Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vacation Catch-Up

I have been warming myself in a state with an actual summer, but due to a strange digital architecture, I was unable to blog.  This means that the network connection from my bed was poor.  This seemed to be an enforced vacation maneuver, since everywhere else in the room was fine; just not the bed.  I took it as a sign.

But I kept reading!  So here are five books that I've read, to start to make up for the ten days without reports from me.  I read them all on my NOOK; all but the last were borrowed from the library.

  1. Over the Edge (Troubleshooters #3), by Suzanne Brockmann.  Since I liked half of the Brockmann's I read before, I thought I'd give this ebook a try.  It was a bit too long but readable, with rather silly romance misunderstandings mixed in with rough, tough anti-terrorist plot action.  The main romance was easier to take; although the helicopter pilot and the tough Sergeant kept misunderstanding each other, they had fairly solid reasons for not talking to each other, at least for the first 50 or so pages.  She's young but vulnerable and thinks he thinks she's just a kid.  He's older and uglier, and thinks she wants someone closer to her age.  The secondary romance was more annoying -- the couple disliked each other but were wildly attracted until they suddenly realized it was TRUE LOVE, and then a foolish pregnancy subplot ruined everything.  A final historical subplot also annoyed and bored me -- a Danish maid and the son of her Jewish employers fall in love, but his parents disapprove because they are BAD.  I probably won't look for more books by Brockmann, although maybe I'll try her gay short story because if the romance is all men I won't have to worry about a stupid pregnancy plot twist.
  2. The Cardturner, by Louis Sacher.  This is a love story and a ghost story about bridge (the card game).  It's a good thing that I've always liked Sacher's books, because otherwise I doubt I would have touched it with a ten foot pole, but I trusted the author and he delivered.  I liked watching the hero become fascinated with bridge tricks, although I found his family more of a caricature than characters.  I've recommended it to my bridge playing friends.
  3. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated, by Alison Arngrim.  I seem to have stumbled into an appreciation of celebrity memoirs, but although the writing wasn't as smooth as Steve Martin's this story of growing up in a Hollywood family, most happily on the set of Little House on the Prairie was also entertaining.  Arngrim is matter-of-fact about some of the unsavory parts of her story, mostly based around her family, and amusing when she described the bizarre interactions she had with fans of the show, who usually hated her.  At the end, she's proud of using her childhood fame to help strengthen laws against child abuse, a very personal cause.
  4. Weekends at Bellevue, by Julie Holland.  Once I got over my culture shock in the first paragraphs (I picked the book because I remembered seeing in on a "local interest" table at a book store, but the Bellevue is not the nearby small city but New York's crazy hospital) I found this memoir gruesomely fascinating.  Holland does a good job describing the variety of people who end up, by choice or circumstance, at the emergency room of her mental hospital (she ran the ER on weekends for many years).  I found the personal descriptions of her life more distancing; I don't think I'd want her for my physician or possibly my neighbor, but neither of those seem likely. 
  5. Ghost Ship, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.  Another piece of the Liadan story, with all the usual strengths and weaknesses.  The plot lines for Theo Waitley, Clan Korval, and mysterious technology bits come together with a fun page-turning eagerness, but I wish for a greater sense of jeopardy -- too often strange coincidences save all our favorite characters, who are all guaranteed true love and happiness.  I was set to love the ending, but then the final pages left all in doubt again.  Hey -- last book in the series (for now) -- that's a 20/11 Challenge category.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fun, Again: Fuzzy Nation


John Scalzi's Fuzzy Nation is an odd bird. It's a revisiting of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy, which I recently reread in honor of Scalzi's new book. So reading it, I knew the basic outline of the plot, but the flavor of the path and many of the twists were completely new. For one thing, Scalzi's characters have a lot more depth than Piper's. The society has moved on as well, so that the people in the future seem more like people today rather than mimicking my parent's generation in terms of roles of women, favorite cocktails, and attitudes towards pets.

I liked how he kept a lot of the elements of the original, but gave them all new spins. Both books have important courtroom scenes, but the laws involved and the tricks (by both good guys and bad) were all new. The fuzzies themselves got more agency and women didn't quit their jobs to get married. There was still a spy, but I admit I didn't figure it out in advance. The highest compliment I can pay is that while reading it I soon became sucked into the story and forgot the play the game of "spot the connections to the original." I did wonder if Scalzi's dog ever set off fireworks, though.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Kids Eye View: The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Suzy)

Ah summer!  So brief and fleeting.  And I really mean that because this is about the second day of summer we've had so far, and it was stretching definitions as it is.  The boys spent the day at the pool; the older ones swam and the younger one busied himself with toys, snacks, and back rubs.  He, like me, seems to demand a minimum 25C before plunging into the wet.

Another nonfiction picture book that I enjoyed only because the Cybils Nonfiction Picture Book finalist list prompted me to find it is Barbara Kerley's The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy), illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham.  This biography builds itself around topics his daughter Susy wrote in her journal, encouraged by her father.  So the text includes both frequent quotes by Susy (I assume the bolded words in quotation marks are from her) and small inserts in the form of tiny books that contain larger quotes from her journal.  It was too bad that these extracts were printed in a cursive font, which my fourth grader can read but doesn't enjoy, but as we read the book together I took most of the cursive writing while he read the printed copy.  My sixth seventh grader read the book to himself and I forgot to ask if he skipped the cursive parts.  It seems to be a dying art among the key board generation.

The illustrations help jolly along the text, giving bold and giant sized pictures that played with size and perspective.  We had fun reading it, but it didn't really stick afterward; I think it took us two or three nights because bedtime starts so late when the sun forgets to start setting until long after dinner.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Catch Up

Well, I seem to have taken a blog vacation.  I have no idea why.  To catch up on my Summer book-a-day program, here are the seven books I meant to be recording last week:

Monday: Spilling Ink: A Young Writer's Handbook, by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter.  This Cybils Nonfiction finalist prompts young creative writers to put pen to paper and write.  It is written for the enthusiast, the kid who wants to write stories but maybe worries that no one wants to read them or that it's just too hard.  Each chapter has writing prompts or exercises to help get the ink flowing, and the authors share from their own experience about facing problems or overcoming inertia or handling feedback, wanted or not.  I don't think it will get far with my writing-phobic boys, although I'll certainly try to get them to read it in hopes they conquer some of their fear.

Bad AppleTuesday: Bad Apple, by Laura Ruby.  This story of family trust and loss is told through the lens of a girl made notorious for a teacher/student love affair because of the web shenanigans of an ex-friend.  She narrates chapters detailing her isolation and loneliness, with breaks in-between for magazine-style quotes from the other characters.  Since I never found Tola authentic, I had trouble connecting with her problems or her quirky ways of dealing with them.  The family members' diverse emotional journeys seemed scripted rather than natural.

The Battle For AzerothWednesday: The Battle for Azeroth: Adventure, Alliance, And Addiction Insights into the World of Warcraft (Smart Pop series), edited by Bill Fawcett.  Taking a break from my Buffy studies, I read a book of essays about the online adventure game World of Warcraft, which I, my brother, and my sons all play.  Writers looked at their own experiences playing the game, from wholesome family fun through life-changing obsession, at the social dynamics in many games, with role playing or gender politics considered of particular interest, and at the technical details that go into making the game fun, addictive, and playable.  I didn't learn anything of deep interest, although I was surprised to find that people identify so deeply with their avatars -- I suspect this is more of a role-playing thing.  X also found it interesting, although the fact that the book was written pre-expansions made it seem old-timey to him.

Moonshine Web 187x300 The CAL LEANDROS Novels
Thursday: Moonshine (Cal Leandros, Book 2), by Rob Thurman. I picked the next installment of the Cal and Niko series for one of my non-electronic travel books on my vacation.  I wanted something fairly shallow that would chill my vacation buzz.  This wasn't exact the right flavor, since Cal's voice is really whiny and sometimes annoying; yes, he's polluted and demonic and should never touch the hand of the pure and sweet girl who gets kidnapped anyway, but really, how about having some fun?   But it wasn't hard to finish, and I'll probably eventually read some more; I like the stories and the plots and I think Cal grows up a bit in later books.

In the Teeth of the Evidence (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries (Paperback))Friday: In the Teeth of the Evidence, by Dorothy Sayers.  A group of mystery stories, including two Lord Peters and a handful of Montague Eggs, most of which were fun and tricky.  The rest were a mixed bag, dated without the pleasure of a recurring character, with strange people from the distant past doing strange things.  Several stories involved someone suspicion a crime because of obvious reason but an innocent explanation appears too late to save them from a horrendous mistake.  I probably won't keep the book around, but I liked the first few bits.  Also, it was a reread, so I got to solve most of the mysteries, which made it a non-stressful experience.

Saturday: Pod, by Stephen Wallenfels.  An unexplained catastrophe sets the stage for two horrifying situations.  Aliens prevent people from going outside, so a boy and his dad try to stretch supplies at home as long as possible.  Meanwhile a younger girl watches from the parking garage as thugs in a hotel peel off layer after layer of civilization.  The two stories gave different grim difficulties, but didn't really parallel each other in a way that added to both.  I found each engrossing as a short story, yet was only annoyed by the attempt to connect them at the end, especially as I felt that it gave a bad ending while pretending it was a note of hope.  I like the story better if the two halves aren't connected at all.  This Cybils  Fantasy and Science Fiction (YA) finalist is very graphic and depressing -- people die, horrors happen in front of our characters, and it's fairly clear that at least one main character doesn't survive much past the end of the book.  Just a warning for squeamish types; the grimness helped keep the story real.

Perfectly Princess: Green Princess Saves the DaySunday: Perfectly Princess: Green Princess Saves the Day, by Alyssa Crowne (I knew that was a pseudonym!).  Another reading-my-library selection from the series shelves teaches me more about "girl books."  The book packaging includes green pages, a leaf-polka-dotted cover, and a girl who not only draws strengths from her dreams of being a princess but who needs to learn the feminine talents of cohesion and team-building during her quest to save her park.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Second Section! Reading My Library

Having sampled the picture book section, I now move on to the juvenile series stacks.  These move from what I'd consider early chapter books to real books, so some I'll read as picture books with the kids, some I'll read and offer to the kids, and some I'll read and send back.  I deliberately tried to get a mix of "boy books" and "girl books" even though I have a strong prejudice against the girly ones.

What did I start with:

  • Image of itemAmerican Girl: Meet Kaya (Book 1).  Janet Shaw.  American Girl books follow girls from different American cultures; the Kaya books follow a Nez Perce girl in 1764, whose struggles to control her bragging provide the framework for the description of her setting and community.


    • Image of itemCam Jansen #28: The Green School Mystery.  David A. Adler.  Cam commits moments to her photographic memory with a "click," and this time she uses her mental photo album to figure out who stole the money the school raised for an eco-friendly sky light.
    • Image of itemDear America: The Journal of Biddy Owens.  Walter Dean Myers.  I was surprised to see a big name children's author in the series stacks, but looked forward to what Myers would write.  It wasn't quite as dramatic as his own works, yet still seemed to give a good feel for the last season of the Negro Leagues.  I liked that Biddy didn't actually make it to the big leagues, but I didn't like not really knowing what was fact and what fiction.
    • Image of itemDear Dumb Diary #9: That's What Friends Aren't For.  I found the diary style a bit tedious but the depiction of middle school was alien enough to be interesting.  My middle schooler also enjoyed this one. 
    • Image of itemGirls of Many Lands (Ethiopia): Saba Under the Hyena's Foot.  Jane Kurtz.  Although I found the main character a bit too humble and timid, I liked learning about a history and culture I had never encountered before.  I may peek at some other books in this series.
    • Image of itemGuardians of Ga'Hoole #8: The Outcast.  Kathryn Lasky.  Although I easily followed the plot in this mid-series book, I did feel that I missed some of the emotional depth by not knowing the scenes that came in earlier books.  The story of the misunderstood chosen one was one I would have lapped up with a spoon in my own younger days.

    Dog Meets Wild: Home on the Range

    I was not that impressed with my second Cybils Early Chapter book finalist, Lucy Nolan's Home on the Range.  Two dogs who think their names are Down Girl and Sit take their confused sensibilities to a dude ranch, where they attempt to amusingly misunderstand things.  I found it predictable rather than charming, but I can see where kids would laugh at the trouble that the pets get into.  This is a hard category to get right for the whole family; this one may read better for the actual child taking his first steps at independent reading than for curmudgeonly me.

    I think my kids have read it, but they are off at camp so I can't ask for their opinions.  But this one did not ring my funny bell.

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    Go To Sleep, Baby: Switching On the Moon

    My son P and I continue to slog our way through the Cybils Poetry finalists; he detests poetry and I only like a slim fraction of it, preferring more structured forms that rarely appear in children's anthologies.  So we really hoped that Switching on the Moon: A Very First Book of Bedtime Poems would be short; I imagined Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters making the hard calls for what makes it into a board book.

    It turns out that Yolen and Fusek had more ambitious ideas of what babies like; there were three chapters of poems.  Nothing really grabbed us; neither of us are night-time poem lovers so the book had an uphill battle from the start. While we were reading it I noticed the controversy over the meta-children's book Go the F*** to Sleep, which I told P about (in a censored sort of way) and he found the concept very amusing.  We then started classifying some of the poems as Go the BEEP To Sleep poems; which cheered us up a bit.  Quite a few children's poems about bedtime do have the theme of "please go to sleep already" so there was plenty of chances for us to discover the type.

    We also had fun counting the poems by the editors and debating whether they got in by merit or because people like their own poems.  We are a very shallow pair.

    "Night Sounds" by Berlie Doherty may make it into my poetry notebook:

    When I lie in bed
    I think I can hear
    The stars being switched on
    I think I can

    ...

    Thursday, July 7, 2011

    Fuzzy Friends: Little Fuzzy

    Product DetailsOne of the advantages of a NOOK is that there is more free stuff easily available.  Knowing this, I finally wandered over to gutenburg.org and pulled down some stuff and figured out how to put it on my ereader.  Heading my list was Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper, mainly because John Scalzi wrote a reboot that I planned to read eventually.

    Well, last week the library skipped me ahead three weeks and sent me Scalzi's book, so I moved Little Fuzzy much higher on my reading priorities.  Just as I like to read the book before I see a movie, I wanted to reread the original before trying the remake.

    I enjoyed it as much as I remember doing several decades ago.  It's space fiction without a lot of emotional wailing; frontier dudes with exotic practices like cocktail hour on planets with funny names.  The emotional connection between the fuzzies and Jack the rough-hewn prospector was skimped a bit, but that was made up for with all the telling science fiction details, such as the judge's homemaker wife and the woman scientist/spy quitting her job when she gets married.  It's a double blind, with the stuff that probably was just standard when it was written now seeming quaint, but then again I'm probably accepting without even seeing things that were adventurous when written.  I vividly remembered the suicide, which I found very shocking in my youth.  I'm looking forward to seeing what Scalzi did with the story (first contact tale, or legal thriller?), but I also want to go back and read the original sequels.

    Monday on Friday

    Renton Library
    Monday was the 4rth of July, and everyone (me too!) was out of town plus the library was closed, so I made a preemptive strike on the previous Friday to return the things that would come due and check out the books hogging up the hold shelves.  It was also (finally) time to pick up the next swath of books in my Reading-the-Library project, so I finished off the juvenile series books shelves with six books from various series.

    The hold shelves delivered:
    • The One Week Job Project: 1 Man, 1 Year, 52 Jobs by Sean Aiken.  I'm a sucker for these journey books, and it was on my TBR list.
    • Buffy, Ballads, and Bad Guys Who Sing: Music in the Worlds of Joss Whedon, edited by Kendra Preston Leonard.  I backed up a few books in my Buffy Stream challenge.
    • Facing Two Ways by Baroness Shidzue Ishimoto.  Next Rose Wilder Stream Challenge.
    • The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier.  Another Cybils book.
    • Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi.  I wasn't expecting this for another few weeks; the timing is awkward because I want to read it but don't want a hardback while traveling.  Why didn't the ebook arrive in time instead...
    • Moonshine by Rob Thurman.  This also came really quickly; it's Cal and Nick #2.
    • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Angel Chronicles #1  by Nancy Holder.  Part of my master plan to get my twelve year old to read adult books.  Of course, it's shelved in YA, but still moving him to a new section of the library.
    The six series books were:
    • Magic Kitten 1: A Summer Spell by Sue Bentley. I am trying to overcome my sexist preference for "boy" books.  
    • Martin Bridge 1: Ready for Takeoff by Jessica Scott Kerrin.  I almost feel like I'm cheating when I get the first book in a series. 
    • Oliver Nocturne 5: The Eternal Tomb by Kevin Emerson.  I should show this to my son, who also likes vampire books.
    • Perfectly Princess 3: Green Princess Saves the Day by Alyssa Crowne.  Is it possible that that is the author's real name?
    • Secrets of Droon 28: In the Shadow of Goll by Tony Abbot.  My kids never got into Droon, so this is new territory for me.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh 
    A dangerous part of picking up the next books in the Reading-My-Library challenge is that there are other books in the library just daring me to check them out.  For example:
    • Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls by Lynne Jonell, because I remember liking the first Emmy book.
    • City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, which I grabbed while forcing N and his friend to listen to Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  By the way, if I were the pigeon, they would have totally let me drive the bus.  Just sayin'.
    • Amanda and Her Alligator, by Mo Willems.  As a Willems fan and a member of my family, I was legally required to check out this book.
    Also, since no one else thought it necessary to go to the library again so soon this week, no one else bothered to bring in their library cards.  As a result, I have checked out several things through no fault of my own, and probably won't even read them!  Although the disease books are a direct consequence of my challenging the boys to read more nonfiction.
    • Pokemon Master Quest: Around the Whirlpool Disc 1 (DVD)
    • Cholera by Ruth Bjorklund
    • The Ebola Virus by Shelley Bueche
    • The Black Plague by Jim Ollhoff
    That brings me to 73 items out on my card, up twelve from last week. But one goes back tomorrow, and many of the others are short.  My excuses are endless! 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.

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    Book and Movie: The Help

    My friend, who knows everyone or at least knows somebody who knows somebody who knows everybody, got us tickets to a special preview of the new movie "The Help."  I'd been planning on reading this book sometime but was waiting for it to show up and throw itself at me; clearly I needed to speed up this process so I ordered the library to deliver it to my NOOK soonest.  And they did.

    I read Kathryn Stockett's The Help (Movie Tie-In) very quickly, and enjoyed it.  It's about women defining themselves against other women; black and white, young and old, married and single, mothers and childless.  It's set in the midst of the civil rights battle; the dominating crisis in the book is the danger posed by whites fighting to keep the status quo, whether by shooting agitating blacks or blackballing liberal whites.

    The movie keeps this focus, delivering a touching portrayal of women showing courage, determination, spite, despair, and love.  The white Skeeter moves from a rather clueless naivete to a richer idea that the lives of black women do in fact operate by different rules, although they are women like herself.  Aibeleen and Minny, the black women who face real risks writing their book with Skeeter, strongly portray their friendship as well as the strengths and risks they face in forging connections with the white families they work for.  The movie does a great job of distilling the important relationships in the book and telling the story in a tightly woven, powerful way.

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011

    Cosy Comic: Born Standing Up

    : Born Standing Up: A Comic's LifeSteve Martin became famous as a "wild and crazy guy."  I remember laughing hysterically to his shows on TV, and he's probably the only comedian I've heard on a record (we weren't a bit record-buying family).  His later moves into movies also include more sensitive and nuanced performances, so finding that his memoir of his youth and beginnings as a stand-up comic, Born Standing Up, shows a gentle and perceptive view of his younger self doesn't surprise me much.

    Martin can look back at his memories as a child or teenager and see both his perceptions at the time and also the likely views the adults around him had at the time, often giving him a chance to pay belated thanks to people who supported him without demanding gratitude or understanding.  He forgives himself for immaturity even while gently letting the reader and himself laugh at some of his mistakes, especially the fashion decisions during his early stand-up days.  He's also still interested in his comedy as art, tracing how he worked at his material even when it seemed most spontaneous.  Because he takes it seriously, the reader does too, so that even the end of the story makes sense.  At the height of his success, Martin begins to find his work stale, since many of the things that gave it life aren't possible in front of the crowds he gathers.

    I'll keep looking for more of Martin's writing; I've enjoyed several of his fiction works but his nonfiction interests me more.

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    Giddy-up With a Splash: Whale Rider

    I listened to The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera because of the 48 Hour Reading Challenge.  I had picked out a few audio books because I wanted to be able to keep reading even if I had to drive anywhere.  As it turned out, I basically stayed home for the weekend except for one quick pickup, so I only got about fifteen minutes in.  At first my kids were listening in, but I spend a lot more time in the car than they do, so they fell behind.  By the time I got to the whales dying on the beach scene, I was fairly glad they had.  I'm not sure I could handle watching them listen to the death of the whales.

    Usually I only listen to books I've already read; I dislike the lack of control I get from an audio book; the narrator doesn't speed up or slow down at my mental commands, which I do a lot when reading a book.  But I enjoyed this one, maybe because I'm a sucker for non-American accents, and I found the description of Maori life in transition enough to grab my attention even in the staccato rhythm of listening to a story on my mainly short jaunts across town.  Strangely, my favorite sections were the ones in Australia and New Guinea, which I guess makes sense given my single complaint.

    The appendix said that the author wrote this book for his daughters, but there is a real dearth of female agency in the book.  Kahu doesn't make many decisions, just quietly tries to please her grandfather and quietly accepts his contempt for her as just.  Even her final moments of mounting the whale seem passive, as if she is following a script destiny laid for her.  I much preferred hearing about the narrator growing up, learning more about his traditions, going abroad to work and then returning home, with his compassionate but nonjudgmental view of the grandfather's unfair treatment of Kahu.  I've never seen the movie, but I see it's streaming on netflix so I guess I'll give it a try.

    Happy 4rth of July!

    My kids are off with their dad, my niblings are off with their parents, and I am basking in the warmth of Austin.  If I stay too long it will become HEAT, but right now I'm just enjoying a summer of sweating rather than shivering.  We did make it to the pool a few times, but I was not tempted by the ice cubes pushed around the pool by the chill wind.

    So, did I read anything while traveling?  I sign up with the others at Bookjourney's blog to share what we are reading, have read or plan on reading.

    This week I finished some things:
    • The Help, Kathryn Stockett (NOOK)
    • Green Princess Saves the Day, Alyssa Crowne. For Reading My Library
    • POD, by Steven Wallenfells, a Cybils book
    • Saba: Under the Hyena's Foot, Jane Kurtz.  Another Reading My Library choice.
    • Switching On the Moon, ed by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, a Cybils poetry finalist.
    • Born Standing Up:  A Comic's Life, by Steve Martin
    • Crunch, Leslie Connor, a middle grade Cybils finalist
    • Smile, by Raina Telgemeier, a Cybils graphic novel now running around the neighborhood
    • This Lovely Life, Vicki Forman
    • Strange Blood, by Lyndsay Jayne Ashford
    What trends do I see?  I had a lot of fun reading this week; all of these were fast reads, even the heartbreaking book by Vicki Forman.

    I hit my library's ebook selections hard for my NOOK, and only bought along a few paper texts for times of electronic blackout or battery recharging.  So only four five books open on my trip:
    • Truth and Beauty, Ann Pratchett (NOOK)
    • Little Fuzzy, H. Beam Piper (NOOK)
    • Moonshine, Rob Thurman
    • Spilling Ink, Ellen Potter and Anne Mazer
    • Darwin Arkwrignt and the Peregrine Pact, by A.J. Hartley
    At home I have left book marks in:
    • Feng Shui, Robin D Laws. On loan from my brother.
    • The Battle for Azeroth, ed. Bill Fawcett. Analysis of the World of Warcraft MMORPG.
    • 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.
    I'll keep clearing out my library stacks, both electronic and physical, as my next reading priorities.

    Quick stats on my Challenges:

    A-Z: 38/52. Nothing new. Still stalled.  I have an "X" book waiting, though.
    Cybils: 49/76. Big jump!  Comparatively speaking.
    Global Reading Challenge:12/21. Stuck.
    Read Around the World: 13/20. We've got a new batch of picture books that advance things.
    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: 5/10. I'm picking through the Economist's list for #4.
    20/11: 17/20. No change.
    What's In a Name?: 5/6.  Must read book with movement in title.
    Where Am I Reading?: 23/50. I added Mississippi.

    Sunday, July 3, 2011

    Heartbreaking Questions: This Lovely Life

    this lovely lifeI have no idea how Vicki Forman's This Lovely Life ended up on my TBR list, although the most likely vector is BookNAround.  It's just the kind of mature, sophisticated tragedy that I usually avoid with great effort so I can read happy fluffy space adventures.  But I surprised myself by staying with this lovely, forthright memoir of the first year after a devastating premature delivery of twins.

    Forman asked the doctors not to try to save her babies, knowing that at twenty three weeks their prognosis was bleak.  The doctors ignored her, and instead huge efforts went into the attempt to keep them alive.  After four days, Ellie died, but Evan surprised the odds by continuing to breathe.  Slowly the family learned of his various diagnoses, and slowly Forman learned how to parent in a world where all the rules and expectation were different.  Meanwhile the medical profession mostly declared victory and abandoned them; premature babies in the NICU received constant attention, but a one year old who spends his time twitching in seizures instead of growing is really the mother's problem.

    Forman isn't afraid to admit that she looked at the hard questions; even though her love for her son comes through brilliantly she isn't sure those early doctors did them any favors.  Evan's first year demanded so much of the family (mom, dad and three year old sister) that they could barely mourn his twin sister Ellie, a loss that highlights the choices we have to make when life overflows around us.

    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    Least Angst in Post-Apocalypse Story: Crunch

    Crunch By Leslie ConnorThe next Cybils Middle Grade Novel finalist is Crunch by Leslie Connor, which reads like a standard family story (a good one too) but is actually a near-future post-apocalypse book.  The book depends on the idea that the world runs out of gas for a while, which traps the parents away from the kids and makes their bike shop a more prominent destination for their neighbors.  Technically this is science fiction.

    Dewey, the oldest boy of five children, helps his dad run their bike-repair shop, a very part time operation.  He and his older sister were holding down the fort for a few days while their parents took a short vacation, but with the disappearance of gas, they have to run things a little longer.  They aren't as quirky as the Penderwick sisters, but then they don't have to be since they already live on a farm chock-full of quirky goats, chickens, and abstract art.  The story follows the bike shop and the worries of the kids as they handle stuff while their parents try to get home. I loved how the family cherished each other, even as they argued or got on each other's nerves.  The three older kids had distinct personalities, as did the more minor pre-kindergarten twins and the assorted neighbors that interact with the family.   It's a great book for a biking family, as the people with bikes clearly have an advantage after the cars stop rolling.  I think I'll make a list of family books where the kids take care of each other, rather than follow the television pattern of cutting each other down at every opportunity.

    I think my kids would enjoy it, and my main frustration was the indistinct setting -- I can't place their state so I don't know if it would have helped me with my struggling 50 state challenge.  Humph. I'm definitely putting Connor's other books on my TBR list, though.

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    Family Curmudgeons: Sharing the Seasons

    I'm still sharing as many of my Cybils challenge books as possible with my kids, but only my fourth grader will put up with the poetry with me.  We read a page or two a night, with him groaning and wailing, and I try to put up a cheerful front, but honestly most of the poems leave me cold.  They don't make me see hear or feel anything that prose cannot, so why make them poems?  They are very short essays, most of them.

    The latest Cybils Poetry Finalist, Sharing the Seasons, an anthology selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by David Diaz, rarely spoke to us.  The illustrations were a bit evocative, but we felt they would have been better in a shorter book; it seemed a bit repetitive.  Most of the poems left us pretty empty, which is probably a fault in us rather than the poems, but still didn't make us rush out for more.  One insight P enjoyed was my recounting of a technique Frederik Pohl used when he was writing poetry for a magazine that paid by the line -- break up his longer lines in two and double his income!  P picked out several poems where lines seemed to be as short as possible for reasons unrelated to the poem's meaning.  We both have allergies towards list poems, which tend towards this brief line technique.

    I did have a favorite poem, to prove I'm not a complete philistine.  In the Spring chapter I liked April Halprin Wayland's "Budding Scholars."  The classroom/spring garden dichotomy amused us and gave a fresh look at spring, a season we didn't see much of this year in the Pacific northwest.  Perpetual winter is the watchword here.

    Welcome, Flowers.
    Write your name on a name tag.
    Find a seat.

    Raise your leaf if you've taken a class here before.
    Let's go around the room.
    Call out your colors.

    ...

    Sweet Summer Reading

    Renton Library
    We're making a second library run today, since we'll be out of town and the library will be closed next Monday.  I just noticed that I never posted last Monday's haul, so I'd better get this up quick so that it doesn't look like I'm over-indulging.  Heh heh heh.

    Last week I brought home a new bunch of picture books, part of my challenge to read more kidlit from non-American (well, non USA-an) authors.  It turns out that this is harder than it looks, since it is hard to find the author's nationality in the catalog.  Also, Americans have a habit of going to foreign places and writing books about them, so grabbing picture books set elsewhere isn't very effective (although often fun).

    The hold shelves delivered:
    • I'm Your Peanut Butter Big Brother by Canadian Selina Alko.  A book about bi-racial families that made us very hungry.
    • Once Upon a Time, by Niki Daley, a South African.  I think.
    • Jafta: Homecoming, by Jugh Lewin.  Another South African
    • Princess Grace, by British Mary Hoffman.
    • The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stories by Adwoa Badoe, a Ghanaian.
    • Eye of the Wolf, Daniel Pennac.  Not a picture book, but won an award for translation to English.  I think Pennac is French.
    • Duel, by David Grossman.  He's Israeli.
    • Toby Alone, by Timothy de Fombelle.  Another French translation winner.
    • I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, by Erin McCahan.  I have no idea who the author is, but this book is a Cybils YA Novel finalist.
    • Nowhere Near Respectable, Mary Jo Putney.  Nice beach candy.
    From the "tempt you when you are weakest" shelves next to the checkout I also picked up:
    • Nowhere To Run, C.J. Box.  I'm hoping this helps out my 50 States challenge.
    Finally, I made my son check out Night Owls because he lost the copy I had checked out and I have to pay for it before I can check anything else out.  Careless kid, but I'm not too upset because I think he lost it by attempting to get his brother to read it and I'm all about encouraging that young slacker to read more.

    That brings me to 61 items out on my card.  I'm under my mother's age!  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.