Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Series Reborn: Ancient, Strange, and Lovely

I remember reading Susan Fletcher's Dragon Chronicles with enjoyment, although I confess I don't remember much more than that since it was about ten years ago, at least.  I think they came out around the time my first son was born.  I thought they took place in a fantasy world, although this was over a decade before I fell into the clutches of the Where Are You Reading challenge, so I didn't pay much attention.

When grabbing books from the F shelf for Reading My Library, I saw Susan Fletcher's name and a new title, Ancient, Strange, and Lovely, so I swiftly tossed it into my pile (part of the fun of Reading My Library is forcing myself to decide quickly among the shelves' offerings).  I couldn't remember if I'd read the third dragon book or not (I have) and I thought maybe this was it, and I hadn't.  I was more right than wrong -- this is the NEW fourth book.  Here is another author who went on writing books after I gave up on them.

In mostly modern day Oregon (I think it's a little bit in the future, because some things have gotten worse),  Bryn and her little sister worry about their missing mom, who disappeared somewhere in Alaska, and their absent father, who wandered off looking for her but has recently stopped calling.  But seasoned readers of the Dragon Chronicles notice that the girls communicate with their pet birds, so we aren't too surprised when a dragon appears in the story.

The environmental messages is moved much further to the front of the story, since a lot of the plot centers around the lust of collectors for rare and cryptid specimens, as well as the mother's work in addressing pollutant and the dragon's role in this.  But mostly the story follows Bryn's desperate attempts to keep her critter safe, finding friends both true, shaky, and duplicitous, battling nature, bureaucracy, bad guys, and selfishness.  The end is warm and cosy, but open -- there are still problems the family must face, but they have hope.  I'll offer it to X, although if he finds out it's the fourth in the series I'm doomed.  I should check my shelves to see if I have copies of the earlier books.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Me Caveman: The Male Brain

Louanne Brizendine's The Male Brain has a bright orange cover, which attracted my nimble monkey attention when I saw it late last year on the library's tempt-me display.  She previously wrote The Female Brain (which apparently was a much thicker book) but in this volume she approaches the chemistry of the male brain with particular attention to the way it differs from mine.

I had a lot of trouble with this book; it was trying to convince me of things that I don't want to believe, and even worse, that don't match with my personal experience.  She starts with the chemical washes in utero and infancy, tracing testosterone production in a fetus and an infant, and then charts behavior in childhood, adolescence, and various stages of adulthood.   But her examples don't match what I've seen of my two sons or my nephew; she seems fixated on a particular kind of Dennis-the-menace type of boy who adores motorcycles, rough-and-tumble play with dad, and abhors girlish emotions and pursuits such as reading or art.  This kind of boy loves to play Chutes and Ladders for the semblance of motion, but he cheats because of his boyish brain chemicals.  Um, as opposed to a girlish love of Candyland?

Then it's on to the sex-crazed teen age years, which also don't fit my kid, and then how brain chemicals affect men with babies and old men, with again nothing sounding familiar to my experience.  She never uses qualifiers like "most" or even "many," preferring to simple state that boys do this or want this, which leads me to doubt everything she writes.  Homosexual men get literally three pages of the appendix, where she describes some differences in brains between straights and gays (hypothalamus size, brain hemisphere connections, when sexual chemicals fire -- for example, studies show that gay brains tend to respond sexually to males!), but that's not enough to save my loss of confidence from the chapters describing how every male brain is hard-wired to react to female breasts and smiles and wide child-bearing hips.  Having lived in San Francisco, I knew that just wasn't true.

Perhaps I'm not the right audience; I wanted more details about the studies and what the tests really showed, while Brizendine wanted to summarize and generalize for a wider population.  But while I'll agree that men are taller than women, and I'd be interested in a chart that showed the height differences, I don't believe that every man is taller than every woman, because I've seen tall women and short men.  Simplifying the information too far renders it meaningless.

First Month Almost Complete

I like the rhythm of reading a book a day, because then I know I can update this blog.  Otherwise it gets lonely.  Of course, sometimes I stay up so late finishing the book that I can't write even the really "review" I put up here.  Ah well, balance is for acrobats.  On the bright side, I'm finishing more than I start, so Very Soon I will be able to fit all the books I'm reading in my portable book-bag.  And my library count has dipped below my age, which always makes me feel respectable.

This is the meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  Here's my report on the finished books, the book-marked books, and the upcoming books.

This week I finished:
I've also read some more of the Cybils picture books, but this year I'm not keeping track of my picture book count.  I'm hoping to get the kids to read them before I make my final judgements.

I'm currently reading fifteen books, but luckily they are all different so I don't get confused. I've got children's books, YA books, romances, science fiction, fantasy, essays on faith, a polemic against race politics, six books in England, two in New England, two on the west coast, five set in the past (well, one was written in the past), six in the present, and one in the future.  Well, I guess the two nonfictions are mostly in the present as well.  It's really not hard to keep it all separate.
  • A Lady Awakened, Cecelia Grant. Her first orgasm.
  • Lover Unleashed, J.R. Ward.  The prose makes me giggle.
  • The Shattering, Karen Healey.  Cybils.  Siblings fight against the deaths of their brothers.
  • The Romeo and Juliet Code, Phoebe Stone.  TBR. The cover makes no sense.  
  • Ancient, Strange and Lovely, Susan Fletcher. RML. Bad dads make me read slow.
  • Among Others, Jo Walton.  Rereading so I can decide which library to donate it to.
  • Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones.  Audio book for when the kids are in the car.
  • London Eye Mystery, Siobhan Dowd. RML.  Kid is almost done.  Easily distracted, though.
  • Twenty Palaces, Harry Connolly. NOOK.  When his publisher didn't pick up the Ray Lily books, he self-published the extra one.  I like this author.  And Ray Lily, who is having some really bad days in this book.
  • Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins.  NOOK.  Cybils. Girl goes to posh school in Paris for her senior year.  Girl meets boy.
  • The Same Stuff as Stars, Katherine Paterson.  It's looking rather depressing for these kids.
  • The First Men In the Moon, H.G. Wells.  They made it to the moon.
  • Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott. Boy does she lack confidence with her son.
  • The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly. She is renouncing him for his own good.  No, she's writing him!
  • The End of Racism, Dinesh D'Souza.  More panic about the fringe elements.
What will I read next? I've got some Cybils books, a few more library books left from the beginning of the year, and the mountains of stuff I have lying around. The TBR Dare is in full effect, although I have a few book club matters to complete.

  1. Cybils: 16/80.  I need to start responding to the shorter stuff.
  2. What's In a Name?: 3/6.  Is Twilight something you see in the sky?
  3. Where Am I Reading?:  5/50. I'm on my target pace.
  4. TBR Double Dare.  3.  All library books this week.
  5. Comment Challenge.  I finished!  Let's see if I keep up pestering people.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pee On It: Toad Away

RageMy oldest son was very concerned when he examined the books I had brought home for Reading the Library; in particular his brow furrowed over Morris Gleitzman's Toad Away.  "Mom," X asked quietly, "You do realize that this is the third in a series?" I shocked him by saying airily that I got that, but I was going to read it first anyway.  He backed slowly away from my book pile.

Actually, I quite enjoy jumping into a series in the middle.  If I find a series that has gotten fairly far along before I encounter it, I'll do it deliberately.  After all, if I'm going to invest thousands of pages in someone's story, it had better be good.  Good enough that I'll be hooked even if I missed the first few hundred pages, in fact.  So far, this theory has rarely failed me -- after all, I like rereading books, so if I like something, I'll probably go dig up all the other books and do a full series read. And maybe there will be various ways of doing that -- publication order reread, series chronology read, etc.  For really good series I'll try most variations, and it's interesting to see what differences appear.  Other times it really doesn't matter what order you read things in; Perry Mason doesn't change, and Eve and Roarke move only glacially.

Toad Away belongs to the latter category.  The story is simple enough that the main character establish themselves quickly, and it was easy to see the shadows of back story flickering behind them.  I don't expect the relationship between Limpy and his sister or his friend to change much, and the amusing situations move along rapidly without.  I suspect both my sons would enjoy these books, and probably laugh more at the frequent urination humor, although I highly doubt I'll get them to try this one; the purists would insist on finding book one.  It's a fun little read, with the added gloss of an Australian setting for an exotic twist.

Wow, I just realized that one of the books we got from our book swap with the Australian family was by Gleitzman as well!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Big Title: As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President


Somehow I've managed to read two books about kids in presidential elections during my journey through the children's fiction shelves of the library, and I'm only on the G's.  Is this a much more popular genre than I thought? I know I have another by Mitali Perkins on my TBR list.

In Donna Gephart's As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President, Vanessa is an emotionally young seventh grader struggling with spelling bees, a slowly developing body (no boobs), a crush on an obnoxious but gorgeous boy, and a frequently absent mom.  The mom has a good reason for disappearing so often -- she's running for president, but as Vanessa isn't completely over the death of her father a few years ago, she feels the absence greatly.

The story is supposed to about how Vanessa and her mom both come to accept her mom's ambitions, but I kept getting hung up in the emotional gap between them.  Vanessa is terrified of the death threats she finds, one accidentally included in her fan mail bundle but others terrifyingly showing up in her school locker.  A lot of the plot follows her attempts to deal with these, mostly making foolish mistakes and getting in trouble over them.  But the entire plot would dissolve if the mother just once stopped and realized how frightened the girl is of losing her mother, especially while recovering from the unexpected loss of her father.  A few light-hearted jokes about how the secret service would catch those losers doesn't begin to address the realistic fears, let alone the emotional terror underneath them.

At the end of the book, Vanessa's fears are almost realized, which brings the family together in a happy-ever-after, but I was left worrying that the mom would continue to distance herself.  I'd put this presidential candidate even below the driven one of Ellen White's The President's Daughter.  But I doubt kids would worry about this much; as a child I preferred fictional adults to be aloof so the kid protagonists got more action, which is how it worked out in this book.  I'll offer it to my seventh grader, if he doesn't feel too old for it (I gather that 13 is MUCH older than 12 3/4).

UPDATE:  My seventh grade son really enjoyed this book.  I'll have to get his complete reaction and add it to this review, since he is the real audience.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sparkly Thoughts: Twilight and Philosophy

Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians, and the Pursuit of Immortality  (0470484233) cover image

I've become a big fan of Blackwell's Philosophy and Pop Culture Series, where philosophical people look at some of the big media events of our time -- Harry Potter, Southpark, etc.  There are actually several publishers combining the odd bed mates of philosophy and modern video, and I've enjoyed reading from Open Court's books as well, but I did appreciate Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians, and the Pursuit of Immortality.

Most of the essays do seem to start with a philosophy statement and then start digging through the material to find examples or support, but a few times the essays start from issues worried at in the text.  I actually like both sorts; I finally learned a bit about semiotics in the final sections here.  There was a good diversity of opinions, from the fundamental questions of Team Edward vs Team Jacob (both sides are represented) to the feminist questions of whether Bella is a flat cypher, a feminist hero, or a sexist dinosaur.  It's clear she's no Jane Eyre, but I preferred the essays that didn't dismiss her with contempt.

Anyway, it's not a college class (at least I hope not) but it was a fun way to revisit a topic that makes so many headlines.  I started the book just before I went to see the latest movie, which starts with Jacob ripping off his shirt and running about to show off his abs; now that's a quick way to establish the underlying thesis of a film!

Renton Library

Today was a very hard day at the library.  First I went with X and N, both of whom had eagerly anticipated items on hold. X is trying out the first Harry Dresden novel, and Nicky had found a new Pokemon DVD in the catalog.  I had a small stack of Cybils finalists waiting for me, so we got in, grabbed our holds, and got out.

BUT. That evening, on the way home from an errand, I remembered that I needed the book club book, so I dropped by, solo, to look for it on the library's shelves. They had it in audio form in their nifty Play & Go format -- basically they hand you an MP player with the book on it and off you go. Neat!  I also ordered the dead tree version for my sister.  And then I turned to go out the door, when a powerful gravitational force pulled me towards the PICK ME display out front.  I tried to explain to the Force about the TBR Dare, that I was not checking out new books, but the copies began singing and dancing. Mike Shephard's new Kris Longknife.  A Salman Rusdie. A nonfiction book about Alaskan fishing. All dangerous sirens, cajoling and seducing me, and me without my underage body guards. With a heroic effort, I threw myself out the door and plunged home, victorious but really sad about it.

Thank goodness for the Cybils.
  • Dear Hot Dog, Mordicai Gerstein.  Cybils poetry book.
  • Nursery Rhyme Comics, Cybils middle grade graphic novel
  • Into the Unknown: How Great Explorers Found Their Way By Land, Sea, and Air, Steward Ross. Cybils nonfiction.
  • Beekeeper's Apprentice, Laurie King.  Audio.
This brings me to a total of 38 items out on my card, which includes a few CDs.  One is overdue, but I'm almost done.  Everything fits neatly in my library bookshelf.  I'll go share my Library Loot at the event co-hosted by Claire from the Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader, where all the library addicts compare their treasures.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Ugly Lies: The Big Kahn

I actually remember how this book arrived on my TBR list -- unshelved comic has a Friday feature of recommending books they've been reading with explanations of why it's a good read.  Their enthusiasm often lures me into seeking out their choices such as The Big Kahn, a graphic novel by Neil Kleid and Nicolas Cinquegrani.

Rabbi Kahn, nee Donnie Dobbs, died as the respected head of a New York Jewish temple, leaving behind a grieving widow, a rabbinical son who expected to inherit the temple, a selfish and rebelling daughter, and a younger son who never quite fit in.  He apparently figured that his love and affection only lasted until death, because in his will he revealed that he was as Jewish as the pope and had kept up the lie ever since he fell in love with his wife while running a criminal scam with his brother.  The family found out the story at the funeral before the will was read, where Kahn/Dobbs' brother showed up and roughly revealed the truth.  This is a great scene that first reveals the brother's depth of faith and the sister's self-centered nature before cracking open the lie of their father's life.

The knowledge tears apart the children; the older son finds his faith in God teetering with his faith in his father, while the temple he grew up in firmly rejects him.  The daughter finds justification for her wild ways but the sight of her brother's pain brings her back towards piousness, and the younger son finds genetic backing for his love of cards and gambling.  The pictures blend well with the text, although again I find my cluelessness with comics a hindrance -- I kept missing flashbacks or confusing the daughter with her roommate.  It's an interesting, adult take on a comic book where the art moves the story along quickly so the book has the strength of a novella, with the complex emotions of a family built on sand.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

So Then: With a Single Spell

Years and years ago (well, in 2010) I saw Jo Walton's review of Lawrence Watt-Evans' Ethshar books on tor.com, and she made them sound light and fun so I stuck them on my new Goodreads TBR list, which I then ignored for ages until the past few months when I started more systematically working my way through it.  My goal is to be only 12 months behind, but I'm about twelve months behind that goal.  This requested-reading fast probably won't help much, either.

Anyway, Walton is right in that With a Single Spell is a frothy read that is easily sipped in a few hours.  It's about a young man figuring out how to have make a living without any skills beyond the single spell he acquired in his short apprenticeship, preferably a living that doesn't require a lot of work because he admits he's rather lazy.  It's the kind of book where you just hang out and see what happens to a character for a while; there doesn't seem to be a unifying thematic arc where the writer ties up stuff with a bow -- if we are lucky (if the author does it right), we meet up with the character just when things start getting interesting, and then leave when we aren't terribly worried about anything that is still going on.  Watts-Evans does it just right, with Tobas traveling a bit to show off his world and society, worrying just enough about what to do that I saw what the options are in his society.

When Stephen Gould does this, the characters usually display impressive ingenuity and intelligence, using the doo-dad or spell to maximum capability.  Watt-Evan's protagonist isn't as ambitious, being willing and persistent but not especially perceptive.  On the other hand, the book itself is perceptive and snarky and enjoys puncturing cliches about fantasy worlds with wizards and dragons and princesses.  If I hadn't waited to read this book until it was overdue, I'd offer to my fantasy-fan seventh grader to read; maybe he'll have a chance at the next one.  I've stuck some more of Watt-Evans' books on the TBR list.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Little Bit Funny: This Is a Book

So, last year, when I allowed myself to pick up books on impulse when the library dangled them at me, in the happy days before my TBR Dare started, I saw a cute looking book and picked it up: Demetri Martin's This is a Book by Demetri Martin.  I had a vague feeling that he was on the Daily Show or something.  He doesn't seem that proud of it though; there's no mention of it on his web page, for example.

It's a collection of sketches, pictures, and musings, sometimes funny, although mostly at the smile level, not laugh out loud material.  I dipped into it on and off over several days, as a little was quickly sufficient, and even worse, he frequently returns to a shtick involving a annoying aggressively stupid man-hits-on-women-who-are-only-sex-objects bit, which was so clearly not aimed at me as an audience that I'd wonder why I was still reading the book.  What a waste of a now limited resource -- library books!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pretty Girl: Amelia Lost

The Cybils Nonfiction for Middle Grade and Young Adult finalist Candace Fleming's Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart switches tantalizingly between chapters following the day Earhart's plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean and chapters tracing her life from infancy up to her final world-circling flight.  Her early childhood, troubled adolescence, and shining career as an aviatrix alternate with the increasingly worried search and mysterious radio messages that chronicle her last day.
Amelia Lsot
Fleming does a good job describing Earhart's tomboyish childhood and her struggles to adjust to an father transformed by a drinking problem during adolescence, but I get less of a sense of her adulthood.  Most of the pilots she comes in contact with denigrated her skills, down to the man who failed to teach her to use her radio properly in her last airplane.  So was she mostly a cute woman whose relationship with skilled promoter George P Putman propelled her to stardom?  Or was she really a skilled flyer who maybe didn't require two days to figure out the radio and skimped on the lessons because she didn't need them?  This book seems to lean towards the former view, but I think I want to know more. Did most pilots try to fly bigger airplanes than they trained on, or was Earhart uniquely arrogant?  How likely was it that people in Florida and the Great Lakes picked up on radio transmissions that the men at the airport built for her on Howland couldn't hear?  I don't have enough context to make evaluations.

I'll see if I can interested the older kids in this book; if so I'll update with their opinions.

Ice Storm Holds Up Reading

I managed to tame my distractability a bit this week, finishing roughly a book a day.  I even finally finished one of my bedside books in which I tend to only advance a few pages a night.  Soon I will be able to fit all the books I'm reading in my portable book-bag.  And my library count continues to drop, so in general my reading life is moving in the proper direction.

This is the meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  Here's my report on the finished books, the book-marked books, and the upcoming books.

This week I finished:
I've also read some of the Cybils picture books, but this year I'm not keeping track of my picture book count.

I'm currently reading sixteen books, but luckily they are all different so I don't get confused.  And for anyone who doesn't know me, yes, I have a system.  I'm reading one book I've recently acquired, one book from my library stack, and one book from my challenges stack.  On Sundays I pick up a new RML (Reading My Library) book so that I average a book a week there.  On Wednesdays I pick up a book from my TBR list on Goodreads.  I usually have two books going on my NOOK, one a library book and one I purchased.  I have the five or so books on my bedside table, and I have some book about a topic I'm interested in, currently popular culture & philosophy.  In the car I have one or two audio books, depending on whether I have a second to listen to when the kids aren't around.  And sometimes I have other books I've somehow started reading, or a book club book, or something shiny...
  • A Lady Awakened, Cecelia Grant.  I think she's pregnant now.  That's the plan. 
  • The Male Brain, Louann Brizendine.  Too much overgeneralization -- "all boys do this" when my boys didn't.  Also, I think gays may not have as much breast obsession as she thinks.
  • Ancient, Strange and Lovely, Susan Fletcher.  I finally managed to renew this. RML.
  • Toad Away, Morris Gleitzman.  Australia toads head for South America. RML.
  • As If Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President, Donna Gephart. RML.  The title seems self-explanatory.
  • Which Big Giver Stole the Chopped Liver, Sharon Kahn.  I have no idea how this book stumbled onto my TBR list, but here it is.
  • Among Others, Jo Walton.  Rereading so I can decide which library to donate it to.
  • Twilight and Philosophy.  Jane Eyre was cooler than Bella, but she's cooler than everyone.
  • Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones.  Audio book for when the kids are in the car.
  • London Eye Mystery, Siobhan Dowd. RML.  Kid has not yet returned it, but he's loving it so I don't complain.  (His dad doesn't like him to read non-fiction, so he leaves his books at my place.)
  • Twenty Palaces, Harry Connolly. On my NOOK.  When his publisher didn't pick up the Ray Lily books (BOO), he self-published the extra one.  I like this author.  And Ray Lily, who is more open about his ambitions in this book.
  • Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins.  Girl goes to posh school in Paris for her senior year.
  • The First Men In the Moon, H.G. Wells.  They made it to the moon.
  • Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott. Boy does she lack confidence with her son.
  • The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly. My goodness, she thinks he's impersonating himself.
  • The End of Racism, Dinesh D'Souza.  More panic about the fringe elements.
What will I read next? Mostly more library books coming due.  The only new books entering the house will be for book clubs and Cybils finalists.  After I conquer the library mountain, it's time to look at my home TBR bookcase, which I hope has a few books from my online TBR list.

Challenges I've signed up for (for which I've signed up?):
  1. Cybils: 13/80.  Or I should say 13/73, since the 7 Apps aren't possible.
  2. What's In a Name?: 3/6.  I will hope for cooler candidates though.
  3. Where Am I Reading?:  3/50. Illinois, for three. I'm hoping for five by the end of the month.
  4. TBR Double Dare.  3.
  5. Comment Challenge.  Staying on target.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hero Kids: Hereville

I'm still a novice reader of graphic novels; probably most of my reading is from the Cybils lists.  My sons recommend others; they are comfortable with manga and other comic formats, but I still struggle to master the pictures with the text.  This probably makes me a bad judge of more sophisticated stories, since I'm in the back trying to tell the characters apart when the author is dealing with complicated themes up front.  So reading and enjoying the Cybils Graphic Novel finalist Hereville by Barry Deutsch was a bit of a feather in my cap.

It helps that Deutsch clearly thought through his designs with novices in mind, probably because his book is aimed at middle grade readers.  The sisters have clearly different hair styles, and the older one wears glasses to make it even easier to keep them clear.  Since they all dress in the uniforms proscribed by their orthodox Jewish school, my ability to keep them separate was not assured but Deutsch made it easy without seeming condescending.  I enjoyed the unobtrusive vocabulary help at the bottom; he doesn't use asterisks or numbering in the pages, but anytime I wasn't sure of a word I could glance down and there it was.  So all the scaffolding was there to let me just read the story.

I loved the combination of magical and personal problems -- Mirka battles angry talking pigs and her uncontrollable fury, determined to find a sword and fight dragons and appalled by her willingness to bully her brother when he tries to stop her. As an outsider, I see the see the problems with the sexism in her society, but she doesn't reject her family even as she refuses to accept the limitations they unquestionably try to impose.  Feminine strengths such as homemaking skills (knitting!) are supported, even while the dangers of strict gender roles are underscored (Mirka's brother telling her fighting dragons is for boys even though there is no sign of any qualified male anywhere in the book).

My sons enjoyed this book as well -- I think they liked Mirka's quick talking that turned her knitting defeat into victory.  My only complaint was the lack of place -- Hereville is clearly situation in the current time, not a distant past, but there is no indication of where on Earth the village exists.

Snow Day For Library Day

The stiff restrictions on library loot continue, but so far I've played fair and only walked to the hold shelf and out.  It's been tough, especially with the kids dragging me around by the New and Interesting shelves in the children's section, and then asking questions of the librarian so I have to wait in line by the "Grab Me" shelves.  Thank goodness I always have a nice pile of Cybils books to comfort me.

Thursday the library was closed due to ice storm, but N insisted on going on Friday because he had a feeling that mere State of Emergencies could not keep him from his Pokemon movie.  He was wrong, but I got:
  • Anya's Ghost, Vera Brosgol.  Cybils YA graphic novel.
  • Dodsworth in Rome, Tim Egan.  Cybils early reader.
  • Ghetto Cowboy, G. Neri.  Cybils novel (middle grade?)
  • I Had a Favorite Dress, Boni Ashburn. Cybils picture book
  • Can We Save the Tiger, Martin Jenkins.  Cybils NF picture book
This brings me to a total of 48 items out on my card, which includes a few CDs.  As of today, I have nothing ovedue.  I've very close to fitting all the books in the shelves allotted.  I'll go share my Library Loot at the event co-hosted by Claire from the Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader, where all the library addicts compare their treasures.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bad Men: The Terrorists of Irustan

The Terrorists of IrustanLouise Marley writes smart and emotionally resonant books that explore particular ideas, whether it's an examination of a violently patriarchal religion or a link between ghosts and musical instruments or children that blur the line between saviors and victims.  The Terrorists of Irustan is the patriarchal book, where veiled women pass from their father's control to their husbands in a religion clearly based on conservative Islam.  On the planet Irustan this religion is complicated by a strong taboo placed around the body, so that only women can address illness, which means that the only educated women are the medicants who train on the complicated medical systems provided by the galatic government.

Marley examines the women's lives from different angles, looking primarily at the educated Zahra who struggles against the restraints binding her, but also from the galactic Jin-Li, who has problems with gender issues.   In clear parallels to the modern world the galactics tolerate the limits placed on women in the name of religious freedom and the valuable minerals Irustan provides, but this also involves compromises and betrayals.  However, the connections between Islam and the Book are too close for comfort; Marley has made up her own planet so she controls all the events but that makes the statements about anything in the real world suspect.  I would have preferred either fewer similarities or a clear identification; the book itself ends up muddled as the answers come too easily.  (Well, the author's answers; the characters themselves have tough times.)

It was good enough that I'll keep an eye out for more of Marley's books, but I hope she takes her imagination farther afield next time; sometimes distance is necessary to get the focus right.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Anybody Want a Peanut?: Cousins of Clouds

I'm not a big poetry lover, so the Cybils Poetry category is a tough sell for me.  My children hate poems with a burning passion, so even more so.  Usually I can talk my younger son into sharing a poem a night with me -- I find children's poems work a lot better if read aloud, and reading to an audience brings some lines alive.  Occasionally something wins our heart -- we all fell in love with last year's winner, Mirror Mirror.

Tracie Vaughn Zimmer's Cousins of Clouds: Elephant Poems did not repeat that magic.  Although some of the poems were informative, and I did enjoy the factual blurbs that accompanied each poem, nothing really grabbed our attention.  P started dragging his feet about showing up for even a single poem.  We did appreciate the "This Is Just To Say" poem, but more because of the concept than the execution.  A few phrases shone through, but most of these poems were wasted on me.


She detours through brush
to caress the sun-bleached bones
of her lost sister.

(my favorite)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Flickering Memory: White Night

For the Christmas holidays I drive from Seattle, WA to Salt Lake City, a fairly easy day's drive, and I usually pick out audio books from the library to accompany me.  I like audio books, especially while driving, but I prefer to listen to books I've read before, because if the suspense gets tight I hate that I can't just listen faster to move along.  I've enjoyed most of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books, and I've heard good things about James Marsters as the narrator, so when I saw White Night on the library CD shelves I grabbed it.

It turns out that my BIL had the BBC radio adaption of the Lord of the Rings, which easily trumped all my offerings.  Just as well; I had forgotten about all the swearing that Dresden indulges in, so it would have been awkward to listen if the kids weren't sunk deep into their headphones.  But I've been listening to it during my solo trips in the car and really enjoyed the performance; the Dresden books are all written in first person and the narrator really captured the feel of the self-assured, cranky wizard as he fights bad guys and saves the helpless and never forgives himself if anyone on his watch gets hurt.  There are some graphically violent scenes that are probably more vivid to listen to since I think my eyes tend to skitter across when things get too grim.

The funny thing is that I can't remember if I've read this before or not.  That's not too uncommon when I start a book, but usually by the end I've figured it out.  I vividly recall the scenes about Harry's brother Thomas, especially when Harry and his giant dog invade his brother's apartment and he has to pretend to be Thomas's disgruntled lover, or where Harry and his brother fight together on a boat, but I have zero memory of Elaine, Harry's old lover and a major character in this book.  She's also there on the boat fight, and everything about her involvement seemed fresh.  Bits of the final fight scene sounded familiar -- the parts where Thomas shows up to help.  The rest? Blank slate.  I checked my list of books read, but I only have since 2007 in electronic form, so I know I haven't read it since then.

X really enjoyed all the bits I let him hear, so I've ordered up the print version of the first Dresden Files book.  We'll see if he likes it even without Marsters whispering in his ear.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Self-Definition: The Man Who Would Be King

Recognizable as the title of both a Rudyard Kipling short story and a movie derived from it, The Man Who Would Be King by Ben Macintyre traces the life of Josiah Harlan, who probably inspired Kipling's story.  Harlan left his Pennsylvania Quaker home in the 1820's in search of adventure, and he certainly found it, wandering first through India and then disappearing into the wilds of Afghanistan to involve himself in the civil wars and international maneuvering familiar to me as the Great Game that Kim plays in Kipling's later novel.

Macintyre became interested in the topic when he found hints of Harlan during journalistic trips to Kabul, but little information remained until a lost manuscript of Harlan's planned book about his exploits surfaced.  Using this as the basis and searching out related texts, Macintyre meticulously traces Harlan's transformations from sailor to "doctor" (well, he read a few medical texts) to soldier (he was a medical officer for a few months) to adventurer and king.  Unfortunately, most of the excitement is left to the imagination of the reader -- Macintyre describes the situations and players with exacting detail, but rarely brings the events to life.  I found myself slogging through chapters, but when I stopped at the end to review what happened, I'd realize that Harlan had again faced more stunning adventures and dangers.

I'm not sure how this book ended up on my TBR list, but I'm glad I read it, even though actually reading it wasn't nearly as much fun as I hoped.  I'm clearly a very shallow person.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Good Auntie: Bindi Babes

Bindi Babes

Nobody needs to feel sorry for Geena, Amber, and Jazz in Narinder Dhami's Bindi Babes; they have the best stuff, their teachers love them, and they pretty much get to set their own schedule.  OK, their mom died last year, but they don't think or talk about that.  Everything is going just fine, until their Auntie arrives from India and forces them to go to sleep on time, eat home cooked dinners, and maybe even talk to their dad on occasion.

This was a fun book that was more transparent to me as an adult than I would have noticed as a kid.  It was immediately obvious that the girls' father had retreated in his grief and that the three of them had bonded together in their dedication to looking good because they couldn't bear to admit how awful their mother's death made them feel.  It was an untouchable wound.  Likewise, their ingenuous plots to get rid of their Auntie were as obvious to me as to her, but not in a condescending or mean way.  The last chapter paid off particularly well, as several of the chance encounters that showed Auntie was more than she seemed came together in the high-stakes chase scene that had the girls racing down her well-marked path to keep her from flying away.

The shoes on the cover led me to pick this book from the shelf as part of my Reading My Library quest, and I hope they entice my niece as well; I'll offer this book to see how she likes it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What Am I Reading?

This is the meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  I look at what I've read, what I'm reading, and how I'm doing on any challenges.  This week I haven't finished much, but I made up for that by starting a whole bunch of books. Here's my report on the few books finished and the seventeen books I have bookmarks in.

This week I finished:
I've also read some of the Cybils picture books, but this year I'm not keeping track of my picture book count.

I'm currently reading:
  • A Lady Awakened, Cecelia Grant.  Wow, they still barely like each other.  
  • The Man Who Would Be King, Ben McIntyre.  From my TBR list.  Also, it's overdue.
  • With a Single Spell, Lawrence Watt-Evans.  Another TBR listie.
  • This is a Book by Dimitri Martin, Dimitri Martin.
  • Among Others, Jo Walton.  Rereading so I can decide which library to donate it to.
  • Twilight and Philosophy.  So I could properly appreciate the movie.
  • White Night, Jim Butcher. Audio book for car.  I can't decide if I've read this before or not -- some of it sounds familiar.  I'll wait till I'm done to look it up.  Also, it's overdue.
  • Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones.  Audio book for when the kids are in the car.
  • London Eye Mystery, Siobhan Dowd.  Actually my kid stole this, so I'll finish it when he returns it.
  • Bindi Babes, Narinder Dhami.  Reading my library.  Slowly.
  • The First Men In the Moon, H.G. Wells.  Heh, heh, they just name-checked Jules Verne.
  • Twenty Palaces, Harry Connolly. On my NOOK.  When his publisher didn't pick up the Ray Lily books (BOO), he self-published the extra one.  I like this author.
  • The Red House, Edith Nesbit.  On my NOOK.  Free book recommended on tor.com.
  • Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott. I'm out of her youth so no more drugs. Yay!
  • The Terrorists of Irustan, Louise Marley.  They got caught.
  • The Secret Duke, Jo Beverly. She still hasn't figured out his true identity.
  • The End of Racism, Dinesh D'Souza.  Always describe a trend by it's fringier crazy elements.
What will I read next? Mostly more library books coming due.  The only new books entering the house will be for book clubs and Cybils finalists.  After I conquer the library mountain, I'll start on my unread book piles.

Challenges I've signed up for (for which I've signed up?):
  1. Cybils: 10/80.  Or I should say 10/73, since the 7 Apps aren't possible.
  2. What's In a Name?: 1/6.  Maybe 2/6, but I have high hopes for a better match.
  3. Where Am I Reading?:  2/50. California, for two.
  4. TBR Double Dare.  1.
  5. Comment Challenge.  On target.

Let Them Fail: The Blessings of a B Minus

First, I should say that I hope the author didn't mind me reading this book because I'm not Jewish. But I've already read Wendy Mogel's earlier book on letting your children fall down, so when I saw The Blessings of a B Minus on the library's Interesting shelves, I picked it up.  And eventually I read it, because I do have a teenager now.

The Blessing of a B Minus
Mogel's main point is that teenagers are practicing to be adults, and if their parents don't let them fail, then they'll be unprepared when they do go off on their own.  On the other hand, teenagers aren't actually adult yet, so they do need support and balance, so just pretending they know what they are doing doesn't make much sense either.  Instead she covers picking battles, and why some battles aren't worth fighting until after their brains mature. Sometimes avoiding battles means ignoring behavior that you don't approve of (sullenness, arguing), and sometimes it means simply removing yourself from a situation rather than staying around to convince the teen that this is a bad decision.  This can mean handing over laundry duties and then not interfering when the same clothes appear daily.

Mogel thinks it helps to occasionally treat dealing with your teenager as an anthropological field trip -- look at the strange local customs and costumes of these bizarre inhabitants of Teen World.  Sometimes I felt the same way just reading about her examples; her teens grew up as in rich Jewish LA neighborhoods that seem wildly different from anything I or my teen will see.  But reading the book helped keep me grounded as my teenager and I negotiated a rough morning, so I appreciate the advice about keeping your common sense around and not meeting your adolescent in emotional stand-offs at every moment.  Our family rituals might revolve less around the Sabbath and more around Magic card games, but her points still seem sound.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Library Loot

Library Loot for me has sharp limitations imposed by the TBR Dare I've accepted.  Basically I can't check anything out, but since I'm also trying to read all the Cybils finalists this year I've exempted them.  And if I need something for book club I'll give myself another pass.  But this means that everything I get from the library I get from the hold shelf (and a few books I requested last year will come through this way) -- no browsing, no grabs from the New and Interesting display, no impulses.

Sigh.  But it gives me a chance to get my unwieldy piles of books under some pretense of control.

Anyway, the hold shelf served up a nice load this Thursday:

This brings me to a total of 51 items out on my card, which includes a few CDs.  And two overdue books that I'm hurrying to finish.  Maybe by the end of this month that number will approach something reasonable, and I'll be able to fit all my library books into the two shelves devoted to them.  I'll go share my Library Loot at the event co-hosted by Claire from the Captive Reader (this week's host) and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader, where all the library addicts compare their treasures.

Friday, January 13, 2012

May the Fourth: Darth Paper Strikes Back

It's a warm cosy feeling when I can get many things done by reading the same book.  I read our family book club selection for January.  I knocked off a Cybils Middle Grade fiction finalist, I cleared off a book I bought last year but haven't gotten around to reading, and I had a good time doing it all by reading Tom Angleberger's Darth Paper Strikes Back.

I bought this at the same time I got Angleberger's first book, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and my kids rushed through both books with enthusiasm but I am more easily distracted and never got to Darth Paper.  Both book use the same technique of having Tommy compile many classmate's responses in his casebook, which gives an excuse for a lot of fun paper art and smudging and also for the cartoons and side comments all over the text, which makes my graphic novel loving kids happy.  I felt that the stakes were raised higher in this book, since Dwight faces expulsion, but I suspect my kids found Tommy's worries about public humiliation just as jeopardising. There was also a bigger sense of character this time around, with Tommy having to put himself forward more both in decision making and in actions.

The school bureaucracy comes off very poorly -- I'm glad our middle school has a much higher standard of administrators than these kids face.  But the ending is emotionally satisfying if a bit intellectually hard to justify.  I'm looking forward to the family discussion tomorrow night, so I can ask if Harold rates as a good guy or a bad guy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Smells as Sweet as a Challenge: What's In a Name?

For the past few years I've enjoyed the What's In a Name Challenge, mainly because it's a challenge that I count on serendipity to complete.  The host (Beth Fish Reads) picks several categories of titles, and I have to hope that I read books fitting each category.  I suppose in December I could seek out a book to fit, but so far the most work I've done is see a book I like on the library's lure shelf and hesitate before realizing it fits a challenge and therefore I have an excuse to check out more books.

This year marks What's In a Name 5 and again Beth has come up with some fun categories that I'll try to complete:
  1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title
    • Escape to Witch Mountain, Alexander Key
  2. A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title
    • Cousins of Clouds, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
    • A Star in the Storm, Joan Harlow
    • Sign of the Moon, Erin Hunter
  3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title
    • Toad Away, Morris Gleitzman
    • Earwig and the Witch, Diana Wynne Jones
  4. A book with a type of house in the title
    • The Red House, Edith Nesbit
    • Twenty Palaces, Harry Connolly
    • Dragon Castle, Joseph Bruchac
  5. A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title 
  6. A book with a something you'd find on a calendar in the title


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pretty Nice Guy: Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe.

A friend recommended Rob Lowe's autobiography Stories I Only Tell My Friends, and of course that is more than enough to get me to read a book.  Never mind that I'm only vaguely aware of him -- I remembered he was part of the Brat Pack, but couldn't pick him out of a line-up.  And he came up in a discussion of The Outsiders movie, but again I couldn't remember which one he'd played.  I wasn't even aware that he'd been on West Wing, which maybe isn't all that surprising given that I'd never seen an episode.

Despite my lack of context, I found myself drawn into his story.  He spends a lot of time on his childhood, emphasizing how naive and innocent he was before he broke into movies.  His mother's major contribution was first to divorce his father and then his stepfather before moving to California to be with her third husband, and then help him find bus maps so he could get to his auditions.  In retrospect Lowe figures a lot of his inability to say "No" to anyone comes from the patterns of avoidance and distance he learned during these separations.

He also likes to tell stories about stumbling across famous people either when he was too young to recognize them or when they were too young to be famous.  He was on a short-lived sitcom with Janet Jackson, he dated Cary Grant's daughter, he met LeVar Burton the week before the Roots miniseries makes Kunta Kinte a household name.  I recognized most of the names he drops, making me feel more current.

But even more interesting is the stuff he leaves out.  He talks about the excesses he got up to during his drinking days (and some sex tape stuff) but without much interest -- maybe he can't remember most of the good stuff.  He's forgiving but bored by his playboy self, and much more excited about the life he lead after rehab, when he wooed his wife and had his kids.  Apparently he doesn't talk much about his family or his problems to his friends, because there aren't many stories in there, just repeated assurances about what he values.  A peek at Google shows that he had some big legal fight with a nanny who claimed they had sex, but nothing of that shows up in the book.  He must be really bitter about West Wing, where he can't keep himself from revealing the broken promises, although he tells himself it's because he wants to show that he actually learned to make decisions for himself instead of just drifting along as he did through his mid-twenties.  In the end, the interesting parts of his book are what he leaves out; I learned more about Rob Lowe from seeing what kind of person he likes to describe as him than from the descriptions themselves.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Diversity Club: Half World

Half World

The second book for Rachel Manija's permanent floating YA diversity book club was Half World by Hiromi Goto, which I got from the library on my NOOK.  Unfortunately this made it hard to share with my in-house YA, since he's not keen on electronic books and anyway I was hoarding my NOOK in a frantic effort to read books from all 50 States and from each continent and with authors and titles filling in every spot in the alphabet.  December is a crazy month for the Silly Reading Challenge addict.

Anyway, once the new year started I was free to read what I wanted, so I called up Goto's story and started reading.  For some reason I thought the main character was male, and I was pleasantly surprised to find Melanie the one called to save the world.  The mythos seemed very Roman Catholic -- people live in the world of flesh, and when they die they more to Half World where they process their worst experiences (sounds like purgatory) and then they ascend to Spirit World.  The pope probably wouldn't approve of the spirits eventually getting reincarnated back to Flesh world, though.  But something severed the worlds, and Melanie is the only one who can fix things.

She's a reluctant savior, bullied and neglected, and she only goes in to save her mother, who has been fading for years and finally dragged back to Half World.  Melanie has a few gifts to aid her: a magic 8-ball and a jade rat figurine that comes to life when needed.  The creatures in the dream-like Half World are straight out of the Narnian Island of dreams -- nightmarish and terrifying.  And the destruction of Glueman struck echos of Meg Wallace defeating IT with her love, although Melanie has the harder task of avoiding anger at the evil guy and eventually even finding compassion for him.

The ending was satisfactorily messy -- Melanie doesn't get her parents back, and she does end up with a lot of extra burdens, but she did save the worlds.  So she can go on, even if it wasn't fair.  This ending probably would have annoyed my YA, and his insomnia is bad enough without some of the images in this book, so I'm not too sorry he missed this installment, but I enjoyed it.  The writing impressed me, and I saw enough of the illustrations to realize that my NOOK was not the best platform to read this on.
Well, this year I haven't really settled down to reading much.  So far it hasn't been hard to keep my resolution to only read what I have available, because what I have is a huge pile of library books rapidly coming due.  But I want to check in and see what I've finished so far.

This is the meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.  I look at what I've read, what I'm reading, and how I'm doing on any challenges.  This week I finished:
All were from the library, and one was for a book club.  I've also read some of the Cybils picture books, but this year I'm not keeping track of my picture book count.

I'm currently reading:
  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe.  Turns out I can renew this, so it fell back in urgency.
  • A Lady Awakened, Cecelia Grant.  Romance the Early Readers sent me.  
  • Twilight and Philosophy.  So I could properly appreciate the movie.
  • White Night, Jim Butcher. Audio book for car.  I can't decide if I've read this before or not -- some of it sounds familiar.  I'll wait till I'm done to look it up.
  • Enchanted Glass, Diana Wynne Jones.  Audio book for when the kids are in the car.
  • London Eye Mystery, Siobhan Dowd.  Reading my library book.
  • Bindi Babes, Narinder Dhami.  Reading my library.  Slowly.
  • The First Men In the Moon, H.G. Wells.  Heh, heh, they just name-checked Jules Verne.
  • Twenty Palaces, Harry Connolly. On my NOOK.  When his publisher didn't pick up the Ray Lily books (BOO), he self-published the extra one.  I like this author.
  • Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott. I'm out of her youth so no more drugs. Yay!
  • The Terrorists of Irustan, Louise Marley.  They got caught.
  • 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? Mostly more library books coming due.  The only new books entering the house will be for book clubs, Cybils finalists, and Reading My Library entries.  After I conquer the library mountain, I'll start on my unread book piles.

Challenges I've signed up for (for which I've signed up?):
  1. Cybils: 6/80.  Or I should say 6/73, since the 7 Apps aren't possible.
  2. Where Am I Reading?:  1/50.  Everything I've read has either been in New York or off planet.  Or in Canada.
  3. TBR Double Dare.  So far everything I've read is a library book.
  4. Comment Challenge.  I skipped yesterday, so I need 10 comments today.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Middle Story: Dark Whispers

When browsing the C shelves for Reading My Library, I recognized Bruce Coville's name as a popular children's SF writer, with titles about brain-frying teachers.  The Unicorn Chronicles were unfamiliar to me, and I had a vague memory that I needed more "U" books (wrong!), so I decided to try one.

Dark Whispers turns out to be the third book of four in the Unicorn Chronicles.  So the story begins in media res, which is not really a problem for me but gave my older son hives when he saw me do it ("uh mom, you DO know that is the third book, right...").  The unicorns live in their own alternate dimension, along with a variety of other creatures (dwarfs, delvers, centaurs, griffins, etc.), some friendly, some hostile.  Cara, our human heroine, is the granddaughter of the unicorn queen, and she has the gift of tongues and some fancy magic doo-dads that raise her status even higher than just having opposable thumbs in a kingdom of horned horses does.  But the adventure felt rather flat and cliched to me, with very predictable beats and villains.  I was a little more interested in Cara's father Ian, who is attempting to make up for years of misguided service on the wrong side, but even his story never really sparked to life.

The tone is very sincere, with strong overtones of high fantasy.  Great quests are the norm, and struggles with virtue, and so on, with very few breaks for humor other than from the cute and unique squirrelly creature who follows Cara around.  I'm probably missing a few things from starting in the middle (I'm not sure if I'm supposed to recognize the mysterious man who helps Ian), but mainly it lacks the quirky humor that Coville's SF stories have.  Despite the steep cliffhanger at the end, I'm not motivated to pick up book four to see if the good guys win.  I bet my sons would like the series, although they'd want to start at the beginning.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cops Good, Slavery Bad: Mastiff

MASTIFF, coming 10/25/11!Mastiff is the final book in Tamora Pierce's Tortall prequels about Beka Cooper, cop and direct ancestor of George Cooper, best known for his relationship with Alanna.  Beka writes her own books, recording her story mainly as part of the official record keeper she does for her job, but also using the books as a journal since I think she plans on copying them out of the code used by her department before turning them in.  Or maybe she just doesn't have much sense of privacy, I forget.

Anyway, Beka writes about feeling fraudulent at her fiance's funeral, because she had been planning on leaving him anyway, partly because of stupid behaviors that did indeed lead to his death.  It's almost a relief when an emergency call drags her out of the city for the most important case of her career -- rescuing the young crown prince from his kidnappers.

Beka wrestles with the ideas of friendship, relying on her dog and her partner and his lover while learning to trust and then love the goofy mage also assigned to her party.  The question of trust plays a large role -- the absolute trust between a dog and a handler, the trust between lovers, between partners, between servants and masters, between royalty and subjects.  What happens when trust is betrayed? What about when it is abused? There are major betrayals at many levels, as well as small ones.  Obviously the rebellious nobles who orchestrated the kidnapping personify betrayal, but what about a fiance who never trusts you to do your job?  Or never listens when you ask for or refuse help?

Pierce also uses this book to attack slavery, which is a common practice in her world.  Beka confronts the dangers and horrors of this practice in steadily building scenes as she gets closer to the prince, who is learning about the pains in a very personal way.  The final solution seems very idealistic, but that is a Tortallan tradition.  Beka's viewpoint keeps the book focused but limited; this is a good book for Pierce enthusiasts but probably a poor gateway into her worlds.

Toughest Challenge of All: TBR Double-Dare

This could be the scariest challenge of all; that must be why C.B.'s  TBR Double Dare isn't really a challenge, or even just a single dare.  The Double Dare is to only read books my possession on January 1st, and the dare lasts until April 1st.  Nothing new from the store or the library for months and months.  Luckily for me, anything currently on my holds list at the library counts as "in my possession."  

Also luckily for me, you can set your own exceptions.  I already used that rule to check out a few books for my son's school report, since his card is disabled until we pay some of the fines. And I'm giving myself another exemption for Cybils Challenge books; I consider them all preloaded on my library hold list and as I read one from each category I order up the next.  I am requiring myself to read any I have in my possession first, but it looks like that only applies to one book.  And I'm sorta cheating on the Scholastic catalogs from school; I'm not ordering any for myself but if the kids pick the ones I've circled and labeled LOOKS LIKE A GREAT BOOK, well, that's just supporting their reading, right? I probably won't get to read them until after April anyway.  

Also, I have a life-time goal of reading a book from each shelf of my library; I think I'll exempt that as well.  I also attempt to read a book from my TBR list each week, but instead of working from the start down and using the library I'll hunt out any books I have in my possession.  If I run out, I'll probably exempt those as well.  Prior lists take priority, after all.  I may not run out until I flunk out of the challenge anyway.  The challenge anticipates that few will make the distance; part of the instructions involves returning to check in when I fall off the wagon.  We'll see how long I last.

(I'm only listing books that I own, not library books, since the latter disappear from the pile whether I read them or not.)
  1. Darth Paper Strikes Back, Tom Angleberger
  2. The Red House, Edith Nesbit (NOOK)
  3. The Terrorists of Irustan, by Louise Marley
  4. Twenty Palaces, Harry Connolly (NOOK)
  5. The Secret Duke, Jo Beverley
  6. A Lady Awakened, Celia Grant
  7. Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo (reread)
  8. Alvin Ho, Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, Lenore Look
  9. The Maze Runner, James Dashner (technically belongs to my kid)
  10. Christmas Angel, Jo Beverley
  11. Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott
  12. (The Girl Who Could Fly, Victoria Forester). Well, I read the library copy but the cover looked familiar, so I checked my TBR shelves and there it was!
  13. Amulet of Samarkard, Jonathan Stroud (the graphic novel)
  14. The End of Racism, Dinesh D'Souza. I think I've had this book for a decade.
BAM! The library had the newest Elizabeth Moon ready for my NOOK, no waiting, no will power, and I fall short by one week of the challenge.  Oh well, I mostly tamed my library TBR stack.
  1. The Android's Dream, John Scalzi
  2. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly

Friday, January 6, 2012

High and Tight: Absolutely American

Once again I have no idea how this book wondered into my TBR list, but I found David Lipsky's Absolutely American engrossing.  Lipsky spent four years embedded into West Point, watching the kids in their classes, training, and career planning.  His last year included the 9/11 attacks, which put everything the cadets did into a vivid reminder of the reason the country has military academies.

Lipsky focuses both on superior and lagging examples of West Point virtues.  The worst one spends four years dancing on the edge of dismissal, coming within seconds of failing various physical tests and never moving much past probation in academics.  The only lesson he seems to absorb into his bones is the creed that a cadet never gives up, although the various officers who practically beg him to resign don't see the benefit of that.  Meanwhile other cadets also wrestle with the meaning of duty, of what it means to commit to the army, of whether they are trading a free education for five years of duty or whether they intend a lifetime of service.

I wouldn't have made it a week at West Point, so it's an alien world that I'll only see through a writer's eyes, and Lipsky's descriptions made it seem vivid and clear.  He also seemed to keep himself out of the way more; he reported on kids who never doubted that their lives belonged in the military and on people clearly there for the career opportunities and cheap education with equal respect.  This contrasted with Army 101, where the author never seemed to get past his bemusement that anyone could choose the military for any reason other than to escape a gun-torn ghetto.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cybils 2011!

Last year I managed to read my way through the entire Cybils Finalist list, mostly with pleasure.  So this year I thought I'd try again.  Sadly, I'm doomed because of the book apps category; I don't have a device so I can't "read" those, unless some of them play on my NOOK.  And I don't think our library has them for borrowing, so even if technology falls from the sky I still probably can't get a look at them.  This makes my tidy-list-keeping soul grumpy, but I'll still include them at the bottom of my checklist for completest sake.

I'm also excited to note that I've already read four of them, and a fifth is my pick for our January family book club.  So I feel all hip and in-crowdy.

Easy Readers (DONE!)
Early Chapter Books (DONE!)
Fantasy & Science Fiction (Middle Grade)  DONE
Fantasy & Science Fiction (Young Adult) DONE
Fiction Picture Books  !DONE!
  •  Blackout by John Rocco 
  •  Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan A. Shea 
  •  I Had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn 
  •  I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen 
  •  Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell 
  •  Press Here by Herve Tullet 
  •  Princess and the Pig, The by Jonathan Emmett
Graphic Novels Elementary/Middle Grade DONE
Graphic Novels Young Adult DONE
Middle Grade Fiction DONE
Young Adult Fiction (DONE)
Nonfiction for Tweens & Teens  (DONE)
Nonfiction Picture Books (!DONE!)
Poetry (!DONE!)
Book Apps 
  • Be Confident in Who You Are: A Middle School Confidential Graphic Novel by Annie Fox 
  • Bobo Explores Light by GameCollage 
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson and Trilogy Studios 
  • Hildegard Sings by Thomas Wharton 
  • Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt 
  • The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by Moonbot Studios 
  • The Monster at the End of This Book by Callaway Digital Arts, Inc
73/80 (73 books)