Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Year in Review

I'm pretty sure I'm not going to finish the book I'm currently reading (The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy) by midnight (but, well, you never know) so
here are this year's stats, and looking at last year's resolutions and how I did:

Last year's resolutions?
1. Blog at least 5 books a week for a total of 260, or to keep up with my reading habits. FAIL! I blogged 221
2. Read at least 20 nonfiction books. CHECK! I read 32
3. Read at least 50 books from the scary list. (See, this might be a little hard to pull off. We'll see.) FAIL! I read 16
4. Set a silly reading challenge every month. Started to do this, then FAIL!
5. Never have more than 5 pleasure reading materials checked out from the library at a time. I was pretty good at this until I checked out a bunch for the 48 reading challenge and went crazy again. FAIL!
6. Finish reading the rest of Silvey's top 100. FAIL!

Ah well. Here are this year's goals:

1. Blog at least 5 books a week for 260 total, or to keep up with reading habits, whichever is less.
2. Read at least 20 nonfiction books
3. Read at least 50 books from this year's scary list.
4. Never have more than 5 pleasure reading materials checked out from the library at a time.
5. Finish read the rest of Silvey's top 100. (This is only 26 books, 7 of which are picture books. I can do this! Listening totally counts.)
6. Never be more than a year behind on reviewing. I will catch up with 2006 books by the end of January

Anyway, this year's stats...

I read a whopping 251 books (up from last year's 219)

June was the busiest month for me, reading 49 thanks to 2 different read-a-thons and no school. School killed November and December, which were my slowest months with 7 each. (Ok, November was more NaNo than school.)

74 were children's books (based on where my library puts things), down from last year's 82
140 were YA, WAY UP from last year's 80
36 were adult, down from last year's 57
32 nonfiction, about the same as last year's 33
10 were under 100 pages (usually they don't "count" if they're under 100 unless I decide otherwise based on my gut feeling. Or if I'm spending a lot of time with it, such as reviewing or a Cybils book)
17 were graphic novels, down from last year's 32
6 were re-reads, about the same as last year's 8

All in all, a good year in books. Here are some of my favorites:

Favorite new-to-me authors:

Elizabeth Scott
Lenore Look
Meg Cabot

Favorite guilty pleasure series:

The Specialists Shannon Greenland
Twilight Stephenie Meyer

Favorite Fairy Tales with new Twists:

Sunlight and Shadow Cameron Dokey
Fables Vol. 10: The Good PrinceBill Willingham
The Storyteller's Daughter Cameron Dokey
The Night Dance Suzanne Weyn
The Swan Maiden Heather Tomlinson
Book of a Thousand Days Shannon Hale

Favorite Nonfiction

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed Michael Meyer
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food Jennifer 8. Lee
Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud Shuyun Sun
Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood Ibtisam Barakat
Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man Oliver August

Favorite Children's Books

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes Peggy Gifford

Favorite YA Books

Paper Towns John Green
Ten Cents a Dance Christine Fletcher
Audrey, Wait! Robin Benway
Girl Overboard Justina Chen Headley
Good Enough Paula Yoo
She's So Money Cherry Cheva
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Sherman Alexie
Freak Show James St. James
Before I Die Jenny Downham
Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale Holly Black
Kimmie66 Aaron Alexovitch

Favorite Adult Books

Mister Pip Lloyd Jones
The Bastard of Istanbul Elif Shafak

Favorite Authors that aren't new to me, but reinforced why I love them

Jaclyn Moriarty
Narinder Dhami


The Storyteller's Daughter Cameron Dokey
The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed Michael Meyer
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food Jennifer 8. Lee
Ten Cents a Dance Christine Fletcher
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian Sherman Alexie
Mister Pip Lloyd Jones
Airhead Meg Cabot
Spell Book Of Listen Taylor Jaclyn Moriarty

Monday, December 29, 2008

Makin' a List, Checkin' it Twice

Well, the best of the year lists and reading goals and resolutions have been popping up. You're going to have to wait a few days--I'm still working on mine, although, if you're dying to know, the List of Doom for 2009 has been posted. As part of this end-of-the-year reflection, coupled with graduation, I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do next, in terms of my reading and blogging year. Lots of thoughts and ideas swirling around at the moment.

But, until I get things a little more gelled, let's review some books! It's non-fiction Monday, even though this is an adult book, I did enjoy it!

Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China Jen Lin-Liu

This is similar to Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper in that it tells the story of an ex-pat living in China and enrolling in cooking school, and then having many food-based adventures in China and including recipes.

It's different in a few respects. Dunlop was British and living in Sichuan at a time when there were not a lot of foreigners in China. Jen is Chinese-American and living in Beijing in the last few years, which is a very different China.

Jen's account is more immediate and focuses less on her own story and more on the stories of the people she meets through her kitchen work. While this is a love letter to food, it is also the story of the people who make China's restaurant industry, and the changing face of Chinese cuisine. Here we meet Chairman Wang, who tutors Jen through her cooking school exams and guides her through the corruption of the system. There is Chef Zhang, the migrant noodle maker and his struggles to make it in the new Beijing. There are the waitresses at the large restaurants and the rice farmers who still farm by hand. And there is Jereme, the high end chef of the critically acclaimed Whangpoa Club. (Even though he's not there anymore) Through these people and their stories, as well as their approach to food, Jen puts several faces on modern China.

While it gets a little sappy at the end, when she meets her fiance and falls in luuuuurve, it's still incredibly readable and very enjoyable.

Also, the lamb and squash dumplings are scrumdiddilyumptious and pretty easy to make (if you use store bought wrappers. I can't master making the wrappers yet. It was fun trying though!) I made these again on Christmas Day with my parents and some friends of ours. We also pan friend a few, which worked really well. OM NOM NOM NOM NOM.

If you like reading about food and/or the changing face of China, or just want a really good dumpling recipe, check this one out.

This next one isn't nonfiction at all, but it has the same title, so I couldn't resist blogging these two together.

Serve the People!: A Novel Yan Lianke

This is a long novella/short novel that was banned in China for slandering the Chairman's name and sex.

This is a delicious satire that pits the commander's lonely wife against the lowly orderly during the height of the Cultural Revolution. Whenever the Wu Dawang (the orderly) sees the sign with the Maoist slogan "Serve the People" moved, it's time to well... serve the needs of the commander's wife. All of his life Wu has worked hard, trying to move up the ranks so he can move his family to the city, like his wife demands. In his barracks, he has been taught that serving the commander in his private house, he IS serving the people.

On one hand, we have a tragic love affair that is part lust, part power struggle, and part genuine affection. On the other, a scathing look at the hypocrisy of Mao's China and communism, the personality cult surrounding Mao, and Mao himself.

Some background in the politics of this time period might be helpful, but I really did like this one. The prose is spare and light, something that is common in a lot of Chinese literature that isn't written by Mo Yan. The characters are both at once likable and repulsive--you want to hate them, but you also totally understand why they are the way they are and why they make the awful choices that they do. The setting is spot-on and Yan's descriptions of creeping twilight are perfect and make me long for summer.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Post Holiday Whatever

Well, some big changes here at Biblio File. Well, not here at Biblio File, but in my life. After three years I am no longer a "Counterfeit Librarian, Beltway Bandit and Femme Fatale Extroidinarie" and am instead a "Coffee addict, torch singer, and librarian ninja."

2 years ago, we moved and I stopped driving 1/2 around the beltway to get to work, but I still had to do large amounts of beltway driving to get to school, but, my dears, last Sunday, I finally graduated from University of Maryland's iSchool, so I'm now a big L Librarian. The only real change this makes in my day-to-day life at this point is that I no longer have to drive 1/2 way across the metro area to get to class 2 nights a week, no more papers to write, and I have to start paying full price ALA dues. I'm already working as a children's librarian, so I'm saved a job search. Yay!

Although, I will point out that is NOT my diploma. They will mail that to me next month. That is a poster of the University of Maryland, because well... I don't know why they gave me that. But they did.

In the mean time, my family was all here for graduation/Hanukkah/Christmas but they have all gone home now and the house is quiet and I'm wondering what to do tonight, as our box of Hanukkah candles was 1 candle so there will be some sort of improvisation.

Cybils short lists are coming out next week, which has me VERY excited, because I'm on the judging committee for middle grade/YA non-fiction and I can't wait to see what's nominated.

AND! I got a most fantastic handmade book from my secret santa. (My camera's being weird, so there are no pictures.) BUT! Secret Santa! You did not tell me what blog you blog on! I would love to know! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!

In the mean time, let's talk books, ok?

First up, as it's time for such things, is

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes Peggy Gifford

Moxy's back! It's after Christmas and Moxy has to write 12 Thank You notes before she can go to California to see her father, whom she hasn't seen in years. Moxy does not want to write her thank you notes and 12 seems like a huge number. Luckily, she has an amazing beyond amazing plan to churn out her thank you notes lickity split and then she will be off to Hollywood to see her dad and be discovered.

Of course, it involves her step-father's brand new photocopier that she's been forbidden to touch. And some spray paint. Of course, it doesn't go to plan and unbelievable hilarity ensues.

Even better than Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little! This has some bigger issues and a little more meat, without getting bogged down or depressing. It's still hilarious and kids (and maybe some adults) will identify with writing Thank You notes as being the most horrendous chore ever assigned. Plus, there's spray paint. You can only imagine Moxy and spray paint...

Also, I spent Christmas Eve Day and Christmas Day reading

Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle

Do you know how unfair it is that 98% of the country had a huge blizzard and there was a huge blizzard in my book and it was like, 65 degrees out? Frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it!

Anyway, enough of my whining about the weather. This books is three stories that all take place in the same town during the blizzard of the century. Jubilee's parents are arrested and she's shipped off to spend Christmas with her grandparents, only to have the train get stuck. She gets off, wanders into the Waffle House across the highway and meets Stuart, who takes her home. Normally she wouldn't go, but a bunch of cheerleaders ALSO got off the train with her and are also at the Waffle House.

Meanwhile, Tobin and his friends are having a James Bond-a-thon when their friend who works at Waffle House calls and says there are cheerleaders demanding Twister. So they are off into the blizzard, trying to beat other guys to bring Twister to the cheerleaders.

And then, finally, Addie messed up with her boyfriend Jeb, and he stood her up when she tried to apologize. (BUT! the reader knows Jeb. He was on the train with Jubilee and is trapped at the cheerleading Waffle House) It's the day after Christmas and she's at work at Starbucks, trying to figure out how to fix things with Jeb, how to not be so self-centered, and trying to get a pig for her best friend.

So while we have three seperate stories, they are entwined and main characters in one story become minor characters in another. Each author took a story, and I enjoyed them all. I wish I would have been at all the planning sessions for this, because that sounds like fun.

I liked all three stories. I can rank them in order of which I liked them, but I won't because I did really like all of them and think they worked really well together to make up the whole.

I'm working on my end-of-the-year retrospective--which books were my favorites, how much I read, and what I should try and read next year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Minx Roundup

Well, grades have been posted, so it looks like I will graduate this weekend! Wahoo!

And now here are reviews of 3 of the final 4 Minx titles. I haven't read Token yet, and that's the last one. (But, um, if someone wanted to hook me up with a copy of that, I wouldn't complain. My library doesn't have it yet and the library that does won't ILL it to me. :( )

Emiko Superstar Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston

It's shaping up to be the most boring summer in history for boring geek girl Emiko. Her friends are off at camp and she's spending all day babysitting a small drooly baby for the all-American picture-perfect couple. *yawn* Then she discovers Freak Show, a variety cabaret that she might be a little too normal to be hanging out at, but it's the most exciting thing going on. Maybe... maybe she could perform, too? Be a little freaky? Then when she finds the diary of the woman she's working for and starts to see that maybe the couple isn't as perfect as they look. With that information, Emiko has an idea...

LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE this one. It's quiet on the surface--Minx novels are pretty short after all, but there is SO MUCH going on underneath. Just the right amount of angst. Emiko is a believable character that made believable choices and I never once wanted to whack some sense into her. My favorite Minx title. I must go find a copy of Tanaki's Skim!

Janes in Love Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

The P.L.A.I.N. Janes are back, and still trying to save through art. Our main Jane is caught between Damon, Miroslaw, or her new secret admirer. All the other Janes also have their romantic issues, trying to catch their interests’ eyes in their own ways—Theater Jane’s romantic letters, Polly Jane’s direct frankness, and Jayne’s scientific analysis. There are other love stories, too.

But there is the negative—Damon has community service hours to serve after New Years, and Officer Sanchez still thinks P.L.A.I.N’s art is vandalism. What’s even worse is the state of the world. Terrorism is still rife in Metro City, and an anthrax attack kills a friend of Jane’s mother. After the attack, Jane’s mom won’t leave the house, and leaves the mail on the lawn, too afraid to open it.

I thought the first Janes novel tried to do too much, and would have worked better as a regular novel as opposed to a graphic novel. This one, however, fits in the comics medium better. Fans of the first novel will want to check this one out.

The New York Four Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly

Riley lives her whole life attached to her PDA Blackberry/iPhone thing, to the point where she lacks interaction with the flesh and blood humans in her life. After starting college and reconnecting with her estranged sister, Riley realizes she has to have some human contact, but it’s hard.

An interesting story with an ambiguous ending—and I am a fan of those. There are a lot of loose ends with the other characters that could have turned into serious subplots in a longer novel. I wish that this would be the first of a series, and we’d get a total of four books—one for each of Riley’s group of friends, but with the demise of Minx, it doesn’t seem likely. I'd be really into this if it were the first in a series, but as it will end up being a stand-alone, I'm a little disappointed.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Girl, 28, Catching Up on Reviewing, (Slowly) Going Insane

I am from the midwest. While winter is not my favorite season, I do enjoy it. DC winter makes me sad. It's cold enough to be annoying, but not cold enough to actually be cold. It's gray and rainy. There's no snow. :(

Today, I didn't wear my jacket when I went out to dinner, because it would have been too hot. IT IS WINTER! I NEED TO WEAR A JACKET!

Anyway, books. Today I'm reviewing the rest of the Girl... series by Sue Limb. It's hard to review a series book without some spoilers for previous books. I apologize, but I don't have the skillz to do it any other way.

Girl, (Nearly) 16: Absolute Torture Sue Limb

Jess and Fred are in luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurve, but tragedy awaits them—mainly in the form that Jess is going on holiday with Granny and Mum. How will insecure Jess handle being torn away from Fred for weeks?! Even if Jess is looking forward to finally visiting her Dad at his place, how can she leave Fred with the bevy of beauties inevitably surrounding him?

So, I was a little disconcerted with the ending of Girl 15, Charming but Insane. I mean, Jess’s best friend Flora, really likes Fred. But at the end of the book, Jess and Fred hook up. What about Flora? Even if you like a boy, if your best friend expresses interest first, he’s off limits until she says otherwise. I feel very strongly about this and was kinda pissed at Jess for not really thinking about Flora. Bad friend! (Plus, I was reading this after sunrise during the 24 hour readathon, so I was really mad.) Anyway, I thought there would be some friendship drama in the start of this book but Flora was over it (even though she had sulked about it for three days.)

Anyway, I really liked this one. Jess is insane and insecure and invents her own drama, but her voice is laugh-out-loud hysterical (she does want to be a comedienne when she grows up) A great addition to the funny Brit chick-lit scene—good for fans especially of Georgia Nicolson or Angelica Cookson Potts.

Girl, Going on 17: Pants on Fire Sue Limb

After their fantastic summer, school’s about to start. Sadly, this means a heart-breaking comedy of errors as Jess and Fred break up over pride and misunderstanding. To top it off, there’s a new teacher at school—one that hates Jess and her comedy. Things are so awful Jess keeps getting “sick” and keeps spinning outrageous tales to cover her absences.

Once again, Jess must lie in the bed of drama that she made. And! If she can get around annoying MacKenzie and the horrible Miss Thorn, there will be an end-of-term comedy show to end all comedy shows.

I think this is my favorite of the series. Jess’s drama is entirely invented, and entirely avoidable, but yet, entirely real and believable. Problems escalate when she doesn’t want to show vulnerability, and in her attempt to keep her life under control, it spins wildly out of it. Hysterical and full of heart.

Girl, Barely 15: Flirting for England Sue Limb

This is the prequel to the saga of Jess. In the term before Girl, 15, Charming, But Insane, before Fred, before lusting after Ben, before Granny moves in, a group of French exchange students is coming. Luckily, the student Jess is hosting sends a picture that shows him to be super-hott. Jess can’t wait. Too bad her French sucks. But, when Edouard arrives, he’s a small, little kid! With English skills to match Jess’s French ones. International romantic drama (and hilarity) ensues, culminating in a camping trip of comedicly epic proportions.

This is a well-done prequel—it sets up the first series perfectly, without everything pointing to things that fans of the series already know (like Gossip Girl: It Had to Be You does.) It’s also nice to see Jess completely insane, but not in relation to Fred—you know it’s just her.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Well, all of my work has been turned in and all of my classes have been attended. Assuming I didn't totally fail that last paper, I will graduate from my MLIS program next Sunday.

And, now that I am no longer writing 2 research papers on rather depressing topics (intellectual freedom for students in American public schools and the inherent power plays involved in where a nation/culture's archives are physically located) I can get back to babbling about books.

And maybe catch up on my blog reading. That 1000+ unread posts on my Google Reader is a more than a little daunting! And I'll whittle it down to a cool 500-something unread and then, next thing I know, I'm back up to 1000+ le sigh

Anyway, books. Today's reviews have nothing to do with each other, but just a random hodge-podge of what I've read lately. (Really, I have a bag of books that need reviewing and I'm just reaching in and pulling them out.)

White Sands, Red Menace Ellen Klages

Did you love The Green Glass Sea? I know I did, and this sequel did not disappoint. Dewey is living with Suze and her parents in a small town in New Mexico in that oft-forgotten time after WWII, but before the 1950. The scientific community that worked at Los Alamos is still trying to come to grips with what it has done, TV may be the next big thing, and their town is divided between White and Hispanic. Plus, the legality of Dewey staying with the Kerrigans is totally up in the air.

I liked the struggles of Dewey and Suze's friendship--how well they knew each other, and how sometimes that didn't matter. I also liked how they were able to branch out and make friends and have projects independent of each other--I was worried how they would survive once they left the very insular community of Los Alamos. Like she did in Green Glass Sea, Klages really captures the chaotic time well, while still never giving her characters more knowledge than they should have, or letting it overpower the story.

An excellent book about a period in time we tend to completely skip right over.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things Lenore Look

From the same author who writes the fantastic Ruby Lu books comes a new character.

Alvin longs to be a gentleman, but it's hard when he's too afraid of school to actually talk and when his only friend at school is a girl (ew). Plus, there are a lot of rules to remember. It's hard. But short, episodic chapters make this an excellent (and hysterical) book just right for those who have just finished withthe transitional, my-first-chapter type books.

My favorite part was when he finally talked to his therapist, but only in Shakespearean insults.

I'm looking forward to June, which brings us Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters!

Julian Rodriguez: Trash Crisis on Earth

Ok, the whole plot of this book is that Julian doesn't want to take the trash out and is sent to his room until he does.

But the premise is that Julian is an alien (or thinks he is) and is communicating with the very sympathetic mother ship about how horribly unfair his life on earth is. Something I think many kids, even if they aren't aliens, will relate to. Lots of pictures, some comic book type format, and computer interaction makes this a fun one for the one-step up from beginning readers.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Turduckin has landed

My fridge is full to bursting of things like turducken, heavy whipping cream, and cranberries.

Tomorrow is school and work, and I'm off to start my baking (and to continue to write those last two papers).

I never thought much about Thanksgiving until I spent that fall abroad and it was just really... different. It was only then that I realized how much I really like the holiday. Dan and I hosted a Thanksgiving when we were living in England. It took weeks to find pumpkin pie filling and recipes had to be converted to metric and the firemen were all on strike. But, in the end, it was American friends and British ones, with a real football game on the satellite TV and then the next day everyone asking me if I "enjoyed my day off" because, apparently, cooking dinner for 15 people is a day off.

Plus, many of my British friends can now say that they've tasted pumpkin pie and know what an American biscuit really is.

But, you know, book time:

How Not to Be Popular Jennifer Ziegler

Sugar Magnolia (but please, call her Maggie) is sick of moving. She's sick of starting over once again, sick of her former best friends becoming an email folder full of "sent" messages with only a few replies. And, what was worse, this time, she had to leave behind a boyfriend who dumped her just a few weeks later, over email.

So, they'll only be in Austin for 4 months, and Maggie just isn't going to make any friends. No sir. It'll be lonely, sure, but it will be so much easier when she has to leave.

The only thing is, Maggie forgot that just because you are turn off the popular kids and hang out with losers doesn't mean that you didn't make any friends.

Funny and fairly realistic (despite *spoiler alert* the big cry fest in front of the entire student body)*** What I really loved was the writing, Ziegler has a way with subtle metaphor in her descriptions that we just don't see enough of in funny, light-hearted fiction. And I totally wanted to smack Maggie upside the head for moping over Trevor the whole time (annoying! and he was so! obviously! not! worth! it!) but, it was pretty realistic that she did that.

I really liked it and just ate it up!

***If you highlight that bit you should be able to read it.

Page 56

  • Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
  • Turn to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence. (or fifth line)
  • Post that sentence in the comments below
  • Don't dig for your favourite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.
Ok, so pages 56-57 were a pictorial spread--NO WORDS!

the 5th sentence of page 58 is...

"Remove the dried leaves and flower heads from the newspaper"

The book in question? A Greener Christmas ed. Sheherazade Goldsmith

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Factory Girls

I finished this book half an hour ago and if you are at all interested in China's economy, changing China, the role of women in China, migrant workers, modern China in general or where your stuff comes from, this is a must read.

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China Leslie T. Chang

A fascinating look at the life of China's migrant workers. Chang's account focuses on the Dongguan area in southern China, part of China's manufacturing boom area. Her she meets the young girls who have left rural China to move to the coast in hopes of building something better for themselves and their families. (Dongguan is about 70% female. Chang speculates that one reason for this may be that families are more reluctant to let their sons "go out" and move so far away from home.)

Chang follows these girls as they jump factories and move up and down the ladder of economic and personal success. She visits their home villages, hangs out with their friends. While there is a wealth of information about trends and modern China, it is through the lens of these girls, these women, and the reader connects with them on a personal level.

Entwined with the personal stories of these girls is the story of Chang's own family, and how they also migrated (but due to political rather than economic reasons) across China and then to Taiwan and the States. Through these duel narratives, she explores the similarities and differences, but also the Chinese mindset about the past, about individual and shared history and responsibility.

I most appreciated Chang's portrayal of factory life. Her descriptions of work schedules and conditions are colored only by the perceptions of those who work there. The focus is not "look at these horrible conditions" nor "such great opportunity!" but more, "this is what it is" and these are the people who work here, who live here.

Extremely readable and fascinating. I also think that this book would be a good read for teens--not only to see what the world is like and a little about where their stuff comes from, but also to see how 16 year olds live on the other side of the world and what they are doing and what their lives are like.

Read an excerpt here and an interview with Chang here

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gipsy Tango (Music Meme)

I really liked this Music Meme that I read on Becky's blog. If you're reading, this, consider yourself tagged!

1. Put Your iTunes, Windows Media Player, Winamp, etc on shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
4. Put the artist after a dash following the song name.
5. Put any comments in brackets.
6. Tag some lucky people to spread the disease.

How would you describe yourself? Red Hair (Acoustic Mix)-- The Weasel King (So... am I Harry? Ginny? Or a supreme dork with lots of wizard rock?)

How do you feel today? Dirty Laundry--Bitter:Sweet (Hence tonight's lack of paper starting)

What is your life's purpose? Gembi - Diakité, Ramatou (Telling that this song is in a language I don't understand?)

What is your motto? El Digusto de la Runa--Celia Cruz

What do you think about very often? Here's That Rainy Day (Koop Remix)--Astrid G

What is your life story? Agua Pa Mi--Celia Cruz (it's not that I have a lot of Celia Cruz, it's just that one album ripped like, 15 times and I haven't deleted the duplicates yet)

What do you want to be when you grow up? Blood on the Coal--The Folksmen (ACK!)

What will you dance to at your wedding? Felino--Electrotutango (um, Dan would have vetoed this even if I had tried...)

What will they play at your funeral? It's Alright--Patti Rothberg

What is your hobby/interest? La Bruja--Conjunto Jardin

If you could do anything right now, what would it be? sands&stones&bricks&rocks--Aromabar

What do you want most of all? I hate MCI--The Nields

What is your greatest fear? Viola--Girlyman

What is your darkest secret? Touch and Go--Abra Moore

What is your favorite thing in the world? Love Me Like You--The Magic Numbers

If you could have one wish, what would you wish for? Kim--Lord Shorty

What is your theme song? I Can't Stand It--The Velvet Underground (now that's what I'm talking about!!!!)

The next time you hear this song (aside from now, that is), you must dance. India Song--Mariana Montalvo (not really a dancing song, but... um, ok.)

What will you post this as? Gipsy Tango Earth Wheel Sky Band

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Well, I didn't mean to drop off the face of the planet there. Last week featured a paper, a presentation, and the sinus infection from the deepest bowels of hell--one of those where you can feel your pulse in your face.

Things might be a little touch and go here until after the holidays. Dan and I are hosting Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. AND! On the first night of Hanukkah, which is in 4.5 weeks, I will graduate from Library School. But classes end the week before that. And I have 2 research papers due before classes end (and this is where I start hyperventilating).

Also, today featured flurries! Flurries count as snow! SNOW! Yay!!!!!

Anyway, books!

Pulling Princes Tyne O'Connell

Calypso isn't poor, but she isn't part of the unbelievably uber-posh set that her classmates belong to. Plus, she's American, which is another strike against her at her all-girls British Catholic boarding school. But, this year, she's determined to break into the inner ranks of popularity.

And, thanks to a fake boyfriend, she totally does. But, then the Prince, (yes the Prince of England! he attends the nearby boys school) takes a shine to her. Calypso is thrilled, or would be, but she already "has" a boyfriend, and the meanest girl, the one who never accepted her, has claimed the Prince for her own.

Hilarious hijinks ensue!

Funny, sweet, and a little frothy, I look forward to reading the other books in the series.

My favorite part? The nuns. (This is a Catholic school after all!) How often to you get anything with awesome nuns? They aren't overly strict, they aren't overly mean. They're super nice and listen, and like a good gossip with the girls. Also, they totally save the day a million times.

The horrible mean teachers? Are the non-nuns. And the Mother Superior can be strict, but not any more than the head of such a place has to be. Hurray for O'Connell for writing nun characters who aren't stereotyped charactertures used for a cheap laugh!

French Kissmas Cathy Hapka

Wahoo! Another addition to the SASS series! But this one's a little different, this one is a sequel to Pardon My French (also by Hapka, reviewed here.)

So, after Nicole finally got used to France, she went home, graduated from high school, and then took a year off to travel the world! Now it's Christmas and she's back in France to film a SASS recruitment video with some of her old friends, and plenty of new ones.

So, there's Luc (oh la la, Luc). Nicole doesn't need the trouble of rekindling that romantic flame, so she's firmly keeping that relationship set on "friends only." Well, she's trying to. Then there's fellow DC-area American Mike, a great new friend, until it's obvious that she wants more. All Nicole wants is an uncomplicated holiday with no strings to hold her back!

Great SASS fare. I loved seeing the long-term effects of the SASS experience on a character. Plus, Christmas! In Paris! *swoon*

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Get off the Bus!

Well, I voted this morning in my local elementary school. Then, I went to school (University of Maryland) and in swinging by the student union to pick up lunch on my way to class, visited another polling station. After class, it was on to work, which is, of course, another polling station!

As I wait for the results to come in and as I wait for the election party I'm attending to start, I thought I'd review some books, hopefully to keep my mind off things. I love election night. Even when I'm burned out on the election, even when I couldn't vote yet, I love watching the results come in, especially the other races that are going on during big years like this one. Will Senator Stephens be reelected? Who knows?! But the energy of election night infects me. Heck, I even like watching British election night coverage! (Of course, there have some much more fun political parties, like the Standing at the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid Party.)

Anyway, until then, let us review some books. A shocking proposition for a book blog, I know, but there it is.

Man, I am punchy tonight. I apologize.

Piper Reed: Navy Brat Kimberly Willis Holt

Piper Reed's father, the Chief, has been transferred again, so the family is moving from California to Florida. Piper and her sisters have never moved in the middle of a school year before, and it's not always easy to fit in. Especially when your new house is small with no tree house, you have to share a room with your little sister, and there's only one bathroom.

Still, after a long road trip, Piper has plans to start a whole new Gypsy club (too bad she promised them a real Gypsy!) and make Pensacola the best posting yet!

Piper is an excellent middle child, full of life and optimism. I especially appreciated the way Holt portrays her dyslexia, making it part of her, but not a defining part of her character.

Christine Davenier's black and white drawings are full of motion and great facial expression.

Piper Reed: The Great Gypsy

The Chief has shipped out, but life goes on at home as the girls get along without him and eagerly await his daily email. There's a special trip to New Orleans and new Christmas traditions. Piper thinks it would be an excellent idea if the Gypsy Club held a pet show, because then she could teach Bruna a trick and win and the Chief would be SO PROUD of her!

Piper's adventures continue, and I think I liked this one even more than the first.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Blog the Vote!

It's time to BLOG THE VOTE!

Here's my story on why voting matters:

Do you remember 2000? I do. I bet you do, too, but I bet the way I remember it is WAY different than the way you do.

As promised, this story features a distinguished gentleman standing on a table, room service, death-defying election parties, an ex-boyfriend with an adorable accent, and my odd Chinese vocabulary.

2000 was my very first presidential election. My story starts early in the year, during the primary. I was living in Iowa, and the Iowa Caucuses are a thing to behold. You have no idea until you've voted in one. I live in DC now and am surrounded by people who are convinced they run the world. But to stand in an elementary school gym, literally standing for your candidate, that's something different. My adviser, a distinguished older gentleman with a Tennessee accent that sings, stood on a table and directed us, shouting to be heard over the crowd.

He knew who the crowd was going for. The Republicans were in a classroom down the hall, the Democrats in the gym. He knew who the Dems were going for, so everyone who was for Gore was ordered into the hall to do a head count. Those for Bradley stayed in the gym, clumped into groups of 10, so we were easier to count. I stood with a French professor, some other students, some people from town... we stood and were counted. We were the only precinct that Bradley won that night, but he won it by a landslide.*

Fast forward to October. I was studying abroad in Nanjing, China. (Yes, that was my campus on the left.) In October, we had a two-week travel break. Sitting on trains, I talked to several Chinese citizens about the election. I was surprised that we were so pro George W. Later I found out why. Clinton was tied to the Chinese embassy bombing in Sarajevo. Gore was tied to Clinton. Meanwhile, Bush Sr. was an extremely popular ambassador--he didn't wall himself off in the diplomatic compound, he rode his bike to work, he ate street food. George W. was tied to his father.

For my last stop, I was in Harbin, sick, and having forgotten my towel, 5 days seriously overdue for a shower. I skipped the hostel and checked into the Holiday Inn** Do you know what the Holiday Inn had? SATELLITE TV! With English language news! I hadn't seen English language news since mid-August. I jumped on the bed, I took a bath, I wrapped up in the super plush bathrobe, and ordered room service. Then a friend from my program showed up at the hotel and we sat on my bed, eating pizza and watching CNN.

I have never enjoyed CNN so much. Jamie went to Georgetown. About about half an hour of catching up on the world, she turned to me. "You know, I think this election might be really close." She isn't dumb. This is just how hard it is to get English-language news behind the Great Firewall of China. We had NO IDEA. Later in the week we returned to Nanjing and told everyone it would be a close election. Little did we know...

A few weeks later, and I voted absentee. I was one of the few Americans on my program who voted.*** I was ecstatic because I didn't think I would get my vote counted. My friends were jealous, because they didn't. Our Chinese friends were confused--what was the big deal?

Yes, what was the big deal? And how could we explain it to our Communist**** friends with our limited vocabulary? Little did we know the bigger conversations to come...

November rolled around. We were exactly 12 hours off Central Time. We had class from 8-12 and figured that we'd just pop by the internet cafe on the way to lunch, see who won and then go eat.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA. Really, that was our plan.

For the next 7 hours, every internet cafe in town was filled with Americans hitting the refresh button every 30 seconds, wishing we could get more sites.

China filters its internet. Yes, you can get an anonymizer to work around the firewall. But in 2000 in an internet cafe, you really couldn't. I just remember that MSNBC was reporting two different winners on the same page. I didn't understand. None of us did. A few weeks previous, I had made a joke that Bush would win the popular and Gore the electoral. My next prediction was that Texas would succeed in protest. Little did I know.

I was counting down the hours until 7pm, which would be 7am at my parents' house and they would be waking up. I was sure they would have answers, but they didn't.

Later I would find out that Florida was the sticky wicket. Much later, when I returned home right before Christmas, I would learn about Dan Rather's folksy charm. I would first hear about hanging chads. I would find out that Florida got called several times. I would find out that a friend of mine ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning doing victory shots for Gore--he had to do Florida a few times and it pushed him over the edge. (He was ok.)

That Wednesday, the day after the election, I woke up and called home again. Surely after a full day, they'd know something! Still no answers. We went to class. My teacher started with Bush winning. I told her he didn't. "No no, I saw it on CCTV this morning."
"Yeah, well, I talked to America this morning. They still don't know."

We waited. The guy I was seeing (Scottish! The accent!) threatened to reneg my American independence. I had broken English/French/Chinese conversations with my Swiss friends explaining the electoral college.

We waited. I watched the evening news every day and every time I heard the words Xiao Bu Shir***** or Ger ah, I screamed for Xiao Mao to translate.

We waited. Xiao Feng wondered why they couldn't just share the job.

And that's why voting is important.

Why couldn't they just share the job? Trying to explain the two party system, to explain democracy to our friends, in our limited vocabulary was hard. I'm not sure they ever got it. These were students chosen for their party loyalty. But they were our friends. They were amazed at our decadence (we had hot water 24 hours a day!)***** They taught us how to play mah johng and phrases in local dialects. We helped them with their TOEFL preps. We watched movies together. We jumped on our beds, lip synching along with cheesy pop songs. We teased about boyfriends and girlfriends. They took care of us using Chinese medicine when we fell ill. We pumped them full of Tylenol when they had a fever or headache. We had our inside jokes and nicknames.

They were our friends.

When we got to China, we wanted to learn how to swear, so we asked. We couldn't figure out how to ask, so we asked our friends what words we couldn't say on television. They told us ziyou and we were excited and then we remembered we knew that word. Ziyou means freedom. Welcome to China.

Da Lu wondered why the party chairman just didn't appoint the next president.

We get to vote. We have candidates to choose from. A party chair doesn't get to appoint anyone. While we complain that our candidates are too similar, they do have differences. They can't just share the job.

And that's why voting is important. It was my first presidential election and it was staring me in the face. These were my friends who might never get to vote, and if they did, it would be one Communist versus another Communist, and they wouldn't vote for the leaders of the party. If they ever get to vote for the leaders, if they ever get a choice in parties, it will be after a serious revolution.

You can say one vote doesn't count and maybe it doesn't. But the act of voting counts. We think of it as a right, but it's a privilege that so many in the world don't get. We do. We can vote and that means something. We can vote, but most of us don't. So go do it already.

Only, this time, just this once, can I please find out who won before I have to go to bed?

*He had given a very good speech on campus earlier that year. Gore never came.

**Seriously, the NICEST Holiday Inn I had ever seen. It came with bath salts! But I was just overjoyed by the soft bed and Western style toilet.

***Not that the others were disenfranchised. It's a long (and boring) story about where people had their paperwork sent.

****In China, we lived in a foreign student's dorm. They read our mail. They read our email. The maids wrote reports on what was in our trashcans, on our desks. In my program, which I HIGHLY recommend BTW, there were 3 of us to room, 2 Americans and 1 Chinese student. Being able to room with a Chinese student is a huge deal, but we also knew that in order to room with us, they had to be model students and citizens. But, by the end of the semester, Xiao Mao was sleeping until noon and had picked up some of my more atrocious grammar patterns.

*****This later got me into trouble when I came back to the States. In Mainland China and Taiwan, the news transliterates George H. W. Bush as Bu shir. In Mainland China, George W. Bush is Xiao Bu Shir (or, Baby Bush). In Taiwan George W. Bush is Bu xi. My Chinese prof (who reads the Taiwanese media) and I got into it over the proper transliteration. Luckily, the visiting prof (from the Mainland) backed me up.

******Xiao Mao would take 2 hour showers because the she was so amazed that she could. Then her friends would come over, too. Just to use our shower. Our shared shower (3 showers in the girls bathroom serving a floor of 30+). It was pretty grotty-dorm standard, but it had 24 hour hot water and was an absolute luxury. Also, our rooms only had 3 people instead of 8. Oh, and we had heat.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Poetry Friday

Today I bring you snippets from a poem written by Shakespeare Shapiro, the hilarious main character of

Spanking Shakespeare Jake Wizner

Milton himself was a mischievous louse
Whose favorite hobby was to egg Shakespeare's house.
And with whom did Milton engage in this fun?
Sometimes Ben Johnson, sometimes John Donne.


I don't know much philosophy, but I know that Descartes
Was renowned in his day for the way he could far.
But even Descartes was not nearly as smelly
As that malodorous scoundrel Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Maybe NOT the best way to woo your literary dream girl.

It's Senior Year. Shakespeare Shapiro has never had a girlfriend, has a best friend obsessed with bowel movements, and has to write a memoir for English class. Following him through the standard trials of trying to get the girl and the college, this is hilarious. Shakespeare's voice, both in his narration and in the bits of his memoir we see, never sees his own faults but will still make you laugh out loud.

This is one of those books where it's hard to write about how good it is, but seriously. Funny. Good funny. Read it now funny.

Poetry for Children has the roundup.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Humpty Dumpty, Jr.: Hardboiled Detective

Holy Cow! Did you see this post about Holly Black's hidden library? Don't you want one?!

Also, did you see Sherman Alexie on Colbert last night? (Interview starts at the 2nd black mark in the time bar, around 15:50). Hilarious!

Also, I am like, a month behind on blog reading. I keep trying to catch up and then y'all keep posting and I fall further behind. I feel out of the loop.

Um, and you should know my dog is the bestest dog ever. (Sorry, she's sitting next to me on the couch, looking unbelievably adorable. I needed to share because she's making puppy dog eyes at me, the ones that say "Mommy, stop blogging. Scratch my ears!")

But, blog on I shall.

The Case of the Fiendish Flapjack Flop Nate Evans, Paul Hindman, and Vince Evans

In the first of the Humpty Dumpty Jr. series, our egg is on the case when Patty of Patty Cake bakery goes missing, with quite a struggle. He has unwanted help in the form of a street urchin named Rat. Plus, the notorious villain Johnny Cakes has escaped from jail. He may not get along with the boys in blue downtown, but Humpty is on the Case.

Excellent illustrations that add much to the book (including a random Harry Potter reference.) Overall, this is a book for kids, not for kids and adults. Full of bad puns, references to noir cliches, and nursery rhyme and book characters, this is a fun series that the kids, especially the boys, will enjoy.

The Mystery of Merlin and the Gruesome Ghost Nate Evans, Paul Hindman, and Vince Evans

Rat has to go to school, which isn't something he's ok with. But, when he finds out there's a wizard school that's being haunted, he might be ok with that. Humpty is posing as the janitor while Merlin keeps denying the ghosts exsistence. Lots of references with King Arthur.

If you liked the first, you'll like this. I won't say they're high literature or going to win any awards but they're super fun. I probably wouldn't recommend it to adult fans of kidlit BUT if you have a 3rd-4th grade boy looking for some fun books, here's your series. I know several kids at the library who will like this. (I'm thinking the same kids who like Wiley and Grampa's Creature Features will eat this up.)

Full Disclosure: both titles provided by publisher

Monday, October 27, 2008


Argh. My car has been totaled. Now it's just a headache of paperwork as we get the insurance sorted and have to buy a new car.

BUT! The election is only 8 days away! YAY! And, in getting ready, make sure you participate in Chasing Ray's Blog the Vote! My entry will feature a distinguished gentleman standing on a table, room service, death-defying election parties, an ex-boyfriend with an adorable accent, and my odd Chinese vocabulary. Look forward to it.

So, is Rumpelstiltskin the new, hot fairy tale? Often overlooked, this summer saw TWO brand-new young adult retellings. Despite using the same source material, these books are very different from one another. To the point where I feel it's weird to compare the two, even though one would think that would be a no-brainer!

A Curse Dark as Gold Elizabeth C. Bunce

After their father dies, Charlotte Miller and her sister Rosie are alone in the world, and the last of the Miller line. Stirwaters Mill has always been owned by a Miller, and always been slightly cursed. Not that Charlotte believes in such things, but if she's going to keep the mill going and the townspeople who depend on it together, she better start believing, because there are some things logic doesn't explain away.

Charlotte can fight the external forces trying to end her mill all see wants, but there is still a run of bad luck that can't be helped. Then there is the odd little man who comes and can spin straw into golden thread and can fix ruined cloth, but his prices are getting too high to pay.

Rooted in English lore and set at the start of the Industrial Revolution, Charlotte's fight to hold her world together all by herself sucks the reader in and doesn't let go. You know the mill and the cottage system that maintains the village is eventually doomed, but you can't help not root for her as she tries to keep it alive just a little longer.

The Crimson Thread Suzanne Weyn

New York, 1880, and Bridget's family is fresh off the boat from Ireland. Eventually, her father lands a job as a carriage man in a rich man's household. He then boasts that his daughter is the best seamstress this side of the Atlantic and gets her a job. Bertie's skills aren't that great, but she learns quickly, and when push comes to shove the mysterious scoundrel Ray Stalls is there to help her out, until it all falls apart.

With the exception of the fact that Bridget is supposedly descended from Irish faerie queens, this is a fairy tale without magic, which I really liked and I wonder why Weyn included the faerie queen bit. Well, I guess I liked the concept, but the Irish thing felt stereotypical (although her father didn't drink) and the ending felt rushed. However, I did like this title, although it's not my favorite in the Once Upon a Time series or my favorite of Weyn's.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Return of Judy Blume and The Pain and the Great One

The Pain and the Great One are back, this time in lower middle grade novels. Alternating chapters illustrate the love/hate/annoy the heck out of each other of an older sister/younger brother relationship. Just like the original picture book, these new installments are funny and real all at once. But, in these, the cat always gets the last word.

Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One Judy Blume

This first chapter book features stories about hair cuts, soccer, birthday parties, dog-sitting, and others.

Cool Zone with the Pain and the Great One Judy Blume

The next one features such things as bullies, crushes, pets, and names. This is my favorite of the three.

Going, Going, Gone! with the Pain and the Great One Judy Blume

Here we visit the grandparents, have fun in the ocean, see an alligator, go to the fair, shove a pussy willow up our nose, and get lost in the mall. Another great one!

It's great to have Blume writing children's books again. Fans of her younger work will want to check these out. Look out for Friend or Fiend? with the Pain and the Great One in May!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hanging out in your blindspot

You know, today started off great. I finished the book I'm about to review. I went to the grocery store and the bank. I got ready for work and I was looking alright and my hair, for once, wasn't being weird...

And then, on the way to work, a dump truck merged into me on the highway. I am ok, but my car is pretty messed up. Messed up to the point where we have a rental car. A rental car with NO CD PLAYER. So I'm stuck with no CD player during NPR pledge week. Really, facing down a week of Diane Reihm telling me about how awesome the WAMU travel mug is, that's the worst part of this whole thing.

ANYWAY! The book I finished reading and want to tell you about!

Are y'all gearing up for National Novel Writing Month? (aka NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo) Have you even heard of NaNo?

Basic premise is that the biggest barrier to writing your novel is spitting out that first draft, and given that all first drafts are shit anyway, it's just about getting it out. So, in November, tens of thousands of people try to write a 50,000 word book. In one month.

It's pretty intense and pretty fun. I have yet to "win" (I usually peter out around 20-25,000) but it is lots and lots of fun.

And, if you're reading to belly up to the challenge this year, you first must read

No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days Chris Baty

Baty is the founder and head of NaNo and this book is less a "how to write a really good book" type book and more of a "how to write 50,000 words in one month book."

You don't *have* to read this if you want to NaNo, but I think you should. (It's chock full of stuff I wish I had known the other years I participated.)

The first half of the book explains the premise and ways to succeed. The second half has a chapter for every week with pep talks, ideas, and common stumbling blocks for that week. It's silly and irreverent, much like the NaNo experience itself.

NaNo is a lot of fun, and I know a lot of teachers actually have their entire class participate. I highly recommend it, and if you're thinking about it, be sure to check out this book to pump you up and help you out.

Is it November yet? I'm ready to go!!!

Nonfiction Monday Round up at Picture Book of the Day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Big Bowl of Ketchup

Oiy, life. Anyway, I'm crossing things off the To-Do list--the one in my day planner and the one in my head.

So, I did the Banned Books give-away drawing tonight and emailed the winners--there were 5! So, if you entered, check your inbox.

Also, some books I reviewed finally came out, so you can now go grab your very own copy of Hip Hop Speaks to Children (review here) Vibes (review here), and Paper Towns (review here). Go check 'em out.

AND! Last spring, I tried to read all of the Fusion Stories, but not all of them were out yet, so here are the reviews of the two I missed!

Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer Janet S. Wong

In this verse-novel sequel to Minn and Jake, Jake has gone back to LA for the summer. Jake thought it would be fun to go back to LA, but his grandmother keeps stuffing him full of food (but not the kind he likes) and Soup keeps waking him up at 6am. Not only that, but his friends have all moved on and and don't have time to hang out with him.

Then Minn comes down to LA, despite the fact Jake hasn't written back once all summer. Sadly, things don't go well. Minn's upset that Jake never told her his grandmother is Korean. Jake's upset that he cares. Then, when Minn and Jake run into cute Haylee at Disneyland and Jake totally ignores Minn, things get really bad.

An excellent look at friendship, going home again, and trying to navigate the whole boy/girl dynamic. I liked it even better than the first one.

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before David Yoo

Albert Kim is an intentional loser--in a life where was always on the fringe and never really fit in, he decided it was just easier to stop trying. No one can reject you if you don't make advances towards friendship in the first place. But then, he ends up spending the summer working with Mia, 1/2 of the school's power couple. Only, Mia and Ryan have broken up and by the end of the summer, Albert and Mia are... something. Albert's days as an intentional loser are over, not that it's that easy, of course. To make matters worse, Ryan gets cancer and needs Mia by his side constantly. Can Albert hang on to her without making everyone in town kill him?

Part of the book are funny and Yoo writes an unbelievably authentic voice in Albert. Sadly, it was also one that really annoyed me. I knew Albert in high school--not my favorite person and I was never sure why Mia went for him. Part of me felt really sorry for him when things went wrong, but part of me just wanted him to shut up. I think teen boys, especially the lovable losers, will identify and like it.

Full disclosure: ARC provided by publisher, via Picnic Basket.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Mmmm... fooooooooooood

I do love to eat. And cook. Mainly eat. This is a book about eating. And cooking. Mainly eating.

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China Fuchsia Dunlop

In 1992, Dunlop went to study in Chengdu. There, she fell in looooooove with the food, especially Sichuan Pepper--that's the pink kind that kinda numbs your lips. After she finished her study, she decided to abandon the path that had been laid for her and follow her dreams. She enrolled in cooking school. In China.

Starting with her experiences as a foreigner in 1992, when there weren't that many foreign people in China, especially in the interior, and going up through today, this is a fascinating look at a changing culture.

More than that, this is a love letter to food. A justification and explanation of some of the odder Chinese eating habits--although not mentioned, Ducks Blood Soup, a Nanjing specialty comes to mind. Chairman Mao's favorite dish is discussed, and a recipe provided. It was braised pork fat. The sauce is really yummy, but it takes a different mindset to eat chunks of fat.

Still, man, I was HUNGRY when reading this. Luckily, she includes recipes at the end of every chapter (now, if I only knew of a good Chinese grocery by my house. Hmmmm.)

I love her descriptions of mouth-feel, different flavors, and the art of cutting (ooooo the art of cutting. I wish I had such knife skills). Also, the art of the wok. Seriously cool stuff.

My one complaint is the end. Dunlop gets burned out on China, which I certainly can understand. When it comes to food, she has some very valid complaints about how nasty the water is and the amount of hormones pumped into the meat and the pollution. (And this was published before we found out that there was melamine in the baby formula!) Also, the amount of endangered species that's get eaten. Her guilt over all of it is a little tiresome, especially when compared to the eager vibrancy of the earlier chapters. But... when she gets to the changing face of China, she seems to be longing for the quaint poverty of 15-20 years ago. We all mourn cities and communities we used to know and love. But, these things change. All over the world, they change. They change or they stagnate and die, it's how things work. The problem is that China's doing it on fast-forward. Dunlop doesn't seem to grasp this, or at least it doesn't come across in her writing.

There are a lot of concerns that I have with how fast China is modernizing, least of which is environmental, and also those getting left behind and pushed further down but, I have very little patience with people who want things to stay the same, especially when that thing is poverty. It's very imperialistic--they went to China looking for an exotic backwater and are pissed off when it stops being one sort of thing. Not that I'm saying Dunlop goes as far as all that. Now I'm just ranting.

Anyway, overall, I really liked this book. The second to last chapter just left a very bad taste in my mouth. One that is even worse than stinky tofu. But the rest of the book? Like a perfect bao zi steaming fresh and full of surprises. Or snake. Mmmmm... snake. Sweet and tender.

I got this one from the library, but I'm considering purchasing it because I do want those recipes...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Just Another Nonfiction Monday, ooo-wa-ooo

Ok, first off, why did I not know that the new Last Apprentice book, Wrath of the Bloodeye came out in AUGUST?

YOU HAVE TO TELL ME THESE THINGS PEOPLE!!! I found out because my boss and I were talking about new books (I'm in charge of displaying them and some other things with new non-picture books) and he's all "by the way, the new Last Apprentice finally came in, but I checked it out." Had I not been standing in a library, I might have screamed. And had I not been wearing a skirt, I might have writhed around in agony on the floor. Ok, not really, but... how did I not know? Ok, it was probably good that I didn't-- it saved me lots of agonizing over whether to wait until it came in or to just go buy the darn thing.

I'm getting a copy from another branch.

Also, banned books people, hold onto your hats. Internets have been super-spotty lately. Winners will be announced as soon as the cable guy comes and fixes the cable! And internets!

Anyway, it's nonfiction Monday, so here are some books for your reading pleasure!

Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume ed. Jennifer O'Connell

Basically, this is a series of essays by current chick-lit type authors, telling of the effect that Judy Blume's books had on them, both growing up and as an adult.

It was so fun to dip into these stories about how much girls took from such favorites of mine as Deenie, Blubber, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, and of course Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and Forever . . ..

The essays are thoughtful. Some are sad and some are funny, and many wish for books staring their beloved characters as grown-ups, so Margaret and Sally and Katherine, et al could continue to show us how to live, or at least reassure us that we're normal. (And there's a sentiment I echo--did these girls, who we saw so much of ourselves in, turn out the same way we did? What choices and experiences did they make and have to make them different?)

A great book for Judy fans, especially for those of us whom she had a huge impact on.

Also, I had totally forgotten about the Judy Blume diary, but a totally had one. It was a great diary.

Round up is at Picture Book of the Day!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Poetry Friday

The past two weeks have featured the following events:
High Holy Days
My 10th high school reunion (which was a totally worth it!)
One paper due last week, another one due next week
Being sick and possibly coming down with another sickness

Anyway, so I'm a little behind in my blogging. And email. And Google reader. But, I thought I'd get today's poem done first, and hopefully some reviews will come later in the day.

Fall, leaves, fall;
die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me,
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

–Emily Brontë

Round up is at Picture Book of the Day!