Wednesday, April 30, 2008

On the Road Again

Well, I'm going to be in and out for the next month. I am facing down the end of the semester, 3 weddings (including my sister's!) and my college reunion.

Lots of reading will happen, but maybe not so much with the blogging. Tomorrow features 2 storytimes, classes (involving a review session AND a final presentation) and packing. Friday morning involves getting the oil changed before my flight, and then I'm off to Ann Arbor.

I get back Sunday. Then, bright and early Wednesday morning, we're driving down to Asheville for my sister's wedding. I'll get back Sunday. I'll take a final while down there. On the following Tuesday my final paper is due and I'm done with the semester! Yay! And then I'm off until mid-July when YA lit starts.

I'm tired just writing about it.

But, I'm excited for the reading all that travel means. I'm gearing up to read all of the Fusion Stories-- all of the ones that have been published are either checked out, bought, or on hold, so get ready for that!

Be sure to take the poll on the sidebar!

Also, Miss Erin pointed me to the "what's your pen name" formula. I am Mo B. Fishbein. Or Mo B. Shirley. Yeah.

I like my porn name better. First pet + street you grew up on= Blackie Hancock. Oh yeah.

Until then, here's a book I just finished reading.

The Totally Made-up Civil War Diary of Amanda MacLeish Claudia Mills

So, because I judge books on their covers and titles, I thought this would be funny. Doesn't it sound like the title to a funny book? It's not funny.

But it is really good.

Amanda's parents fight all the time and then her mom asks her dad to move out. Amanda can't understand why her mom has to ruin everything. And how can she tell her best friend Beth what's going on? Beth's family is perfect, and Amanda's is just broken. In Amanda's withdrawal, Beth starts spending more time with Meghan, leaving Amanda feeling even more alone.

Her only solace is writing the Civil War diary of Polly Mason, a Maryland girl whose brothers have gone off to fight--one for each side. It might dorky to like a school assignment so much, but Amanda's always liked writing. And school.

I liked Amanda's feelings about her parents and how they change.

I liked Amanda's older sister, Steffi-- she's perfectly Jr. High. All anger and sarcasm, and every so often really, really nice.

I also really liked Amanda's diary. She's a great writer, almost *too* good (but then she thinks about word choice during other parts in the book when she thinks of the leaves as red and yellow and then corrects herself to scarlet and golden). The diary was engaging and contains a lot of little facts about the Civil War.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What Do I Want for Lunch?

Random musing of the day: Lunch is in 45 minutes, to be eaten on my way to a meeting. I did not pack it, I need to buy it. Starbucks or McDonalds? That is the question.

Blog musing: Well, for May's reading challenge, I've decided I'm going to try and read all of the Fusion Stories to celebrate Asian-American Heritage Month. (If you're not familiar, they're "Ten new contemporary novels by Asian Americans aren’t traditional tales set in Asia nor stories about coming to America for the first time") Sadly, not all the fusion stories are published yet, so unless someone hooks me up with ARCS of Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before by David Yoo and Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer by Janet Wong, I'm going to have to substitute their other books.

But that's not bad.

Also, the Top 9 for April is up at the Amazon Store, which is where I pick my random picks of the month...

Until then, here are two totally random reviews that have nothing in common besides "I read them recently"

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street Jeanne Birdsall

Fresh from their summer adventures at Arundel (which were chronicled in The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy) the girls are back home and ready to face another school year.

Only, this school year has some challenges. Jane and Skye switch homework with disastrous results, and Rosalind has some awkward guy issues.

But, there's a lovely new next door neighbor who has a toddler son. Ben and Batty have a good time playing secret agents until they stumble upon the Bug Man.

On top of that, their beloved Aunt Claire has delivered a letter that their mother left in her keeping. A letter ordering Daddy to start dating again.

Dating means there might be a step-mother and everyone knows step-mothers are evil things. Aunt Claire and Mr. Penderwick have a deal that he has to go on 4 dates over the course of a year. The girls figure if they can set him up with the most awful women, there will never be a second date, just 4 really bad ones, and everything can go on as before.

This is before Mr. Penderwick meets someone in a bookstore and has multiple dates with her. All the girls can find out is that her name is Marianne Dashwood, she likes walking, hates flannel, and "She's sensible and clever, but eager in everything. Her sorrows and joys can have no moderation." (Really, I pegged Mr. Pen as more of an Eleanor Dashwood man myself, but that's just me)

It has the same old-fashioned splendor and joy of the first one. Well done.

Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything in It Sundee T. Frazier

Brendan is half-white, half-black and is a scientist. He does all sorts of experiments to answer his burning questions, which he writes down in his notebook.

What Brendan can't answer is why some white people are mean to black people, and why his mother won't let him see his grandfather.

After accidentally running into and meeting his grandfather one day at the mall, Brendan discovers that he, too, is a geologist and rock-collector. On that basis a friendship forms, but it has to be done by sneaking around and lying.

An interesting, fun read that looks at race without being depressing or beating the reader too hard over the head. I'm not sure if a I really "buy" the ending, but it was a nice read that will appeal to boys and girls.

Monday, April 28, 2008

I Waste Way Too Much Time on Facebook

Apparently, if you click on this, you'll save some rainforest...

A really long Monday Post

Mea Culpa: I made some corrections to my Minx post from last week. I thought Water Baby came out in March, but it doesn't until July.

Oh! And vote in the poll on what I should read (aka, what you'll read) during the 48 Hour Challenge!

Lust, Caution, the book, has under 60 pages of actual story (this version has a rather long introduction and afterward) so I was intrigued to see how Lust, Caution, the movie could be 2.5 hours and rated NC-17.

Ok, well, actually, I wasn't that unsure. In the book, Chang leaves a lot unsaid, or highly glossed over in a way that just wouldn't work in a movie. I feel really good movie adaptations are true to the book, while still being true to film as media. That's what I didn't like about the first two Harry Potter movies-- they were so true to the book that they failed to add anything to the story. The later movies leave a lot of Rowling's work on the cutting room floor, but they work as separate works of art (well, at entertainment at least) that add to the Potter story.

Ang Lee's take on Lust, Caution is visually stunning. If I wasn't in the mood to read subtitles, I could just watch this movie for the aesthetics. It got roundly panned by the critics, but having read the book and seen the movie... I can't understand why. I know that one review I read really confused by because it talked about Communists, even though there weren't any in the film. There are some shifts in time (clearly labeled) and the political situation in Hong Kong and Shanghai is confusing. (Japenese have occupied, there is a puppet government that Mr. Yee works for. Mak Tai Tai et. al work for the resistance, which is the Nationalist government who have fled to Chongqing.)

Anyway, I think while the movie didn't have all the taunt tension of the book, it is still wonderful.

Now, the NC-17 bits-- they're lovers, and we see that. There are 2 main sex scenes that I've been waffling on whether or not they were necessary. I'm going to say they are, just because there is such a difference between the two scenes that it's significant and I've been puzzling over why-- I have a theory... has anyone else seen this? I'd love to talk about it!

But, it has me in mind to review some specific books...

Man's Fate (La Condition Humaine) Andre Malraux

I read this in March of 2007.

It focuses on the Spring of 1927, when Communists and Nationalists are starting to break apart, right before the outbreak of the Civil War. There's a failed assisnation attempt, lots of intrigue, and it culminates in the absolutely horrifying April purge in which Chiang Kai-Shek rounded up all the Communists in Shanghai that he could get his hands on and killed them. Many of them, he burned alive.

What's really fascinating about this book is what it unintentionally shows-- it was published in 1933, before the Long March, before WWII, before the Communists won. It (accidentally) shows in the influence of foreigners in Shanghai in general, and in the early communist movement-- there are very few Chinese characters in this novel. Also is a little confusing as to what's going on and who's on what side (which is the same way I felt reading Doctor Zhivago) because the Nationalists and Communists are fighting, but they're supposed to be on the same side and then Japan throws a whole 'nother wrench into things... my comment at the time reads "lots of philosophy on state of man etc (very French) that I wasn't in the mood for."

Most intriguing is Malraux's ending conclusion that Communism is dead, especially in Asia.

Next up is Nanjing 1937: A Love Story Ye Zhaoyan

I finished this one this weekend and am still torn on it. I liked it, but I'm not sure why.

Ding Wenyu is a hapless foreign language professor and playboy and I'm not entirely sure why I liked him, or even if I did.

He attends the wedding of the youngest daughter of a family friend, Yuyuan, and falls desperately and madly in love with her.

This story is one of the growing scandal as Ding hopelessly pursues the poor Yuyuan and of Yuyuan's own marriage and how it falls apart...Yuyuan is not a strong woman, nor a helpless wallflower. Rather, she's vaguely amused by Ding's attentions, but frustrated when they start to cross the line and everyone around her treats it like a joke. She's also devastated by her the truth behind her marriage, but doesn't know what to do about it--there's only so much a person can save a relationship if the other person isn't trying.

Throughout it all is the comings and goings of officers and committees and the coming Japanese threat. (Nanjing would fall to the Japanese on December 12, 1937. They still sound the air raid sirens all morning on December 14th to commemorate the deaths (estimates range from 100,000-350,000) and at least 20,000 rapes that occurred in the 6 weeks after the city fell.)

It's not nearly as tense as you'd think, but it does cover almost the full year.

I will say that is uses the word "nauseating" or "nauseatingly" way too often to describe prose--love letters, newspaper articles, etc. I have no idea if that's the text or the translation.

I liked this book, I really did, but I can't tell you why. Frustrating.

And, now, it is nonfiction Monday. For weeks I've been saying that I don't have any unblogged nonfiction. HA! I totally did. Really old nonfiction.

Last spring, in my reference class, I had to do a paper where I asked a multi-faceted question (and answered it) and then asked a librarian and an online reference source the same question. (Does every reference class in the world have to do some variation of this assignment? I think so.)

Anyway, my question was about the evolution of communist thought and how Marxism/Leninism was different that Stalinism was different than Maoism etc. I knew a decent amount about Maoist thought, but was really just curious as to how it was different than regular Communism. (Why are the Nepalese rebels Maoists instead of straight up commies?)

The answer (in case you're wondering) is the role of the peasantry. In traditional Marxism/Leninism, the peasants are part of the petty bourgeoisie. Now, there weren't that many workers in China, so Maoism has the peasants as the workers. Tada!

So, I read some books to try and figure this out. Forgive the short reviews--I read them 13 months ago and am working solely on my notes here.

Communism: A History Richard Pipes

Very accessible and informative, this was the most useful out of everything I read for that paper.

That said, the writing was a bit uneven.

It could have used more information on some countries--Cuba, Vietnam, N. Korea, Ethiopia, and the workings of Che, but it does briefly discuss these issues.

Socialism: A Very Short Introduction Michael Newman

I do love me the Very Short Introduction Series put out by Oxford Press. They are short, yet dense, and fairly accessible. I am however, fairly distressed that there isn't yet one on Communism. My notes on the socialism one read:

More pro-socialist while pointing out how it doesn't work (what the #Q@$! does that even mean?!) Focuses more on the New Left/1968 Green Movement and feminism as modern socialist movement and welfare/social programs as evolution of how socialism can/will/does work/survive in today's Western world.

I'm not entirely sure what that all meant, but there you go!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Poetry Friday

Can we just make a general rule that I'm no longer allowed in bookstores?

Bad things happen. Very bad things. Like when I go in for 1 book. 1 particular book that I even have on reserve and walk out with... well, let's just say A LOT more than 1 book, and I might have spent 7 times the amount I meant to. Um.... yeah. Bad Jennie. NO PEKING DUCK FOR YOU!

(Yes, I was going to have Peking Duck tonight. Friday nights when Dan is out of town = chick flick + Peking Duck. Tonight's choice isn't really a chick flick, but one I'm very anxious to see and Netflix so kindly delivered in on Wednesday-- Lust, Caution. Regular readers may recall that I absolutely loved the book.)

Anyway, it's Poetry Friday! So, let's have some poetry!

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

--Langston Hughes

Now, Andrea Cheng (obviously) did not write that poem, but it plays a big part in her verse novel, Where the Steps Were.

Told from the perspective of elementary school students, it tells the story of one school year, the last school year before their inner-city school is closed and torn down.

Kayla's brother is in and out of jail, Carmen's mom is sick, Dawn struggles with weight (in third grade!), Jonathan is homeless after his brother tried to dry his bedsheets with a lighter before anyone noticed he had wet the bed, Anthony likes helping Miss D. before school.

Langston Hughes comes in because Kayla really struggles with reading. This poem helps her break through some of her struggles and write some poetry on her own.

The class performs a play, and is unfairly kicked out of a play. They save up money to do something, and they say goodbye to their school.

It's a quiet book, as I think most verse novels are, but good. Cheng also illustrates it with beautiful woodcuts.

Miss Rumphius Effect has the roundup! Go enjoy!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

On Wisconsin!

First off, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging: Confessions of Georgia Nicolson by Louise Rennison just survived a challenge in middle school libraries in Menasha, Wisconsin.

This is the first book in the Georgia Nicolson series, is completely appropriate for junior high, and is hilarious. Also, Menasha is right next to my hometown. You knew you had crossed the magic land from Appleton to Menasha because the street signs had changed color.

More Wisconsin:

My family used to sometimes vacation in Bayfield, Wisconsin, up on the shores of Lake Superior. One cool thing is that this is the mainland point for the Apostle Islands, including Madeline Island which has a small town called La Pointe.

In all of my fantasies about running away and becoming a hermit, I run away to La Pointe. Even if my dad did tell me they had a blizzard last weekend, while last night we had tiki torches and spent the evening in the backyard and the peonies are almost out...

Anyway, yeah... La Pointe...

I bring this up, because it is the setting for 2 amazing books,

The Birchbark House Louise Erdrich

In Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (which also takes place in Wisconsin) Wilder starts her chronicle of settlers moving west and the pioneer spirit.

In The Birchbark House, Erdrich starts her series of response--telling the story of the people who already lived on that land and were dispossessed and pushed further and further west to make room for the white man.

The book tells the story of 1 year in the life of Omakayas, an Ojibwe girl on what is now called Madeline Island. She helps her mother with the daily chores, they move to the birchbark house, the fishing camps, the rice camps, and the winter cabin and back as the year cycles. Her beautiful older sister is sometimes mean, sometimes nice. Her little brother is always a pain.

Small pox visits the island and no one is safe.

A great book about growing up and life on Lake Superior in the mid-19th century.

The Game of Silence Louise Erdrich

This is the next book in the series. In this one, the Ojibwe are told they have to leave the island and move west, where the Bwaang live. The Bwaang are not are warriors and do not welcome visitors. The island receives a band of refugees who were forced west into Bwaang territory and pushed back.

This is another year in the life of Omakayas. She makes friends with the newcomers, she worries for the men who were sent out to find why the people are being forced to leave, she realizes how important home is to her, and she doesn't want to go.

Her dreams continue and there is growing conflict with Two Strike's wild ways.

At the end of the book (so, slight spoiler, but only if you're unacquainted with US History with regards to Native Americans) they have to leave the island. I'm looking forward to the next books in the series, to see what happens once Omakayas has to leave home.

The Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging Widget

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It's OUT! YAY!

Today is the US publication of the long-awaited

Forever Rose Hilary McKay

Well, long-awaited by everyone but me, because, as you know I have no self-control and so I had this shipped from England last winter.

And, really, it is a Christmas story, so the British pub date made more sense BUT! in the very last Casson family book, do we really care?

After Rose totally hijacked Caddy Ever After, McKay gave her the last book, and the last word in the family saga that started with Saffy's Angel.

With Daddy in London and Mummy always in her shed painting, with Saffy always out with Sarah and Indigo delivering papers and hanging out with David, and with Caddy never having returned after going looking for Darling Michael (although Darling Michael is back in town), and Tom all the way in New York, Rose's house seems very empty, and very lonely.

Except for David. David and his stupid drum set ARE always around, much to Rose's chagrin.

School isn't much better, as Mr. Spencer is absolutely horrible and mean. And Rose hates reading.

And meanwhile, it's only 12 days to Christmas and Kiran's family has 3 trees, including a 6 foot deluxe fiber-optic Norwegian fir. Rose's family doesn't have any tree and Rose is a bit afraid that they might have all forgotten about Christmas.

But life with the Cassons, as fans of the series know, is never dull, and in this last story, McKay ties up all the loose ends and as neat as a bow as this family will ever manage, or be content with.

Wonderful and perfect.

Name that Blog

Alright guys--

There is a book blog that reviews books as Haikus. I've lost the address and I'm sure I'm the only person in the world who doesn't read it.

Help me out?


Also! Vote in my poll in the sidebar!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday

It rained all day yesterday and all day today. So, I'm starting with one of my favorite Beatles songs, which I think is very under appreciated:

It's off Let It Be.

Anyway, completely unrelated, let's talk about some Graphic Novels. Yes, I know it's Nonfiction Monday, but I don't have an unblogged nonfiction, so you know... yeah.

Laika Nick Abadzis

Laika was the first living creature we sent into space, if by "we" you mean "The Russians."

Such a cute little doggy, that looks something like a mini-Sassy, he was found as a stray and given to the Soviet Space Program. After the success of Sputnik, Khrushchev wanted to continue to ride the PR wave and do something amazing in time for the Revolution anniversary.

Because of the speed, the program cut a lot of corners, including figuring out how to bring Laika home. We've always been told he was euthanized while up there. The truth is, some systems failed, and do to extreme cabin heat and stress on the animal, Laika died within 4 hours.

This is the story, meticulously researched and beautifully told of the Soviet system, of the scientists, technicians, and politicians involved, and how one dog touched their lives and the effect he had.

Beautifully moving. I especially liked the panels that reflected Laika's thoughts, a dog looking for love who knew when the humans around him were happy or sad, without knowing why.

Good dog.

Water Baby Ross Campbell

This is Minx's March installment.

First off, Minx has a crappy, crappy website. This book isn't even listed! (update: this book isn't out yet, even though that's no excuse for it not to be on the website-- they really should have a list of upcoming titles) And ARCs are out for unpublished books, and sample pages are out, so why aren't they on the website, let alone have the sample pages up?! I thought we were marketing here people!

Chasing Ray had a fascinating and very insightful (especially if you read the comments) post about the problems with the Minx line last month

I think there's a very good point made that one of the reasons Minx isn't a runaway hit is because it hasn't figured out it's target audience. Specifically, these are graphic novels NOT for current comic readers, but for YA book readers. These are stories that appeal more to fans of straight up books rather than graphic novel fans.

I'm frustrated because I'm a big fan. I love the concept and I've really enjoyed most of the titles so far. I want to see it succeed, but DC Comics keeps dropping the ball. Librarians, start your handselling!


Brody's a major surfer girl whose leg gets eaten by a shark. A few months after the accident, her loser ex-boyfriend moves in on her couch. Ick. Eventually she decides, with her best friend, to drive his lame butt back up to New York where he's from...

For a volume in imprint aimed at teen girls, the characters all have big boobs and skimpy outfits. Yes, I realize surfers hang out in bathing suits, but string bikinis seem not-practical for surfing. But, I'm not a surfer, so what do I know? Well, I do know that I was worried about these poor girls falling out of their top when they were just hanging around the top. I can't imagine what a little surf would do to them.

Overall, I was a little underwhelmed. I thought it could have been so much more than it was... eh.

update: Look for it July 8

Burnout Rebecca Donner and Inaki Miranda

Danni's mom moved them to the Pacific Northwest after Danni's dad disappeared. Her mom's taken up with a lodge owner with some anger issues. Hank's son, Haskell, is mysterious, and kinda hott.

Here is a great book about families, boys, and balancing friends with boys. It's also about logging vs. not logging-- environmental concerns vs. economic ones. Donner does a great job of presenting both sides of the issue without it seeming crammed in or over-crowding the actual story. The book leans towards environmentalism but recogizes the murkiness of the waters. You're also not sure if Danni continues to be a minor eco-terrorist because she believes in the cause, or if it's because she believes in Haskell's hotness.

A strong title for the imprint. Look for it June 17.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Super Awesome Sequels I Can't Sit Still For

I changed the poll over the sidebar, because I left a few things off. I revoted for everyone that had voted, so your votes are still counted. If that makes sense. ANYWAY! Check out my sidebar (yes, JacketFlap and GoogleReaders, you will have to visit my blog... :) And vote on what you want to see me read/read me review during MotherReader's 48 Hour Challenge in June. I can't make a decision, so I'm passing the buck. HA!

Anyway, Thursday night, I went to class, I went out to dinner with a friend, and then I came home, curled up on the couch with Sasskerdoodle (aka, Sassy, aka my dog, or, as I call her, my puppy friend) and read

Tales from the Hood Michael Buckley

This the the 6th and latest installment in the Sisters Grimm series. In this one, the Grimms are the only non-Ever Afters left in Ferryport Landing after Mayor Heart and the Sheriff of Nottingham have run everyone else out of town.

Mr. Canis has been arrested and is struggling ever more to keep the wolf at bay.

Bluebeard is presenting the prosecution (and trying desperately to win Snow White) so who better to hire for the defense than Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. They're not sure they can win (the Mad Hatter, is, after all, the judge) but are happy to one again be a thorn in Nottingham's side.

Of course, Sabrina's not so sure they should even try, especially since Daphne won't go get the secret weapon. When Sabrina steals the key and sneaks out, even Puck is disappointed in her, and Daphne won't even look at her anymore...

There is the bright lining though, as it appears that finding Goldilocks might be closer than ever...

I feel this is more of a place-holder novel in the series. It wasn't as heart-pounding exciting as Magic and Other Misdemeanors but rather one of those books to get you to the next exciting one. If that makes sense.

Despite the lack of tension (as compared to the last book) you still get the (now dark) zaniness of Ferryport Landing, I mean, the whole scene with the Scarecrow as the town's librarian? I also loved Puck's take on the situation-- Oz is a swindler, so the Scarecrow's brain must have been second hand. A good one for fans of the series, but you definitely won't get what's going on if you haven't read the previous ones.

UPDATE Dude, I can't believe I forgot to tell you that we really get into the story of Little Red Riding Hood-- you never thought of it like this before!!!!

Also, in March, the new Last Apprentice book came out and it was taking my library too long to order it, so finally I just went to the bookstore and bought my own copy.

Attack of the Fiend Joseph Delaney

The Spook knows that the witch clans at Pendle are banding together, which can only mean evil. He's taking his time to carefully plan to counter it, but then when Tom goes home to see what was in Mam's trunks, he finds the farm destroyed and the trunks missing...

So, it's off to Pendle immediately to save Tom's inheritance, not to mention Jack, Ellie, and the baby who are being held hostage.

The Pendle clans have joined forces to raise the Devil himself. If they succeed, they won't be able to control him after a day or two and it'll be bad for everyone.

Unfortunately for Tom and the Spook, the witches have created a monsterous creature that can see in mirrors to spy on people. A creature that lives off human blood.

But, Tom and the Spook have Alice, as long as she stays on their side...

I read recently that this is a 7 book series, so, Book 4 is the pivotal book of such things. It ends much darker than the others and we can tell something bigger is looming. It's also creepier yet. They're making a movie of this series and on one hand, I'm really excited, but on the other hand, I don't think I would be able to actually watch it. The books are scary enough!

But, on a lighter note, Ingrid Michaelson opened last night's show with this. PRICELESS.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

48 Hour Strategy

MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge is June 6-8. I've been looking forward to this since last year's challenge. Prizes are given for most books read, most pages read, and most hours spent reading.

Last year, the stats were:

Most books: 20
Most pages: 5,433
Most hours: 32

I, however, only pulled off 9 books, plus parts of some other books, 2,213 pages, and 26.5 hours.

I can TOTALLY beat that this year.

Last year, I was stunted in a few ways:

1. I found out about the challenge the Wednesday before it started
2. I had a dinner party/BBQ and a group meeting for school
3. I had to read parts of my text book, which was boring and did not read fast

This year, I'm out to win. (I fully think reading should be a competitive sport.)

Last year, I realized that series books were good, because you didn't have to resurface from one world and then try to settle into a different world with a different writing style.

This year, I'm going to pick a series or two and make a lot of coffee. I also hope that 7-11 brings back the Full Throttle slushie. AND! I have a hammock this summer to lie in while reading. I made Dan put it on his calendar so he doesn't make any plans for us that weekend.

This year, I'm going for the gold. And I don't even have to worry about Chinese geo-politics to do it!

Anyway, there's now a survey over in the sidebar so you can vote on which series I should read. (ie, which ones you want to read about me reading!)

Also, suggest other series that you think I should be looking at!

Pigeon wants a Story Time!

This morning I did a Pigeon story time. All Pigeon books.

There were even Pigeon flannel boards... (NO MORE PIGEONS JUMPING ON THE BED.)

It was super fun.

Anyway, remember way back when, when I said that one my goals this year was to never be more than 1 year behind on my book reviewing? Yeah. I still have February 2007 books. There 19 books that I read Feb-Apr of last year and still haven't blogged about. Ai yai yai!

So, let's do this thing, shall we?

The Painted Veil W. Somerset Maugham

First of all, I can't post about Somerset Maugham without bringing this up: Did you ever see the Family Guy episode where Peter's in trouble and Lois calls and Chris answers the phone and says "Dad! It's Mom!" and then you see Peter with his fingers crossed going "Please be Somerset Maugham, please be Somerset Maugham"

Ok, so... Kitty was always the beauty of her faded-glory family. As the beauty, education was not invested in her--she was going to marry well to help the family. Raised to believe she was a prize catch, she was picky in choosing her fiance, until the time came when her looks started to fade and her promise was unfilled. Desperate, she married a bacteriologist she did not love, but would take her to the colony of Hong Kong.

After discovering she was having an affair with the assistant Colonial Secretary, her husband forces her to accompany him to a remote area in China where there is a severe cholera outbreak.

Once there, confronted with a dying village in a strange and beautiful land, she starts volunteering at an orphanage and starts to see more meaning in life than she's ever known before.

The language is beautiful and moving. Maugham's detached narration makes it more subtle than many works today that like to hit you over the head. Many see Kitty's transformation as weak by modern standards, which is too bad. I couldn't put this down and lost myself as Kitty tried to move beyond the limitations set on her by her family.

I have not seen the movie, because I hear it's less about Kitty's self-discovery and more about Kitty finally falling in love with her husband. I don't think the cinematography could make up for such a mutilation.

Tao. Some of us look for the Way in opium and some in God, some of us in whiskey, and some of us in love. It is all the same Way and it leads to no whither.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

'Cuz I love the way you say good morning, and you take me the way I am

My friend Elizabeth is going to the concert with me.

There was a Harry and the Potters CD at my local Borders.

For some reason Goodreads has automatically made me Goodreads friends with all my my Facebook friends who are also on Goodreads. I don't know why it did this, but I don't think I'm complaining.

So, I'm about to admit something horribly and terribly embarrassing. I claim to be an avid reader of YA lit, and, yet...

I just read my first Laurie Halse Anderson book.

Yes, I know. Bad Jennie.

Twisted Laurie Halse Anderson

Tyler has always been the geeky boy everyone picked on. Then, in an attempt to go down in a blaze of glory, he spray painted the school... and got caught. He spent his summer doing manual labor as part of his community service. Such a summer made him hottttttt

Suddenly, the goddess of his dream, Bethany Miller, is hanging out with him.

He's a little dangerous, he's studly.

His dad's a jackass and school's too hard and he has a lot of anger.

Then, at a party he shouldn't be at because of his parole, Bethany is wasted and all over him. Tyler wants this, but not like this. The next day, topless photos of Bethany with the caption "slut" appear on the internet. Everyone thinks Tyler did it. Nothing he does can make this right.

Fast moving and tense, Tyler's voice is spot-on. Although, parts of the ending weren't as true as the rest of the book, which was a little jarring.

Trembling with Anticipation

Right now, at this very moment in time, Tales from the Hood is sitting on my front porch, waiting for someone to love it. I would love it. I would love it RIGHT NOW, but I'm not at home. Poo. I hate waiting.

But, doing tomorrow's homework is going to be darn hard tonight with that book looking at me!

Also the new James CD, Hey Ma is supposedly out in the US now. Except no one actually has it. Double poo.

Anyway, a review:

Elijah Of Buxton Christopher Paul Curtis

Elijah Freeman is the first free-born in the town of Buxton, in Canada, just over the river from Detroit. It's a refuge for escaped and freed US slaves.

There isn't much of a plot--highly episodic mostly about a little boy doing little boy things. The jacket flap says there is a plot. It says something along the lines of Elijah going to America after some steals his friends money that was going to be used to buy his family out of slavery. That does happen, but that's like, the last 80 pages of a 342 page book.

I think I might be the only person in America and beyond who isn't totally in love with this book.

I'm not a *huge* fan of episodic plot. Also, if there isn't an overreaching plot, it probably could have been half the length. Also, it was so episodic, it almost read like a collection of short stories. There's nothing wrong with this at all, just not my cup of tea.

I may be the only person in the world to say this, but Elijah vaguely reminds me of Junie B. He's kinda hyper and after reading for awhile, I had the same feeling I get after reading Junie B. of "Miss Jennie needs a nap and adult time." Reading Elijah talk to me was like trying to keep up with him in real life. *Whew*

It's written in dialect, which makes it a wee bit of a reading challenge. I think kids as young as 2nd or 3rd grade would like this, and the plot lends itself to a great read-aloud chapter-at-bedtime setup.

I would have looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooved this book when I was in 5th grade, and really, Curtis is writing for 5th graders, not me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The thing with feathers

Let's start off with some news that makes my life happy

1. Ingfrin Michaelson is playing at GWU on Friday. If you're in DC and want to go, drop me a line-- I have an extra ticket.
2. My new Sisters Grimm book, Tales from the Hood shipped and will be in my greedy, greedy hands tomorrow.
3. Wolf Totem: A Novel by Jiang Rong is apparently the most-read book in China since the Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (aka, the Little Red Book) is now available in the State. AND, my library has it. Wahoo!
5. Along the same lines, Howard Goldblatt, my all-time favorite translator of Chinese (sorry Cyril Birch) has a new series that's coming out of bilingual short story collections--so, the original Chinese AND his English translatation. AND! The first one out is Mo Yan. Be still my geeky, geeky heart.
6. Because everyone else was doing it:

You Are An Exclamation Point

You are a bundle of... well, something.

You're often a bundle of joy, passion, or drama.

You're loud, brash, and outgoing. If you think it, you say it.

Definitely not the quiet type, you really don't keep a lot to yourself.

You're lively and inspiring. People love to be around your energy.

(But they do secretly worry that you'll spill their secrets without even realizing it.)

You excel in: Public speaking

You get along best with: the Dash

Which, I'm sure, is a SHOCK to everyone who knows me. :)

And now onto other things:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

--Emily Dickinson

In Jacqueline Woodson's Feathers, Frannie spends a lot of time thinking about Dickinson's words, and hope in general. There are a few things going on in Frannie's life-- her mother is pregnant again, which Frannie is wary of, after a long string of miscarriages. Her best friend is more than a little obsessed with Jesus, and there's a new white boy in her class that everyone's calling Jesus Boy.

Filled with short chapters, some jive talk, some straight up love for Michael Jackson, and a whole lotta snow, Frannie spends the winter learning about hope and what's right.

Not preachy. Kinda quiet, and immensely powerful, Feathers is the type of book that reminds you why Jacqueline Woodson is one of the coolest and best writers out there. Damn. I think most authors wish they could write like this. Or, they should be.

Kimani TRU

I have a lot of books that need a-bloggin'. I'm going to try to just churn out a lot of one-book review posts, instead of a longer post with multiple books, which is what I normally do.

Of course, every time I say I'm going to do that, it never happens. We'll see what happens this week.

Keysha's Drama Earl Sewell

I need to give a shout-out to Leila over at Bookshelves of Doom for telling me that Kimani TRU is an imprint of Harlequin. Yes, that Harlequin.

So, I had to read this book for work. It's one of YALSA's Quick Picks for Reluctant YA Readers, and the imprint circulates heavily in my system.

Basically, Keysha lives in the Chicago ghetto. Her mother thinks, that at 16, she should strike out on her own, or at least get pregnant in order to bring home another welfare check. After her mom gets arrested for prostitution, the social workers put Keysha in foster care until they find her father.

Daddy is rich and lives in the surburbs. His new wife is a grade-A you-know-what and his son is a little thug-wannabe. Keysha does not fit in. And then she meets a new friend (Goth Lesbian!) who slips her some X and Keysha's blamed for bringing drugs from the inner city into the suburbs. Drama ensues.

Why I disliked this book:

1. The end was super quick and the actions of various characters where completely unsupported by the rest of text. Telling someone about something in your past does NOT completely allow you to do a 180 in the space of half a page. This, however, may be the fault of the imprint, for, according to their website:

Manuscript word length: Approximately 60,000–70,000 words
Manuscript pages: 200 pages

So, Sewell ran out of space.

2. The terminology was wrong. At one point, Keysha writes a mean-spirited (but totally true) blog about her half-brother. Now, a blog is a page with a series of posts. Biblio File is a blog. As I type this, I am blogging, however, this post isn't a blog. This is a BLOG POST. Keysha actually writes a BLOG POST about her brother on his MySpace page. But Keysha keeps talking about the BLOG she wrote about her brother. If Sewell can't even get this right, I can't take the rest of his book seriously. And neither will teens.

3. Kimani TRU says "In general, the main female character should lead a normal teenage lifestyle." Can we please get over the impression that poor ghetto life is "normal" for African-Americans? Yes, there are a disproportionate amount of ethnic minorities caught in the cycle of poverty, but not all minorities are poor.

4. Gothic Lesbians are bad, bad, bad, bad. (Really, the bad kid had to be Goth? And a lesbian? Let me tell you about suburban high schools. You know who's really dealing drugs? The quarterback. The all-American Abercrombie Perfect kids. They're the bad ones. Not the poor Goth kids who are pissed off about the hypocrisy of it all.)

Look, this book circulates well. The teens love it. I am not the intended audience, and that's cool. The main thing that bugged me was the ending came out of nowhere. It really was a "oh crap, I have to finish this thing in 20 pages" type deal. Except 20 might be too high a number.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Stuck in traffic makes me write poetry

So, the worst part of my commute is the 14th Street Bridge. I can spend 30 minutes on that thing, or leading up to it. (If you don't live in DC, "that bit leading up to it"= The Pentagon) When my commute is traffic free, like when I go to work on Saturday mornings, it takes a total 15 minutes. Not the bridge, the WHOLE commute, of which the bridge is a measly few blocks out of 10 miles.

Today was not that bad but I was stuck on the bridge for awhile. It's sunny and warm here, and the bridge leads up to the Jefferson Memorial, so I wrote this haiku in my car.

Cherry blossom rain
Makes way for unfurling leaves
The river sparkles

A Wrung Sponge has the roundup!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's even good on pizza. Trust me.

I'm having a mad craving for Peking Duck right now. This presents a problem, as all food eaten between now (noonish) and 9pm will be eaten in the car. That means I'm scheduled to eat a lot of Cheerios and Teddy Grahams. That's because today is schoolday, so I have to drive all over the metro area in pursuit of book learning. We're work-shopping my seminar paper today. I am dreading this.


Anyway, some book reviews for y'all

Ruby Lu, Brave and True Lenore Look

In the proud vein of Clementine and Ramona comes Ruby Lu. She has a best friend and a baby brother and things are going pretty well--she even has her own magic show in her backyard.

Then her brother decides to start talking and announces to everyone how Ruby's doing her magic tricks.

Then her mother makes her go to Chinese school. Ruby's heard about Chinese school. It was held on Saturdays, which was a bad idea. The building was cold and dark. A fire-breathing dragon lived in the dungeon. The teachers were former prison guards from China. They served snacks of roasted snakes. Children who forgot their homework were turned into crickets. Children who learned Chinese spoke English with an unshakable Chinese accent.

But Chinese school is not so bad--there's even another Ruby! And when Ruby Lu decides to be helpful and drive herself to Chinese school? Watch out!

It's pretty funny, and a good bet for something harder than the "I Can Read" beginning chapter books. You can even learn some Cantonese! Anne Wilsdorf's black-and-white line drawings, with Ruby's pigtails performing feats of gravity that Pippi Longstocking would be envious of, add greatly to the humor.

Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything

At the end of Ruby Lu, Brave and True we learned that Ruby's aunt and uncle and her cousin, Flying Duck, were moving to the US. Ruby's heard about immigrant relatives. She's not so sure about this...

BUT! Flying Duck is awesome. And she's deaf, so everyone gets to learn Chinese sign language. But... also, everyone at home is speaking Cantonese. And using chopsticks (which Ruby isn't so good at) Ruby's not entirely sure about this.

And then when summer rolls around, Ruby and Flying Duck have to go to summer school. And swimming lessons. Ruby isn't so sure about swimming lessons. She's not a fan of drowning, so she stays in the shallow end, attached to the wall, with all of her personal flotation devices. Sadly, Emma is also in swimming and attached to the wall. Emma is Ruby's best friend. Sometimes. This is not one of those times.

How much worse can Ruby's summer get?

A fantastic follow up to the first one, this one even has an illustrated dictionary of some Chinese sign language! The glossary at the back is also great, covering some of the Chinese words, as well as some English ones such as e-mail Do-it-yourself, easy mail. No stamps. No mail delivery person. Just type and click! Grandparents love it.

All in all, Ruby is a great character that kids will enjoy.

Sadly, typing about Flying Duck has not helped my urge for Peking Duck...

One more book:

Unicorns? Get Real! Kathryn Lasky

You know, I wasn't a big fan of the last Camp Princess book I read, so I'm still not entirely sure why I read this one. But I did.

In the princess book genre, these aren't great. Which is sad, because there is promise there. I'm not a fan of the different "ethnicities" representing the different kingdoms-- they seem a little stereotypical.

In this one, the girls of North Tower are back for the second session. Only, Princess Gundersnap has discovered that her mother (Empress Mummy) has taken her beloved pony into battle, where he's sure to die. Empress Mummy has a good track record of winning battles, but not keeping ponies alive during them.

Meanwhile, there's a unicorn round-up going on and Empress Mummy says unicorns don't exist, so obviously they don't! Plus, they're competing against Prince camp and there's going to be a ball. How can Gundersnap save her pony amidst the chaos? And what is the magical tapestry and the witch in the woods trying to tell her?

This is one of those weird series where I don't really enjoy it, but I have a feeling I'll read every single volume in it. WHAT IS WITH THAT? WHY DO I DO THAT? Do you ever do that? I do it all the time! There's so much good stuff out there? Why do I read stuff I don't like? Why do I read books I know I won't like? WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Um, I started this post LAST Wednesday, so this news is a little late:

I finished my 1930 v. 1960 Nancy Drew battle over at Geek Buffet.

Ah well. Let's review, shall we?

The Red Queen's Daughter Jacqueline Kolosov

Katherine Parr was the last wife of Henry VIII. Her daughter by her last husband, Mary Seymour, died in early childhood. In this book, Kolosov imagines what her life would have been like that Queen Elizabeth's court been a little like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Mary has a few guardians after the early death of her parents, but it is Lady Strange who teaches her how to be a white magician, to serve the Virgin Queen. Once at the Queen's court, Mary has to be on constant guard against harm--both to herself and to the Queen. It is quickly apparent that Mary's cousin Edward is a dark magician, and up to no good. Not only that, but he knows Mary is a white magician. To keep an eye on her, Edward starts to woo Mary. Mary is confused--she has vowed to stay single and chaste, to not fall prey to a scoundrel like her father, and yet Edward awakens strange feelings in her.

But Edward is not Mary's, or the Queen's, only enemy and Mary needs to keep her head about her and remember her training if she's going to save the Queen.

The "all boys will hurt you and I don't need one" theme wore a little thin for awhile, but it's a theme I would have greatly appreciated in junior high. Kolosov incorporates the folkloric properties of flora, fauna, colors, and gemstones into Mary's magic, weaving a powerful story.

A good bet for fans of historical fiction and fantasy. I liked it better than Rebel Angels because it was still that blend of history and fantasy, and Mary still had power while never appearing too anachronistic.

The Wild Girls Pat Murphy

Newt has just moved from her nice house in Connecticut to a subdivision in California. While wandering through the fields outside the subdivision, she meets Fox. Together, they form a friendship and write a story that wins them a competition and a place in a prestigious summer workshop. Where they write more stories.

That's the plot, but it's not really about that. It's about truth and finding yourself and being OK even when your world is crashing down and your dad's a jerk and always screaming and your mom wants you to be friends with the normal girls and be perfect.

It's a hard sell, but the writing is captivating and the story, as well as the characters, really draw you in.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Who Doesn't Like the Bangles?!

It's just another manic Monday
I wish it was Sunday
'Cause that's my fun-day
My I don't have to run-day
It's just another manic Monday

First things first:
Monday brings us the new March/April issue of The Edge of the Forest. There are many fantastic features, including Spring Books, a podcast, and author interviews. It was contains my reviews of three awesome titles:

Gamma Glamma Kim Flores (fun book featuring scientifically based makeovers)
Toby Wheeler: Eighth-Grade Benchwarmer Thatcher Heldring (feel good sports book)
Smart Dog Vivian Vande Velde (girl tries to save talking dog from having his brain dissected. It's a funny one.)

But Mondays are also all about nonfiction, right? I bring you 2 titles for older teens and adults. One depressing, one hilarious.

First up:

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier Ishmael Beah

Technically, this is an adult book, but it has massive teen appeal (content skews it towards older teens, although Beah was a much younger teen when he lived it) and is listed as one of YALSA's 2008 Top 10 Best Books for Teens, as well as a 2008 Alex Award winner. For our system's Notable Teen Books discussion, this is the one book everyone has to read. (There are 10 books being discussed, you have to read at least 5 or 7, I can't remember because I'm a dork and read all 10, but there's one book that everyone has to read. This year, this is it.)

One day Ishmael, age 12, goes to town with some friends. While there, he village is attacked and his family flees. He never sees them again. He and his friends run from the war-- trying to stay in front of the fighting so they don't get caught, don't get killed. Still, a group of boys traveling together is a thing to be feared. Eventually, Ishmael is caught and forced to join the army fighting against the rebels in Sierra Leone. He's given massive amounts of drugs, a gun, a little bit a training, food, and a hatred and desire to kill the people who killed his family. Eventually he is taken by UNICEF and undergoes rehab and moves to New York.

The chronology is kinda jumpy, but the horrific story is beautifully told. I had to keep hitting myself to remind myself that Beah and I are the same age. While he was fighting for survival, snorting coke, and watching people he cared for die, I was freaking out about chemistry class.

It's a hard read, but the Beah's story is one that needs to be told, and he does it really well.

There have been some criticisms of the accuracy of the book, but frankly, I don't think there's much merit. (If the claims were true, there'd be much wider coverage, I think. Also, Beah addresses all these accusations here.)

And now to something completely different...

Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World's Most Coveted Handbag Michael Tonello

Do you know what a Birkin is? It's a handbag made by Hermes. I've always found them extremely ugly, but, in a brand of "it" bags, they're the ultimate. They also cost an insane amount of money. ($10-$100K. My college education was cheaper!) Remember that Sex and the City episode where Samantha really wants a Birkin but the list is years long and so she uses Lucy Liu's name to get one? She loses the bag, and Lucy as a client. Too bad she hadn't read this book first. I've always preferred the Kelly bag, featured in the movie version of Le Divorce. (It might be in the book-- I haven't read it. Anyway, the Kelly might not be as rare or hold as much cachet, but a cuter handbag by far. And smaller. The Birkin is the size of a diaper bag. UGLY. Of course, most of my purses were free. Yes, one initially housed a lotion/bubble bath duo. And my latest one looks like a Nancy Drew cover, so what do I know?)


In this hilarious, dishy memoir, Michael tells of deciding to move to Barcelona on a whim. Quickly, the job he had lined up fell through--he's broke with mounting debt. He also has a closet full of clothing appropriate to his old life on Cape Cod, but not so suitable for sunny Spain. So, he sells it on Ebay. He quickly catapults himself into a career buying Hermes scarves that are easy to get in Spain, not so easy in the US.

This escalates in trying to hunt down the elusive Birkin. He finds a formula that works almost every time, no waiting list needed. Waiting lists are for mere mortals who don't have the formula.

Along the way he finds himself, true love, eats some really fabulous food, and has to hire some thugs when a bag is taken hostage.

This book is great, because it's dishy, but not in a bad way. It's mainly dishy about Michael, and there are very few celebrities, so it's a nice dishy. It's also HYSTERICAL. Michael's list of stock Hermes employees alone is worth the book. What I love is that he never takes the Hermes lifestyle as serious as his clients, which allows him to poke fun at the crazy ones, while at the same time singing the praises of the nicer ones. Michael's easy tone makes it seem like the whole story is being told over a lavish dinner with some good wine. I couldn't put it down.

(The Birkin is the one on the left at top. The Kelly is the one down here on the right. I even picked matching leather and textile to get a better comparison. See how HONEST I am?)

Full Disclosure (see! more honesty!) ARC was provided by publisher via LibraryThing's early reviewer program.

Look for it next month.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Poetry Friday

Happy Poetry Friday! It's a gray day and raining cherry blossoms here in DC. AND it's time to sign up for MotherReader's 48 Hour Challenge!

You made crusty bread rolls...
by Gary Johnson

You made crusty bread rolls filled with chunks of brie
And minced garlic and drizzled with olive oil
And baked them until the brie was bubbly
And we ate them thoughtfully, our legs coiled
Together under the table And then salmon with dill
And lemon and whole-wheat cous cous
Baked with garlic and fresh ginger, and a hill
Of green beans and carrots roasted with honey and tofu.
it was beautiful, the candles and linens and silver,
The winter sun setting on our snowy street,
Me with my hand on your leg, you, my lover,
In your jeans and green T-shirt and beautiful feet.
How simple life is. We buy a fish. We are fed.
We sit close to each other, we talk and then we go to bed.

Becky's Book Reviews has the roundup!