Tuesday, January 31, 2006

2005 just keeps rolling on by

We danced in Bloomsbury Square Jean Estoril

A ballet book by the author who writes them the best. Love. The Darke twins are poor Liverpuddlians (isn't that a wonderful word?) who are competing against each other for a scholarship for a ballet school in London. How will it turn out? What happens once they get to London? Estoril's love of Ballet, her knowledge of the insecruites of blooming divas and descriptions on London in the 60s make me come back to her books again and again. It makes me want to cry that they're out of print and that I actually gave away my set of the first 5 Drina books! Ack!

The Three Incestuous Sisters Audrey Niffenegger

How much further away from The Time Traveler's Wifecan you get? This is a picture book with very few words. Beautiful and haunting, with the art telling the story. You can read it in 15 minutes, but I recomend pouring over it for hours.

Female Chauvinist Pigs : Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture Ariel Levy

This book annoyed me. Levy needs to get over the fact that she went to Wesleyan. This far out of college, it shouldn't come up ever few pages. I wanted her to actually make a point about something instead of constantly whinging on about the state of the world and feminism today. And some real scholarship would have been nice as well.

The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

Am I the only one who thinks the ending is rushed and unbelievable? But I read this edition, which is just beautiful.

Naked Pictures of Famous People Jon Stewart

Funny, but not as good as America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction

First They Killed My Father : A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers Loung Ung

The story of a girl who grew up during the rise and reign of the Khemer Rouge. Told from her point of view, in the present tense, the fear comes alive in the 5 year old's eyes. Gripping stuff. I'm currently reading Lucky Child, the sequel.

The Historian Elizabeth Kostova

I discussed this already, I loved it. It has been described as a smart person's The Da Vinci Code, but I loved that one too, didn't I? But where I felt guilty and sinful for enjoying Dan Brown, not so much with Kostova. Where she has a rip-roaring adventure of archives and art and the stuff of legend, she can actually write and it's a carefully crafted story spanning generations and the globe, told in 3 voices. Plus, it's got everything you could want in a book... Action! Romance! Archives! Librarians! Legend! Rumor! Commie plots! Good monks! Bad monks! Vampires! C'mon!

Clarice Bean Spells Trouble Lauren Child
Utterly Me, Clarice Bean Lauren Child

I talked briefly about Lauren Child being my favorite discovery of the year. Her picture books are some of my favorites (who can't love Charlie and Lola?!) and her realistic whimsy (read it, you'll understand) transfers well to this middle-grade novels. Her innovative use of font and text placement also works well in this setting and Clarie Bean is a loveable character.

Saving Fish from Drowning Amy Tan

I talked about this briefly before, but this is the best book that Amy Tan has ever written (and I've read them all). It doesn't have anything to do with mother/daughter relationships or the Chinese-American immigrant experience. But it has murder, hostages, stupid Americans, the media and a hostage crisis and Burma. Love.

The Kite Runner Khaled Hosienni

I loved this book. Everyone's reading it or has read it, but I loved it. I know some people couldn't get into it, but I loved the language, the text flow, the imagery...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Last Year's Winner

So, today I finished listening to Kira-Kira, which won the Newberry last year. It was... ok. It wasn't bad by any means, but it didn't really grab me in any special way and it didn't add anything new to the "young person dying through lingering illness" genre, although it is told through the eyes of her sister.

As I got to the end, there were several points where I thought it could have just ended and still haunted me, but it got wrapped up nicely in the end and it won't really stick with me at all. Oh well.

Bark in the Night

So, for a community reads project, Galveston County, TX was going to read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Until the city council read it. They pulled the project and are questioning it's place in the public library.

Which is too bad, because The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was hands-down the best book I read in 2004. No contest. I sat down to read it one Saturday and didn't get up again until I was finished. I then shouted its praises from every rooftop I could find.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Newberry Honors

So, I finished up Shannon Hales' The Princess Academythis morning.

The title and the beginning of the book threw me off a bit. Here is the story of the people of Mount Eskel, a far outlying territory of Danland, where they are all quarry workers except for Miri who is too small to be useful. Then the chief delegate comes and says the royal priests have divined that the prince's next wife will come from the mountain, so all the girls of eligible age have to go to the Princess Academy. Usually, this was just a formality, as the noble girls would already know how to read and write, know their history, commerce and diplomacy, and know all the court dances. But the academy has it's work cut out in training up the village girls.

But after awhile, it becomes so much more than this. This is the story of Miri, trying to find where she belongs, trying to find a way to be useful. This is the story of the village girls, proving they are more than hicks. This is finding strength in your past, your home, your family, your traditions.

And it's all really well written and gripping. About half way through, this book just grabbed me and held on. I thought about it when I went to bed at night and as I drove. I thought about it in the shower and while running errands. It haunted me as I read it, but in that really good way. I really liked it. You should read it. Go Newberry!

More 2005

Ok, now I'm just going to go through the books I read last year, book by book. Some I've already covered, some I haven't.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things Carolyn Mackler

Already covered. Liked. Virginia is fat and average looking in a family of thin super-stars. Her parents are self-involved and overy concerned with her weight. Her best friend has moved across the country. The older brother she worships get suspended from college for date rape. This deals with the typical teenage stuff of being lonely, being fat, your parents not understanding you and touches briefly on some of the darker aspects such as self-mutilation and eating disorders without fully exploring them. (And can I just say THANK GOD for that?! I'm so sick of over-blown books for teens soley about those topics. A lot of the reviews slammed it for not dealing more with these topics, but that's not the story Mackler came to tell, but she also didn't want to ignore such topics, because they did fit in well with the story.) Not as deep as she wanted it to be, but I still liked it PLUS it's been banned in Carroll County MD junior highs and was temporarily removed from the high school shelves.

Julie and Julia : 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment KitchenJulie Powell

This got some bad reviews, because it was based on her blog, and I guess it kind of reads like her blog or doesn't add to it or something. Having never read her blog, I liked the book. Basically, Julie is bored and frustrated in her life and needs a project, so she cooks her way through every recipie in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogs about the experience. Nothing earth shattering here, but still an enjoyable read nonetheless. So much so that last time I was at the book story, I bought Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Ella Enchanted Gail Carson Levine

OH MY GOD. I love this book! So awesome. Slightly original tale, slightly fractured. Totally AWESOME. Kids lit, but the first time in a while that I stayed up waaaaaaaay past my bedtime to finish a book. (Plus, it was Newberry honor!)

At her birth, a fairy tried to give Ella a gift and chose obidience. Ella will always be obidient, so if you ever tell her to do something, she has to, no matter what. Little things, like "Give me your toys" to big things like "betray your country. So here is Ella, trying to break the curse and live her life and grow up. And then her mother dies and her father remarries to an awful vain woman with two step daughters that make her clean the fire... the traditional parts of this tale don't come into play until deep into the book, long after you've fallen completely in love.

Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America Dan Savage

Hilarious and thought provoking. And has some stuff about Iowa. And I was laughing so hard over a side tangent on rainbow striped butt plugs that a guy asked me about it on the metro. I did not tell him that the paticular passage was about butt plugs. Also, Dan Savage doesn't look anything like I thought he would. Way too young.

Drina Dances in Italy Jean Estoril

Oh Drina. Why are you out of print? You were the best ballet books ever! This is the fourth book in the original five book Drina series. In this one, Drina's back from Chalk Green and back at the Dominick School and readjusting to life in London after living in the countryside. Her grandmother declares she must spend the spring holidays with her Italian grandmother and relations. Drina's nervous and anxious, but then finds out that the Dominick company with be touring Italy around the same time!

The Painted Wall and Other Strange Tales Michael Bedard

If you've ever read Chinese ghost stories (such as Stories About Not Being Afraid of Ghosts, so if you've ever studied early Chinese lit) then this book is really similair. A bit annoying in that Bedard doesn't speak Chinese and didn't translate but read a bunch of translations and "adapted" them somehow? It seems like every other thing I've read on the subject. But they're still fun stories.

My Cup Runneth Over : The Life of Angelica Cookson PottsCherry Whytock

I talked about this one already a bit, but I liked it. This is the story of Angel, who is bigger than her mum or her friends and loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooves to cook. A cute tale dealing with teenage weight issues and mother/daughter issues without getting deep or preachy and it has recipies after every chapter, which is fun.

My Scrumptious Scottish Dumplings : The Life of Angelica Cookson Potts Cherry Whytock

Already covered. Lovely (and yummy). This book immediately follows My Cup Runneth Over with a family trip to Scotland, where Potty throws a fit when the croft that claims to make the only haggis that Harrod's sells is NOT the haggis at Harrod's. When they get back to London, Potty starts a major campaign that gets them banned from the store! Plus, Mercedes has moved to Florida! And then Angel and her mum go off to a health spa and Angel has some words for the chef and gets to cook all day long. If you liked the first one, read the second!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Caldecott Honors

Well, today I read Hot Air : The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride written and illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, which was the only Caldecott book I hadn't seen so far. I liked this story that was light (but chock full of information) about the first hot air balloon ride (taken by a sheep, a duck, and a rooster) but I like how the only words spoken during the event-filled journey are "baa" "cluck" and "quack", letting the pictures tell the story. Delightul and deserving.

Another Day, Another Banned Book

The Well by Mildred Taylor (who also wrote the amazing Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry) has been dropped from a fourth grade Black History Month reading list in Absecon, NJ and may be dropped from the curriculm entirely because it contains the word nigger.

Imagaine that. A book about racism in early twentieth-century Mississippi has some white people calling black people nigger. A book about racism that deals with how kids feel when being called such things?! I mean, seriously? Can you honestly write a decent book that deals with these issues without using that word?

Letters to a Dead Sister

Wenny Has Wingsis the story of Will, an 11 year boy who was walking to the craft store with his little sister and cat when they were hit by a truck. Wenny dies immediately and Will survives after a near-death experience. This is a story of a family trying to heal emotionally and physically and how life can go on after such a tragedy.

The book is told in letters that Will writes to his sister and explores his loss, his anger, his frustration with his parents (such as getting grounded for hiding his father's life jacket in the dog house, even though it was Wenny who did it).

This book sometimes borders on schlocky but for the most part just tells a story, straight-forward and simple and is never preachy, which is rare for such a subject matter. A compelling read.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Ok, the following books have survived challenges in Johnson County, Kansas.

I haven't read any of them, but am going to now, because there's nothing I hate more than someone telling me I can't read something because it's not "good for me". GRRRRRR.

Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
The Lords of Discipline Pat Conroy
Boy's LifeRobert McCammon

5 years later...

SO! I finished The Unredeemed Captive, which was a reading assingment due in the Spring of 2000. Whatever, I eventually read it, so it's all good.

In all, I enjoyed this book. Early Colonial History is not generally my area of expertise or even interest, but it was written well enough and the story was captivating enough that I did track the book down 5 years after I was supposed to read it, so that should count for something.

Basically, Eunice Williams was taking captive during a French and Indian raid on Deerfield, Mass. in 1704 at the age of 4. Two of her brothers were killed in the raid, her parents (her father being a prominent minister) and the rest of her siblings were also taken. Her mother was killed on the journey to Canada but the rest of the family survived and was eventually returned to New England, except Eunice, who stayed with her new Indian family, became a Catholic, and eventually married an Indian man.

The story unfolds with the efforts of the Williams family and their friends to get Eunice back to Massachusetts (efforts that continue until Eunice is a grandmother!!) but also tells the story of Contential tensions and how they played out in the colonies, Coloniziers and the people who were here first, clashing cultures and finding peace and evolving.

This is not pop history, or written for a mainstream audience, so some might find it dense and dry, but I thought it was fascinating.

2005: Series and Teen Lit

More book reviews: Series! Woo!

A Series of Unfortunate Events is pretty good. In the middle, all the books are pretty much them same, but then they get good again. And funny. And there is definetely stuff for adults, unless children these days know who Haruki Murakami is.

Patricia Wrede's Dragon Books are awesome, but they're kids fantasy, so they may or may not be your cup of tea. But fun dragons, unruly princesses and evil wizards abound. And they're pretty funny. I read them in 6th or 7th grade was thinking about them this summer, so checked them out from the library and laid out on the deck and read away. Also, if you like those, read Book of Enchantments, which is a book of short stories by Wrede, but includes "Utensil Strength" which takes place after Talking to Dragons and has a recipie for Cimorene's Quick After-Battle Triple Chocolate Cake. I also just want to mention how beautiful and wonderful the story "Cruel Sisters" is.

Harry Potter kicks ass.

TheThursdayNextseriesby Fforde is also HILARIOUS! You really really really need to read these books. Then you MUST read The Big Over Easy : A Nursery Crime which is bizarre and great. Jack Spratt is a detective, trying to figure out how Humpty Dumpty fell off that wall. He (and Mary Mary) are major players in Lost in a Good Book. LOVE.

I also must give props to Louise Rennison's Confessions of Georgia Nicolson, crazy shallow Brit teen extrodinaire. I read 2 of her books this year, Away Laughing on a Fast Cameland Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers. Each books is only an hour or two long, completely stupid, and totally laugh-out-loud funny. Read them all when your brain doesn't work and you're in a crappy mood. You'll feel a lot better. But it is pretty girly. And talks a lot about boys and make-up. And insane cats.

But if you want an actually well-written and good teenage girl story, check out the TravelingPantsbooks. I was suprised and impressed. But, it's a girly coming-of-age thing, FYI.

Speaking of teenage books, the two by Jacyln Moriaty (The Year Of Secret Assignments and Feeling Sorry for Celia) I really liked. Funny and moving and not too deep.

The Angelica Cookson Potts books (My Cup Runneth Over, My Scrumptious Scottish Dumplings) were pretty formulaic for teenage British chic-lit, but enjoyable and comes with recipies for all your cooking needs.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is American teenage chic-lit. Not as formulaic and tries to go deeper than the rest. Enjoyable, not as deep as it wants to be. Not as good as Pants, but you should read it anyway, because it was challenged in Carroll County MD high schools (unsuccessfully) and out-right banned in their junior highs, and that's not cool.