Monday, December 31, 2007
Anyway, it's the last day of 2007, so let's talk about all the books that I read in 2006 and haven't talked about yet. La la la la la la la la.
First off, a book I really, really loved.
CHERUB: The Recruit Robert Muchamore
James can't catch a break. His mother is awful (and a major dealer in stolen goods) his sister's father isn't any better. Then he gets suspended for fighting in school and his mom dies.
Enter CHERUB. Founded over 50 years ago, CHERUB is a division of MI5--British Intelligence. No one ever suspects a kid, so that's who they send--kids.
James will be a spy and receive a top-notch education, but only if he can survive the training period.
And then, if he does, the real work begins.
A fun and gripping adventure story, I'm really looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series...
College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Co-Eds, Then and Now Lynn Peril
This is a well-done, not overly academic look at the history of women's high education. It's a pretty balanced account with a lot of pull-out boxes about various aspects of female college life and lots of "Femorbilia" looking at different items marketed to the college girl. I especially enjoyed the "College Girls Book Shelf"-- a running thread of literary treatments of college girls throughout history.
I Am the Messenger Markus Zusak
I liked this book.
Ed is a slacker cab driver with no future. After foiling a bank robbery, he starts to recieve playing cards with messages on them.
With nothing to lose, he starts following them, discovering problems to be solved, some are easy and heartwarming, such as a church with no congregation and some are dangerous and chilling, like a woman being raped every night by her drunk husband.
Through solving these problems, he starts to find direction in life.
Zusak is an awesome writer. It's about as different from The Book Thief as can be, but that just shows his range.
White Is for Magic Laurie Faria Stolarz
A fun guilty-pleasure type read.
Stacey has nightmares about people being murdered--nightmares that have an awful habit of coming true. It's been a year since she saved her best friend last year (in the first of the series, Blue Is For Nightmares. Now the target of her nightmares is... herself. Luckily, she's a witch with an arsenal of spells to help her find the strength and courage she needs.
I couldn't put it down, but I also have no desire to read the rest of the series. The spells felt really, really hokey.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Alison Bechdel
This is a graphic novel memoir of small town America, literature, coming out, and family secrets.
It was really, really good, but the amount of literary allusion and quotations got old after awhile--that aspect was a bit overdone.
Mermaid Park Beth Mayall
Amy hates her family--her jerkwad of a step father, her perfect sister... so she is very much not looking forward to a long weekend on the Jersey shore at her mother's godmother's motel.
But, she finds a boy, and a waterpark of mermaids. (A forbidden waterpark of mermaids.) She talks her mother into letting her stay for the summer, and talks her way into a job at Mermaid Park, unraveling a few family secrets along the way.
A perfectly lovely book, although it didn't stay with me for long.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Day of Tears? Fantastic! I had to read it for a lit conference and was extremely disappointed by the discussion we had on it. No one could get beyond "Gee, Slavery really sucked" to discuss why Lester's tale of it was such a powerful stand out in a sea of stories about the same general subject. No one brought up that it was one of the few stories to really explore the emotional impact instead of the physical one... powerful stuff.
In the hands of a lesser storyteller, The Old African would have been absolutely dreadful instead of being as wonderful as it is.
Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire. This is classic Greek Myth, but told in a vernacular, Southern African American story telling style.
Because of Lester's great skill, it totally worked and I loved it.
Psyche is beautiful to the point of it being a burden. Cupid is the son of Venus and a total mama's boy. When Venus (who is aging) is jealous of Pysche's incredible beauty, she orders Cupid to poison her with destructive love. (I have to say I was reminded of that exchange in Love Actually "I have say I'm a bit relieved, I thought it was something worse." "Worse than the total agony of being in love?!")
Anyway, of course, Cupid falls in love with her. He enlists Apollo's help. Apollo is not a fan of Cupid, so tells Psyche's father that she will marry a great monster.
In the end, Venus attempts to seek revenge and true love--both Psyche's love for Venus and various other deities' love for Psyche is put to the test.
I know some readers will (and are) annoyed by the storyteller's voice and his meditations on story, beauty, love, and lust, but I really really enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed the comments on how much work love is. You don't get that truth a lot in YA literature.
Shout out to Bookshelves of Doom for bringing it to my attention.
Time's Memory nearly as much.
And here's where Lester's genius is more of a burden than a blessing-- I simply expected more from him.
The nyama spirit embodies Nat, a young man who is a slave on a Virginia plantation. He's in love with the Ellen, the plantation owner's daughter. Nat's father is the leader of a bloody slave revolt.
Highly mystical and spiritual, it just didn't work as well as it should have and ultimately left me dissatisfied. However, there is a lot going on in the book, so I would highly recommend it for book discussions.
This is another fantastically written story about slavery. There isn't as much under the surface, but it tells the story of Amari, from her time in Africa through the middle passage and slavery. It also tells of her friendship with Polly, an indentured servant. The two run away--but instead of going North, they go South, to Spanish controlled Florida.
What I really liked about this book was the unflinching look at many things we usually don't see. We usually don't read of the coastal slave castle before being put on the boats, or how other Africans helped round people up to be sold.
We know of, but usually don't see in fiction, the rape of women by lonely sailors every night.
I also really appreciated how nuanced the characters were--there were good people and and bad people and people who were good and bad. Some of the good people where white, some of the bad people were black. Many authors, when telling a story of slavery, go the understandable route of making all white people bad. Or really, really good. Draper writes people as she knows them. No one's all good or all bad. And goodness doesn't fall on color lines.
By doing so, she writes a very accurate and incredible tale of slavery that covers what we learned in history class, and a whole lot more.
1. Dancing for joy at the fact all my grades have now been posted and, yes, it was a mad dash at the end, but not only did I pass the semester, I aced it. Boo-ya.
2. Reading as much as possible before the New Year.
3. Tallying 2007's reading statistics. (Well, getting ready to tally. I'm still making them.)
4. Thinking about my 2007 best-of lists and what will be on them.
5. Trying to figure out my New Year's resolutions--both in reading and in the other bit of my life. I do know it will involve graduating from my master's program and reading a bunch off this list.
In the meantime, I have set some silly month-by-month goals, starting with this month (which is almost over) that I have set for myself.
So, at the beginning of the month, I was to read all the books I had checked out from the library. I did manage to read a whopping 11 out of 32 (so far, I still have a few days.) I also wanted to blog all the unblogged books from 2006. I started with 15 and am down to 8!
So, progress is at least being made. Stay tuned to this space. More is a'coming.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
So, this is all a Jane Austen-y post. But in YA land.
Did you know that Shannon Hale is having a Princess Contest? Time is running out (it's one of those things that require thinking and entries are due on Monday!) (This is totally relevant because she wrote the chocolate cake of book Austenland: A Novel which is NOT a Jane Austen wannabe book (so please, don't judge it as such) but a fun little romp about those of us with an unhealthy Jane obsession. Or rather, an unhealthy Colin Firth obsession.
Another fun book about unhealthy Jane obsessions?
Enthusiasm Polly Shulman
Julie's best friend, Ashleigh, is an enthusiast. When she becomes interested in something, it goes a little overboard. So, when Ashleigh decides to become obsessed with Jane Austen? Julie sees her high school career ending up in the toilet. Ashleigh is speaking rather properly now and refuses to "bare her lower extremities" aka show her ankles. Or wear trousers. Oiy.
To top it off, in order to find her own Mr. Darcy, Ashleigh has decided to crash the fall formal of the snooty boys school up the road. Not only does Julie thinks this is an awful idea, she can't help but wonder why Ashleigh gets Darcy and she's stuck with the perfectly fine, but a bit boring, Mr. Bingley.
Of course, at the dance, they both find Mr. Right and an unfortunate communication error means Ashleigh claims him first. Ashleigh would never move in on a guy Julie likes, so Julie stays mum, her heart breaking.
Meanwhile there is the school musical, other friends, extra-curriculars, a boy who can't take a hint, mysterious poetry, and messed up step-families.
NOT a Jane Austen wannabe, but a fun romantic romp about friendship, high school, and boys, and an overbearing best friend whose heart is completely in the right place.
A big thank you to Tiny Little Librarian for the recommendation!
One that was not done so well is
The Dashwood Sisters' Secrets of Love Rosie Rushton
This is a retelling of Sense and Sensibility set in modern day England
It was light and airy and fun, but not nearly as lovely as the original. I think I would have liked it more if I wasn't familiar with the source material.
Now, I like some remakes... Clueless was a wonderful look at Emma. It made fun of itself.
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason? Really well thought out and hilarious takes on Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion (the worst part about the movies was that they stripped out a lot of the parallels.)
The adaptions that work work because (a) They know what they are and are able to stretch the story within those confines (b) Are hysterical. They also, in their own way, (c) Retained a bit of the subtle commentary on society.
Dashwood Sisters' Secrets of Love is lukewarm. It is so strictly worried about faithfulness to the original material that it doesn't add anything to the story. If you're not going to add, then why retell?
If you've never read Sense and Sensibility then this would be a fine, if not memorable, teenage brit chick lit about girls dealing with divorce, a new town, and boys. It strips away the commentary.
Read the original. Skip this. Unless, you have to read Sense and Sensibility for school and totally don't understand it and have access to this and not access to the movie. This book won't help you pass the test, but if you read it first and then go back to the Austen, you might understand the basic plot of the Austen a little more.
Oh, and completely unrelated, here's a great site for wasting some time and learning your geography-- check out all the challenges.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
I had to leave Wisconsin much too soon, but it was a lovely time even if the Packers totally sucked in Sunday's game. (ouch. seriously. ouch.) It even snowed...
Also, I got a lot of reading done. I now have 21 books to read before Monday turns to Tuesday. I can totally pull that off, right? Yeah, I know. But, it will be fun to see how far I get.
Anyway, here are a few of the books I read in various airport lounges, airplanes, and my parents' living room.
If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko
Someone remind me to stay away from really well done non-humorous realistic fiction about junior high. They make all the memories I've worked so hard to repress come up.
Anyway, Kirstin's best friend is hanging around the mean girls they used to hate. Kirsten could maybe be included if she just tried a little harder to fit in. That's what her mom wants--to the point where she'll call up the other mothers. Kirsten's not dumb. She knows that Ms. Queen Bee doesn't want her there. She also knows she doesn't want to be there, so she starts hanging out with some other people.
Boys. Scholarship students.
Walk is one of those scholarship students-- one of a very few non-white students at this exclusive private school. He wishes he were back at his old school, with his friends...
Choldenko could have had a beautiful story, just on that. But there's also a deep dark looming secret. I'm not sure how I feel about that. It wasn't really necessary.
I did, however, love Kirsten's little sister, Kippy.
Thanks to Kelly for turning me onto this title!
You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah! Fiona Rosenbloom
This was the very last book I read in 2006. I remember racing to the end so it would be done before we went out for New Years Eve so it would firmly end up in th 2006 pile.
Anyway, it's Bar and Bat Mitzvah season in Westchester County. So, 13 year olds dealing with the opposite gender, social ranking, friendships, divorced parents and geeky little brothers.
It's true to life while still being funny enough that it doesn't send me back into therapy.
It's a very nice coming-of-age (literally!) story.
My one complaint is that the time line is really screwed up. There are a few things that happen where the times of various events are mentioned, but it doesn't make any sense when you try to reconstruct the day. Plus, geeky little bro undergoes big changes over the book. But the book only takes place over the time span of 1 week, so that also doesn't make sense.
But this old review leads us to a new review!
We Are SO Crashing Your Bar Mitzvah! Fiona Rosenbloom
In this sequel (which I just read) Stacy and Lydia have a whole new look and can't wait to show Kelly.
Only Kelly's full time hanging out with the Chicas (mean girls!) and Stacy and Lydia aren't invited.
Literally. Queen Bee Kym's cousin Eben is having the Bar Mitzvah to end all Bar Mitzvahs and everyone else is invited.
So, Stacy and Lydia do the only sensible thing-- crash. Coupled with the outlandish lies they've been telling to make themselves seem cooler, they've spun a web that's about to catch them.
I think I liked it even better than the first one!
Friday, December 21, 2007
Well, I've turned in all my work. In the next three hours I must (a)clean the guest room (b)clean the bathroom (c)shower (d)pack (e)leave for the airport. There is something very important missing from that list my friends. It's called SLEEP.
That's what the plane is for, right?
Anyway, I'm off to Wisconsin to celebrate Christmas with my family. I love going home for Christmas because I love the Christmas Eve service at our church. (Although last Christmas Eve at my in-laws was pretty great. In case they're reading this: This one goes out to my amigos at Table #5. But 2 years ago, it was a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles type scenario to get me home in time to get to church. And we made it. Our luggage went to a different local airport, but we got home in just enough time to eat some food, steal a nice outfit off my sister and go to service.
I was raised Unitarian Univeralist and every Christmas Eve there are two readings that remain consistent, each read by children in the congregation (I will never forget the Christmas Eve I read.) The first is the opening to Luke: And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed...)
We also read this, which is my Poetry Friday offering:
Each Night a Child is Born
For so the children come
and so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they came—
Born of the seed of man and woman.
No angels herald their beginnings.
No prophets predict their future courses.
No wise men see a star to show where to find
The babe that will save humankind.
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
Fathers and mothers—
Sitting beside their children’s cribs—
Feel the glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
They ask “Where and how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?”
Each night a child is born is a holy night—
A time for singing—
A time for wondering—
A time for worshipping.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Still need to do your Christmas shopping? Books! Kelly has the round-up of this month's Carnival of Children's lit-- all about gift books. (And, the first carnival I've participated in! Woot!)
Have you always wondered who was richer-- Mom or Monty Burns? (Answer: Mom) and how much is Lucius Malfoy really worth? Check you this year's most hilarious Forbes 15 Richest Fictional Characters. The article is a little annoying to read due to layout, but hilarious. (And, can I just cheer for the inclusion of Mom! Yay! Mom! Man, I do love Futurama. A few months ago, I read a Playboy interview with Groening in which he said that Futurama is going the way of Family Guy-- it's coming back! Speaking of Family Guy, Mr. Pewetershmidt is totally on the list.)
And here's some YouTube-ery to keep you entertained and distracted:
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I really wanted to be done by today. Nope. When I take my final tonight, I'll go home (it will be late) and... I'll do more homework. I cannot wait until this class is all done, except, I can. I mean, I have to have everything in on Thursday, and now I'm really really really freaking out that there isn't enough time...
But, Friday I go home and my sister comes back with us.
So I should probably clean the bathroom first, right?
Anyway, I read another book. (I can't do homework and eat, I can read and eat though.)
Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians Brandon Sanderson
I have yet to be inducted into the Evil Librarian cult. This makes me sad. I'm hoping that really, they're just waiting until I get my MLIS.
Alcatraz Smedry grew up in a slew of foster homes in the Hushlands (that's the known world to you and me. We're also Hushlanders and are stuck with primitive technology and not knowing there are three other continents on this earth. Blame the librarians, they control all the information, they keep us in the dark.)
On Alcatraz's thirteenth birthday, his grandfather shows up because it's time to step up and fulfill the Smedry role of saving the world from Evil Librarians.
Full of Alcatraz talking directly to the reader about how awful authors are (himself included), it's hilarious and well thought out. You'll never look at the central downtown branch of a library the same way again.
(Also, I would like to point out that MLK branch of the DC library? Perfect place for librarians to have evil lairs. That building is weird.)
(And for those counting at home, every book I've ever reserved has just come in, so... I now have 26 books to read. Before January... um.... that's what 4.5 hour long layovers in Detroit are for, right? Right.)
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
There are many beautiful meditations on language, and losing your language, and living and loving in a foreign language in Chang-Rae Lee's fantastic Native Speaker.
I have tried and failed to date outside English. Conversation sticks to pleasantries like the weather and we never really get to know each other.
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers: A Novel
I think it is telling that it is dedicated to "The man who... knows how a woman lost her language."
Z (no one can pronounce Zhuang, just call her Z) is sent to London to study English. There she meets a man, older and a drifter, and falls in love with him.
She talks to him as she learns English. Each chapter is short vignette, starting with a word and definition. As the novel, and time, wear on, Z's English improves, but never reaches fluency.
It's a doomed affair, you can tell from the beginning, the way he has a conception of China and expects her to be a good communist and Buddhist because she is Chinese and those are aspects that fit in with his aging-hippie drifter persona, never realizing that China has changed drastically. You can tell by the way she doesn't understand privacy.
More than a chronicle of a doomed love affair, it is a story of subtle and wry cultural misunderstanding. It is a coming-of-age story, both emotionally and sexually.
It is beautifully written, at times switching between terse and broken, to evocative and sensual, to moments of clear truth.
One of my favorite books of the year.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
So I slept, and read a little, but mainly slept. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
So much of the country has a snow/ice day today. I hope if you do, you have some hot chocolate and a stack of good books to get you through it.
So, new book! (But I checked a new one out, so that's still 23 left to read.)
Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. LaFevers
I wanted to like this book, and I liked large portions of it but... there was something about it that kept me from loving it, but I can't quite figure it out.
Basic Plot: Theodosia's parents run the Museum of Legends and Antiquities in early twentieth century London. A lot of the artifacts her mother brings back from Egypt are positively broiling with evil curses. Only Theodosia seems to notice, so it's up to her to break and nullify them. Then there's something really cursed that lots of people want and gets stolen and there's intrigue and pre-WWI politics afoot.
The good: I liked the different societies vying for the Heart of Egypt. I liked the different countries vying for various digs in Egypt. I liked how it touched on Egyptian nationalism, was true to the time period and thought it was bad, and how there weren't over-arching lessons about colonialism that would have been totally anachronistic. (There were plenty of places for them.) At the same time, it shied away from the issue enough to not be totally offensive to the modern reader (Theo's parents are pretty focused and were most concerned about how it would mess up their digs.)
The bad: The historical-ness just seemed... off. As did the British-ness, but I can't say why exactly. Something about Theo's voice just seemed... off...Hmmmm... (I know, that's totally descriptive!)
Now, for an old review (9 more to go!)
Emako Blue by Brenda Woods
So, the book opens at Emako's funeral and then flashes back from the beginning of the school year to her death. Emako was a charismatic girl from the wrong side of the tracks that touched everyone she met. But, the book was way too short. You didn't get a good sense of how she touched these people and right when you were almost starting to care about her, she dies. 50-100 more pages and I think I would have really liked it, but it just ended too soon, before I was emotionally invested, so eh.
Friday, December 07, 2007
So the 4 new books, in the order in which I read them:
The Wednesday Wars Gary D. Schmidt
Holling Hoodhood is the only Protestant in his class, so every Wednesday, when everyone else goes to Hebrew School or Catholic School, Holling is stuck at school school, with Mrs. Baker, who we get the feeling was really wishing that she'd have Wednesday afternoons off and not be stuck with Holling.)
Mrs. Baker, who's husband (Tybalt) is a soldier in Vietnam, teaches Holling Shakespeare, which he likes, because Shakespeare really knew how to curse. In the meantime, there is baseball and running, hippies and the war, love and some giant rats in the ceiling.
Schmidt has written a wonderful book that has been raved about all over the blogosphere. I had one quibble with one little part of the ending, but I'll talk about that here.
Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: A Year Told Through Stuff by Jennifer L. Holm, pictures by Elicia Castaldi
Ginny is starting middle school, hoping to have a father and a lead in the Nutcracker and Swan Lake by the end of the year. And maybe her sweater back from her ex-best friend. In a story told through notes on the refrigerator, school assignments, IMs, postcards, report cards, bills, bank statements, and cartoons, we follow Ginny's year. She gains a father, but loses her brother who's juvenile crime sends him to military school. Funny and heartbreaking, a very amusing take on junior high and the graphic novel.
Sold by Patricia McCormick
I really wanted to read this after hearing McCormick speak and read at National Book Fest this fall.
Lakshmi is a peasant girl from a small village in the Nepalese Himalayas. After a horrible dry season comes a horrible monsoon season that washes away her family's crops. With the promise of a good job in the city, as a maid, Lakshmi's step-father sells her.
Only, they don't go to the city, but rather across the border into India, where she is sold two more times, ending up in a brothel as a child prostitute.
A novel in verse, Sold is told in vignettes, the sparse language lending to the Lakshmi's terror and confusion. There are moments of utter horror, and the beauty of everyday kindness.
McCormick tells this story well, matter of factly, but with beauty, never letting Lakshmi's voice stray into too much self-pity or the story go into emotional manipulation.
The Princess and the Hound Mette Ivie Harrison
The Goose Girl or Wildwood Dancing, you'll like this one.
George is a prince raised in duty, terrified that it will be discovered his posses the illegal and feared animal magic.
Beatrice is a princess trapped by her father and circumstance, resigned to marry for the sake of her kingdom.
More alike than they know, or will let themselves find out, they have to learn to trust each other to save each other.
And I know that sounds really lame, but it's a great story. I seriously thought about calling into work late so I could finish the last 100 pages.
The Last Book In The Universe Rodman Philbrick
Spaz is an epileptic living in a post-apocalyptic world. There are no books, just mind probes that leave people empty shells of nothing. In order to save his sister, he has to cross several border lands, dealing with their gangs and security to get to the land of the "proves"-- the promised land populated by people who have been genetically improved.
An excellent adventure.
Wait for Me An Na
Yawn. Mina has lied about her academic prowress and that's about to come bite her in the butt. Her mom's a total bitch. She's been stealing from the family's dry-cleaning business. She likes this guy. Her little sister's deaf and depends on her for everything.
It could have been good, but... eh. It dragged and was boring and Mina was totally unsympathetic and so I didn't really care.
Woo-hoo! Unto November!
Pop! Aury Wallington
This was fun, nothing fantastic, but a nice little book about losing your virginity. Marit wants it gone, but freaks out when things get physical. Enter best friend Jamie, who isn't really a good choice for sex without attachment, because Marit still likes hot-boy Noah.
While the plot is a little unrealistic and happy-go-lucky, it's the kind I like in fun, sunny afternoon reads.
The sex scenes are hilariously accurate.
Lowji Discovers America Candace Fleming
A funny little book about a young boy trying to fit into small-town Illinois after growing up in Bombay. Moving just after school gets out, Lowji is bored and wants a pet. He quickly convinces his grouchy land-lady that a cat would help with the mouse problem and a dog would be a good burglar alarm, Lowji wins over the neighborhood.
Cute and written in the formal, slightly stilted English of a non-native speaker.
Thursday, December 06, 2007
Dixie Storms by Barbara Hall
Meh. So, it's the end of a summer with no rain, and the oppressive heat is used as an obvious metaphor for the tension in the Peyton household. Dutch is 14, not coping with the divorce of her brother and her city cousin Norma is in town, ruining everything.
Realistically, Dutch alternates well between hating/resenting Norma and wanting to be just like her.
There's some boy drama thrown in.
Overall, I didn't really like any of the characters, so I really didn't care what happened to them. They all annoyed me.
But first, SNOW! YAY!
Second, I was writing a post on Puffery on products I wish they'd bring back. When researching it, I found that British LUSH will bring back the World Piece ballistic if enough people order it. Shipping and handling is stupidly expensive, BUT this is the greatest bath bomb ever. Order here. Help me out--you only have 3 more days and 8 hours...
the Edge of the Forest for November/December is out! There's lots of super cool stuff in it (one of my favorite issues this year!) and I review Martin Bridge: Out of Orbit! (Martin Bridge) by Jessica Scott Kerrin, illustrated by Joseph Kelly (good middle grade boy read), Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (lots of fun!), Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (fantastic fairy tale), and Babymouse #6: Camp Babymouse Jennifer and Matthew Holm (not my favorite, Babymouse #7: Skater Girl is much better.)
So, go check those out to get your reviewing fix and I'll be back shortly with more reviews. Hopefully today, but I can't promise anything... :)
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
See, the people who would be receiving such books? Would be reading this blog (Yes y'all you're getting books for Christmas. I'm sure you're shocked and amazed because you know, that's all I ever give anyone.)
So, I thought I'd turn it on it's head a bit and blog about books that people have given to me!
There's always a problem when giving your favorites to someone else. I'm not entirely sure my mother ever forgave me for not loving Trixie Belden the same way that she does.
On the other hand, I (and my classmates) will always love my parents for shipping a box full of John Steinbeck and Kurt Vonnegut novels to me when we ran out of English-language novels in China.
Now, my favorite books that have been given to me are cookbooks. This is interesting, because usually when I open them, I'm a little less than enthusiastic, but 3 of my top 5 cookbooks? Were presents to me. Desperation Dinners was given to Dan and me by my parents. It has the basis for my awesome Chicken/Tortellini/Pesto soup. (Um, add some tortellini.) Also, Dan's awesome white chicken chili is from here.
Dan's dad gave us How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food and when Mark Bitman says everything, he means everything. So, it not only contains the recipe to awesome pie crust, killer mocha butter-cream frosting, what to do with random chicken breasts or or how to make a good, basic marinara sauce, but when I didn't believe that whipped cream only involved cream and a wire whisk? Bitman proved me wrong (although he did suggest a smidge of sugar). When I realized I hadn't boiled an egg in a decade and didn't remember how long it should be in the water? This book told me. It also suggested that a medium boiled egg is much easier than a poached one with the same results. (My suggestion is to serve them on toast finely spread with Boursin cheese. Or on toast with crab cake.)
The third was a wedding present from our friend Alden, The Naked Chef which has some great recipes for various things and ways to do things the completely from scratch and where you can take shortcuts. I like this one because Oliver really gives you the freedom to experiment and really just provides base recipes and lets you run wild, for, as I've always said, one must approach love and cooking with reckless abandon. (In case you were wondering, my other top two cookbooks are Joy of Cooking (older editions are better) and Betty Crocker Cookbook which I DO NOT have. *hint hint*)
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret from a family friend for my birthday. (Maybe 10? 11? 12? Somewhere in there.) Not only did it open my eyes to a lot of things (we must, we must, we must increase our bust) but it was the first Judy Blume book I read, but far from the last one. I now have teary-eyed moments over this book with mothers at the library.
18-page wish list on Amazon is that people tend to buy you things of it, which is, well, the point. But some of my favorite gifts are the little spur of the moment ones. Dan gave me 501 French Verbs when I was taking French in England and mentioned that I missed having it as a reference. The next week, we went out of coffee and he pulled it out of his bag for me. Similarly was when I was reading The Guns of August and had no idea what pre WWI Europe looked like... a few days later, he brought me home a copy of the Rand Mcnally Historical World Atlas. And then there was the supreme silliness when, right before we went down to Houston to spend Passover with his family and presented me with My First Passover Board Book...
For Christmas a few years ago, Dan's mom gave me a copy of the hysterical Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About. (MotherReader agrees that this book brings the funny). She got it off my amazon wishlist and promptly forgot about it. Until we gave her a copy this year because, really people IT BRINGS THE FUNNY.
And who doesn't love going to the bookstore with parents who pay for their books? Everything from mama buying my copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at the midnight release party (she bought one for herself and one for me... when it comes to Harry, there's no sharing.) And most recently, Hardboiled and Hard Luck.
I love getting books and hope people never stop giving them to me!
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Death Note, Volume 8: Flight Tsugumi Ohba
So, we have a battle of the wills between Light, Near, and Mello. I can't say much because we're really deep into the series. So, a few things
1. Light's a jerk.
2. Mello looks like a girl, and it would be cooler if he was because all the other girls in this series suck.
3. I hope light kills Misa, because then I won't have to deal with her anymore. He'll probably do it soon, because, well, see point 1.
The library has volumes 9,10,11, and 12 on order. I'm getting antsy.
1. 2 papers (including a term paper)
2. 1 midterm
3. More homework than I want to think about
4. New doggy
5. 33,000 words of my NaNoWriMo novel (well short of the 50,000 word goal. Ah well.)
6. Hosted Thanksgiving
7. Helped my mom make my sister's Save The Date cards
8. Read13 books.
In December, I'm attempting to do 2 major things:
1. Read the 25 books I have checked out from the library
2. Blog the 15 books that I read in 2006 and haven't blogged yet. (And make a dent in the 41 books that are unblogged from 2007.)
So, stay tuned for (hopefully, probably) multiple posts a day. Because I also have to
1. Do lots of homework
2. Take a final
3. Write a term paper
4. Stop Dog from destroying my kitchen
5. Do my Christmas shopping
6. Go home for Christmas
Speaking of Christmas shopping, here's a plea. There are a lot of links on this blog. A lot of them lead to Amazon. If you click on one, and order from Amazon? Even if you buy something that is different than what you clicked on? I get a wee kickback. How much depends on how much gets ordered (the more items ordered, the bigger the kickback.) And, let's face it. Librarian isn't really a big money career. Plus, I'm a grad student, plus, I have a nasty book habit that I'd really rather not kick... so... if you want to help out, that's a good way to do it. (Or, if you order some of my gear from the "cool book stuff" link in the sidebar, that works, too.)
Anyway, I got tagged for a meme by Hilary.
So, here we go:
1) Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2) Share 7 facts about yourself.
3) Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4) Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
So, 7 things about myself...
1. The term paper I wrote last week was about CIPA and internet filtering in public libraries. It's something I've been thinking a lot about. On one hand, information wants to be free and filtering is a form of censorship, especially some of the things that get filtered. On the other hand, kids can't spell and often the filter blocks porn they didn't mean to get to. But, filters often block a lot of legitimate, non-porn sites and lets a lot of porn through. In fact, this post will probably be blocked because I said porn so many times. PORN PORN PORN.
2. I use both Napster and iTunes. (Napster is totally legal now guys. I pay for it and everything.) Napster is a vastly superior product, because you pay $10/month and can download and listen to as much music as you want. If you want to burn it onto CD, it's an extra .99 BUT you can buy "track packs" which let you buy credits for a bunch of tracks at a discount. And, if you're buying a full album, it's usually cheaper than buying each track off the album. With iTunes, you can only listen to about 30 seconds of a song before you buy it, and albums cost .99 x # of tracks. I wouldn't use iTunes at all, but it's the only thing that works with my shiny pink iPod.
3. I really hate the use of putting "i" in front of everything information-related. I can understand "e" because it's short for "electronic" and I guess the lower-case "i" can mean information, but, really? You just sound like you're trying to buy into Apple's popularity. My library program is thinking of re-branding itself as an iSchool. It makes me want to scream. Not even getting into my issues with information schools vs library schools but to call us an iSchool?! Ew. Good luck ever getting money from me.
4. I love winter. I hate that it doesn't really snow in the DC area. I miss snow and extreme cold. I know I'm crazy, but I like a day so cold that when you breath in, the cold pierces all the way to the bottom of your lungs and your snot freezes.
5. I've never mailed out Holiday cards. Every year, I say I'm going to do it, and every year, Nada. This year, I have a great idea on cards to make. I know all the supplies I'd need and how to do it. I'm putting lists together in my head, but it won't happen. (As I typed that, I heard Dan saying "no no no no no no no no no" because he knows it would just be one of my projects that didn't go anywhere, and then I heard his giant sigh of relief when I said I wouldn't do it.) So, I'll share my idea with you:
1. Get a bunch of these navy blue cards.
2. Stamp them all over with silver snowflakes. I really like this one and this one.
3. Emboss a few of the snowflakes with this stuff, but I'm not sure which color. One of the silvery/white ones. (Mom and I embossed my sister's save the date cards--awesome and fun and easy once I figured out how to not set stuff on fire.)
4. Using double-sided type, put a bunch of these shiny white cards on the inside (ok, I totally know that they them with scalloped edges, which I'd use.)
5. Then I'd stamp the insides with a greeting. Probably Season's Greetings.
So now you can make them. And mail one to me.
6. I like Christmas carols and the Nutcracker music. My favorite carols are "O Holy Night" and "Psallite." "Psallite" is in Latin and German and is pretty, plus? Two foreign languages in one song? AWESOME.
7. For Christmas, I really want jewelry. Especially necklaces and earrings that I can wear to work. Some great stuff can be found at Tartx (especially the domino necklace with the Red Queen and a monocle necklace with the cards flipping over Alice) and Mytypewriter (especially the snowflake one) or the Cherry Blossom pearl necklace from the Sundance Catalog. (*cough* *cough* *hint* *hint*)
And now I tag Sara, Pam, Miss Erin, HolyKnitter, Kristin, Julie, and Susan and really, anyone else who wants to play.
Go ahead, check it out. I'll wait.
Yes, I realize you won't come visit me for a week after watching that, but hey. It's worth it. You'll come back to me, if anything, because I turned you onto Brotherhood 2.0.
So, anyway, John Green is like, my age, which really isn't that old, despite what I may tell you. He already has 2 books published. His first one won the Printz and the second one was a Printz honor. I feel like such a failure.
His work is characterized by main characters with odd things (in the first, knowing the last words of everyone, in the second, being a genius who has only dated girls named Katharine) and quirky side-kick characters.
Yes, there is some sex. But nothing worse than what my dog does to random dogs at the dog park. (We've decided she needs to know a few basic commands--come, sit, lie down, and stop bringing shame upon the family.) And there is some language. I talked about this with Molly over at Bittersweet.
Looking for Alaska
I like this book a lot more now than when I first read it. The problem is that it's the basic boy meets girl who fascinates him and then she dies plot. And I read it right after reading As Simple as Snow, which has a similar basic plot, even though the two books are very different. (And when I say right after I mean, I read Snow, went to the kitchen and made a fresh cup of tea and read Alaska. I had to read a bunch of books for work (those two titles being two of them) and so I did read the entirety of both of them on the same day.
After the intricate puzzles of Snow I just wasn't ready for the intelligent humor of Alaska
An Abundance of Katherines that I came around to appreciate everything that was going on.
In Katherines a child genius who has just graduated from high school and his best friend go on a road trip. Their car breaks down and they end up spending the summer in this small little town that's dying, because the factory (which makes tampon strings) employs almost everyone and it's not doing so well.
Trust me, it's hysterical, and no one dies, so it's not depressing like Alaska was.
Green has an excellent sense of the plausibly absurd. (I mean, a factory that makes tampon strings?! So bizarre, and yet, someone has to do it, right? These factories must be out there somewhere.) Coupled with his quirky characters (Yes, I know I used that word already, but really, it just fits well), especially the best friends are wonderful.
Check him out.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Sometimes it leads to awesome things, like Kirsten Miller hooking me up with my awesome Kiki Strike t-shirt.
And sometimes it leads to really awesome things. Yesterday, I reviewed The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl, which is edited by Pierre Haski.
Now, I'm sure you don't read my comments as obsessively as I do, but Haski commented on yesterday's post to update me on Ma Yan's situation. She has finished school in China and is about to arrive in France, to study there-- a very happy ending to her story.
Also, when talking to someone yesterday, I realized that I want to say more about Ma Yan and China in general.
As many of you know, I was in Beijing earlier this fall, and spent a semester studying n Nanjing. I commented on Ma Yan struggling with spending 50 fen (about 6 cents USD). I once had a beggar in Nanjing through 20 fen back in my face--in the cities it's useless. When briefing Dan on Chinese currency this fall, I had forgotten that fen existed, until it became an issue at the grocery store.
One term at elementary school in Ningxia costs $12. I spend more than that on coffee every week. That's about how much Dan and I spent on a super-tasty meal of Peking Duck at one of Beijing's most famous duck places. I spent that much getting up Taishan. I got bilked for more than that in the Great Wall adventure that will one day be funny, but isn't yet.
But, in the interior of the country, the new economy hasn't hit yet, and it never will if children cannot go to school.
The Diary of Ma Yan created such a stir, there is an organization to help the children of Ningxia. You can help. Click here to find out how.
Eileen Zhang (Zhang Aileen) has perfected the art of the novella and short story. Most of her work is set in pre-WWII/WWII era Shanghai and Hong Kong. Chang's characters are not the hard scrabble peasants of Mo Yan's Gaomi township. Chang focuses on the fading elite. Old families whose fortunes are made or waning. She focuses are modern, Western young adults, caught in the traditional lifestyles of their parents.
How can you not love such passages as:
When the drops of rain hit the cement and caught a bit of light, they twirled around and shot out beams of silver light--long, long beams of light, like the silver skirts of ballet dancers.
Her prose is full of beautiful and elegant metaphors and phrasing, but not so full of them that they weigh everything down.
Life was like the Bible, translated from Hebrew to Greek, from Greek to Latin, from Latin to English, from English to Mandarin Chinese. When Cuiyuan read it, she translated the Mandarin to Shanghaiese. Something did not come through.
Love in a Fallen City
This collection of novellas and short stories encapsulates her work well. These are short glimpses into brief encounters between men and women. Men in women in love, men and women in lust, men and women trapped by circumstance and time, thinking the other might be able to help them.
Plus, look at how she shifts in time in "The Golden Cangue"
The green bamboo curtain and a green and gold landscape scroll reflected in the mirrors went on swinging back and forth in the wind--one could get dizzy watching it for long. When she looked again, the green bamboo curtain had faded, the green and gold landscape was replaced by a photograph of her deceased husband, and the woman in the mirror was ten years older.
I could drown in Chang's prose. I get lost in it. It is evocative of an era. Her scenes are lush, her dialogue and plot are fraught and taut, without crossing that line into ick.
She never over explains things, if anything, she under-explains them.
I had to read the end three times before I fully understood what happened. For the first half of this novella, we see a young woman waiting for her old lover (both married.) She is nervous and tense, and the reader easily falls into the trap of believing her emotions are due to fear of being discovered.
And of course, they are. But not by her lover's wife. But rather, in this Japanese-occupied Shanghai because she is a Nationalist spy, the femme fatale, her lover a target that she is setting up.
And that's when the story turns. But all 57 pages hold tension, like a single plucked violin string.
Also, usually Wade-Giles transliterations bug me, so I loved the translator's note that she went with Wade-Giles over pinyin in order to keep the mood of the piece. I think it was a choice that really worked, and I'm happy that it was a conscious decision and that she included that information.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Yesterday afternoon, we were all sitting in the living room reading. Well, Dan was doing something on his laptop. I knew Mom was at the end of a spy novel. I was pretty into my book, too. Dad looked like he was into his.
Dan: So, what are we going to do all afternoon
Me: Um, I think we could just sit here in read, I know Mom's near the end of her book
Me: Dear, they are my parents. This pointing to them, and to my book is totally a learned behavior!
Also, while we were gorging ourselves on mashed potatoes and stuffing (ha ha, not me. Two things I don't like. I gorged on pie. And cranberry dressing.) Our fearless Cybils leaders were putting together the final long lists. CHECK THEM OUT!
So usually, when I post multiple reviews, there's some sort of theme or something. Today's theme is:
These books are all due back at the library TODAY. In order in which I liked them:
Confessions of a Blabbermouth Mike Carey, Louise Carey, illustrated by Aaron Alexovich
So, this is part of the Minx series of graphic novels. My favorite, up to this point, was Re-Gifters , but I think I like this one better. The good news is, they're both by Mike Carey, so now I have a new author to be on the look-out for!
Anyway, Tasha is an angry blogger whose mother has a knack for dating losers. This new one she's brought home? Takes the cake and thinks that Tasha just needs a strong father figure in her life. His own daughter, of course, is perfect. Too bad she's a grade-A stuck up bee-yotch. And every time Tasha thinks that Chloe might be human after all, Chloe writes something awful in her newspaper column.
Tasha is supposed to spend spring break in the US, off-line, with these freaks?! How will she survive?!
Hilarious. Carey obviously knows how to write for the medium of the graphic novel and Alexovich's depictions of the bully Big Sylvie? Excellent.
The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl Ma Yan Ed. by Pierre Haski. Trans. from the French by Lisa Appignanesi, originally trans. from the Mandarin by He Yanping
Ma Yan is a school girl from Ningxia province, in Central China. She is a member of the Muslim Hui minority. She, like many of her neighbors, is extremely poor. She struggles with spending 50 fen (which is about 6 US cents). All she wants is to go to school, to make her family proud, to get a good job so she can support her family. School is expensive and she's often pulled out so her brothers can go and she can work at home. Her father spends most of his time in Inner Mongolia, looking for work. Her mother is very ill and climbs mountains far away from home, picking fa cai to sell.
This is not so much a good book as an important one. Ma Yan's diary is written by the thirteen year old girl that she is. She's not writing for an audience. Her prose goes between matter-of-fact and very earnest. But what she does is paints a picture of modern day Chinese poverty that can get forgotten in all the coverage of China's booming economy. She paints a picture of hunger and parental sacrifice. And, above all, she paints a picture of hope and the strength of spirit. That sounds dumb, but it's true.
The photographs and Haski's information given valuable insight and background information.
I Am the Wallpaper Mark Peter Hughes
Floey Packer is sick of always being overlooked in favor of Lillian, her fabulous older sister. So, one summer, stuck at home with her two terrible cousins, she decides to make herself fabulous.
And she's getting the attention she wants. Until she finds out why. (Now, I think this is a bit of a spoiler, but it says so on the back cover so... her evil little cousin is posting her diary on the internet. No wonder her best friend is so pissed off!)
The problem with Floey is... Hughes has captured the voice of a 13 year old perfectly. The guy she likes called her and they talked for an hour! It doesn't matter that they're good friends, he obviously LIKES her! It's all going so well!
And, frankly, 13 year old girls? Are annoying. Oiy. So, Floey annoyed me. It's never good when your narrator annoys you. But, she annoyed me because Hughes is so good. Aiya.
Also, Floey writes a lot of haikus. Love. It's good while still sounding like it was actually written by a teen.
Blood Red Horse K. M. Grant
This is an excellent book for a teen who still loves horses.
Hosanna is the blood red horse of the title. A horse with mystical powers to bridge opposite sides of the Crusades.
Gavin and Will are brothers. Ellie's the girl that Will loves but is betrothed to Gavin.
Richard is the king that's dragging everyone (Well, not Ellie) off to the Holy Land.
La la la la la la.
This book took me a month and a half to read. I just couldn't get that into it. But, I was enough into it that I couldn't put it down, you know? I'm not that into horses anymore. And the crusade battle scenes? Kinda bored me. That's never a good thing.
Monday, November 19, 2007
But, here's my blog's reading level (link via Bookshelves of Doom)
So, overlap from the Best Books for Young Adults and Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers is:
Twisted Laurie Halse Anderson
Shark Girl Kelly Bingham
Almost Home Jessica Blank
The Nature of Jade Deb Caletti
Beige Cecil Castellucci
Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Deadline Chris Crutcher
This Is What I Did: Ann Dee Ellis
Blood Brothers S. A. Harazin
Split Screen: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies / Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies by Brett Hartinger
Glass Ellen Hopkins
Chasing Tail Lights Patrick Jones
Strays Ron Koertge
Guyaholic Carolyn Mackler
What They Found: Love on 145th Street Walter Dean Myers
The Penalty Mal Peet
Harmless Dana Reinhardt
What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know Sonya Sones
Freak Show James St. James
7 Days at the Hot Corner Terry Trueman
Such a Pretty Girl Laura Wiess
Story of a Girl Sara Zarr
Best Books for Young Adults and Great Graphic Novels:
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain Peter Sis
Houdini: The Handcuff King Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi
Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography Andrew Helfer and Randy DuBurke
Re-Gifters Mike Carey, Sonny Liew, and Marc Hempel
Notes for a War Story Gipi
Mouse Guard Volume 1: Fall 1152 David Peterson
Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare, Richard Appignanesi, and Sonia Leong
Arrival Shaun Tan
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and Great Graphic Novels:
Inside Out: Portrait of an Eating Disorder Natalie Shivack
Avalon High: CoronationMeg Cabot and Jinky Coronado
Vampire Knight Matsuri Hino
Dead High Yearbook Ivan Velez
Have you read any of these? Tell me what you think!