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.