Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eff is Off: Across the Great Barrier

Across the Great Barrier (Frontier Magic, Book 2), the second book about Eff, thirteenth child in a very magic-intense family, spends a lot of time roaming about the countryside, which is more pleasant than it sounds.  After the first book covered her entire childhood, the next installment slows down to observe Eff's deliberate attempts to define herself.  She resists her brother's love of college and instead attaches herself to the professors at the local institute, earning herself a place on several expeditions so that we all get to see the complex magic/natural ecosystem and the new animals Patricia Wrede seeded her alternate North America with -- saber toothed lions and petrified field mice included.

I liked hanging out inside Eff's head -- she's modest but capable, and starting to take a more active role in understanding her magic rather than surprising herself with constant failures and occasional spectacular successes.  She continues to love her dangerous brother with an unerring loyalty, but she's emotionally more aware of herself and him as distinct people, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  I'm looking forward to the next installment of the Frontier Magic books.

Wild Weekend: Foursome

No time for computers this weekend -- it started off with Foolscap, a book-centered SF fan convention that I dragged my kids along to.  The neat thing (well, one of them) about my wonderful children is that they are not only eager to go to this convention with me, they are even willing to go to the panels.  I enjoy Foolscap for the people; it's a bunch of smart and interesting people who tend to read the same kind of books as me, so discussions of books leave me with with long lists of things I want to read, and discussions of anything tend to be animated and wide-ranging.   Everyone tends to punctuate conversations with mentions of books that deal with whatever sort of thing we are referencing, so more book lists!

The kids tolerate or enjoy the discussions, although they loved the Game Show (about books) and other interactive events (chocolate fountain!).  P wore the Funny Hat he won at last year's masquade; if anyone saw the Kid With the Beanie, he's mine.  X got to be a contestant at the Game Show this year, which would have been the highlight of his weekend if things for him hadn't just kept getting better.  Saturday X's cold kept him home so it was just P and me; highlights included discovering that P likes Thai food, stretching our artistic chops to the limits in Iron Crafting, and learning more about how to look at computer art in the docent guide through the art show.  Oh, and picking up more books from both the book sale and the book swap, and letting my kid laugh at me at the Real-Life Achievements panel. It was very hard to be a Good Parent and head out at 10 PM with my ten-year-old, just when the YA book discussion started sparking out good stuff.

Sunday Foolscap had to go on without us because we had major family milestones to celebrate.  My baby brother is turning 40 just as my oldest turns 13, so clearly the day before Talk Like a Pirate Day called for a Boffer Party.  Just to make it super special, we secretly flew in Gramma and two cousins and surprised the birthday guys with the special guests.  A great time ensued.  Let me know if you want an invitation to our next one.

On Monday and Tuesday I hung out with my mom most of the day, while finishing up the library books that absolutely positively had to go back that day.  The five books that I read at some point on this weekend without blogging:
  • I Now Pronounce You Someone ElseErin McCahon.  Story of a high school senior who almost gets married before college.  I found it a bit didactic -- the flags highlighting "this girl isn't really all that mature" and "now she realizes what she will miss" waved a little too brightly, and her come-to-her-senses moment was over-dramatic and selfish.  But the characterization was solid, and I really enjoyed the dynamics of her immediate family, even if her too-good-to-be-true godfather was conveniently oblivious whenever the plot demanded it.  This Cybils YA Fiction finalist was good enough to be uncomfortable to read -- I can't imagine my kids being ready for marriage in that short a time.
  • Eye of the Wolf, Daniel Pennac.  This French children's book plays with a magical realism feel that somehow left me cold.  Maybe I just don't get French sensibilites, but I disliked the attempt at a wolfish point of view and found the child more annoying than precious.  Humph.  
  • Buffy, Ballads, and Bad Guys Who Sing: Music in the Worlds of Joss Whedon, ed. by Kendra Preston Leonard.  I'm enjoying the return to reading literary analysis, especially since I'm doing it through the nontraditonal method of reading deep Buffy analysis.  I now remember what diegetic music is.
  • Wench: A Novel (P.S.), by Dolen Perkins-Valdez (NOOK).  I liked the complexity of the main character, a woman who loves and hates the man who owns her and who fathered her children.  This is a heart breaking story of the twisted nature of slavery.
  • Ninth WardJewell Parker Rhodes.  It was hard to judge this book fairly, since it wasn't the book I wanted.  The ghost part of the story weakened the more interesting depiction of a young girl facing difficult times bravely, both the dangerous world of New Orleans as the floods of Hurricane Katrina start rising, and the emotion troubles of growing up too quickly when her caretaker falters.   I wish I could have offered my sons this Cybils Science Fiction and Fantasy (Middle Grade) finalist so I could get their take on Lanesha's journey, but the library called it home.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Setting the Bar Low: Dakota Ambush

The last western I read aggressively pulled the average down for literature everywhere.  The plot was silly, the characters cardboard stereotypes, the setting monotonous, the theme childish, and the dialogue laughable.  So when I finally found and read Dakota Ambush (Matt Jensen: The Last Mountain Man, No. 6), a Matt Jenson book by the deceased William W Johnstone (with the help of J.A. Johnstone), living person, I really wasn't expecting much.  I didn't get much, but that was more than I bargained for, and it was clearly a case of a book meeting the goals it set for itself.

Matt Jenson is a Good Guy and a Fast Shot.  He travels about defeating bad guys, who are briefly and unpleasantly surprised by the swiftness of Matt's draw and the steadiness of his aim.  He meets and helps good but inadequate people, such as the relentlessly crusading newspaperman or the lonely (and widowed) boarding house proprietor, and then he moves on, leaving a trail of dead bad guys and the accompanying bodies of the good guys killed before Matt showed up.  In this book, that pile was disconcertingly large, but then postal service was slow in the old days so it took him a while to hear the call for help.  I'm not going to seek out more of these books to read, but reading this book rarely made me squirm with disbelief.

Now I just have to figure out which Dakota to claim this for my 50 States challenge.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Responsibility Is Me

Renton Library
It was a very quiet trip to the library -- one sick kid was excused, and one kid was off on a shopping expedition.  But I've now added a stop at the local bakery as part of the library ritual, and now everyone loves books again.

I headed straight for the hold shelves:
  • Twin Spica Vol 2, Kou Yaginuma. Continuing the story
  • Anna Hibiscus, Atinuke.  Cybils finalist.
  • Yummy: Last Days of a Southside Shorty, G. Neri.  Cybils finalist.
  • Zebra and Other Stories, Chaim Potak.  How nice of an author I like to write a book starting with the letter "Z."
  • I Am a Man, Joe Starita.  I'm hoping this takes place in the midwest.
I then headed to the children's section where I quickly grabbed a book from the next four library shelves in the J Fiction area.  I don't close my eyes when I pick, but I don't like to spend too much time deciding either.  I did find myself leaning towards non-fantasies in the hope that some books would happen in actual American states:
  • Ivy + Bean,  Annie Barrows.  I've always meant to read these.
  • The Potato Chip Puzzles, Eric Berlin.  A nice yellow cover.
  • If You're Reading This, It's Too Late,  Pseudonymous Bosch.
  • The Dark Pond, Joseph Bruchac.  A known author, new book.
Then two kids picked out a CD case each, which I then rejected with scorn since I was at my age limit.  I told them they could check out their own music, and they laughed with their own scorn.  Apparently I'm the only one who avoids music radio on our car. 
    That brings me to 43 items out on my card. Guess how old I am!  I'm so proud of me.  Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader and Clare from The Captive Reader (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.

    Friday, September 16, 2011

    Short Stuff: The Duel

    I've been keeping on track with reading a book a day for a while now, but this weekend will stretch me -- I'm spending Friday and Saturday at Foolscap talking about books instead of reading them, and then Sunday is the big Boffer Party to celebrate X's entry to teenagerdom, Kevin's entry to old age, and Pirates! So I'm cheating by reading very short books, in particular short books that won prizes for best kidlit translated into English.

    Today's book was Duel, by David Grossman, winner of the 2000 Marsh Award, translated from Hebrew by Betsy Rosenberg.  It's a standard fifth grade type book, with a kid dealing with a tough situation and succeeding.  I ate these books up with a spoon in my day, and would have devoured this one with extra pleasure for its setting in Jerusalem and interesting bits about histories I'm still unfamiliar with.  It's a kid watching two elderly men fight -- one literally challenges the other to a duel with pistols at noon, and the boy finds a way to stop the fight, and reading it gives hints about life in Israel in the 60's (when the book is set) as well as thirty years earlier -- I hadn't known that women seen fraternizing with the British would have their heads shaved.  I'd leave the books out for my kids to read except that it's due already.

    Thursday, September 15, 2011

    Math Geek: Toby Alone

    Timothee de Fombelle's Toby Alone is an ambitious kidlit book that tackles tough issues such as child abuse, environmental abuse, bullying, responsible scientific discoveries, xenophobia, young love, betrayal, and death, but my immediate response is that the math doesn't add up.  This is because I am a shallow math geek.  See, Toby is repeatedly stated to be less than two millimeters tall, but then the size of the leaves and bugs around him don't make sense, and the distances between characters also don't work.  The author has a disconcerting habit of giving these numbers precisely (he was only two millimeters away or something) but if the people are less than two millimeters tall, someone standing that far away isn't exactly in someone's personal space.

    I also found Toby hard to like.  Yes, he was smart and athletic and cunning and limber, but all these super powers just made him dull.  Good people loved him, bad people hated him, weak people betrayed him but then felt bad about it.  Whatevers.  No one seemed worried at how unforgiving or arrogant he was.  When the final pages of the book frantically set things up for a sequel, I didn't have the heart to follow him around anymore.  Maybe I just don't have a French sensibility.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2011

    Forest Full of Trees: Nowhere To Run

    If a book has a number on the spine, it's probably considered genre literature.  Sure, some mainstream writers return to same characters over and over (hello, Rabbit), but to show their seriousness they don't get numbered.  Being in a genre imposes certain constraints; readers have expectations that must either be met or confronted.  And a series builds its own guidelines, so that by the fourth or fifth book the reader can make assumptions about who is in jeopardy and what fates the bad guys can expect.

    I've only read two books by C.J. Box, both Joe Pickett stories, and I have little sense of the rules he sets for his series, and even less sense of the rules of the genre (modern western? gritty ranger dudes?).  This gives me a sense of wandering in the woods at night, vaguely aware of large trees somewhere about but not really sure where they are unless I stumble into them.  Meanwhile I just watch post-L'Amour Joe Pickett do his ranger thing with the help of his computer savvy wife and for his three mainly off-page daughters.  In Nowhere to Runhe does access his only super power: his friendship with outlaw and serious bad-man Nate.  But I like the transparent writing style, with Joe finding it important to do the right thing, whether that is enticing his daughters to eat breakfast or trying to cite libertarian mountain men for fishing without a license.  I'll probably eventually pick up another of these books, since the library likes to dangle them in the quick-pick section.

    Tragically, the book takes places entirely within Wyoming, about the only midwest state I already have for my 50 States challenge.

    Today I also did something unusual; I put down a book and decided not to read it.  I had grabbed Germline (The Subterrene War) from the library because the Big Idea seemed interesting, but my intense dislike of drug addicts kept me from enjoying it.  I really hope my kids don't get heavily into drugs, because I doubt my sarcastic contempt will come across as supportive.  I didn't want to spend that much time with T.C. McCarthy's protagonist, and I gave myself permission to just walk away despite the interesting things it was saying about cloning, war, and reporting.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011

    Last Minute Reveals: The Last Houseparty

    The Last House-PartyDid everyone hear about that study a while ago by someone or other, that explained how spoilers don't really bother people and knowing the end of a book rarely diminishes one's enjoyment of it? Well, I hope it persuaded you, because it's rather pointless to talk about Peter Dickinson's The Last Houseparty without revealing most of the plot.  But the plot is the hanger for the story, not the story itself.

    Dickinson's books immediately open a door into their settings, so that the character seem real and are doing exactly what they would be doing in exactly the place they are doing it.  It's fiction almost as documentary, where real footage shows what is happening, but only in the moments captured by the camera.  Whether he's recounting the events and people at the last houseparty of a politically ambitious hostess in the pre-war '30's, or the current affairs at the same estate over forty years later, with the current owner trying to make ends meet by opening the gardens and rooms to visitors, the conversations and thoughts of the people feel authentic and solid.

    Slowly we learn about the mystery.  On the final evening of the house party, someone assaulted a little girl.  The next day, Vincent, the nephew and possible heir of the estate, disappears, but only after the famous clock work tower almost burns down.  A disgruntled employee gets the blame for the latter, but Vincent's flight makes him the assumed rapist in the minds of everyone except his closest friends.

    Years later, an elderly man called Victor volunteers to help repair the clock work, to the delight of Sally, the current owner, and also the grown-up version of the little girl molested.  She has no real memories of that night, only recurrent nightmares, but also believes Vincent innocent because her step-father, Vincent's cousin, never believed him capable of such an act.  Sally tries to get Victor to admit to being Vincent, but he refuses to confirm anything despite strong evidence.  He does shed more insight into the past, pointing out that the fire and the attack have to connect someone, and helping Sally prove to her own mind the likelihood that the last lord of the estate probably committed both crimes.  Then, in the last pages, a further revelation puts the blame back on Vincent, leaving Sally bereft of faith in herself, her step-uncle, and her step-father.

    It's very powerful stuff, but it doesn't really hold up.  The final twist has the fun of snapping unexpected cogs into place, but it's also contradicted by the emotional truths provided in the first half of the book.  The evidence remains circumstantial either way, with no real motivation for either crime.  Each scene works, but there is no real connection between them.  The intellectual fun of a tricky ending means the book loses almost all its emotional weight.  I think I prefer Dickinson's children's books better, where he doesn't let his mind overrule his heart.

    Monday, September 12, 2011

    Poor Little Astronaut: Twin Spica Vol.1

    Twin Spica, Volume: 01My older son read Kou Yaginuma's Twin Spica Vol. 1 before me, but he found it rather dull. Reading this Cybils Graphic Novel (YA) finalist, I can see his problems with the book. There are two stories, the present and the past, and only the present plot line would interest him, while the past is given much more space and attention.

    The present story follows young Asumi as she tries to enter the highly competitive Tokyo Space School. Her scores are high, but her father seems unsupportive at first, and the final test proves tricky. The reasons it proves tricky trigger the extensive flashbacks, where we learn about Asumi's tragic past, her mother's slow death, her father's disintegration, and her teacher's own tragedy. Oh, and the invisible ghost who serves as her imaginary friend. While I enjoyed seeing the various twists in Asumi's backstory that will obviously influence her career at the Space school, I can easily see my son zipping through pages to get back to the tests at the academy and hoping to get some real astronaut stuff happening. If I get the next few volumes, I bet he'll enjoy them more, especially if they actually launch into space.

    Monday -- What Am I Reading?

    I'm signing up again for bookjourney's Monday check in, where everyone reports on what they've read and what they want to read and what they are currently reading.  It's a good chance to step back a bit and see the patterns.
    • Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls, Lynne Jonell
    • Dragonbreath: No Such Thing As Ghosts, Ursula Vernon
    • The Dragon Princess, E.D. Baker
    • Nurk, Ursula Vernon
    • The Littlest Pirate King, Peter B
    There's a clear pattern -- I'm going for low-hanging fruit in my continuing quest to clear out my library pile.  These are all kidlit.  What am I reading right now? A lot.
    • Toby Alone, Timothee de Fombelle (challenge book)
    • The Last House-Party, Peter Dickinson.  From my shelves.
    • Keeper, Kathi Appelt.  From the next library shelf.
    • Nowhere to Run, C.J. Box.  Tragically, this is set in Wyoming, about the only western wilderness state I already have.
    • I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, Erin McCahan. Cybils YA book, but so scary I can only read a few pages a day.  She's now engaged, planning her wedding for the summer after graduation.
    • Buffy, Ballads, and Bad Guys Who Sing, ed by Kendra Leonard.  Essays on music in the Whedonverse.  My finisher award book.
    • Dakota Ambush, by William Johnstone. I found it!!!  Right where we looked a dozen times.
    • Born To Run, by Christopher McDougal. On my NOOK
    • and a bunch of books I'm poking at but not really making progress with.
    What will I read next? I'm working the next pile of almost-due library books.  I think I'm almost done recovering from my early summer spree, since all summer is about the limit for checking out books.  I think I'd like to stabilize around twelve books out, so I have options but aren't always racing the due dates. Onto my challenges:

    A-Z: 43/52. Picked up the "J" author.
    Cybils: 58/76. And I'm reading one more right now, the very frightening young wedding book.
    Global Reading Challenge:12/21. Hmm, this one clearly needs work.
    Read Around the World: 21/20. Done!
    Science Book Challenge: 3.141/3.141... Done! And hey, Switch is sorta science. I should add that.
    Stream: 3/3, 1/3, 3/3, 3/3.  I have to figure out how to register myself as done.
    Take a Chance: 7/10. I have Room out for this.  Haven't read it yet, though.
    20/11: 20/20. Done! 
    What's In a Name?: 6/6.  Done!
    Where Am I Reading?: 28/50. Found the Dakota book!  Now I just have to read it.

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    Nihilism For Kids: The Littlest Pirate King

    Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!  Raise the skull and crossbones, m'hearties!  ARRR!  Just practicing my lingo for Talk Like a Pirate Day, which hoists its sails in a few weeks' time.  Everyone knows how jolly and frolicsome pirates are nowadays.  Well, everyone except for David B.

    When I pulled The Littlest Pirate King from the shelves for Reading My Library, I mainly picked it because I wondered why this graphic novel rated as a fiction book rather than a comic book, which in my library would mean shelved in nonfiction.  Or as a picture book, judging by the dimensions.  Well, it's definitely not aimed at the preschool crowd; it's pushing the limits to stay in Children's rather than YA sections.  I guess because there is very little sex, only horrific but not graphic violence and emotional despair, which are fine for the kiddies, right?  Well, I actually agree that kids can handle it, but I still think it odd that sex is the only marker for how "mature" something is rated.  Well, regardless of that rant, this book is dark.

    The zombie pirates in this book cringe at their unchanging existence, and vent their horror by massacring everyone in their path.  They only keep the baby so they can enjoy killing him once he is big enough to justify it.  And he's only saved because death itself has no horror for him; in their love for him, the zombies deny him death and exile him to return to the living, beings that he can only view with fear and loneliness.  Avast!

    Passes the Bechtel Test: Y The Last Man Unmanned

    When searching the shelves for something for my son (he has just started dipping his toes outside the kid-specific areas) I noticed a copy of Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned by Brian Vaughan and remembered seeing it recommended on So I picked it up, partly to see why this was shelved in adult nonfiction as a comic rather than in Graphic Novels, which is apparently a YA group. I guess if a story doesn't involve either teenagers or superheroes, it's not YA. Odd.

    The story follows Yorick, child of parents with poor naming skills, with a few excursions into the life of his sister Hero. In the first few pages, Yorick is an unambitious post-college guy talking with his much more energetic girlfriend while she hikes through Australia. Then all the men in the world drop dead except for him (and his pet monkey). This shakes up society a bit.

    Yorick goes looking for his family, so we travel around a bit to see the devastation (lots of male drivers crashed) and the strange turns of society, including some women who adopt Amazon personas and glory in the removal of the evil sex. He has to hide his gender from everyone, since the crazies would kill him to finish the job and the non-men haters want to control him for his own protection. Yorick only wants to find his girlfriend, which is a bit sad since I thought she was trying to dump him during their last conversation. Oh, and there is an Israeli spy doing something or other. The pictures are clear and vivid so that it was effortless to follow the twists of the story, and the premise is interesting enough that I think I'll keep looking for the other volumes. I like having the guy everyone is left with be a rather dim sloucher rather than a superstar.

    Saturday, September 10, 2011

    Striped Sock of Courage: Nurk

    [Nurk Cover] Having mostly enjoyed Ursula Vernon's Dragonbreath stories, I requested the other book by her that the library carried. Nurk: The Strange, Surprising Adventures of a (Somewhat) Brave Shrew is text based; a standard book with illustrations but with the same attention to character and respect for the story that Danny and his friends show.

    Nurk is a shrew who lives alone, with only the journals of his adventurous grandmother for company. He decides to live up to his heritage and seek adventure, although he's careful to pack plenty of clean socks because no matter how thrilling your deeds are, cold feet are still demoralizing. Sometimes he needs help, and sometimes he gives it, and sometimes he speaks sternly to his faltering feet to get them to go in the right direction. My favorite line, when Nurk is faced with a particularly frightening task, is: "I know I have to. I just don't know if I can." A fun little book that I'll hand along to the boys.

    Friday, September 9, 2011

    Girls Don't Always Stink: There's No Such Thing As Ghosts

    The newest Dragonbreath book by Ursula Vernon appeared on our radar, so the library delivered it to my son's shelf. And then I read it as well, a week or so after both boys gave it a thumbs up. Although No Such Thing as Ghosts (Dragonbreath) doesn't carve much new territory, it delivers on its promise of a clever and funny story told in a seamless blend of pictures and text (not a graphic novel, but a book where the illustrations advance the story as much as the words do) with strong and consistent characters.

    The new character is Christiana, a girl from Danny and Wendell's class. She's a crested lizard with a science background matching Wendells and a stubborn streak as long as Danny's. She's also a confirmed skeptic who refuses to believe Danny is a dragon and who provides much needed common sense when the three lock themselves in a haunted house while trick-or-treating. In modern Scooby fashion, the initial rational explanation proves insufficient, and the kids have to handle some actual supernatural beasties. I especially like the kid-level tone, which has the same intensity of feeling when the children confront losing their Halloween candy as when they face off against possibly lethal monsters. I also appreciated a much lower level of girl-cootie comments; the boys have matured a bit since their outing with Suzi and the ninja frogs. We'll probably keep grabbing these as Vernon keeps writing them.

    Library On Thursdays

    Renton Library
    Due to the new school year and schedule changes and life in general, library day has moved to Thursdays.  It is mandatory for all children that I can access, despite their howls and moanings.  I may not be able to make them drink, but I can darn sure chain them to the water.  And most of them stumble across books there anyway.

    I limited myself to hold options, since my check-out list has approached sanity:
    • How Starbucks Saved My Life, Michael Gates.  From my TBR list, its a life journey book.
    • Milo, Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze, Alan Silberberg.  A Cybils finalist.
    • Shipbreaker, Paolo Bacigalupi.  Another Cybils book, one that has been lauded everywhere and so I've avoided it.  
    • Heat, Nancy Holder.  Another Buffy book by Holder.
    • Dazzled and Deceived, Peter Forbes.  Another from my TBR list, which I wish were shorter.
    Then two kids picked out a CD case each, so I declared victory and fled the scene.  Tensions were high since I had earlier ruined one child's life and grudges were being held.  Also, some kids kept casting their eyeballs at other kids, said eyeballs apparently being much too heavy to cast without causing severe pain.
      That brings me to 39 items out on my card, officially under my age.  It is true that my nephew checked a few things out for me during the library technical challenge, but I also have some stuff out for other people so it all balances.  I win!  Clearly I deserve a B&N gift card.  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.

      Thursday, September 8, 2011

      Old Maids at Fifteen: The Dragon Princess

      The Dragon Princess
      I've seen E.D. Baker's Frog Princess series in the elementary school library for several years now, but never got around to reading one despite several recommendations from various kids.  So when I hit the B shelves on my Read the Library Quest, I grabbed one, but due to their popularity I had to get a late book in the series, The Dragon Princess (Tales of the Frog Princess), which apparently covers the second generation of princesses.

      The setting is a sunny magic kingdom, with cheerful princes and princesses all over, including a peppy vampire princess who spends most of her time as a bat.  Our heroine, Millie, worries that she'll never find true love and is doomed to a life of loneliness and misery, although neither I nor her mother can take her that seriously since she's not yet fifteen.  On the other hand, her habit of transforming into a dragon when she's angry does make things a bit dicey, especially since her parents want to keep that info on the q.t.

      When Millie lets her bullying grandmother get her goat, the secret is out.  Her parents will be most upset, since the last thing they said before abandoning her with the cranky royalty and her annoying friends were to avoid getting upset.  So it's quest time, which means hanging out with bat friend, another prince, and a two-headed troll.  Everything is light and fun, making this an easy book to zip through, and the ending even deepened things a bit without getting annoyingly didactic -- Millie must embrace her inner fire to learn to control her dragon nature.  Also, dragons have more fun.  I wouldn't mind reading more of Baker's books, and I bet my niece would enjoy these.

      Never Grow Up: The One-Week Job Project

      Ah, the joys of the project book!  It's always fun to read about some enterprising and adventurous person who pursues an adventure and then gets to write a book about it.  Sean Aiken realized several years after college that he still had no idea what he wanted to do with his life, and he felt he was getting a bit old to be saying that.  So he hatched the crazy idea of getting people to hire him for one week so he could try out fifty two different things, and then because he's a modern kind of guy, he blogged about it.  The blog also helped get him a tiny bit of fame, so that he had more offers from farther away.

      And at the end, he got to write The One-Week Job Project: One Man, One Year, 52 Jobs, a week by week diary of what he did, where he did it, and what he learned, both about the job about and about himself.  My primary reaction to his writing was a feeling of great age -- this guy was a baby!  A mere child! I'm reminded of the time my mom described an airplane trip where she sat next to this young boy, and in the middle of her story it turned out that her neighbor wasn't an unaccompanied minor but some guy in his thirties.  Suddenly I'm reading a book by a minor, who incidentally is old enough to buy his younger siblings drinks.  Even outside of Canada.

      It's also an interesting ride.  Some chapters just describe the job in a week, while others go into more detail on what Aiken felt or did.  Occasionally he dips into his private life; he fell in love early on in the year but obviously it was mostly a long-distance affair.  That bit of personal life worked in the book, while the news about his mother's illness was less well-integrated, partly because even he didn't know the conclusion by the end of the book.  This book is a good advertisement for a gap year, where kids (HA!) take a break before or after college to actually try working and traveling and seeing what the world looks like outside of pictures in textbooks.  Oh, I also learned a lot about dreadlocks.

      Wednesday, September 7, 2011

      Emotional Blackmail: Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls

      Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls
      Lynne Jonell's Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls is the second book about Emmy and her friends the rats.  In the previous book, Emmy escaped from an evil nanny who casts spells making her parents uncaring and her classmates unable to notice her.  After a horribly lonely and lost time, Emmy recovered her family as well as the ability to understand rodent speech and a friendship with several rats and chipmunks (honorary rodents, I guess).  But she still has only one human friend.

      At the start of this book, Emmy really wants to make friends with girls her own age.  Most of the emotional arc of this book follows her punishment for this horribly selfish desire, until she repents and saves everyone and her former friends (and even one human girl!) reluctantly let her back into their good graces.  This is a bit of an exaggeration, and I suspect that any kid who read this book would not recognize it from that description, but I kept wanting to reach into the book and tell Emmy that it was OK to still hurt after the abuse of the previous year, and that if the creatures around her didn't support that then they weren't good friends.  Instead, Emmy hesitates to intervene when an annoying (but saintly) rat accosts her while Emmy is attempting to talk to some classmates, resulting in an injury to the clueless rat that Emmy blames herself for .  All her old friends, rat and human, now hate her for letting the rat get hurt, while I blamed the author for setting up the poor girl.

      In between this there is lots of good adventure, people turning into rats, people living in dollhouses, six year olds clobbering soccer balls, and other good stuff.  I suspect my fourth graders would enjoy it a lot, but my biggest impression was the red light indicated moral failure when Emmy preferred trying to make friends for the first time in over a year to hanging out with the rats who helped defeat the evil nanny.  The patterns of children's literature all screamed that this was the tragic flaw that would lead Emmy into her great fall, but only gross authorial shenanigans wrangles any harm from "weakness."  Humph.

      On the plus side, the authors name starts with a "J".

      Wednesday Morning Is Like Monday Only Later

      Well, it's not exactly Monday, but closer than I've been getting for the past few months.  Also, Monday didn't really count, since it was a holiday.  What have I finished in the past week or so?
      What am I reading right now? A lot.
      • Toby Alone, Timothee de Fombelle (challenge book)
      • Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls, Lynne Jonell (just because)
      • The Last House-Party, Peter Dickinson.  From my shelves.
      • Keeper, Kathi Appelt.  From the next library shelf.
      • I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, Erin McCahan. Cybils YA book, but so scary I can only read a few pages a day -- he's about to propose!
      • Buffy, Ballads, and Bad Guys Who Sing, ed by Kendra Leonard.  Essays on music in the Whedonverse.  My finisher award book.
      • Dakota Ambush, by William Johnstone. Or I would be reading this if I could find it...
      • and a bunch of books I'm poking at but not really making progress with.
      What will I read next? I'm working the next pile of almost-due library books.  Speaking of which, since I am transitioning to a Thursday library day I dropped off some due books without checking out anything new, bring my current check-out list to 35!  I'm much older than that!  OK, that doesn't count the books I checked out on my nephews card because the library couldn't access mine during some database upgrade a few weeks ago, but it does count other books I checked out for my sons, so it evens out to me making my goal for the first time this year! Maybe I'll celebrate by buying myself some books.  Onto my challenges:

      A-Z: 42/52. I can't believe I haven't read any books starting with "J" this year.
      Cybils: 57/76. And I'm reading one more right now.
      Global Reading Challenge:12/21. Hmm, this one clearly needs work.
      Read Around the World: 21/20. Done!  Cheers!.
      Science Book Challenge: 3.141/3.141... Done! And hey, Switch is sorta science. 
      Stream: 3/3, 1/3, 3/3, 3/3.  I have to figure out how to register myself as done.
      Take a Chance: 7/10. I have Room out for this.
      20/11: 20/20. Done! 
      What's In a Name?: 6/6.  Done!
      Where Am I Reading?: 28/50. Stupid Dakota book is missing really really well.  Yick.

      Tuesday, September 6, 2011

      Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Switch

      Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

      Our book club continues its intellectual glide with Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by Chip and Dan Heath, a popular culture book about the science of making changes.  It's a fast read, covering various studies about decision making and decision sticking, with the premise that making a change involves both an intellectual and emotional commitment as well as mechanisms to make it work.  If I could sew, I would make a sampler of the quote "Great journeys begin with a single step.  So do ambling walks that end up going nowhere."  Actually, that's not a direct quote, since I had to give the book to my sister so she could read the book.

      Oh, anyone want to join us this Friday?  It's bring-a-friend week, but I forgot to invite any friends.

      I can't think too much about the book yet, because then I wouldn't have anything to say at the club, but maybe I'll come back and update after our meeting.  But today is the day I read it.

      Monday, September 5, 2011

      Mistaken Identity: Zapato Power

      Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue
      I meant to read another Cybils Early Chapter book, but I had grabbed this book from the library featured shelves because the title looked familiar.  Well, sorta, but Jacqueline Jules' Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Zooms to the Rescue (Book 3) follows the Cybils finalist in the series so not exactly.

      It was a cute book but nothing spectacular.  Freddie goes to school, does his homework, respects his mother, but also has a pair of magic shoes that allow him to perform superheroic feats, including finding the lost squirrel in the school and warning the railroad of a fallen tree.  Cute, but nothing really struck me as amazing.  Maybe the first book has more depth; I'll make sure to get the correct one next time.

      Sunday, September 4, 2011

      It's Not What It Looks Like: Xenocide Mission

      I'm hoping to get most of my A-Z Challenge books just by normal reading, but sometimes I make a bit of an effort.  For example, I don't actually read that many books that start with the letter "X" so on a trip to the library I typed in a few words to see what I found, and Ben Jeapes' The Xenocide Mission came up.

      Ironically, I could actually use this for the author as well, since I'm missing "J" there as well, but I figure it's easy to browse the library by author; harder by title.  This book seems to be the middle of a series, but I just took it as having a rich backstory, with humanity partnering with an alien species on a new planet.  Only we get to watch them as they spy on a third species, one seen destroying the civilization on another planet in their system.  Soon a war springs up, and humanity assumes the worst, but Our Heroes soon discover that the story is much more complicated.  The various aliens are shallow but consistent, with the emotional tone staying light and on the juvenile level, but in a straightforward way.  It was a fun easy read on a pretty summer day, especially one where I spent a while waiting in a coffee shop.

      Saturday, September 3, 2011

      Tough Guy: Circle of Enemies

      Circle of EnemiesHarry J Connolly's Twenty Palaces books are among the most interesting urban fantasy ideas on the market today.  The protagonist, Ray Lilly, is an ex-con forced into a world of magic and danger, working for people who despise him but who try to stop magicians from destroying the world.  Ray has slowly been learning about his employers, becoming more and more uncomfortable with their ruthlessness even as he sees the horrible dangers they battle.

      In the third book, Circle of Enemies, Ray goes back to the friends he had before his life changed so drastically, before he met a magician, before he went to prison.  At the same time, he goes farther into the Twenty Palaces organization and directly confronts the policies and people that seem almost as awful as the alternative.  Almost.  Connolly presents it all through the eyes of Ray, who doesn't try to conceal things but also doesn't always like to examine himself too closely, who doesn't seem to respect himself even as he refuses to let himself give up on anything or anyone.  It's a gripping combination of characters and situation, and finishing the last book makes me want to start the series all over again.  Good work, and keep writing.

      Friday, September 2, 2011

      Future History: Downbelow Station

      C.J. Cherryh writes intensely convincing stories of things and places far in the future, with the immediacy of good histories although a bit heavy on overwrought and desperate young adults.  Not teenagers, real young adults struggling to deal with rapidly changing situations and demands, and operating with incomplete understandings of the situations, so that the reader also has to fit together what is happening and how.

      Downbelow Station is a prime example of this; the first chapter gives a rapid overview of decades of history before plunging into a hot point of change, with refugees pushing the space station to its limit while many different factions strive to survive or prevail.  There are obvious villains and probably heroes, but also grey areas with people choosing among poor options.  It's a rather demanding book, as Cherryh keeps in the minds and fears of the characters, who are too busy with their own lives to stop and muse over the past few years of history leading them to this point.  One character even has a memory wipe to underscore how little information he can provide; everything he knows he learns from experience, and the reader picks up the pieces along with Tulley.  I love this sort of thing, so I'm a big Cherryh fan in general.  I've read this before, so I did this reread backwards and very slowly, which is not at all the best way to approach the dense, chaotic tapestry of this book, but even in small bites it grabbed me and held my attention.

      Thursday, September 1, 2011

      ZOMG -- Zombies: Rot and Ruin

      Apparently zombies are the best thing to hit paranormal books since vampires. I can't see it; dead people do not become more interesting when they rot.  So it takes a lot to get me to read a zombie book -- maybe a Hugo nomination, or an appearance on the Cybils YA Fantasy and Science Fiction finalist list.  Jonathan Maberry's Rot and Ruin made that list, so it's the third zombie book I can remember reading.

      I do know a good song about zombies, though.

      The cover reinforced my low expectations; it looked like a zombie would be the main character.  Luckily Benny lives and breathes; the zombies are all outside the fenced town that clings to survival after the dead rose on First Night fourteen years ago and destroyed civilization.  Unfortunately, Benny is dumb as a rock, with the interpersonal skills of a post.  He hates his brother for cowardice, ignoring the supreme respect all decent people extend and the loving care and devotion shown for the past fourteen years (their parents died that First Night).  Slowly over the course of the novel Benny learns about his family and his brother, gradually coming to realize that anyone who trains with weapons for hours every day and earns his living dodging zombies and keeps his temper while an idiot teenager screws everything up maybe isn't a complete waste of space.  Touching.

      Benny is almost as smart with girls as he is with his brother.  Luckily the girl who fell in love with him doesn't hold a grudge.  The story action moved along nicely, and the society and post-apocalyptic world was fun even if not really all that sensible, and I think kids reading this would have a much larger tolerance for Benny that I did.  I had a distressing tendency to sometimes see things from a wider perspective than his, which almost always made him look rather dumb.  Sometimes forgivably so; many fifteen years olds have poor career management skills, but sometimes cruelly so, when he casually insults his friends and family.  I'll see what my seventh grader thinks; I'm betting he'll stick with Benny's viewpoint and not notice any problems, especially when the action with the bad guys and the zombies gets going.

      ARC ARC: Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact

      A.J Hartley's middle grade book Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact is a lot of fun, even if follows a steady traditional plot pattern. Darwen is a Manchester United fan who is orphaned and moves to Atlanta to live with his aunt. She means well but doesn't understand children or grief. His school is deliberately heartless and encourages bullies. These problems pale behind the magical dangers he discovers threatening his world through portals disguised as mirrors. With the help of two friends he tries to stop the invasion.

      I liked the balance between action and emotional realism -- Darwen's grief over his parents is treated seriously even through the magical journeys and somewhat overblown awfulness of his school. His friends have their own problems that appear naturally rather than in placards over their heads as they appear. I enjoyed this book, and so did my seventh grade son.  He's rather blase about the early reading copy, but it makes me excited.