Saturday, December 31, 2011

Declaring Victory on Where Are You Reading

Where are You Reading Challenge Complete!

I've managed to read books from every state of the United States, plus the District of Columbia.  Whew!  This was the challenge that I feared leaving incomplete, since my plan of just reading all the books accidentally turned out to be a bad one and I was left with about twenty books needed for the last several weeks.  Also, I'm now quite disgruntled at books with vague settings; in a few cases I actually emailed the authors to find out where the heck their books were set.  This is particularly a problem for middle grade and young adult books, which I like reading.

I may or may not manage to review all the books today, but I promise I've read them.  I'll keep updating this post with the emergency reviews for the books I've finished in the past few weeks, when all blogging was suspended because reading time took precedence.  I will say that I've really enjoyed the last few books, especially the nonfiction titles I picked up for a change of pace that made Rhode Island and Alaska such fun reads on the last day of the year.

I kept track of the states on my sign-up post, and I have a google map with pointers to the books I read.  Making that was pretty exciting.

Hey, looking at the conclusion post on BookJourney's blog it appears that not finishing every state doesn't  mean the list police will hunt you down.  Huh.  Anyway, it was a lot of fun and I'll probably do it again next year, but hopefully will pay attention and either permit myself to leave it incomplete or search out the books I need a bit earlier.

View Book Trip in a larger map

What did I read? * are the ones I really enjoyed, and the mini-reviews here probably mean I read it in the past two weeks.  Or two hours.
Alabama:  Bird, by Angela Johnson
Alaska: The Map of My Dead Pilots, by Colleen Mondor.  A memoir about working with an airline in the frozen north, with all the fatalities involved.  It becomes a musing on memories and meaning and loss that encompasses much of what I think Xianjing was trying for and I wasn't seeing in One Man's Bible. *
Arizona: Alien Tango, by Gini Koch
Arkansas: Daisy Bates: Civil Rights Crusader, by Amy Polakow.  Daisy Bates was a black woman who helped organize the Little Rock 9 to integrate the high school and ran a newspaper that reported on civil rights abuses throughout America.  This book gave a suspenseful description of her life and actions.
California: Mouse Tales, by David Koenig
Colorado: Children of the Waters by Carleen Brice
Connecticut: Because of Mr Terupt by Rob Buyea
Delaware: A Light in the Storm, by Karen Hesse.  Again I'm surprised by the authors writing in the Dear America series books -- Karen Hesse has won Newbery awards.  I thought this book gave a good sense of the culture and attitudes of people at the start of the civil war, although there wasn't much plot. Florida: You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know, by Helen Seller
Georgia: Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Plot, by A.J. Hartley
Hawaii: Under a Blood-red Sky, by Graham Salisbery.  Historical fiction about a Japanese boy in Hawaii at right before and after the attack at Pearl Harbor.  Good enough to make me want to read the sequel.
Idaho: One Door Away From Heaven, by Dean Koontz.  My first Koontz, I found it interesting with vivid characters but too long for its chops and with a bit too much time spent in the eeeeevil killer's head.
Illinois: Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, by G. Neri
Indiana: The Beef Princess of Practical County, by Michelle Houts.  Straightforward and fun story of a girl learning to raise beef cattle and navigate some tricky situations during her twelfth year.
Iowa: Any Which Wall, Laurel Snyder
Kansas: Vengeance, David Thompson
Kentucky: Eli the Good, Silas House
Louisiana: Secrets of the Demon, Diane Rowland
Maine: Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette, Jeanne Birdsall
Maryland: Twist of Fate, M.J. Putney.  Romance between an insecure lawyer transitioning from cutthroat corporate work to touchy-feely law and a ex-software magnate turned carpenter recovering from the execution of his serial killer brother.  They bond over a last ditch effort to save an innocent guy from another execution.  Aside from them not noticing the clear clues the author leaves them, it was a fun story with a cute love life.
Massachusetts: Clementine, Friend of the Week, Sara Pennypacker
Michigan: Working Words,  ed. M.L. Liebler
Minnisota: Popcorn Days and Buttermilk Nights, Gary Paulsen
Mississippi: The Help, Kathryn Stockett
Missouri: Ghost in the Little House, William Holtz
Montana: The Whistling Season, Ivan Hoig
Nebraska: I Am a Man, Joe Starita
Nevada: Trick of the Light, Rob Thurman.  Standard paranormal with secret identies, hot ladies, and dubious man-friends.  Fun enough, and I like the strong emphasis on the action, not the sex.
New Hampshire: Horns, Joe Hill
New Jersey: The Half-Life of Planets, Emily Franklin & Brendan Halpin
New Mexico: Split, Swati Avasthi
New York: Every Time a Rainbow Dies, Rita Williams-Garcia
North Carolina: Wild Things, Clay Carmichael
North Dakota: Dakota Ambush, William W. Johnstone
Ohio: Sweet, Hereafter, Angela Johnson
Oklahoma: The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton.  Hey, I didn't review this book club book? As angsty as I remember, we all approved of Ponyboy and his pals. My son gave it a thumbs up in his guest appearance.
Oregon: Nightfall, Ellen Connor.  Oops, forgot to review this rather disappointing book about a group of people after the Apocalypse who battle bad guys who turn out to be werewolves and then discover they are changing themselves.  Not as fun as it sounds.
Pennsylvania: Circles in the Stream (Avalon #1),
Rhode Island: Backyard Giants, Susan Warren.  A tense year alongside amateur gardeners working towards growing a world record pumpkin.  Warren got lucky in that this was a really good year for the R.I. pumpkin club she shadowed for this book.
South Carolina: Army 101: Inside ROTC in a Time of War by David Axe.  Although Axe seems a bit puzzled about why anyone would want to join the military, he provides a good view on the lives of a corps of ROTC students and their struggles and hopes at the University of South Carolina.
South Dakota: High Plains Tango, Robert James Waller.  Slight tale of a man moving to a small town where he beds two women, sights a supposedly extinct bird, and loses his house to a highway.  The man is the illegitimate son of the guy from Bridges of Madison County.
Texas: Belly Up, Stuart Gibbs
Tennessee: Truth and Beauty, Ann Pratchett
Utah: Dinosaur Mountain, Deborah Kogan Ray
Vermont: How Tia Lola Ended Up Starting Over, Juliea Alvarez
Virginia: Paranormalcy, Kiersten White.
Washington: Five Flavors of Dumb, Anthony James
Washington DC: Liberty Porter, First Daughter by
West Virginia: Blue-Eyed Daisy, Cynthia Rylant.  A year in a poor girl's life, where she meets her father over a hunting dog and makes connections at school.
Wisconsin:  I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, Erin McCahon
Wyoming:  Scumble, Ivy Law

Library Returns Today!

A shelf of books had to go back to the library today because of tedious things like due dates and other people's holds.  And then I went off to Utah for vacation.  But here are some swift reactions to the books they got back.

Book From My TBR List:
  • Don't Be Such a Scientist, Randy Olson.  Written by a marine biologist turned semi-successful movie producer, this polemic against boring attempts at persuasion looks at traditional ways of conveying information and laughs with scorn.  Too often scientists use the same protocols for public speaking that they do for research proposals, sometimes salted with contempt for their audience and general arrogance.  Olson suggests this may not be as effective as they seem to think.
Books From Reading My Library:
Border Crossing: A Novel
  • Border Crossing, Maria Colleen Cruz.  Twelve year old Cesi Alvarez would be a good friend to Keeper, since they both have the common sense of a newt.  Apparently no one ever told her that Mexico is a different country than the US.  It tries to be a cute story about a girl understanding her heritage, but it relies heavily on willful and strident stupidity from Cesi.  Luckily she sits next to her long-lost cousin on the train, much as a mermaid steers Keeper home.  But it completes North America for my Global Challenge!
  • Liberty Porter: First Daughter, Julia Devillers.  Nine year old Liberty looks forward to her new life in the White House, but first she has to straighten some things out with her dad's PR tool.  Cute and bouncy story that I think my fifth grader would like.  Also doubles as a location book for Washington DC, SCORE!
State Books:
    How Tía Lola Ended Up Starting Over, a book for young readers by Julia Alvarez
  • How Tia Lola Ended Up Starting Over, Julia Alvarez.  A blended family starts a B&B (or C&C&C) in VERMONT.  I liked the way the two families and their extended friends interacted and the conflict from the mysterious ill-wisher kept things interesting.  The sudden U-turn in the last few pages threw me violently out -- why suddenly tell me this is a book from a library and the characters aren't real?  I mean, I KNOW that...
  • Popcorn Days and Buttermilk Nights, Gary Paulsen.  City living has poisoned Carley, so that he intermittently erupts in meaningless acts of violence.  His mom ships him to northern MINNESOTA to spend time in the country, where he learns about beauty and hard work and grinding poverty that gets alleviated with genius and more hard work.
Vampire Literature Books:
  • The Vampire Defanged, Susannah Clements.  A review of vampire literature from Dracula through Sookie Stackhouse, looking at how Christian themes first dominated the literature and then gradually become replaced with more secular interests, paralleling the change from horrible monsters to sexy man-friends with an edge.  Clements thinks the genre would benefit from a return to a harder edge, which would also allow the Christian themes more room to thrive.
Books From My Favorite Authors
  • I read Tempering of Men by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear just as the news of Anne McCaffrey's death come out, and it's an interesting homage to the Dragonrider books.  These men bond with their wolves, but the wolves are the dominant end of the equation, and the men adjust their lives to accommodate the wolves more than vice versa.  Sex gets complicated, for example.  And just as in later Pern books, these men are also facing the results of success -- they have beaten back the main threat that led to the pairings, so are they even necessary?  And what happens if the man you love doesn't love you back?

Alphabetically Scrambling to Finish off 2011

Things have been quiet around here as I try to finish up my last challenges while still celebrate the holidays with my family.  Now I'm holed up alone in my room chasing down the last few pages.

The A-Z challenge had a few leaves that were hard to shake from the tree, but I've finally knocked them down.  Coincidentally they also helped me round out the Global Reading Challenge, which was looking a bit anemic. During the holidays I've read the following on my NOOK, completing the A-Z challenge:
  • Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey.  An Australian coming-of-age story where the narrator learns about the fronts put on by everyone around him, proving that he doesn't have to doubt himself if his own courage and self-confidence aren't always bone deep.  The twin mysteries of his parents' marriage and the murder of a school mate implicating the notorious Jasper Jones provide the lens focusing these revelations, as well as the minor bits of plot that accompany the journey of interior growth.  I also learned a lot about cricket.
  • Wife of the GodsKwei Quartey.  Darko is a police detective in Ghana, where modern investigative techniques run parallel to rougher, simpler modes of justice, with magic and witchcraft lurking in the corners.  Darko's sense of fair place and justice stem from his own mother's disappearance, and the chance to solve a murder in his mother's home village also gives him the chance to peer into his own family's secrets.  An interesting glimpse into Ghana culture as well as a detective story.
  • The Space Between Us, Thrity Umrigar.  Rich Parsis and poor Hindu workers may think that their friendship can transcend an employee-worker relationship, but the rich will betray the poor every time.  Poor and uneducated people always lose, and it's because their poverty leads them open to bad choices based on smaller understanding.
  • One Man's Bible, Gao Xingjian.  Another book translated from Chinese that felt like it was written behind glass -- somehow I've never been able to connect with any I've tried.  It didn't help that women in this book were considered alien creatures there to either inspire lust or to fail miserably in that purpose.  The tricks with pronouns didn't illuminate much to me; the whole book felt false so the changing identities didn't resonate deeply.  The parts set in the past at least gave a sense of setting and reality, as opposed to the much vaguer parts in France or other western cities.  As a "fictionalized account" of the cultural revolution it worked better than as a "meditation on exile" and "the essence of writing" (from the B&N description.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Final Cybils Post

Whew!  I finished the 2010 Cybils Challenge, just in time for the announcement of the 2011 Cybils Finalists.  This was really a lot of fun; I liked revisiting picture books and early readers and seeing what the kids thought of books they considered below them in reading level.  It's interesting to see them step back a bit and consider what would make a good book for their past selves, their DISTANT past selves that I think I saw around here yesterday or so.

I also had a lot of fun with the nonfiction lists; I rarely read kid nonfiction and I hadn't realized how good it could be.  I had some luck in getting the kids to read them along with me.  Poetry was hard; I got P to read a lot of it along with me because I like reading it out loud, but neither of us really got into most of the options.  Well, Borrowed Names sent me off on several reading interests, but I felt the poetry part lessened rather than added to its appeal, and everyone loved Mirror, Mirror.

YA novels are incredibly depressing; I was surprised by how little I enjoyed them.  YA fantasy on the other hand is still a favorite of mine and my middle schooler.  I learned a lot about graphic novels through this challenge, and I'm now capable of reading manga with only a little bit of brain strain.  I'm super impressed by all the judges, who read more books than this in only a few months while I'm sliding into the finish line for just the finalists.  And now I can look at my fancy bookmarks, which I'll be sharing with two elementary schools and a junior high -- I've been avoiding the winners list so my reading was uncompromised.

I've been slacking a bit on the reviews, so here are the thumb nail thoughts on all the books I've just finished or otherwise neglected to comment on:
  • Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off, Jacqueline Jules.  A simple tale of a boy who gets magic shoes and figures out where they came from and what they can help he do, or better yet what he can do without getting in trouble at school.  Bonus points for helping a puppy.  A cute book, but didn't really resonate with me or my sons; A declined to try it.
  • Ninth Ward, Jewell Parker Rhodes. The story of a girl trapped in New Orleans with her dying guardian, her dog, and a boy who may be her friend.  The ghosts she sees sometimes help and sometimes threaten her.  I felt the mix of fantasy with the realism pulled away from the strength of the story, but it's still a strong peek into an exciting and dangerous time.
  • The Shadows (The Book of Elsewhere #1), Jacquiline West.  Middle grade fantasy with the magical and real elements in harness to match her real world problems with the battles inside the pictures of her new home.  X also enjoyed this one and wants the sequel; I've put it on P's pile.
  • The Wager, Donna Jo Napoli.  I have a personal dislike to plots of the sort "horrible thing happens to main character, who then suffers in agony for the rest of the book."  So although I appreciated the writing and skillful depiction of character, I can't say I enjoyed this entry.
  • The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, Tom Angleberger.  If the clueless class clown voices advice through his folded paper creation, does the advice morph into wisdom?  The kids wondering about the knowledge of the paper Jedi illuminate truths about friendship and peer pressure.  Both my kids loved this book and have already gobbled down the sequel.
  • Under a Red Sky: Memoir of a Childhood in Communist Romania, Haya Leah Molnar.  Molnar recalls details of life under newly communist Romania as her parents first suffer because of their Jewish heritage and then use it to emigrate away.
  • An Unspeakable Crime: The Prosecution and Persecution of Leo Frank, Elaine Marie Alphin.  A history of an almost certainly mistaken verdict that cost the life of a Jewish pencil maker in Atlanta.  The police decided what kind of villain they wanted and then forced the evidence towards the Jewish Yankee manufacturer that fit their description.  When the governor balked at execution because of the flimsy evidence, a lynch mob made up of educated and wealthy men killed him anyway.
  • Some Girls Are, Courtney Summers.  Remember my aversion to plots that involve walking on nails through the course of the book? This is another in that genre, as well as being a call for homeschooling.  It's about evil girls, weak girls, and the turn of fortune's wheel.
  • Stolen, Lucy Christopher.  A twisted story of a girl taken by an obsessed man.  All alone in the Australian desert she struggles to understand why he would kidnap her, and if he truly meant to save her.  Gemma finds herself twisted by strange loyalties when Ty puts her safety above his own.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Reading High: Queen's Play

Someone may have noticed the quiet around here.  That's because I'm frantically pawing through books trying to figure out a path to finishing all my challenges before the end of the year.  I really want to finish the Cybils finalist list, but the super-depressing YA offerings really slowed me down.  I'm now on the last one, so I'm comfortable reading about 50 pages a day through the weekend, and then I'll write up a final post of all the last-minute books plus the ones I skipped reviewing somehow.

Meanwhile I've loaded my NOOK with books to finish off the Alphabet challenge, which means I can flail about to see if I can find things for the geography puzzles.  Of course, just because I'm in list crisis mode doesn't mean I stop Reading My Library or poking at my TBR list.  Oh, and a bunch of library books are coming due as well.  And I hear some holiday or other is coming up, or so the kids tell me.  I think I'm supposed to be doing something, rhymes with hopping.  Stopping?  Flopping? It'll come to me.

Anyway, I managed to finish a book!  And here's a review!

Queens' PlayWhen I volunteer in the elementary school library, I hear a lot about choosing books at the correct level. The idea is to pick books that you can comfortably read, not too easy and not too hard.  Although I'm certainly willing to help kids find books in this magic range, I don't actually subscribe to the philosophy.  I think that interest and enjoyment are the main reasons to pick a book -- I certainly don't turn down a book just because it is "too easy" for me.  Hey, I still like picture books and I've really enjoyed some of the Easy Reader choices from the Cybils challenge and my kids and I rarely drop a series just because they've grown past it -- when is Cynthia Rylant going to write another Mr Putter book anyway? (I just checked -- I'm missing the latest one.  Humph.)

Of course, with all my sophistication and wit, not to mention my lazy habits, I rarely find myself reading a book that would count as "too hard."  But Dorothy Dunnett can really put me in my place.  I just finished the second book in her Lymond series, Queen's Play, and it took me several tries to get into it and I found myself trying the dictionary on my NOOK (uselessly; we seem to share the same vocabulary) or typing phrases into babelfish to try to understand the French or Latin quotes the characters toss about.  Actually, this book had more in-line translations than the first, and less German and Spanish.  But after only eighty pages or so I was having far to much fun to stop, even when I had to pause to try to figure out what the text was hinting at.  It's not just the language that's tough -- the author also expects the reader to stay on her toes and notice connections and intrigue and subtext and whatnot.  A really delicious journey, but not for the lazy-minded.  I'm very glad that my need for a "Q" title nudged me into trying this book a second time.  Although choosing 500 pages books for the frantic end-time does raise questions about that wit I claimed at the top of this paragraph.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Good Kid: Wild Things

Wild Things

I grabbed Clay Carmichael's Wild Things from the shelf because the jacket copy mentioned a setting in North Carolina, and I feel very efficient when I combine Reading My Library with the dangling book challenges.  In addition to the lucky location, Wild Things also delivered a strong orphan character and a touching story of two loners letting people back into their lives.

As a kid, I liked reading about competent protagonists, and I even liked it when the child clearly took on too much, but did it well, and then found some place where adults could take over and let the kid be a child again.  That's the pattern here; Zoe's uncle Henry takes her in when her mother dies, and she even admits to herself that dying was probably the best thing her mother ever did for her so that Zoe could go to him.  Zoe has been taking care of herself all her life, and Henry has been alone almost that long, and it takes them a while to find their places in Henry's home.  Quirky neighbors also join in, as well as a mysterious adolescent who runs about with an albino deer and provides chances for Zoe to choose when to trust Henry and when he has to trust her.  It's all well done with the added pleasure of a stray cat throwing in his opinions on occasion.

I resented the coincidences at the end, but that's an adult curmudgeonly reaction that I wouldn't have had in my youth.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Popular Car Book: The Report Card

Our latest audio book for the car was Andrew Clements's The Report Card, a popular choice.  The boys had read it before, but A got to enjoy each twist for the first time.  P's opinion: "The Report Card is great! It's my favorite book."  This is probably because he's fairly unhappy with his school life right now, so he likes the idea of a kid challenging the structure of school itself.

I've read it before as well; I'm a big Clements fan in general.  I like the way that intellectual gifts and maturity do not march hand in hand, which seems very true to life for me.  My kids enjoyed the examples; Nora decides to disguise her gifts in kindergarten by pretending to be a cat, an act she figures will be fairly inconspicuous. Um, no.  And the idea that children can control property taxes through their efforts in school warmed their little hearts.

A big complaint however was the troublesome long tracks.  Since I was in the car a lot more than the kids, it would have been nice to be able to switch over to other CDs to listen to music while they were in school, but with tracks as long as nine or ten minutes it was hard to find good stopping places.  Come on Random House -- get with the program and put in breaks every three or so minutes -- that's much easier to manage.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Space Wars: Pluto Confidential

Pluto Confidential
The tensions over Pluto's demotion still run high in many hearts, although luckily violence rarely breaks out.  Laurence A Marschall and Stephen F. Maran sit on opposite sides of the Pluto-Planet debate, but still managed to amicably write Pluto Confidential, a history of planet definitions and controversy.  After starting with a description of the organization and meeting that created headlines with its Plutonic decision, they back up into a description of the discovery of each planet and how the planets got names and reputations.

Other planets have been listed and then demoted, stripped of the right to call themselves planets.  I like using terms like that, because after all, every planet is just a hunk of matter spinning around in space where no one can hear it scream, let alone complain about naming rights.  Hunks of matter don't have volition, let alone vocabularies!  Anyway, the sun used to be a planet, but when scientists established that there had been a heretical misunderstanding and it didn't revolve around the earth, it was slapped with the label "star" and told to hush up.  The moon also lost planetary status, but it took it well.

Then new planets were found -- Uranus (aka Herschall), Ceres, Neptune (or Leverrier), Pallas, Vesta, Flora, Iris, Vulcan -- what? what? I'm not listing them in order from the sun, just in order that I remember them.  Some of them later got transmogrified into asteroids, and Vulcan was relabeled a figment of the imagination.  Yes, Vulcan disappeared completely without survivors.  And then Pluto.

I like reading about the partnership between mathematicians and astronomers, because mathematicians are just cool.  Gauss figured out the orbit of Pallas with basically two sightings and a paper clip.  John Adams sent accurate predictions of Neptune's orbit to Britain's Royal Astronomer, who ignored him because Adams had a proletarian accent, thereby ceding Neptune's discovery to the FRENCH.  Oops.

Why are Marschall and Maran on opposite camps? Marschall is comfortable with the IAU's definition of planets, which acknowledges Pluto's non-unique Kuiper belt status.  Maran points out that the main reason there the IAU has a definition of "planet" is to figure out how to name new objects, which is not an issue with Pluto, and that astronomers never get the final word on what to call things anyway -- things end up with the name everyone uses, which is why no one has heard of Hershall or Leverrier and why Jupiter's moons aren't named after the Medici's.  Both are right, and both agree that the name isn't really that important but wow isn't it great that people get so excited about this?  Science is fun!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Electric Wind: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Boy who harnessed-3Dcover on whiteWilliam Kamkwamba grew up fearing magic and ghost planes while working on his father's farm.  He planned to start working hard at school as soon as he made the secondary grades, but unfortunately this meant his grades on the selection exam were poor and he was assigned to a low rated school.  Since Malawi is a poor country that struggles to supply even the top rated classes, this meant few textbooks and crumbling facilities.  When famine struck the farmers in 2002, school fees became impossible as the family gave up eating more than once a day or the chance of growing a cash crop.

 Refusing to relinquish his dreams of an education, William turned to a local library in hopes of learning at home until he could return to classes.  Finding books on electricity, he decided to build a windmill to provide power to light his house, and eventually to bring irrigation to his family's farm.  Enduring ridicule as he picked through junk yards and trash heaps for materials (even a few feet of copper wire overpowered his minuscule budget) he slowly assembled both the windmill (never before seen in his village) and the generator to transform the wind into electricity.  Soon his household was the only one with a steady source of light, and his cell phone charger because a neighborhood attraction.  Fame and (very modest) fortune followed a TED conference appearance; the last few chapters detail the difference this has brought to his family and village and prospects.

Brian Mealer helped write The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (William barely spoke English as he taught himself physics from a British science book), but the voice sounds authentically young.  Brian's website talks about how he worked to bring William's story to life, even mentioning how he took notes and charged his laptop with the titular windmill. The story of William's Edisonian efforts to find scraps to fit the needs of his invention is inspiring and real, making look at my own slacker kids with jaded eyes.  (Good thing I can't look at myself with those eyes!)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Rushing Into the End of the Year

The last month of the year is upon me, so this is my last chance to read whatever I'm going to read this year.  So what did I read this week? Again I'm jumping on the meme that Sheila at Book Journey hosts where book bloggers report what they've read, what they're reading, and what they plan to read.  I also peek at my challenges to see how I'm doing.  Books and lists -- two of my favorite things!  This week I've finished:
I like that mix -- everything from children's books I read for the school's book club to books by my favorite authors (Bear and Monette) and including nonfiction, very different flavors of fantasy, and romance.

I'm currently reading:
  • Don't Be Such a Scientist, Randy Olson, about how most scientists fail to communicate (TBR)
  • Math Bafflers, Marilynn Buxton. A book of logic puzzles from Librarything's Early Readers.
  • Dark Whispers, Bruce Covelle.  Reading my library.
  • Sheltering Hearts, Robyn Carr.  Free NOOK story from Barnes & Noble.
  • Queens' Play, Dorothy Dunnett. (NOOK) I'm caught up in Lymond's story again.
  • The Vampire Defanged, Susannah Clements.  Another literary look at vampires.
  • Traveling Mercies, Anne LamoItt. I 'm out of her youth so no more drugs. Yay!
  • The Terrorists of Irustan, Louise Marley.  They are getting caught. I'm glad I'm reading this glacially.
  • The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly. They struggle on, knowing they'll never meet again. Ha!
  • The End of Racism, Dinesh D'Souza.  A bad example he likes is a trend; one he doesn't like is an anomaly.
What will I read next? I'm trying to get those challenges done!  I'm going to concentrate on Cybils books, alternating a YA book with the remainder of the middle grade categories. Then my overflowing library stack needs attention. I have a West Point memoir from my TBR shelf waiting. And some stuff from Scholastic catalogs came in.

A-Z: 47/52.  Need authors for Q, U, and X and titles for J. I'm reading a Q title. This seems doable
Cybils: 71/76. Finished Scrawl and Shadows.
Global Reading Challenge:19/21.  I need an Australian book and another South American, and I'm using memoirs Africa but honest in North America.  
Take a Chance: 10-ish/10. I read the picture book for ten, but it feels weak. That's how the dice fell, though.
20/11: 20/20. Done! 
Where Am I Reading?: 38/50.  I got Oklahoma.  I need Alaska and Arkansas.  Delaware, Hawaii, and Indiana.  Also Maryland, Minnesota, South Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.  This one is looking dubious.  My only hope is a lot of overlap with Cybils and A-Z.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Worst Things I Could Do: Scrawl

Mark Shulman's Scrawl is the second Cybils YA Novel finalist about a boy who hits other people that I read in a row.  Although it shares an explosive protagonist with Split, it feels and reads as a younger, less introspective book.  That's not a criticism; it deals with violence directed outward and hard choices forced by societal pressures, so it makes sense that the main character looks outward more.  Tod, the main character, writes his journal as punishment after been caught breaking into the school, and that's the text we read.  For some reason, the guidance counselor sentenced him to write every afternoon instead of calling in the police.  His co-conspirators are left cleaning up in the yard.  (We do get to hear her explanation at the very end of the book.)

Promising not to lie, he writes about his life and struggles, from managing to keep his pals happy to staying warm without a furnace to somehow getting finagled into making the costumes for a school play.  Although the journaling doesn't really stand up to firm scrutiny, I was completely willing to relax into Tod's voice and watch him almost learn to succeed.  The dynamics of his struggles with the play seem particularly spot on, as did his struggles between pride and self-respect.  I'll hand this over to my seventh grader, who should like it despite the lack of dragons.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Kid Perception: What Jamie Saw

Image of itemWhat Jamie Saw is the second book about abuse I've read in the past few weeks, although its aim and direction differ greatly from the previous one.  Room was a book about abuse written for adults; the child narrator sees what happens, but the abuser focuses on an another adult.  Carolyn Coman's book What Jamie Saw is written for children and the child narrator sees another child at risk.  The level of evil also shifts; the bad guy in ROOM was recruited from the Ultimate Evil team, while the perpetrator in Conan's book knows he did wrong and regrets his actions.

Jamie however knows that what he saw was horrific; his stepfather Van cracked under the relentless sound of Jamie's baby sister's crying and threw her across the room.  Miraculously Jamie's mother caught the baby and instantly called Jamie over and left.  She finds them a place of safety and the rest of the books finds them slowly finding a safe way to re-enter a world that suddenly seems dark and frightening.  First they find their friends, then they try to step back into public, always afraid of seeing Van, then gradually trying to slide back into school and work but now with a knowledge that sometimes the world shifts and you have to get away.

Jamie is older but less perceptive than Room's Jack, expressing himself often by his need to run or move rather than by his thoughts.  I'm not sure how a child would react to this book; it was hard for me to distance myself enough to remember how I'd react years ago, when I'd identify with the kids rather than with the adults.  I don't think I'll leave this one around for my boys to read; it doesn't feel like the kind of book I want them to read under the impression that I want them to read it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Short takes

Some books I've read but don't really have much to say about, so I'll pile them all in together to make a Friday post:

Slave Empire: Prophecy by T.C. Southwell reads like a NaNoWriNo novel; it never looks back even when it detours, clunky passages remain, and emotional detours don't make sense.  It's offered as a free teaser so I tried it on my NOOK, but I won't go back for more.

Y:Last Man 3: One Small Step by Brian Vaughan:  If someone is telling me a story, I want to trust in their choices of character and details.  This whole book is about people who don't really matter  -- the male astronauts who end up dieing trying to return to earth.  It looks like I could have skipped it and not missed anything important to the Last Man story line.  Humph.  But my kid is now into these, so I'll order up the next.

Summer's Crossing (Julie Kagawa): Barnes and Nobles had this in their free-for-the-NOOK section, and I've been eyeing the Iron Fey series for a while.  I bounced off some earlier books by Kagawa so I've been hesitating, and this novella seemed a good way to stick my toe in.  I liked the fey court described and the interactions between Robin Goodfellow and his friends and/or enemies, and I think I'll go after the longer books now.

Effective Curriculum for Underserved Gifted Students, Tamra Stambough: This thin book written for teachers discusses the problems with recognizing and then effectively teaching gifted children from poor or ethnic families.  Gifted programs in general tend to under-represent children from African American, Hispanic, immigrant and Native American populations, and in a related fashion also see fewer poor kids than expected. Chapters also address various curriculum and the research that show their effectiveness for gifted children, especially for the children from unorthodox backgrounds.  The vocabulary and phrasing definitely aim this book at teaching professionals rather than laymen, and I found it more useful as an overview of the field than for any specific recommendations or practices.  Thanks to LibraryThing's Early Readers for sending me a copy.

Night World 2, L.J. Smith: I'm never sure to whether to count this as one book or three -- the three books included are clearly separate novels set in the same world.  Anyway, all three books (Dark Angel, The Chosen and Soulmate), features strong women facing hard decisions complicated by finding their True Love, who tends to have a minor defect like being an evil vampire or something.  But these girls are tough enough to find a solution.  Good books to sit next to the Twilight stories, with less adult squeamishness about "the message."
Just me and the fifth graders today, since X was home slacking off and N home recovering from surgery. We stopped by to see the volunteers out dancing about with flags and cookies to promote the Self Check-in Machine, which is inconveniently located around the corner from the entrance.  But I love robotic devices, so we've been regular worshippers at the mechanical beast for months.  But it was fun to do it with cookies today.

Then we went inside and I went straight to the hold shelf, checked out my books, and fled.  P as well.  No CDs for us, since this is the time for radio Christmas All The Time.
  • Outsiders, S.E. Hinton.  This is our book club book this month. I'll try to get X to read it as well.
  • Mars: The Worst Case Scenario. This is really for P, who enjoyed the Everest version.
  • Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor.  This will honestly finish off Africa in my Global Reading Challenge.
  • Twin Spica 3, Kou Yaginuma.  Last chance to wow me again, young astronauts!
  • The Big Khan, Neil Kleid.  Unshelved put this on my TBR list.
  • Y The Last Man: Safeword, Brian Vaughan.  Book four.  
  • I Want My Hat Back, Jon Klassen.  I've read raves and incomprehension about this picture book.
  • Reaching For the Moon, Buzz Aldrin.  Recommended by Book-a-Day Almanac, which hasn't steered me wrong yet.
Did I mention that the New and Interesting display is actually on the way to the hold shelf?  It's not like I was detouring when I picked up the newish J.R. Ward book, Lover Unleashed.
      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.  The library notes me at 65 items today, which includes probably about ten CDs, so that's a lot of books.  I'd better get reading.

      Thursday, December 1, 2011

      She's Gonna Blow: Boiling Point

      Well, it turns out that in the normal course of events I don't read much South American fiction.  So I had to go out looking to have any hope of finishing my Global challenge.  It's surprisingly hard to find fiction books by continent; nonfiction is easy enough but turns out I foolishly signed up for a challenge that wants novels.  I may cheat a bit.

      Anyway, poking around in the online catalog brought me to Boiling Point by Karen Dionne about a bunch of earnestly idiotic environmentalists who rush to an erupting volcano in Chile.  The volcano, Chaiten, is real and did erupt in 2008, with just enough warning to allow the nearby villagers to flee without any belongings, but all the scientific tourists in the book are invented.

      It says bad things about me, but the high body count really endeared the book to me.  In the middle I was staring at some of the characters thinking "you are just too stupid to live" and it turns out that the author agreed with me!  They don't get away with their foolish decisions.  Which makes things a lot more fair, really.  The book also lays out some environmental questions and some thoughts on personal responsibility, but the focus is on the danger from the lava and the sulphur and the VOLCANO.