evil soul-munchers, but the angels and their minions are rather heartless themselves. Trixia Iktomi, the young business owner with a old past, plays them both against each other while trying to protect her adopted brothers Griffin and Zeke from the rougher shocks of the world. Then the last few chapters throw in some twists which justify a lot of what looked like lazy choices -- a lot of the tough-as-nails talk was really foreshadowing, not puffery. The male candy that seemed like paranormal business as usual had another purpose. The orphaned kids she looked after had a more complicated history than expected. These were fun and unexpected twists that locked together tightly, providing an ending that exceeded expectations.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mythical Reptiles: Dragonbreath -- Attack of the Ninja Frogs

The Cybils Fantasy and Science Fiction (Middle Grade) finalist list deserves the award "Most likely to give me mental whiplash" and I'm not even half-way through. So far I've read an almost slapstick middle school fantasy/comedy, a dark horror story, and now a gentle elementary school tale that read almost as a graphic novel to me. Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath -- Attack of the Ninja Frogs mixes the illustrations seamlessly in with the text, both adding to the amusingly offbeat story of the young reptiles dealing with family, school, and oh yes, attacking ninja frogs.

The characters are all reptiles, although Danny is a dragon, so things around him tend to swing towards the magical. Danny's friend Wendell (an iguana) is used to this, although foreign exchange student Suki (salamander) finds it harder to accept. I like the playing with layers of fantasy -- talking anthropomorphous reptiles are normal, but DRAGONS? Buses to Japan? In the second half of the story, even Suki has embraced the crazy as they use their wits, charm, and friendly geckos to defeat the ninja frogs.

Two things kept dragging at me, though. Danny's constant awareness and good-natured contempt for nerds seemed a petty meanness that he didn't really need. And his misogyny seemed more stereotypical than real, which just made for a lot of rather lame jokes about girl cooties and thought processes. Maybe we're just really lucky, but the kids I know in elementary school don't think the different genders come from different planets. Even when they enforce strict male/female playing rules (and most of them don't), when a common topic arises they just discuss it. So Danny struggling to find something, anything to say to Suki just seemed silly ("Do you like unicorns?") and Wendell's crush seemed strange for the age group. I like that my boys don't casually discriminate, and I don't particularly want books to encourage them to do so.

Both boys had no qualms about it. If they can accept reptile children, then reptile children with strange behavior patterns aren't a bigger leap. And they laughed and giggled throughout the story; the sixth (oops, now seventh) grader wants to chase down the rest of the Dragonbreath books, and the fourth grader approves of his initiative.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

School Days: The Whistling Season

Whistling Season
Ivan Doig's The Whistling Season is like an onion.  Maybe one of the sweet Walla Walla Onions that are the state vegetable of Washington (there's a fact we like to get into every conversation.  Now I just have to work in the state grass).  The framing device is the thin story of Montana's school governor contemplating shutting down the one-room schools so that the danger of Sputnik can be fought with hours of school bus riding towards large comprehensive buildings.  This reminds the narrator of his one-room school house, not during the years of poor teaching but during the year class was taught by the unusual brother of his housekeeper.

That was the year after his mother died, when his father and brothers and he tried to hold onto their lives despite their loss. The year the housekeeper Rose whistled her way through the chores (except for cooking) while her dandy brother stood out like a sore thumb on the prairie.  The year that brother Morrie tamed the schoolyard and introduced the prodigy narrator to Latin.  The year the secrets behind Rose and Morrie became the price of admission to adulthood for Paul.  All these stories wrap around each other, occasionally pulling all the way back out to the grown-up Paul and his difficult decision, which he uses an equally difficult but much more personal decision from that momentous year to ground his strength on.  I enjoyed the family setting and the close view of Paul's emotional growth during that year; thanks to BookNAround for recommending this book.

This book about schools and learning is a fitting one to mark our first full day of summer break, which the kids spent either sleeping in until noon or waking up at dawn to watch cartoons, depending on their druthers.  Tomorrow we are hoping the temperature creeps up far enough to justify a trip to the pool.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Personal Blind Spot: Harmonic Feedback

Today was the first day of summer vacation (starting from noon), and that meant the end of the brief window of summer weather we had yesterday.  Instead I shivered through a field day at one school, and then we unanimously canceled our planned trip to the pool.  P started running a fever but didn't seem comforted when I told him that meant he didn't have to go to school tomorrow.  Ha funny ha was his reaction.  

In honor of school closing, I offer this review of a Cybils YA Novels finalist that is primarily a school story.  As the parent of a junior high school boy, I refuse to believe that all high schools are dens of constant drug abuse and drug sales.  I just can't handle it. Since my ex-sixth grader couldn't figure out where to buy a year book, I'm hoping he never figures out where to buy "stuff."   So YA books featuring high schools that are such dens are a hard sale with me.  Tara Kelly probably doesn't think of her books high school as a "den" in Harmonic Feedback, but the insanely easy access to drugs, calm assumption on most students part that drugs are available and harmless and constant use by several main characters kept me from falling into the book.

The pivot character, Drea, sounded true to me -- she a teen stuck living with her mom and strict grandmother, a grandmother who doesn't believe in these new-fangled ideas like ADHD and Aspergers Syndrome.  She's never lived long in one place, since her mom is constantly following a new idea or a new man to a fresh start.  Friendships have been few both because of the moves and because of her unique perspective on the world, with her bluntness and directness confusing people who interact with her.  But the new neighbor Naomi is also desperate for friendship, and the two girls try to be what the other wants or needs.  Even the super-perfect Justin isn't as important to Drea, so Naomi's problems tend to overshadow the book a bit.  But since a lot of her problems are drug-related, I found myself less sympathetic.

I won't be handing this book to my twelve year old, but mainly because he's not interested in all that high school angst.  He can barely acknowledge junior high pain.  Also, there's a bit of a similarity to a Dead Dog novel that I don't think he'd appreciate, being sadly devoid of all sentimentality.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

June Book Club: Island of the Blue Dolphins

Ah! The first day of summer shone down on us like Seattle had finally read up on the definition of the seasons.  Our thermometer read over 80!  Just like an air conditioning thermostat in Houston.  And the pool was open, so we dashed over for some quick water time before the farmers market and home so I could pretend to be in a dungeon.  During the day I did my civic duty by sitting around in a park to reserve the spot for our fifth graders' graduation party.  We also serve who sit and wait, you know.

Last week was my adult book club, where we read an ancient Newbery winner.  About half of us had read it as children; the others came to Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins with new and adult perspectives.  My more recent memory comes from the excerpt in my son's third grade reader; I was astonished that it included her stitching a new skirt rather than battling an amphibious giant octopus across the beach (my most vivid memory, from my elementary school reader).  Rereading the entire book, I see why the sewing chapter is also important; not only does it show her ingenuity but it also depicts her coming to terms with her solitude; she still wants to look pretty even when there is no audience for her charms.

Most of us liked the book, although we did wonder how much was based on fact.  The afterword in the book gave us little to go on.  We looked at the tone of the book --  the narrator rarely indulges in strong emotions, instead just giving facts and times that indicate her feelings.  After her brother dies, she fails to keep track of the passing of days until her grief subsides.  Clearly she is nearly catatonic with loss, but her description skips over this, showing the pain while not overwhelming the young reader.  It was interesting to me to see where my memory was wrong; I had blamed the brother more for his death with the intensity of youth, which doesn't cut kids slack for being young.  Now I have more compassion for both Ramo and Karana.  I'll try again to get my son to read this; I think he'd enjoy it.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Dumb And Quirky: Curse of the Wolf Girl

Martin Millar's engaging story of British werewolves amused me a lot, but I never could quite commit to it. The mosaic pattern of short chapters featuring various people keeps the interest level high, especially as their various stores wind in and out and then explode across each other brilliantly at the end of The Curse of the Wolf Girl.  I frequently found myself laughing out loud at a blunt declaration of the fashion designer/sorceress, or the dual interests of the Fire Queen, who studied couture with the same dedication as her understanding of dragon fighting.

But I found myself constantly putting the book down, and a lot of it is my prejudice against drug addiction.  I don't find it interesting, and two of the main characters spend a lot of their time lying around as a result of their laudanum problem.  It's frustrating when they contemplate doing something active (and interesting) and then just drug themselves into a stupor.  One of the characters has very little sense in general, but the other clearly could do a lot better, and it's just annoying to read about.  So I'm unlikely to seek out other books by this author, since the enjoyment/annoyance ratio isn't quite high enough to satisfy me.  But that's mainly because of my pet peeve, so I recommend the book in general.   After all, it had me cheering on the two girls who couldn't add their way out of a paper bag.

Monday Again! And I'm Still Reading

I spent the weekend at a waterpark where it was almost too hot to swim.  After a few excusions down the slides, I retired to the sidelines and pulled out my books, finishing off a couple of books I've been eyeing for a while.  Before that I spent most of the week re-reading my three Dooley Ryan books by Norah McClintock, but I can't actually list them because I read them in a scattered fashion, skipping forward and back to visit scenes I remembered.

So, what have I finished in the past week?
  • The Demon's Surrender, by Sarah Rees Brennan (hooray!)
  • Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates, Thomas Cathcart and Daniel
  • The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig
  • The Curse of the Wolf Girl, Martin Miller
  • Harmonic Feedback, Tara Kelly
What trends do I see? Em, I'm list-driven? All these books satisfy challenges.  Of course, I bought the Brennan just because I love her YA books, but the others came from recommendations from friends and lists.  But I enjoy the variety this gives me -- I have YA books, SF books, nonfiction books, mainstream books, all in pleasing proportions.

Right now I'm reading:
  • Feng Shui, Robin D Laws. On loan from my brother.
  • Trick of the Light, Rob Thurman
  • The Battle for Azeroth, ed. Bill Fawcett. Analysis of the World of Warcraft MMORPG.
  • Little Fuzzy, H. Piper.  In preparation for Scalzi's relaunch, I got this for my NOOK.
  • Death's Excellent Vacation (audio).
  • Territory, Emma Bull (vacation book)
  • Downbelow Station, C.J. Cherryh. Reread.
  • Bad Prince Charlie, John Moore (vacation book)
  • The Rogue's Return, Jo Beverly (vacation book)
  • The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly. Found under my bedside table with a bookmark.
  • How I Met My Countess, Elizabeth Boyle. Also found.
  • The Terrorists of Irustan, Louise Marley.  I snuck this into my vacation pile.
I'm concentrating on the top two, with dips into the third as a reward for actually finishing something. The fourth is my current NOOK book, but I have a few others queued up.   I read the bottom hordes in dribs and dabs.  I don't like to drag my brother's book out of the house, so I need another book from library for walking around.  The Sanger book is next up, although if it's too dry I'll sneak in some more Cybils reading as a reprieve.  And Cagebird is looking at me reproachfully...

Quick stats on my Challenges:

A-Z: 38/52. Chugging along.  I'm now vaguely looking for the missing bits.  Anyone know a good Q book?
Cybils: 45/76. Finished Non-Fiction Picture books.
Global Reading Challenge:12/21. No change.
Once Upon a Time: LOTS/5. I'm an overachiever. Definitely past time to start the Shakespeare.
Read Around the World: 12/20. The Prince of Wales threw me a picture book.
Science Book Challenge: 2.141/3.141... I've checked out a biography of Meitner, which would complete this.
Stream: 3/3, 1/3, 3/3, 2/3. One stream has branched.  I've officially finished this, but I'm enjoying it too much to quit.
Take a Chance: 3/10. Finished #4, and I have another in my pile.
20/11: 17/20. If I caught up on reviewing, I'd be done.  This is still true.  Which new book to include...
What's In a Name?: 5/6. The movement in the title one is hard.  Hey, maybe "If a Tree Falls" would count -- falling is movement, right?  But I want better.
Where Am I Reading?: 21/50. I added Montana.  I'm reading a Nevada book, but that's a repeat -- ARGH.  I think I have some Westerns out that might give me some new states...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dead Men: Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein have a small schtick going -- they write popular philosophy books that rely heavily on jokes to illustrate the various theories they toss about.  I remember laughing during the previous book (Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar) so when I saw this one on the Interesting Shelf at the library I grabbed it.  It doesn't hurt that the pearl in the title makes it fit one of my long-lasting challenges.

Sadly, this book about the philosophy of death isn't as interesting. Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (and Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife, and Everything in Between uses the conceit of a conversation with dim neighbor Daryl to talk over various philosopher's theories of life, death, afterlife, and self, interposed with jokes and comments from more palatable experts such as Woody Allen.  I've seen most of the short quotes before, and didn't learn anything from the rather shallow discussions of Heidegger, Plato, or other big names brought in to impress.

The lack of laughter also meant I had time to notice how male-centric the authors were.  Their default human was aggressively male, with women appearing mostly as props.  People show up in heaven, and the women are there as sexual gifts, not as people who also died and went somewhere.  It was all on the level of "farmers and their wives" kind of things -- obviously the women aren't farmers, right?  It got irritating quickly, but then book was short so I didn't have time to get too cranky.  And I tried out a few of the jokes with my family and got some chuckles.  So a mild recommendation for people wanting to dip a toe into philosophy.

Friday, June 17, 2011

May Family Book Club: Ender's Shadow

Ender's ShadowX picked our May family book club book, but P is a bit behind so we didn't have our meeting until mid-June.  We all read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Shadow (Ender, Book 5); a re-read for X and me but a new book for P and probably one of the first books he's read from the adult side of the library.  Everyone enjoyed it, so it satisfied our first rule of family book club, and it was interesting talking about it.

P has never read Ender's Game (he's started it now) so he had a different perspective that X and I enjoyed hearing.  We talked about whether kids really could be that smart (yes, especially with the genetic tinkering) and what happened to kids who had to do such bad things.  We discussed whether the final act of the war was necessary, and how Ender and Bean thought of different things because their home lives had been so different.  We looked at the differences between Bean and his sorta-twin brother, and how both were so smart in their own ways.

And we ate at Luther's Table, the new place in town -- P enjoyed his steak flatbread with caramelized onions (he ate the whole thing -- none for me!) while I stuck with a salad and X picked at his mac and cheese since he deeply distrusted the bread crumb topping.  X paid for it all with his winning gift card from the Poker Run we did last May.

Our next book is Lloyd Alexander's Book of Three, and then P will pick something for July; maybe something we can share with the Utah folks.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

True For You, Not For Me: Bird of the River

I've really enjoyed Kage Baker's fantasy stories; reading The Bird of the River was bittersweet since it is the last. Although set in the same world, all the characters are new, although they mention people involved in the other books. It's on a bit of a smaller scale; the story stays with the boat sailing up the river, concentrating on Eliss, the orphan finding her place in the society on the boat. Eliss learns to see clearly, first because of her role as river observer, trained to identify any snags under the water, but she also looks at Krelan, another new hire with a dubious background, at the captain, who is certainly more than he looks like, and with effort, at her younger brother, whose needs and home may be different from her own.

The setting and characters are still wonderful and delicious, although I did miss a giant blow-up at the end.  There is still a climax, but it is local to our characters.  A-

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nicey Nice: Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree

Some mysteries are all about the bleakness of existence, with the lonely, sometimes slightly sinister hero battling the forces of evil, the darkness that lurks within all humanity and stains the fabric of existence.  Nancy Atherton's cosy mysteries featuring the deceased Aunt Dimity and her dim-witted adopted niece Lori are not about that.  They are about a world that is nice.  Lori lives in a nice English village with her nice family and nice neighbors, enjoying a nice amount of money.  She is kept busy caring for her nice school aged twin boys, with only the help of an endless supply of nurses, a full-time riding school with enormously flexible scheduling, and endless nice neighbors begging to step in.

It's getting a bit difficult to read these books, honestly.  The latest one, Aunt Dimity and the Family Tree, follows the standard Dimity path of setting up a farcical situation, having Lori notice the sinister implications of the new characters' actions, and then having a nice resolution instead of the malicious motives Lori projected.  It's an interesting twist on the usual practice of having dead bodies show up all over the small village where the cosy mystery protagonist lives, but after all this niceness the sight of the occasional (fictional) mass murderer seems almost welcome. C-

Denial Flowing Through Town

Renton Library
I haven't done a library report for a while, mainly because I've been hiding the number of books I've checked out from myself.  If I discover how badly I've exceeded my self-imposed limit, who knows what I'll do?  Things could go badly indeed.  But we did go to the library last Monday, and I got a few things from the hold shelf and a single picture book from browsing.  My numbers should drop a bit since I'm not checking out music; I'm listening to books on CD in the car instead.  

The hold shelves delivered:Image of itemImage of itemImage of itemImage of item
  • This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman, which looks like a beautiful and utterly depression memoir following the birth of extremely premature twins.  From my TBR lists.
  • Bad Apple, by Laura Ruby, as YA book also from my TBR lists.  I cannot remember why it's on there, but the cover looks interesting.
  • Penny Dreadful by Laurel Snyder.  Highly recommended by someone on the 48 Hour Challenge, so much that I skipped the TBR list and just put it on library hold.  Also, I like the name Snyder.
  • Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics by Ruth Lewin Sime.  Book branching from the Marie Curie biography I read; this book is much thicker than I expected.  Oops.
  • Xenocide Mission by Ben Jeapes.  I'm starting to stress about my A-Z challenge, so when I saw a reference to this somewhere  I threw it on the list.
  • Kidz Bop 15, part of our continuing musical journey.  
I also found Harmony: A Vision For Our Future by The Prince of Wales.  Since I'm struggling to find kidlit books by non-American authors I pounced on this as obviously by an actual Foreign Author.  I sure hope I don't read the fine print to find he hired a Yankee to ghost write it.

That brings me to 72 items out on my card.  That is much more than I wanted, but clearly less than 80.  Go me!  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, June 14, 2011

Coming Attractions: Heroes Return

Heroes ReturnMoira J Moore's Heroes Return is the latest in the story of Lee and Taro on a planet far far away.  The planet has subsided from science fiction into fantasy since its colonization, and now various forms of magic form much of Lee's research interests.  This is the fifth book in their story, and my enthusiasm dwindled a lot in the second and third.  I saw this book on the New Shelf at the library and picked it up on a whim; it was slightly improved but not enough for me to seek out the next books.

At the books core is the relationship between the heroes; Lee is emotionally naive and clings to rationality while Taro is all flighty and pretty and falsely shallow, but somehow they have found love.  In this book some Bad People try to pry them apart by making Taro jealous, but nothing really comes of it.  Lee experiments a bit with spells, but we don't learn anything.  Taro's mother continues to make trouble, but nothing comes of it. The Emporer has some nefarious plot against them, but nothing comes of it.  The book feels like a launching pad for the next bit of the series, but it doesn't have enough substance to stand on its own.  C

Monday, June 13, 2011

Price of Greatness: Obsessive Genius

After picking through the bibliography and sources of Brian's biography of the Curie family, I choose Barbara Goldsmith's Obsessive Genius as my next book to read in this stream.  (A stream of books is a sequence where each book references the next one.)  Instead of spreading itself across all the Curies, this book concentrates on Marie.

Goldsmith seems a bit more willing to be critical of Marie, casting a more suspicious eye on the funding of her laboratory, her insistence on personally holding the standard setting curie of radioactive material, her complicity in promulgating the myths surrounding the discovery of radiation, and the possible estranged relationship between her and her daughters.  Since my current interest in Marie Curie began with a poem about the women in the family, I found the last issue particularly interesting, as well as the different angle on her scientific achievements.

Reading several biographies in a row encourages me to focus on the differences; I can see how Dennis and Goldsmith can read the same primary documents and come to different opinions.  Since I've never come close to those documents, I don't yet have an opinion toward which is right, although it would be a nicer world if it were true that they all got along.  As a person who did enjoy maths, I don't assume Irene was ironic or desperately trying to gain her mother's approval when she wrote asking for more problems; I also don't find it ludicrous that a child was working on what is generally considered high school math problems.  But it's certainly possible that she hated it.  The teasing between Eve, musical and fashionable, and the clothing oblivious scientists Marie and Irene could be read as mean and belittling, or it could be cosy and affirming.  The entire family knew they were on stage; it is certain that Eve deliberately chose the image she wished to portray.  The tension between the women's obvious talents and the reluctance of the world to acknowledge female intelligence makes the science and lives of the Curies fascinating; I clearly haven't finished following the connections along this theme.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cops Work Long Hours: Indulgence in Death

J.D. Robb writes about Eve and Roarke. She's a hard-boiled cop, he's the richest man in the world. Together they have sex. And all this happens in the future, where they have better iphones and flying cars and space.

There are about thirty of these books, and by now they are as formulaic as Perry Mason. Bad guys commit murders in new ways. Eve catches them. Roarke buys stuff and commits handy computer fraud/snooping. The fun is on the fringes, where the secondary characters edge forward in new ways. Some of the books take the murders too far, and the grossness factor exceeds my squick meter. But Indulgence in Death doesn't do that, and in fact gives out the criminals early, which is a good thing because it's annoying when Eve is the last one to figure stuff out. The suspense is all about how to convict the baddies who don't seem to leave much evidence lying about.

But there is a distinct lack of fringe benefits. Baby Bella learns to crawl. Irish family is nice. Charles can cook. As I read this book, I was deep in before I was sure I hadn't read it before, and I think it's because there is no change to the landscape.  B-

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Family and Race: If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period

If a Tree Falls at Lunch PeriodGennifer Choldenko's thin If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period lightly skims over a volcano. It's not that the book is frothy; the characters are as angsty and fraught as expected in a junior high school book.  The stakes are quite high -- a school bully has poached Kirsten's best friend, and Kirsten's mother urges her to quickly conform and get in the popular crowd before her social loser status is set in stone.  Walker has received a scholarship to their posh school, and it's a bit hard for him to fit in socially.

And Kirsten's parents may be getting a divorce.  And Walker's mom may have lied to him about their family.  And his cousin has become money-obsessed -- maybe over drugs?  Oh yeah, and Walker is black. He's about the only African-American at the school, which preaches multiculturalism but can't seem to attract the embassy crowd.  There's enough here for a whole set of problem novels, but since we only get one it has more the feel of a short story, with a situation presented and a question answered, but no time for true depth.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Dead or Canadian: Evolve

Remember the good old days, when the weather was better and we all played wholesome, character-building games along with our favorite disk-jockeys?  Like "Dead or Canadian"?  Today's kids just don't know what they are missing.  Also, they should get off my lawn.

I grabbed Nancy Kilpatrick's Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead from the library because I'm a big Tanya Huff (Canadian) fan and I really like her stories about Henry Fitzpatrick, vampire and romance writer.  Her story was the last one in this set, and it was fine, although it was about some of his friends, not him. But the book is a collection of Canadian authors, so it felt very exotic and mysterious to me.  Most stories were very short, so even the dull ones didn't drag too much, and either had a fun twist or a good world-building idea.  And of course, I got to play an old childhood game with exuberance -- "BOTH" I'd chortle when I spotted the vampire in each selection.

A Serious Challenge: Reading Fast

Since I enjoyed last week's 48 Hour Reading Challenge so much, I thought I'd try another challenge this weekend.  This one is much harder, so hard that I'm very dubious about my chances of making it through.

I'm going to try to go 48 hours without reading.  That's right -- the challenge isn't about swift reading, it's about a lapse in reading.  No books, no magazines, no internet.  Well, no text-based internet; maybe I'll play World of Warcraft for hours and just ignore the quest descriptions.  And if I drive places I'll read the traffic signs.  I've written up book reviews to post through the weekend, and recruited my younger son to handle pressing facebook game responsibilities (the Fish Wrangler Boat Must Roll!).

My older son has offered to join me on this dangerous voyage, with the helpful incentive that if either of us falls off the illiteracy wagon the penalty is providing breakfast in bed to the more successful contestant.

My sister has offered to sponsor me in this; I'm sure she's expecting a very small outlay after I crumble around 9:15 and fling myself into a book.  (I'm planning to go from 9:00 PM Friday -- 9 PM Sunday.) For obvious reasons, I do not plan on posting updates during the challenge, unless I fail.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I'm Getting Lost: Tiassa

Steven Brust's Dragaera books provide a delectable spread of dishes, each building on the other in interesting ways.  The problem is that I was born too soon, so that I read many of the books as they came out, and now my aged brain cannot keep track of everything that is going on. (I think even Brust needs to do research on himself sometimes).

The latest book, Tiassa (Vlad Taltos), was a fun read,but I think I'll enjoy even more the next time I read it.  Obviously it is time for a complete reread of the Vlad books, probably accompanied by Jo Walton's reviews at In the meantime, I enjoyed the book as a set of short stories, but while the last section worked as a tinkling comedy of manners, I also recognized the shadows of previous events that I knew I had forgotten.  When I reread this one as part of the whole cycle, I will enjoy watching things slide into place.  It's a fun book for amateur Vlad fans such as myself, but I bet it's even better for people with less feeble memories. B

Thanks to my brother for lending me the book.  And for lending me all the other ones sometime this summer, as I hope he does.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bros Before Ho(rror)s: Nightlife

Nightlife Web 1244x2000 Book Series: The Cal Leandros, Chimera and Trickster NovelsRob Thurman writes an urban fantasy series about two brothers standing together against things that go bump in the night.   came in midway with her entry point Blackout, where she gives younger brother Cal amnesia so she has a chance to gradually bring people up to date. That one was fun enough that I picked up Nightlife (Cal Leandros, Book 1) on a later trip to the library.

It was interesting seeing the same backstory through a different lens; a lot of what Cal slowly pierces together later happens in this book and a lot of the things the men did to protect each other have more resonance now that I see more of the memories behind the actions. It does teeter on the edge of too much emotional handwringing, and I hope some book somewhere addresses where the older brother got some of his awesomeness, but it was a nice book to help me glide through my reading slump. I'll probably eventually read the rest of Thurman's books.  B+

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Logical Romance: Dark Mirror

Mary Jo Putney, or MJ Putney as she is called in her incarnation as a YA author,  appeals to me because her characters are thinking, talking people first and foremost.  They observe their emotions and often comment on them in a way I find endearing even when anachronistic or unlikely.  This may seem odd in an author who concentrates on romance novels, but it also means that her characters tend to have real problems rather than silly misunderstandings, and that her books are full of people it wouldn't be painful to spend a cruise with.

Dark Mirror, her foray in YA fiction, builds on her dabbling with magic in her regency romance period.  It's an alternate history that inserts its new ideas without changing anything else, which makes no sense if you think about it but does simplifies the setting.  Magic is real, but the gentry in regency England regard it as crass, and any well-born child (such as Tory, our heroine) who displays talent gets shipped off to a strict boarding school that promises to stamp out such low-class tendencies.  Meanwhile Napoleon rambles about in France, making some of the kids wonder if magic might help protect England from invasion.  Suddenly Tory stumbles into a time portal, and finds herself in a pre-Dunkirk coastal village.  Suddenly the idea of using magic to save one's country is no longer theoretical.

I liked the structure of the book -- just as Tory adjusts to life at boarding school the book suddenly jumps from a school story to a time travel adventure.  This is the kind of thing that writing handbooks frown upon but that I loved as a child (and still enjoy).  I enjoyed the calm pragmatism of the time travelers -- no hysteria about cars and light bulbs because these kids were magicians; what the contemps called science just seemed like arts they hadn't mastered yet.  The dwindling of magic made no sense at all; it seemed clear to me that the portal was to an alternate universe, not just a future, but nothing in the text acknowledges this and it's not what the book is about anyway.  As an adult, I did wonder where all the other magic users were; it didn't make sense that England got them all, but maybe that sort of thing gets covered in later books.  This would have been a perfect book for the Read-a-thon, but I thought I couldn't renew it so I gobbled it up early.  B+

Monday, June 6, 2011

Doctor Danger: The Secret of the Yellow Death

The yellow death was a virulent disease that killed thousands of people, young and old.  Until the twentieth century, no one knew what caused it.  In The Secret of the Yellow Death, a Cybils Middle Grade and Young Adult Nonfiction Finalist, Suzanne Jurmain tells the story of the doctors hired by the American army to study and prevent the disease.  Along the way they also pioneered the ethics of human experimentation, moving from using themselves as test subjects (one died during their investigation) through informally inviting men to get bit by a mosquito, through formally listing the dangers and the rewards of participating in tests.

Jurmain clearly points out the risks and the scientific questions involved, building suspense as the doctors perform experiments and also fall sick to the disease they are studying.  She does a good job of showing the scientific process, as well as discussing the risks involved.  I was fascinated, and I hope to entice the boys into reading it as well.  A

(The Amazon link should benefit the Cybils committee.)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Finish Line!

We made it!   Our final numbers for the Finish Line:

me: 32 hours!  (80 minutes online included)
X: 6.5 hours
P:  4 hours 15 minutes

I only tracked time, not pages this year, and didn't even match up time to books.  Many of my books were lying around half-read when I started, so claiming that I finished ten books doesn't say that much.  I felt I was reading slowly.  I really enjoyed the book I read on my NOOK; next year I plan to get a lot more ready there.  This year I concentrated on catching up on my library catastrophe and also lowering the pile of currently-reading books on my table.  Of course, I started a few books that I now have to finish, but no one's perfect.

Both boys participated, but they treated it more as a 24 hour challenge -- Saturday was our first really nice spring day and P enjoyed it to the limit at the pool.  X checked out the Lord of the Rings for the challenge, but read them all during the week and spent Saturday watching the movies, knowing that with me reading he'd get away with so much screen time.  But Sunday both boys lounged on comfy couches with me for companionable hours.  I asked them for quick summaries of all the books they read;  I provided quick opinions about the books I didn't review because I haven't finished them yet.

Books Touched (Me) (a * means I finished it):
  1. The Commoner *
  2. The Interior Life *
  3. A Kiss in Time *
  4. Feng Shui Roleplaying I'm actually getting a bit inspired to play a bit, but first I want to watch some movies.
  5. Curse of the Wolf Girl I used this as a refresher between books; the tiny chapters and sharp comments are fun in small doses.
  6. Baking Cakes in Kigali *
  7. The Hob's Bargain *
  8. Peter and the Starcatchers *
  9. The Whistling Season I think I'm going to like this book, but I wasn't in the mood for it last night.
  10. Life At the Edge *
  11. Hammered *
  12. Dark Angel *
  13. Treachery in Death *
  14. Ender's Shadow.  This is a reread for our family book club; I like Bean's genius but get cranky when he gets credit for stuff Ender did in the first book.
  15. The Whale Rider (audio).  I only had to drive for 20 minutes or so, meaning we didn't get far. I'm enjoying the accents.
Books Touched (X):
  1. Omnivore's Dilemna.  It was interesting but sometimes boring; it was hard to read it all at once.
  2. Fray * This was futuristically weird.
  3. Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary book They are great; the comments make it better.
  4. Shadow Puppets Still too early to make an opinion.
Books Touched (P):
    1. Ender's Shadow *  This was a good book because I could see someone thinking as Bean thought in the book and I like that.
    2. Ender's Game.  I haven't read much but so far I think it is interesting to see how the teachers at the Battle School think and how Ender thinks.
    3. Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sundays. They are great.
    4. The Whale Rider (twenty minutes of audio).  I think I have to hear more to have an opinion.
    Totals for charity: 10 + 32 (me) + 1+ 6.5 (X) + 4.25 + 1 (P) + 5 (comments) = $60.  I'll throw in an extra $5 for the ten books we read but didn't finish, and send the school library a check for $65.  I was planning on giving it all to the elementary school because I know the librarian, but I might split it with the middle school since the older boy does cause a lot more wear and tear on the library books.

    Book 10: Treachery in Death

    I'm a bit overdosed on J.D. Robb, having accidentally read the previous book and a short story I found on the library's ebook list very recently. But she goes down quickly, so I grabbed Treachery in Death for one of my final books. It dragged a bit at the end, which made it rather a poor choice, but was also easy to read as kids popped in and out while mowing the lawn or trying to fix art equipment or wanted to know where I hid the frozen pizzas (in the freezer).

    Eve and Roarke catch the bad guy, have good sex, quarrel but make up, per usual. Peabody worries about her weight, and Eve's old boyfriend in IAD finds a girlfriend. Oh, baby Bella learns to say "Dallas." Sorry to spoil it!

    Book 8: Hammered

    I went back to the pile of almost read books on my nightstand and finished off one more -- Elizabeth Bear's Hammered.  Bear is a very poor choice for reading in dribs and drabs, because she writes for an intelligent reader and doesn't signpost every detail, but Hammered never grabbed my throat and clawed its way out of the nightstand pile.  It's about honor and loyalty and patriotism when your country is going to the dogs (the country in this case being Canada), and the family that you love and the family that tries to kill you.  Even dipping into it in twenty five page chunks was immersive, and I'm glad I finished up the last hundred pages in a gulp.

    I hated the French, though.  Since I'm not Canadian, I have no smattering of it so even the catchphrases often missed me completely.  It kept switching me from a reader to an intruder, which pulled me out of the story.  This is clearly a problem with me, not the book, but there it was. (Bear's page talks about it a bit; apparently reading it aloud would have helped but I think I'm just a lousy translator.) I'll still read the next one, since I'm very interested in what happens next to Casey, Razerface (although there's no guarantee we'll find out), Richard, and the Montreal.

    Book 7: Life at the Edge and Beyond

    Life at the Edge and BeyondBook 7 is an Aspergers book that I found, although now I forget whether it was recommended or just showed up in the library catalog under Subject: Asperger's Syndrome.  I've been reading different books about this kind of autism to give myself some perspective on my son, and Jan Greenman's memoir, Life at the Edge and Beyond: Living with ADHD and Asperger Syndrome gives that by describing her own experience with a boy dealing with his own bundle of labels.  Her son had a much more challenging time of it, having a more difficult time dealing with affection and also having is own set of anxiety disorders to complicate matters, but I could see a lot of similarities between her Luke and my X.

     I read out a few anecdotes to him, and he found them interesting, especially the scene where the mom invites the younger sister to hit Luke back with a hammer, so Luke can learn what it feels like.  Definitely an effective teaching moment was our consensus, although authorities might frown on the resultant concussion. I'm proud of Greenman for including some scenes that show the roughness of their lives.

    Saturday, June 4, 2011

    Book 6: Peter and the Starcatchers

    ABCABC -- I have detected a pattern! I read a real adult book, then a SF book, and then a kids book.  Since I've repeated this twice, it is now a tradition, so it will be painful to change.  Hmm.  This may help me pick my next book.

    I just finished Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson.  They wrote this as a prequel to Peter Pan, so it explains how he gets his powers and his fairy and his peers the pirate, the savages, and the mermaids.  Which is all fine and a decent standard boy adventure story, complete with lack of mortality (I prefer the corpse littered stories of Joan Aiken, but I understand some men are squeamish about such things), but the unexamined misogyny really disturbed me.  Females are few and far between in this book; there is the useless and fat governess, the intrepid girl heroine who credits Peter with saving the day, and the mermaid.  Which stuck out like a sore thumb was the instant hatred the girl and the mermaid have for each other, supposedly because of their jealousy over Peter.  Because of course the only thing that matters for females is their connection with the alpha male; tiny issues like saving the world pale behind such primal instincts.  By the way, it never occurs to any of the other boys to even consider resenting Peter's special relationship with the girl; after all, the boys are friends and it's impossible to imagine them squabbling over a girl.  They barely even mention her, in fact.  Humph.

    Take 5: A Hob's Bargain

    cover artI'm back to finishing up books already started (from page 200), to bring down the towers on my bedside table. Patricia Brigg's The Hob's Bargain was written before her current popular Mercy Thomson series; it's fantasy, not urban fantasy. It shows Briggs strengths of interesting characters and competent world building, but also her weaknesses of idealized boyfriends for her women. It's been a fun book to dip my toes in for the past few months, and a perfect book to read at the park to get some benefit out of the wonderful weather that showed up just in time for this book challenge.

    Book 4: Baking Cakes in Kigali

    I'm amazed at how many of my books this year are shelved in adult fiction, not SF or YA or children's.  Almost half!  Well, a third.  More than one!  Including this one, Baking Cakes in Kigali, by Gaile Parkin, which follows Angel, grandmother and wife and cake-making entrepreneur, as she lives and works in Kigali.  The different themes of the book wind about themselves, as she deals with menopause, stress over her dead children and the grandchildren she is raising, problems and celebrations of her clients, and the wedding of a close friend.  It's a cheerful glimpse into a wise woman's life, although that's not at all how Angel thinks of herself.  Thanks to BookNAround for bringing it to my to-read list.

    Book 3: A Kiss in Time

    A Kiss in Time By Alex Flinn
    Alex Flinn's retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story A Kiss in Time
    was the first book I started and finished in the Reading Challenge.  It hits the main points of the story -- Talia, the princess, does fall asleep for three hundred years and Jack wakes her with a kiss.  It hits the main point of a YA story -- Jack's parents seem to neglect him, and he's a bit of a loser, but it turns out that everyone loves each other and has been misunderstood.  It's a fairly lightweight story that doesn't really ring true, but it moves along nicely and makes for a nice fluffy read.