Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What the what?!

My boss ran across this in the teen section last week and immediately showed it to me.

Seriously, what the hell is going on here?!

Half Blood Prince

There's been lots of talk on the new Harry Potter movie. I just want to say that I loved it and this paragraph from a review in the Shanghai Daily perfectly sums up why:

Previous installments played out in a supernatural bubble bearing little connection to our ordinary little muggle world. "Half-Blood Prince" brims with authentic people and honest interaction - hormonal teens bond with great humor and there's heartache that will resonate with anyone who remembers the pangs of first love.

Review found via Shanghaist

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Books for Adults

So, for about half an hour today, there was a picture of a ball of yarn posted to the blog that might have made it into your blog reader. I did not mean to post that to this blog, but rather to my knitting blog, so if you want to read the post that picture went to, head over to my knitting roundup...

Anyway, this weekend I read a lot of books for grownups (shocking!) so I thought I'd share a review of a book for grownups that I read this spring.

The Moon Opera Bi Feiyu

The Moon Opera has been thought to be cursed ever since the first production closed before it opened, for political reasons. But now, a rich cigarette factory owner wants it restaged and is willing to put up the capital to do so, but only under the condition that the star from the more successful second run returns to the stage. Xiao Yanqiu hasn't been onstage in 20 years, since the last time she sang the Moon Opera and scalded her understudy with a cup of boiling water.

It's a short novel, almost a novella, that gets straight to the point, with a few meditations on Beijing Opera. A little background in Beijing Opera might be helpful, but the main thing you should know is that there are some stock characters in Beijing Opera--Strong Guy, Seductress, Dutiful Woman, etc. You can tell immediately what type of character you're dealing with based on their movements, costume, and makeup. Actually, makeup alone will tell you.

Anyway... this is a story of warring divas, a character study of an aging one. It's quiet, but sucks you in. I had a few problems with some general statements the narrator makes about women, but overall, I did really like this one.

I hope we see more of Bi's works being translated.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rich Girls from Olden Days

The Season Sarah MacLean

Alex and her friends are not overly excited about the prospect of their first season. Sure, they are beautiful and come from excellent families but they aren't the type of girls who are delicate flowers, waiting to be courted by boring men old enough to be their fathers. Alex's brothers didn't have to get married at 17, so why should she?

Add in a mystery of a murdered Earl, and the boy (well, Earl) next store suddenly becoming more than your brothers' good friend, maybe.

The Season has headstrong girls who are still believable in their time periods. And! When things get really bad they ASK ADULTS FOR HELP! Not only headstrong, but actually SMART! Plus, there's a your rake/rogue boy, but Alex can handle him without issue. So refreshing. This is a definite favorite.

The Luxe Anna Godbersen

I've referred to this as Historic Gossip Girl. There are the lies, the back-stabbing, the romance, the society, the clothes, and the parties, and the indecorous behavior, just all happening in New York in 1899 instead of 2005.

Like Gossip Girl, you have a book decadent and scandalous enough to be the perfect beach read, but layered enough and long enough that it's something you can actually sink your teeth into. The action follows multiple characters, and chapters start with and are studded with newspaper articles, book excerpts, and letters. The type of book that is actually challenging reading, but with a plot exciting enough that you don't notice how hard it is.

Unlike Gossip Girl, you have characters you actually like and when you root for them, you don't need to feel bad about it. The characters in The Luxe create plenty of their own drama, but enough also comes from the outside, things they can't control to make the characters not nearly as annoying.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Because you're dying to know...

Catching Fire Suzanne Collins

So, remember when I said that when it came to The Hunger Games, I felt like the blogworld gave it a 12 on a scale of 1-10, and I was giving it "only" a 8?

Yeah, well, Catching Fire? That one goes up to 11. Or even 20.

Seriously, mind-blowingly awesome.

Katniss thinks now that the games are done, she can provide for her family and go back. But everything isn't what she thought it would be. Six months after the games, it's time for the victory tour, but before it begins, President Snow shows up in person to threaten her. It's at this point that she realizes two things:

1. Her actions at the end of the games had far wider implications than she thought. She may have started a rebellion in the districts.
2. Her life will never, ever be her own. If she wants to keep those she loved safe, she will be playing the Capitol's game. Forever.

And then everything gets a whole lot worse.

What struck me most about this is the lengths the Capitol will go to in order to maintain control on their districts. Yes, this is a land that in the last rebellion obliterated one of their districts and, in retaliation for the rebellion makes each district compete in the hunger games for the citizens of the Capitol's own amusement. But the horror they resort to in this book is just... astounding. Especially when it comes to sending not-so-subtle messages to Katniss. This book is tension and fear. This is still adventure, but the stakes are even bigger this time around, because the Capitol of Panem is a government that's desperate but doesn't want to appear like it. It's is a government with no conscience.

And then Collins completely sucker-punches us with the last sentence.

I liked The Hunger Games but Catching Fire just utterly blows me away. Look for it September 1st.

Full disclosure: I begged an ARC off our teen collection development librarian. She had to start a list to circulate it through staff members who wanted to read it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

In which I admit I'm a corporate shill

Well, in light of Monday's post over at MotherReader, I updated my FAQ and am posting here to make something clear.

I am an Amazon Associate. That means, almost all of my links to books or CDs or other things are linked to If you click on that link and then buy something (you can buy anything! it doesn't have to be what I linked to!) I get a percentage of the sale.

What percentage I get is based on how many items are purchased every month.

I do this because I like to buy books and movies and music, but I can't buy all that I want, because I also have to pay the mortgage, and starting last month, all my student loans from grad school. Not to mention that my belly demands food on a regular basis.

I don't make a lot of money off this blog, but being an associate allows me to make a little, which allows me to buy a few more books or download a few more songs, which gives me more to review here.

So, I just wanted to be upfront. If you click on a link and buy something, I get a little something in return.

Also, if you like the blog and are looking for a way to support it, next time you make a purchase, please think of clicking through via me. One of my favorite ways to support blogs I like is to use their associate links. That way, I get something I was going to get anyway, and they get a little something in return.

And then Buffy staked Edward. The End.

Today I bring you three (THREE) books about vampires that aren't at all scary, except for maybe in their views on love, women, and relationships.

Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (maybe) Kimberly Pauley

Mina (yes, named after the character in Dracula) is experiencing a crisis of epic proportions:

1. Prom is just around the corner and she hasn't even had time to think about it.
2. She turns into a tongue-tied idiot whenever she sees a cute guy, especially her crush.
3. What is up with all this English homework?!
4. She has to take really boring vampire classes to decide if she wants to be a vampire.

Yeah, a vampire. Her parents are vampires. And now she has to decide if she wants to be one, too. And she has to decide soon, because she didn't have enough on her plate already. It also soon becomes apparent that the decision is even trickier and stickier than she thought it would be.

First of all, it's just plain funny. Everything from Mina's voice to the beginning of every chapter that had a vampire myth, the truth, and a cute/funny little doodle drawing to illustrate it. Second of all, this would still be a pretty workable book if you cut the vampire stuff-- there's a lot more going on than regular vampire knowledge. Also, a lot of talk about Dracula, because they're reading it in English class. I love how Mina wants to stand up for vampire rights. The romantic sub-plot is entirely predictable, but I like that it involved more than two guys.

Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side Beth Fantaskey

At his first day as an exchange student in her high school, Lucius dumps a lot of Jessica. First off, he’s a vampire and she’s a vampire princess and they’ve been betrothed since birth. It’s time for them to get married, move back to Romania, and rule the vampires. But, until then, he’s going to live in her barn. What makes it worse is that her parents seem to know all about this! She always knew she was adopted from Eastern Europe, but vampires? They don’t even exist!

A fun romantic comedy that gets heated up by the hott boy next door and the meaner than mean cheerleader. Plus, possible vampire war. Lucius was a little too moody and tortured for my tastes, but Jessica could stand up to it, and did. I can handle controlling male leads if the girl is willing to give him a reality check. And Jessica was.

Got Fangs? Katie Maxwell

Fran's mother is a bonafide witch. Her best friend is 400-odd years old (she's related to vampires) and Fran is stuck traveling around Europe in the Goth Faire where everyone can use their freaky talents, because her dad got remarried and wanted 6 months alone with his new trophy wife.

Fran also thinks she's a freak, because she can read your memories and emotions just by touching you with her bare hands. She tends to wear gloves.

And then Imogen's brother shows up, and he really is a vamp. And he says Fran is his "Beloved" and can save his soul. Yeah, right. She's not buying it, but why does he have to be so cute? And why is her mother so determined to get her to appreciate her "gift" to the point where she's blackmailed into solving a mystery.

Funny and light, I really enjoyed this one and want to read more of Maxwell's works, especially her more realistic fiction like The Year My Life Went Down The Loo.

Poetry Friday

Today's poem is the first part of "The Lady of Shallot" by Tennyson which is tragic. I usually don't go for things where characters have absolutely no agency, but King Arthur is on my mind.

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow-veil'd
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers "'Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott."

Read the full text here.

Round up is over at Becky's Book Reviews.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And, the hottest ARC of the summer is...

Today, my morning started with a happy dance, because my turn came to read the ARC of Catching Fire.

Scholastic didn't give me an ARC, but the teen selection librarian got her hands on one. She showed us at the teen notable books meeting and got mobbed! She started a list, and huzzah! Today it became my turn! I'm already a hundred pages in.

So, I thought I should finally review...

The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins

In retaliation for a rebellion, every district must send two children to the capital every year to compete in the Hunger Games. It's a battle to the death and the winner is set for life. When her younger sister is picked to go, Katniss volunteers to go in her place.

Everyone and their brother has reviewed this book and I will say I really liked it and will definitely read the sequel, but I didn't love love love it the way other people seem to have. This is not my all-time favorite book ever, but it's a grand adventure that completely sucked me in. It's also hard to review a book that everyone loves because when I say I didn't like it as much, it seems like I didn't like it at all, which isn't the case. Let's say, on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being awesome, I feel like the rest of blog land gave this a 12. And I'm giving it an 8.

I was talking with Sara at Book Club a few months ago. and she said she thought of it as a Middle Grade novel instead of Young Adult. She was surprised that other people found it overly violent and bloody because she thought it didn't go far enough, especially when compared to Ender's Game. I had just started the book, so I took those thoughts in mind as I read. I haven't read Ender's Game yet, but I have read Lord of the Flies. Lord of the Flies is a lot more violent and bloody and they were just trying to survive. They didn't *have* to kill to win. In Hunger Games they do. That doesn't take away from the book, though. It's more of a side note. I wouldn't go so far to put Hunger Games as Middle Grade per say, but I will put it on the younger end of the YA scale (7th grade up)

Reading regardless of level

A few months ago, we had a huge conversation (that I largely sat out of due to real life things) about parents obsessed with reading level, and making their kids read above level. It slightly resurfaced with the Twilight discussion and how we feel about kids wanting to read above what we think their content level is.

I just wanted to mention it again, because this morning I had to make a very impassioned plea on behalf of a patron to her mom so she could read some Goosebumps books. I am not a fan of the Goosebumps books, but this girl wanted to read them. Her mother's only objection was that they weren't at the 7th grade reading level.

I'm sharing my winning argument as a reminder to those who push for higher reading levels, and just to share with those who argue for letting people read below level in case you can use it in your daily battles, too. (There is a content argument to be made as well-- just because something has a low lexile score doesn't mean it doesn't contain some rather big ideas, but that's not an argument I can convincingly make about Goosebumps.)

Everyone should always be reading something below level, something above level, and something at level. This mixture is what lets us grow as readers. If we're always challenging ourselves, then reading is always hard and becomes a chore. We need reading that is "too easy" to remind us that reading is fun and enjoyable. Reading above level lets us grow as readers, but reading below level reminds us why we want to.

Adults-- that goes for us, too.

Jane Austen meets Pirates of the Carribean

Quirk Books (those lovable scamps with the bitchy marketing team that brought you the fantabulous Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) is back, this time with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

Entertainment Weekly had a nice interview with the non-Austen member of the author team that revealed the following:

Well, our monster-to-Austen ratio is higher than in the last book, about 60-40 (that’s 60 Austen, 40 me). That’s proportionally more monsters, swordfights, and submarines.

So, less Austen, more mutant lobsters. This could awesome, or craptacular. It also loses a lot of the gimmick/hilarity/shock value of their first offering, but I'm still interested in reading it. Just not as obsessed as I was to see the first one.

h/t to fellow librarian David who passed this on to me!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A parent's worst nightmare

Today, I review two books with similar content.

The Missing Girl Norma Fox Mazer

There are five Herbert sisters and their family is having definite economic problems. There is also a man who watches them. He starts off creepy and gets creepier. You know right away that he will kidnap one and it will be bad.

The chapters are short and the characters well-drawn--chapters tend to focus on just one character and then switch for the next chapter, but this one just didn't grab me. I think because it was pretty obvious from chapter 1 what was going to happen. (A guy on a corner obsessively watching young girls? What do you think is going to happen? The big mystery is which sister will he eventually take.) but all this other stuff happens in between. There are almost three different books happening at once and it gets jumbled. By the time one sister goes missing, I was wrapped up in this other plot (one sister getting "loaned out" to save costs) and it just got dropped.

Yes, life is what happens when other things were going on but... there were so many "main" characters and so much going on, that I never really connected to any of the characters or the "main" story.

Living Dead Girl Elizabeth Scott

Alice wasn't always her name. When she was ten, she wandered off from a school field trip and Ray took her. She is now sixteen and too old, too tall, and no longer a small child. Ray wants her to find her replacement before he kills her.

Scott's take on the same subject is drastically more chilling, told in Alice's voice, focusing solely on her story. In addition to the horrific sexual abuse it's the psychological abuse that leaves the reader the most shaken. I picked this up and just started reading, really just planning on glancing through it, and didn't put it down until I was done.

When this first came out and was getting more coverage, many people were hesitant about giving it to readers, due to the horror and "graphicness" of it. I have to say I disagree. Yes, there are parts of this book that disgusted me. But the language isn't graphic. You need a certain worldly knowledge in order to know what, exactly, Scott is talking about. It's also the type of thing that horrifies adults, parents especially, much more than it will horrify teen readers. I'd say that this book is for high school readers, but I would have loved this when I was in junior high. There is a part of me that wants to give it to people who are probably not ready for it and scream "See! This is what happens when you wander off! This is what happens when you talk to strangers! Be safe!!!!" But, don't worry, I won't.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Nonfiction Monday

Here's a little nonfiction coming at you on a Monday evening...'s Harry Potter Should Have Died: Controversial Views from the #1 Fan Site Emerson Spratz and Ben Schoen

I was so bitterly disappointed by this book. I really enjoy and their previous effort, Mugglenet.Com's What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Falls in Love and How Will the Adventure Finally End. I was also hoping that this book would fill a void that exists in every hardcore fangirl (or fanboy). The series is long over and most of our friends have moved on with their lives and the ones who haven't, well, we've gone over everything over and over again and just keep having the same conversations. So, maybe this book would offer new ideas and fresh insights?

But, no.

Their arguments have a distinct lack of nuance. The series does contain quite a few complexities, but they're all glossed over. There are some big questions asked, but the arguments aren't there. Honestly, it reads like some of the comments on their website, ones written in chat speak by tweenybopper fans who think they're hardcore but don't know how to spell Hermione.

For example, in their debate on who's more helpful in Harry's quest, Ron or Hermione, Hermione gets credit for finding Nicholas Flamel in the library, but completely overlooks the fact that Harry found him first on the chocolate frogs card.

I could have done without such "debates" as "Would you rather shave Hagrid's back or give Voldemort a foot massage" or "Who would you rather make out with: Voldemort or a Dementor" and taken longer, more well-thought out arguments on the bigger questions. Instead, their arguments seem slap-dash and hasty.

Moreover, some of their views are just, well, despicable.

They spend much time bemoaning how little we find out about the future of the wizarding world. One of the things they harp on again and again is the role of other magical beings. They seem to feel disappointment that their role hasn't seemed to change, that the war didn't change enough. BUT they then argue that House Elf enslavement is ok. In debating whether or not S.P.E.W. was good for the house-elves, the fail to really discuss that it didn't work because Hermione was working for instead of with them, they instead argue it was bad because (and I quote, from page 109):

House-elves have carved out a cozy mutually beneficial existence for themselves, not altogether different from the relationship between dogs and their owners. Dogs provide unconditional love and loyalty, and their owners respond by providing them life's essentials. And so it is with the house-elves, who cook and clean for their owners and in return receive safety, food, and shelter. The house-elves are happy with this relationship and their place in society.

Before anyone points out that the authors argue both sides of every point, and that paragraph from one of their arguments, I quote from their verdict on the debate:

[Hermione] fails to appreciate the beauty in the relationship [house-elves] have with humans.

Given the two examples of house elves we see are Dobby, who is routinely forced to punish himself by odious owners, and Kreacher, who's former owners mount house-elf heads on their walls... I just can't stomach this and am, frankly, offended. Their views on goblins are no better.

Overall, a disappointment, and to put it bluntly, a waste of money.

roundup is over at In Need of Chocolate.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fairy Tale fun

Y'all know how much I love a good fairy tale retelling. Today, for your reading pleasure, I give you three, all of which I loved.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow Jessica Day George

Rejected by her mother, the lass remains unnamed and a target for trolls, but she bonds with her eldest brother, Hans Peter who returned from the sea a broken man. Then, the bear comes and demands she spend a year with him at his ice palace, where the unknown she controls everything and kills anyone who gives the lass any information.

A most excellent version of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." This version doesn't set it someplace new or put a new spin on it (although there are some echoes to "Beauty and the Beast" but I think that's mainly because the original tales are fairly similar) but it takes the Nordic tale and expands it, embroiders on its edges and paints us a vast and frozen landscape. George's time spent in Norway, and her minor in Scandinavian studies clearly shine in this book, but not in a way that's annoying or gets in the way of the story. There's too much ice and snow for me to describe this as "lush" but... that's still the word I want to use, so I'm going to just go with it.

Beastly Alex Flinn

Kyle Kingsbury is the most popular, hottest guy at school. And he knows it. After playing an unoriginal and cruel trick at an ugly classmate, just for fun, he gets turned into a Beast. He has two years to find a girl to love, who will love him in return, despite his appearance.

An excellent retelling of "Beauty and the Beast." Flinn really gets inside the beast's head, and it's refreshing to hear the tale from his point of view. Kyle is a believable character that goes through a drastic transformation (literal and metaphorical) that Flinn makes completely believable as he learns to get beyond appearances. An extra touch is the chat room he visits where he talks to other transformed people, mainly the bear from "Snow White and Rose Red," the frog prince, and the Little Mermaid. It was a nice (if quick) glimpse into how the transformed characters thought about their transformation and their prospects for escaping it.

A must read for all fairy tale fans.

The Diamond Secret Suzanne Weyn

Oddly, the latest installment from the Once Upon a Time series isn't a fairy tale at all, but rather urban legend and rumor. Diamond Secret is about Anastasia Romanov, who was gunned down with the rest of the Imperial family in 1918. For years, rumors swirled that the youngest daughter of the Tzar had survived and many claimed to be her. Recent discoveries, however, have placed her remains near those of the rest of her family.

I'm not a fan of recasting history as a fairy tale (Disney-- I'm looking at you and your horrible version of Pocahantas!) History is an interesting enough story in itself, we don't need to rewrite it. (Now, historical fiction that is true to the history is awesome, as are speculative histories like books that explore what would have happened if... I don't read a lot of those, but I once saw a really cool show in England about what might have happened if the Germans had successfully invaded and taken England in WWII. Fascinating stuff.)

Anyway, I digress. Just, at the offset, I want to state my displeasure with the entire premise of the book. However, I love this series, and I like many of Weyn's offerings to the series. (Especially The Night Dance). So, I told the history major in me to shut up and sat down and just ate this up.

Ivan is a Red Army deserter, the violence he witnessed on the night of the Imperial family's murders turning him away from Communism.

Sergei is a Count who lost everything but the clothes on his back during the Revolution, desperately trying to find his wife and son, who were supposed to flee to Sweden but never arrived.

The two are friends, trying to find a girl they can pass off as Anastasia to collect the reward money that her grandmother is offering. They figure they have a leg up on everyone else, given that Ivan has actually seen Anastasia on a few occasions, including the night he saw her die.

They happen upon Nadya, a tavern waitress who knows nothing before her time in an insane asylum the year before. She has something that Ivan recognizes--Anastasia's certain je ne sais quoi and they take her to Paris to pass her off as the missing Grand Duchess.

Adventure and complications ensue.

My favorite part of the book is also my main complaint. Weyn's omniscient narrator doesn't focus on just one character, but rather shifts between the three. I loved seeing inside everyone's heads, but at the same time, it kept me from getting attached to the characters, because I also saw them at the same distance their companions did.

Weyn does include an author note with Anastasia's true story and some of the political background for those unfamiliar. She states "This story mixes true history with imagination to create a possible ending to the Anastasia tale. It is a story that the author would love to believe is true."

So, I did like it, even if I'm not wild about the idea of it.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


For today's enjoyment, I bring you two books about teen spies. Because, what's better than teen spies? Nothing.

Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover Ally Carter

The third book in the Gallagher Girls series, this one sees Macey's senator father running for vice-president. Cammie goes to visit Macey on the campaign trail and foils a kidnapping attempt. When school starts, the girls must balance their spy-training coursework with a busy campaign schedule, and the fact that someone is after them and no one will tell them anything.

This is a little different from the previous books, because in them, the girls were never in any danger. One of my favorite things about the Gallagher Girls series is that it never puts minors in harm's way, which is a conceit used in most other books of this genre. This one, however, features tons to real danger and real-life situations that the girls have to use their spy-training to get out of. Now, the adults don't want them in danger, and do everything they can to keep the kids out of it, BUT, when someone is actively trying to kidnap you, you're bound to run into trouble. Lots of action, suspense, cool spy stuff, and boys that mess with your mind. What more could you want?

Fans of the series need to check it out, but you need to read the earlier ones first, I think.

Now, I'm super-intrigued to see what the ARC read like. I can't find the post, but I swear to all that I'm sure Liz B blogged about the fact she was warned there were significant differences between the ARC and the final book.

Spy High Mission One AJ Butcher

Bond Team is not getting along. They have one more chance to beat the virtual simulation test, or they're getting their memories wiped and getting kicked out of Spy High. No one wants that, but no one's willing to put their differences and egos aside to start working as team, which is the only way they'll pass. Then, the head of their school has another idea that sends them straight into the face of danger, but might be the only way to get them to work together.

Ok, this is one of those where the plot is absolutely redonkulous (but mutants are always cool, so it's ok!) the characters are stock and flat, but I still rather enjoyed it. This is a fun, fast read. Some of the characters annoyed me (Hi Ben! You suck!) but the plot was fast paced and so ludicrous it was awesome. Was it good? No. Am I glad I read it? Totally.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Filling in the Gaps with Banned Books

Two of the banned books I read for the banned book challenge are also on my Fill in the Gaps list. And, one was on the list of doom, and one was one of Anita Silvey's 100 Best Books for Children: A Parent's Guide to Making the Right Choices for Your Young Reader, Toddler to Preteen.

I do love it when books count for multiple challenges!

Whale Talk Chris Crutcher

Ok, first things first. All the editions of this book I've seen feature a white guy, running. WHY?! The book is about a swim team, and narrated by a black/Japanese/white guy.

Anyway, TJ is adopted and has some anger issues and goes to a school where athletics are everything and the letter jacket is the holy grail. Various coaches are always on him to use his full potential to help bring glory to the school and join a team, but TJ's having none of it. Then, he decides to form a swim team, which gives all the misfits he can find a chance to earn their own letter jacket and stick it to the system that's been making their school lives hell.

I did not love this one nearly as much as I was told I would. I mean, it was good, but I just didn't click with it. Mainly, I wasn't a huge fan of TJ, and the story is entirely in his voice. He's just... too good. His main problem is that he doesn't like jerks in authority positions (which makes him even better to a teen audience!) and his anger issues (but he only gets mad at the bad guys, and only lashes out at people we see are bad people and deserve it, so it's totally ok!) His self-righteousness annoyed me.

But, I lettered in academics and choir (yes, seriously) so what do I know?

Julie of the Wolves Jean Craighead George

My mother has been trying to get me to read this one since I was 10. I've been resisting for a number of years now for two main reasons.

I really, really disliked the other Jean Craighead George book I've read, My Side of the Mountain.

I don't like survival stories in general. They're just not my thing.

But, I like my mom, and it's only of Silvey's 100 Best, so I thought I'd read it. Plus, it's often banned, so it fit with the challenge.

Miyax is 13 and has run away from her husband in Barrow, Alaska and is trying to get to Point Hope, where she can get a ship to San Fransisco, where she can go live with her penpal. She quickly gets lost on the North Slope and observes, then is adopted by, a wolf pack in order to survive. Along the way there's lots of information about wolf behavior (George spent lots of time observing wolves) and Miyax is torn between her traditional Native culture and the more modern, culture of the cities and lower 48 states.

First off, after reading this, I Google Maps'ed these cities to see where they are. HOLY CRAP! I mean, Barrow's up on the top of Alaska. Her journey is insane.

Anyway, I'm always wary of books written by outsiders to the culture they're writing about. George seems to have done a good job (but uses the word Eskimo instead of Inuit.) The issues of being torn between two cultures is good, but Miyax's view by the end of the book is very black-and-white. There's no gray areas, which bug me, but does match with a 13-year-old view's of the world. Although, the title is a blend of the cultures, as Julie is Miyax's English name, but her time with the wolves is spent in traditional clothing and living the traditional lifestyle she learned from her father.

But, when it boils down to it, Jennie doesn't like survival stories. I loved the descriptions of the landscape of the North Slope, but it was the flashback scenes of Miyax's life up until she ran away that I enjoyed.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Internet Scandal! *yawn*

Two big things have been going around the blogosphere lately, getting everyone riled up.

1. What to do when a 10-year-old wants to read Twilight. There was a post from Shelftalker and Fuse #8 had one too.

This may be not what everyone wants to hear, but...

If you have a patron who comes up and wants to read Twilight, what do you do? You give it to them. (or, more likely, add her name to the holds queue.)

I am not this child's parent. It is not my job, nor my place, nor should it be to, essentially, censor their reading based on what I feel is or is not appropriate. Trust me, I know how much easier said than done this is, but I am not this child's parent.

And, even if I were I would still give it to them. Children aren't dumb. You try to distract them with other books, they're going to figure it out and know that you're hiding it from them, so it's even better than you thought it was before. NOW YOU MUST READ IT! YOU MUST! Distraction backfires.

Also, I must remind myself that my mother let me read whatever I wanted and I know now how much she held her tongue at my reading choices, but thank the heavens she did. I was exposed to some dicey stuff at a young age through books, but! when I then saw such situations in real life? I knew what was going on and I was prepared, because I had dealt with this already in my reading.

I understand the fears that were discussed on Shelftalker, but I don't share them.

1. They are coming to a good book too early and they won't get out of the book what they would if they read it at the right age.

Maybe, but that's the joy of rereading. How do we ever know if now is the right time for a book? There are books I've come back to as an adult that meant so much more to me at this point in my life than they did when I read them the first time around, even if I read them the first time as an adult, just a slightly younger one. Do I wish I hadn't read those books until now? Sometimes, but, would I still be the same person had the book not shaped me somehow in my past? It's impossible to tell when the right time to read a book is for any given person. Just read what feels right at the moment and hope for the best.

An interesting note from my own life: when I was 7-10, my favorite movie was The Last Emperor. Definitely not a movie for my age group, but I don't know how many times I watched it those years. Everytime we went to the video store, I made my parents rent it.

Was it age-appropriate? Not by any stretch of the imagination.
Did I understand what was going on? I thought I did, but not really.
Did I get a lot more out of it when I watched it as an adult? You bet!
Do I wish I had waited to see it? NEVER. I am 100% certain that my desire to study Chinese in college, to study abroad in China, and to now read so much fiction and nonfiction about China (in short, all of my Sinophile tendancies) are because of how much I loved this movie as a kid. I didn't understand the history and change that was happening, but I knew it was there and it was fascinating. So, it was a subject I turned to again and again as I grew older, when I understood it more, and discovered it was even more fascinating than my 7-year-old mind could comprehend.

2. Now that these girls are reading about characters so much older, they won't have patience or the desire to read about children their own age.

This is a stickier one. I mean, we all know that kids like to read up. Elementary school students like reading about middle and high school students, middle school students like reading about high school kids, etc. It's how we help figure out the future. But, if kids read Twilight too soon, will they not have the patience, or do they want to read Twilight because they've already lost that patience. Also, in my observations of reading habits of kids at work, this just doesn't hold out.

I see 10-year-olds check out The Clique (and I cringe when they do, I really do. I told you this was easier said than done!) and Diary of Wimpy Kid and they love both. Especially at this 9-13 year range, readers love the super-old stuff and the stuff their own age. It's an odd time of still a kid, but almost a teenager and trying to find that balance in activities and dress and yes, reading material, too. This is a topic we love to see addressed in well-written coming-of-age novels, but we hate to see if acted out in real life, and I don't know why. (But I have a feeling it's because we, with our hindsight, know how fleeting childhood is, and want kids to hang on to such precious time, but we forget about how, when we were kids, all we wanted to do was be grown up.)

When I was in 5th grade, my two favorite books were Matilda and Remember Me (which is by Christopher Pike and features drinking, murder, and possibly some sex, but definetely lots of older teen situations!) In 6th grade, my favorite authors were Christopher Pike and Katherine Patterson. One was definetely writing for my age group, and one most certainly was not. This is also the time period where I read most of Judy Blume's catalog, both the stuff aimed at my age group (Blubber, Are You There God..., Just As Long As We're Together) and the stuff that certainly wasn't (Wifey, Forever). Reading older books didn't make me lose patience with books about kids my own age, and this is something I see reflected again and again in the reading choices made by the kids I work at.

I understand these fears, but I don't agree with them. I also fully understand the cringe factor in giving a 9 or 10-year-old girl Twilight. I really, really, really do. But, I take a deep breath, hold my tongue, and give them the book.

(But, if a parent were to ask me what I thought about it for their 9-year-old, you better believe I'd tell them exactly what I thought!)

Second, Newsweek had a panel of authors to tell people which books they should be reading in their field of expertise. And the blogosphere and listserves are freaking out because the Children's Lit author was Jenna Bush.


She's a teacher (who used to takes her class to the local library on field trips, even when her dad was president) and has written two books. And, she chose pretty decent titles.

Yes, there are other authors we might have wanted to hear from. But, what authors (besides JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer and Jenna Bush) have household name recognition in houses that don't have kids? I can't think that my policy wonk friends would all have heard of.

But, more to the point, a semi-fluffy magazine did a fairly fluffy piece? And we're upset because it was... fluffy? yawn.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Challenge Update...

It's a new month, so let's see how I'm doing on my various reading challenges (hint: NOT GOOD.)

Well, there's the TBR challenge and I've read 3 books! Just 9 more before the end of December!

Octavian Nothing II, Kingdom on the Waves
Frog Princess
High Fidelity

Then there's the banned book challenge. I said I'd read 10 by June 30th. I ended up reading 8.

Born Too Short
Crazy Lady
Whale Talk
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Flashcards of my Life
Julie of the Wolves

For the 1% challenge, I need to read 13 books by the end of the year. I've done 1.

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle

For the Buy Books Challenge, I need to buy and read 12 books by the end of the year.

I've purchased 22 and read 9!

Turning Pages
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Forever Princess

Frog Princess

Dead is So Last Year
Don't Judge a Girl by her Cover
Living Dead Girl
Diamond Secret

For the Chunkster Challenge, I have to read 6 adult books of 450+ pages by the end of the year. I've done 1.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

And then there's my own Guardian Challenge, which has me reading 10 books by February 1.

Yeah, I've got nothing on that.

There's also my goal to read at least 50 of the books I owned but hadn't read as of January 1 by next January 1. I've done 11.

AND! Then there was the June-only challenges:

The Summer Reading Blitz, where I attempted to read 30 books this month. I did 26.

Ah well. Off to do more reading!

Guardian Challenge

How's your Guardian Challenge Reading going?

Leave a link too all of your reviews of the books you read in July down in the comments. I'll add them to the post probably when I do the August review-links post.

And, just for your enjoyment, I've made some more buttons for y'all to use.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Yet another list, this one with a twist

The fact is, no one needs another best-of list telling you how great The Great Gatsby is. What we do need, in a world with precious little time to read (and think), is to know which books—new or old, fiction or nonfiction—open a window on the times we live in, whether they deal directly with the issues of today or simply help us see ourselves in new and surprising ways.

Newsweek has a list of 50 books we should be reading right now, and why we should be reading them. Interesting stuff. 1 children's book (Dark is Rising) but only 6 written by women.

What book do you think people should be reading right now? I nominate Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding. It (rather unfairly) gets called "Bridget Jones goes to Africa" but underneath the romantic subplot and the humor, we see how crazy celebrities are, how hard it is to get money to do good in the world, and how often the rules we make to help only end up hurting further.

I read this book six or seven years ago, and I'm still struck how people living in the refugee camp weren't allowed to plant food because no body wanted them putting down roots (both literal and metaphorical.) The aid agency was running out of funds and didn't have enough food and everyone could forsee another famine coming. The people wanted to help themselves, they didn't want to be totally dependent on charity and foreign aid, but they weren't allowed to do the very things that needed to get done.

Plus, it's just hilarious.

Reviews published elsewhere

Hey all, in my ongoing desire to have Biblio File be a log of everything I read, I point you to some reviews I wrote for this month's School Library Journal. You'll have to scroll down as they're in alphabetical order by author's last name. Also, they're both about China. I'm sure this is a shock.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

If you don't want to click and scroll, it did get a starred review and my thoughts are:


But if you want me to use complete sentences, you'll have to go read it.

Also, what isn't said in the review is this would be an excellent chapter-at-bedtime story for younger kids who can't read it on their own and I liked it tons better than The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat, even though I really liked both of those.

Chenxi and the Foreigner Sally Rippin

My abbreviated thoughts: an interesting look at the build up to Tiananmen.

Further thoughts: Anna, as a narrator annoyed me, but that's because every time she ran up against on of China's idiosyncrasies, she freaked out and I wanted to scream "Dude! It's China! What did you expect?!" That said, I think most teen readers, especially those who haven't spent a lot of time in China and/or those who aren't well-versed in its recent history, will not have the same reaction and their feelings with be much closer to Anna's.