Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sun Comes Up, Tuesday Morning

Not a whole lot of news on this front, just some reviews:

kimmie66 Aaron Alexovitch

In this latest Minx offering, Telly is a 23rd century girl who (like most people) spends all of her time in the lairs—themed virtual reality environments. When she receives a suicide note from her best friend, Telly is devastated, but confused. Telly wouldn’t put it past Kimmie to fake the whole thing as a prank, plus there is the little problem of the fact that Telly has no idea what Kimmie’s real name is or where she lives or anything about her life outside the liars.

Exploring a life lived entirely on the virtual realm, Alexovitch explores the thin line between reality and virtual reality and asks what is real and what isn’t. Although the ending contains a slight message to “stop and smell the un-virtualized roses,” this is one of the strongest titles of the Minx line.

First Kiss (Then Tell): A Collection of True Lip-Locked Moments ed. Cylin Busby

This is a cute collection of short vignettes about first kisses. The range and caliber of young adult authors included is impressive (Jon Scieszka, Shannon (and Dean!) Hale, Nikki Grimes, Naomi Shihab Nye and Scott Westerfield--just to name a few.) The stories range from hilarious to heart-breaking, heart-stopping to disgusting. The anthology contains quotations from movie stars as well as kissing trivia interspersed with the stories, poems and comics.

Overall, it’s a very enjoyable, sweet read that puts the pain, romance, and laughter back into kissing, without the pressure of going further. A sure-hit for the chick-lit crowd.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Library Books

First things first, there's a new banned books list over in the sidebar.

Second things second, I read a whole bunch of library books this weekend, so here we go:

After Hamelin Bill Richardson

It is a special day when you turn eleven. On their eleventh birthday, girls go too see Cuthbert, the hermit in the cave to learn of their gift.

But, on Penelope's eleventh birthday, she wakes up suddenly unable to hear. It is the only thing that saves her, for on Penelope's eleventh birthday, the Pied Piper returns and charms all of the children out of Hamelin.

Penelope must use her gift, the gift of deep dreaming to find and rescue her sister, her neighbors, and her friends.

A wonderful story with a gentle prose that captures you-- I found it very hard to put down. I especially liked the Tolavians that Penelope meets on her journey.

The story is told in the frame as Penelope turns 101 and is facing death, she looks back on her life, writing it down for the next generation. It's really well done.

Skulduggery Pleasant Derek Landy

One of the Top 10 Best Books for Young Adults, Skulduggery is a detective. Of course, he's also a skeleton with a sharp sense of style who can hurl fireballs.

Stephanie is stunned to discover that she's inherited her uncle's house after his sudden death. She's even more stunned with people start attacking her in order to get a key. When Skulduggery rescues her, she demands to be his partner and learn the magic he knows.

It quickly becomes apparent that magic is real and under our feet, and that myth and legend might actually be fact. Of course, if Stephanie and Skulduggery can't figure this out fast enough, it'll be a moot point when the world is destroyed.

Hilarious and suspenseful, I loved Stephanie and Tanith (ok, I'm a fan of girls who know how to wield a sword.)

This is really well done urban fantasy. I also liked the illustrations on the first letter of each chapter. I can't wait for Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire, which comes out at the end of April.

Ok, I was going to do more, but Blogger's going down soon, so it'll keep.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Books! I! Own! Yowza!

So, after I posted yesterday, I saw that I had missed 2 very important updates!

1. The new issue of The Edge of the Forest is up! Check it out! Lots of awesome articles, plus 2 reviews by yours truly (My Last Best Friend by Julie Bowe and Reality Leak by Jodi Sensel-- both are great reads!)

2. The new Carnival of Children's Lit is up over at Wizard's Wireless. My contribution is actually my Geek Buffet post about the Xela Awards... check it out!

And now, a review of 2 books off the big scary list! (And a break because they're both Adult Nonfiction)

First up is Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud Sun Shuyun

This book isn't available in the US, so I had to order it from England after reading her The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth.

In Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud, Sun sets out to retrace the journey of Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk who traveled to India at the start of the Tang Dynasty to learn Sanskrit and bring back new sutras to Chinese Buddhists. (His travels being the basis of Chinese classic, Journey to the West.)

Not a Buddhist herself, Sun is searching for her grandmother's faith, and Xuanzang's. What was his driving force as he faced many perils along his way?

Sun has a magical way of trying history and legend together with her current narrative. It all blends seamlessly and also paints an amazing portrait of the changing face of Modern China.

I highly recommend it, even if you do have to get it from England. Well worth it.

ALSO! How much do I love the fact that she has an Orphan Works notice on her list of illustrations! WONDERFUL!!!!! (sorry, that's the geek in me)

A Needle in the Right Hand of God: The Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Making and Meaning of the Bayeux Tapestry R. Howard Bloch

While this was interesting, as pop history it was ultimately unsatisfying. Bloch spends a lot of time proving minor points (did I really need half a chapter on the longship find of Sutton Hoo?) and leaves some other points hanging.

His premise is that the Bayeux Tapestry was stitched as a way to bring about a new multi-cultural peace and ultimately... I didn't buy it. There are many obvious other explanations to his supporting points that he doesn't address.

For instance, the fact that the tapestry is vague about some of the stickier points of the story (what the contents of the oath Harold swore, who Edward appointed as successor) isn't necessarily "sufficiently undefined as to permis all to identify with their particular point of view" ON PURPOSE. Maybe (a) it was common knowledge-- it's not like there are paragraphs of text here, most of the narration is based on common knowledge (b) Maybe they didn't know. This information doesn't appear in any other source, either. Maybe it was a secret.

But Bloch doesn't address these possible explanations for any of his evidence.

I do like his in-depth art-analysis of the symbolism and origins of various aspects of the tapestry, especially as he does refer to specific panels that are illustrated in the full color insert pages, as well as several other full-color and black-and-white illustrations throughout the text.

And as a minor note, I really didn't like the font. The lower case p has this little bit that extends out and is just visually very distracting.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hi! I'm back!

So, last week, I didn't really post. Mostly, because I was on vacation!

The Florida Keys were warm and sunny and very relaxing. All in all, lovely.

We went snorkeling.

But, I am waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind in book reviewing. So, here we go.

But, before we go there, my 9 Picks for January are up at the Biblio File store. Check it out.

This weekend, I read (a lot) and got totally hooked on The Tudors. Hotcha, hotcha, I'm addicted. I also listened to the Juno Soundtrack NON-STOP. I highly recommend. (I'm still singing all the songs in my head. We won't stop until somebody calls the cops and even then, we'll start again and just pretend that nothing ever happened...)

But, yeah, the books.

Harmless Dana Reinhardt

Everyone's told lies. Most lies aren't even that bad. They don't hurt anyone...they're just harmless.

Emma and Anna and Mariah are inseperable. Through short chapters alternating points of view, we see three girls starting to change. This is a story of changing friendships and growing up and the one big thing that gets in the way.

It was simple enough-- they would tell their parents they were going to a movie and instead go to this party thrown by some people at the public school. When they're caught, they tell a lie. Just a little lie. Emma was attacked by the river--that's why they were late, why they never made it to the movie. Their story would be vague enough that they wouldn't get caught.

Just a harmless lie.

Of course, it turns into something much bigger.

I liked the premise, and I liked the plot. I wasn't so sure on many of the sub-plots-- I couldn't place their reasoning in their overall narrative. Also, all three girls are very different characters, but their voices are not as different as they should be.

I thought Mariah was kinda flat as the bad girl. Yes, her backstory was interesting, but she was not.

But, the unraveling of the lie was amazing.

Losing Forever Gayle Friesen

Jes isn't coping well. Her mother's getting remarried, which she isn't totally happy about and then, BAM! Carl's perfect daughter, Angela shows up. Angela is everything that Jes isn't. Plus, a secret shoplifter.

Told over the summer, mainly in lake visits, Jes risks losing her family and friends as she tries to keep things from changing.

There's also a dead sister and an icky best-friend's boyfriend situation.

I liked it. I liked the characters and how real they seemed. I didn't really dig Jes that much, just as a personal thing-- many people will strongly identify with her, but not me.

The Adventures of Pink Elephant Vol. 1 Christine Amamiya

Mandy and Christie are just hanging out in the yard one day when something falls from outer space straight into their swimming pool. It seems to be some sort of egg that hatches... a pink elephant who is super smart, can fly, and extremely compassionate.

Pink Elephant goes on to deal with icky school projects and bullies.

We could all use a pink elephant in our lives.

Amamiya is 17 (or was when she wrote this). I'm going to state straight out that I'm harsh on child-writers (blame Paolini) and I might not have read her prose so critically had I not known her age before I cracked the book. She does have talent though. She doesn't over stretch and tells her tale simply and in a straight-forward manner.

While the book probably won't stay with me for long, she does tell a sweet story that kids are going to like. This is projected to be a ten volume series, and I will be very interested to see how Amamiya grows as a writer in the later volumes...

(Full disclosure: This book was provided by the author.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Poetry Friday!

Before the festivities begin, I'm over at Geek Buffet, following up on how YA is an age-range, not a genre. The comments on my original post sparked a conversation about how to get non-teens to read teen lit. Inspired by this year's Caldecott winner also being named a Best Book for Teens, I'm proposing a whole new award for teen lit. Check it out here. I'd love your comments.

And, now, a poem, because it's Friday. Yesterday it snowed. It's warm today, but is supposed to snow again tomorrow. So, here's a snow poem!

Snow flakes.

I counted till they danced so
Their slippers leaped the town,
And then I took a pencil
To note the rebels down.
And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig,
And ten of my once stately toes
Are marshalled for a jig!

--Emily Dickinson

I love the imagine of austere, often depressing, recluse Dickinson dancing in joy of snow.

Farm School has this week's roundup!

And here's a lovely picture of what happens when it snows in DC (photo from Roxandabear):

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dance a Little Closer to Me, Dance a Little Closer Tonight

Ok, before we get started, a quick announcement, I'm blogging over at Geek Buffet about YA lit and that an age range is not a genre.

But, now, a story. It's a funny one.

So, January in Wisconsin is cold and snowy and icy. And one January, 5 years ago today, it was really, really cold. Dan and I went to church with my parents. There was a Saturday evening service.

At some point in the service, a Sunday School (Saturday School?) teacher went to the supply cabinet to get some safety pins. Only, when she opened the door, she found Dan and me, making out and sharing a bottle of Johnny Walker.

When she apologized, I said, "Oh no, it's OK. We're getting married in an hour."

And the ceremony was beautiful. At the end, I have to admit, I wasn't really paying attention, and thought the minister was done speaking, and so I went in to get the kiss, only to have everyone laugh at me, because he wasn't done, just takng a breath to finish his last sentence.

And there was good food and good music and good friends and we danced the night away and at the end of the night, my dad and his friends put the ice swan to swim across the frozen pond out front and all our friends stole the left over wine and had an after party that is now legend and is STILL talked about to this day.

I really can't believe it was 5 years ago. It doesn't seem like that long. So, I've used this poem before, but it was one we had read during the ceremony, so I'm using it again.

Why Marry at All?

Why mar what has grown up between the cracks
and flourished like a weed
that discovers itself to bear rugged
spikes of magneta blossoms in August,
ironweed sturdy and bold,
a perennial that endures winters to persist?

Why register with the state?
Why enlist in the legions of the respectable?
Why risk the whole apparatus of roles
and rules, of laws and liabilities?
Why license our bed at the foot
like our Datsun truck: will the mileage improve?

Why encumber our love with patriarchal
word stones, with the old armor
of husband and the corset stays
and the chains of wife? Marriage
meant buying a breeding womb
and sole claim to enforced sexual service.

Marriage has built boxes in which women
have burst their hearts sooner
than those walls; boxes of private
slow murder and the fading of the bloom
in the blood; boxes in which secret
bruises appear like toadstools in the morning.

But we cannot invent a language
of new grunts. We start where we find
ourselves, at this time and place.

Which is always the crossing of roads
that began beyond the earth's curve
but whose destination we can now alter.

This is a public saying to all our friends
that we want to stay together. We want
to share our lives. We mean to pledge
ourselves through times of broken stone
and seasons of rose and ripe plum;
we have found out, we know, we want to continue.

--Marge Piercy

Monday, January 07, 2008

Weighty Tomes

The Cybils are now all up! Check you the new shortlists!

So, as I'm part of the judging committee for MG/YA nonfic, y'all know what I'm reading for the next month. Very cool.

Anyway, since Christmas, I have read 3 books that were freakin' long. (I mean, I've read more than 3, but 3 of the ones I've read were freakin' long, if that makes sense)

So, here are the looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong books.

First up,

Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal Mal Peet

One of my favorites of 2007, the main story of Tamar is about the Dutch resistance at the end of WWII.

There are two Tamars, one is the fifteen year old in mid-90s England, trying to make sense of her grandfather's apparent suicide, her missing father, and her grandmother who is slipping further and further into dementia. Before he died, Tamar's grandfather left her a box of random things she has to figure out to put everything into perspective.

The other Tamar is the code name for a resistance leader, a Dutch man who escaped to England and was sent back to the Netherlands by the British in order to organize the various resistance groups to work together. He works with his wireless operator, Dart.

Between the two comes the beautiful Marijke, the young woman who lives on the farm where Tamar is stationed. She and Tamar have had a long relationship, unknown to Dart. As Dart's addition to amphetamines grows (he takes them to be awake at odd hours to send/receive transmissions), so does his paranoia.

What is most remarkable is that this is a story of boredom. The never ending tension that comes when nothing happens and you expect the Gestapo to come for you at any minute.

Even though I had the mystery bit figured out stupidly early on, before I was even sure if there was a mystery bit to figure out, the story still gripped me. It wasn't so much about the outcome, but why and how it happened.

Also, how the boredom can drive you insane. Remarkable.

It's on my list of possible Printz winners...

Spring Moon Bette Bao Lord

So, this is an adult novel by the author of In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson.

Spring Moon is born at the end of the nineteenth century to the old house of Chang in Soochow (Suzhou). Through her eyes, and the lives of her uncles, we watch the history of modern China unfold and the effects it had on the life of one woman and her family.

There's a good time line of events in the back, but it still might be a little confusing for people who aren't familiar with 20th century Chinese history might be a little confused. (Heck, I am very familiar with 20th century Chinese history and sometimes I had to stop and think about what rebellion was happening...)

Overall though, a very nice sweeping epic tale.

Redeeming Love Francine Rivers

This book was recommended to me by my friend Marie after a conversation about Inspirational Fiction. Now, I don't read a lot of Inspirational Fiction. I'm not really a member of the target audience. Reading it was an interesting experience.

This is the biblical story Hosea retold in the goldrush California. Angel was sold into prostitution as a child. Micheal Hosea sees her and marries her and tries to redeem her, however, she keeps running away. She runs both because she sees marriage as just another form of bondage and then, when she starts to fall in love, because she thinks her past makes her unworthy.

I got pretty into it, even thought I disagreed with a lot of the theology initially (the ending redeemed it a bit for me. No pun intended.)

Anyway, throughout most of the book, marriage *is* just another form of bondage for Angel, but we're not supposed to see it as that because Michael's a good guy with good intentions, so what he does is ok. So the whole thing, initially is a bit anti-feminist. But, the final time Angel runs away, Michael lets her, and it's not until she settles things with herself that she's ok to go back to her marriage. So, I wasn't nearly so sour after that.

Also, I was a little irked at how Michael didn't want to be told about the worst things Angel had done in her life. He had already forgiven her. Granted, she was only telling him as a means to drive him away, almost testing him BUT if he's going to truly love her and truly forgive her, then shouldn't he know these things? How can he truly forgive a sin he doesn't know?

I also was irked by the use of the term "Celestial" to refer to Chinese people. I could understand it when the characters used it, because it was what they would have said, but when the narrator does? Ew.

Overall, it didn't fundamentally change my relationship with God the way the back promised it would, but it was a very interesting look into a genre I usually don't read. Also, I really got into the story. Although long, it was a quick read and I stayed up way past bedtime to finish it.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Poetry Friday

In honor of our new month, and the fact that it's actually cold here, I give you an excerpt from Chicken Soup with Rice: A Book of Months by Maurice Sendak


In January

it's so nice

while slipping

on the sliding ice

to sip hot chicken soup with rice.

Sipping once

Sipping twice

Sipping chicken soup with rice.

I must thank my friend Melissa for reminding me of this and, in the interests of full disclosure, tell you that I really hate rice in my soup. ;) The roundup is over at A Year of Reading. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Death by Notebook

Ok, so I spent the first part of New Year's Eve (in that lull between when you're throwing a party and the house is clean and the food is out and you're all gussied up but no one has showed up yet) and New Year's Day reading the rest of the Death Note series.

Also, I've updated the Biblio File store with my list of what's coming out very shortly that I can't wait for.

There are also a few things that don't have pictures that are coming out later this spring and this summer that I can't wait for... things such as...

Fables Volume 10: The Good Prince Bill Willingham
Jack of Fables, volume 3 Bill Willingham
The Sisters Grimm Book 6: Tales From the Hood Michael Buckley
Stop in the Name of Pants (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson) Louise Rennison
And! A the first volume in a new series by Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey

But, until then, let's see what's going on with Light and Near and Mello and the gang...

Here's a review for all of them: If you like the series, you gotta see how it ends. Read up.

Death Note, Volume 9: Contact Tsugumi Ohba

Near knows. He knows L is Light and Light is Kira. Mello's closing in on both of them. Near does everything he can to so doubt among the task force. And he's succeeding... meanwhile, Sakura TV is the new spokesman for Kira... and doing a disgusting job of it.

Also, can I just say, yes Light's a jerk, but Mello and Near are creepy. Even creepier than the original L was. They give me the willies.

Death Note, Volume 10: Deletion Tsugumi Ohba

Light has passed the notebook on and his successor loves deleting those who are evil. Delete delete delete. In order to stay in contact, Light decides it's time to pay an old school friend a visit, and maybe give Misa Misa a rest from the romance for awhile...

I just like the delete delete delete has Teru writes down new names.

Delete delete delete

Death Note, Volume 11: Kindred Spirit Tsugumi Ohba

The investigation moves back to Japan. Near knows Light's the guy, but wants to expose him and rub his face in the evidence. Everyone has a complicated plan set into motion, and the opening shots are being fired. Who will be the first to blink?

Death Note, Volume 12: Finis Tsugumi Ohba

All done. A satisfying end to a satisfying series, but I could have done with a little less of the "is Kira good or bad, what is evil" philosophical discussions...

Hello 2008!

A bunch of Cybils short lists are up! More to come next week! Check 'em out!

This year I read...

219 books

That breaks down as:
82 Children's
80 YA
57 Adult (Woot!)

33 nonfiction
4 under 100 pages
32 graphic novels
18 required (that's really low!)
8 rereads

I read the least in May (13 books) July (12 books) November (13 books) and December (12 books.) Some of that is life, some based on the books I read (for instance, I read a lot of adult fiction in July, which takes me longer than children's fiction. In December I had 2 books around 500 pages...)

My best month was June with 28 books. If you take away the 9 that were read during the 48 hour challenge, that's still 19...

This is also a banner year because for the past 4 years one of my New Year's resolutions was to read at least 20 nonfiction books. This is the first year I actually succeeded! And how! 33!

One reading-related goal I almost met was to review at 5 books a week or enough to keep up with current reading--whichever was less. I didn't make it every week, but that totaled to 260 reviews this past year and I had... 258.

So, this year, I want to:
1. Blog at least 5 books a week for a total of 260, or to keep up with my reading habits.
2. Read at least 20 nonfiction books.
3. Read at least 50 books from the scary list. (See, this might be a little hard to pull off. We'll see.)
4. Set a silly reading challenge every month.
5. Never have more than 5 pleasure reading materials checked out from the library at a time.
6. Finish reading the rest of Silvey's top 100.

This month's challenge? Read all the review copies with deadlines looming, read my Cybils books once the nonfiction short list is announced I know what I'm supposed to be reading, and finish my library books. (Now down to 16) (This is a big chunk to chew, but I'm off school until the 28th)

In February, I will be reading all the books I have borrowed from other people.

BUT! Now for my favorites from 2007!

Top all-around picks:

The Long March: The True History of Communist China's Founding Myth Shuyun Sun
Love in a Fallen City Eileen Chang
Alice In Sunderland Bryan Talbot
Kitchen Banana Yoshimoto
Un Lun Dun China Mieville
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers Xialu Guo
George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War Thomas B. Allen

Runners Up:

Kampung Boy and Town Boy Lat
Mao's Last Revolution Roderick Macfarquhar and Michael Schoenhals
The Pull of the Ocean Jean-Claude Mourlevat
This is Paradise!: My North Korean Childhood Hyok Kang
You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons - The World on One Cartoon a Day Mo Willems
The Invention of Hugo Cabret Brian Selznick
The Complete Persepolis Marjane Satrapi
Goodbye Tsugumi Banana Yoshimoto
Happy Birthday or Whatever: Track Suits, Kim Chee, and Other Family Disasters Annie Choi
Peony in Love: A Novel Lisa See
Train to Pakistan Khuswant Singh
Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent: How Daring Slaves and Free Blacks Spied for the Union During the Civil War Thomas B. Allen
Wildwood Dancing Juliet Marillier
Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences Kitty Burns Florey

Long-Awaited Sequels That Didn't Disappoint:

I could go on and on and on and on and on about these books-- many were the strongest in the series, I felt. Most of them deserve to be on my all-around favs of the year, but there were so many, it got it's own category...

Once Upon a Crime (The Sisters Grimm, Book 4) and Magic and Other Misdemeanors (The Sisters Grimm, Book 5) Michael Buckley
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows J.K. Rowling
Thursday Next: First Among Sequels Jasper Fforde
Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb Kirsten Miller
Forever Rose Hilary McKay
Cupcake Rachel Cohn
Clarice Bean, Don't Look Now Lauren Child
Love Is a Many Trousered Thing (Confessions of Georgia Nicolson) Louise Rennison
Seeing Redd (The Looking Glass Wars)Frank Beddor
The Last Apprentice: Night of the Soul Stealer Joseph Delaney
Fourth Comings Megan McCafferty

My Favorite New Authors:

Banana Yoshimoto
Thomas B. Allen

Favorite Children's Books:

The Green Glass Sea Ellen Klages
Clementine and The Talented Clementine Sara Pennypacker
Troll Bridge and Pay the Piper Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Millicent Min, Girl Genius Lisa Yee
The Last Dragon Silvana de Mari
Letters from Rapunzel Sara Lewis Holmes
Robot Dreams Sara Varon
Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians Brandon Sanderson

Favorite YA Books:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party M. T. Anderson
Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
Sold Patricia McCormick
Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal Mal Peet

Favorite New Guilty Please Series

Gossip Girl
Students Across the Seven Seas
Death Note

Old Favorites I was Delighted to Find I still Love:

Drina Jean Estoril
Charlotte Sometimes Penelope Farmer (the original)