Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Reviews from the Vault

Today is crazy busy in real life, so here's a short little review that I wrote awhile ago...

Worst Enemies/Best Friends Annie Bryant

In this first installment of the Beacon Street Girls, Charlotte's moved around a lot and is, once again, the new kid at school. As usual, the first day is a disaster. Slowly, she and 3 other girls (all very different!) thrown together for lunch seating, start to become friends and form a secret club. Chapters are told from different points of view, although Charlotte has the majority.

I would have loved this series in 5th grade. As an adult they're a bit predictable and familiar and therefore slightly boring. BUT! If you have a girl who wants something fairly wholesome with some length and exploring friendship with all the drama that only 7th grade girls can create? This is so for them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Short Story Companions

Next up from the archives, we have two books that are collections of short stories and act as companion books to popular series.

The Last Apprentice: The Spook's Tale: And Other Horrors Joseph Delaney

A nice slim volume to keep us happy (by which I mean scared) until the next Last Apprentice Book, Clash of the Demons, comes out (Which it has! Huzzah!)

The majority of this book is made up of three short stories. The first is the eponymous Spook's Tale, the longest of the three. It tells us of an adventure John Gregory had when he left home to become a priest. Along the way he met the Spook he would eventually train with and had to face a bone-snatching boggart and a witch.

Then comes Alice's story of what happened in Attack of the Fiend, when she goes to Pendle alone.

The third tells of how and why Grimalkin became the witch assassin and also offers reasons as to why she's willing to partner in Tom Ward's quest to rid the world of the fiend.

The last bit is filler-- a run down of the major villains we've seen so far and excerpts from the previous books that illustrate their villainry.

This is a great one for fans and the reader is left with some very big (but enigmatic) clues as to what will happen next in the series!

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Standard Edition J. K. Rowling

This is a collection of fairy tales from the world of Harry Potter. These are the tales that wizarding children grow up on. A copy of this was rather important during Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

They contain all sorts of morals that you usually find in such things and are illustrated by Rowling herself. It doesn't add much to the Harry Potter story, not in the same way Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them did. (If you haven't read it, you should. You'll find out that there's much more to Crookshanks than meets the eye.) But, it is still enjoyable and super-fans will probably really like it. I know I did.

Return to Childhood Favorites

Racketty-Packetty House and Other Stories Frances Hodgson Burnett

A lovely collection of short stories by one of my childhood favorites. (I have no idea how many times I've read The Secret Garden. Interestingly, The Secret Garden and A Little Princess both fueled a strong interest in India and British Imperialism in general. I was a weird kid. But those books led to the interest which is currently manifested in my love of books exploring the current changing notions of what it is to be British, or British immigration in general...) Anyway.

These stories teach valuable moral lessons and smack of Imperialistic views and Victorian values and thoughts on class. If it was anyone but Burnett, I'd puke. But... for some reason, although they grate on me (intellectually) there's something about Burnett that makes me all warm and gooey inside, so I forgive her and enjoyed the stories as actual stories. If it hadn't been Burnett, I'd read the stories as an interesting historical relic--what we thought children needed to know, what thoughts about the world in general were, etc.

I will say though, the greatest part of this book is the inclusion of "Sara Crewe" which Burnett later expanded on and turned into her novel Little Princess.

Theodosia is back!

Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris R. L. La Fevers

Mummy collections from museums around London are going missing, and ending up in the foyer of Theodosia's family's museum. So, Theo has to keep her parents out of jail, figure out why the mummies keep showing up, and deal with the return of the Serpents of Chaos, and to top it all off, Grandmother Throckmorton keeps discovering horrible governesses.

I liked this one a lot more than the first one. Rereading my review, the historicalness felt off in the first one. I think that (a) I knew what the expect so it didn't throw me as much in this one, and (b) this focuses more on the mummy mystery and the various secret Egyptology societies in London, so the historical fiction aspect doesn't play as big a part as it did in the first volume.

Anyway, I liked this one enough that I am very much looking forward to the next one.

Back in June, Sherrie from A View of my Life asked:

Is Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris R. L. LaFevers the first in this series?

Nope, that would be Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. Staff of Osiris is the second in the series.

Ha! I found it!

Back in February I asked for help identifying I note that I wrote to myself about a "fairy challenge."

Through my trollings of the internet for the work I've been doing on the Reading Challenge Clearinghouse (go check it out if you haven't recently!) I found A Fairy Tale Challenge, which is challenging us to read all of Andrew Lang's color fairy books (luckily, no end date on this one!) and sure enough, there I was in the comments, signing up! Wahoo!

Anyway, so, I am waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay behind on book reviewing. I currently have 68 unreviewed books. BUT! I have reviews written for 31 of these! My thought was I would pre-write the reviews and then save them for a rainy day. BUT, rainy days come and go and don't use my stockpile.

So, I'm just going to start posting them. Expect a lot of book reviews today. You've been warned.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Waiting on Alice

I do love the Looking Glass Wars series.

I also like how the series goes beyond the actual trilogy without getting into heavy marketing tie-ins.

First off, there's the soundtrack which is an awesome concept, and an awesome album (but won't be everyone's cup of tea. Listen to the samples before you buy.) Then there are the games. Some are your basic on-line tie-in games that aren't completely unusual for books. But! There's also a role-playing game and a card game. And, there are the spin-off books.

Princess Alyss of Wonderland Frank Beddor

This is Alyss's scrapbook and journal that she kept while trapped in England. Lots of drawings, pictures, and even letters (that come out of the book) and a deck of playing cards. It doesn't really add to the series, but is a fun addition for mega-fans.

Yes, this is way below 100 pages, but I'm mentioning it because I thought I was going to use it for a paper I wrote in grad school but decided not to.

Hatter M: Volume 1 Frank Beddor with Liz Cavalier, art by Ben Templesmith

As far as I can tell, this was originally published as a series of comic books and then gathered and printed in an omnibus edition.

This graphic novel tells the story of Hatter M, while he's searching for Alyss in our world. Due to his awesome weaponry and martial arts skills, it's a great adventure that works really, really well in a graphic novel (full color!), almost better than it would in plain text. The only thing is that I think the graphic novel is aimed at adult readers of the series, even though the series (in the US) is published for middle grade readers.

I don't like talking about art, because I feel like I can't do it intelligently, but Templesmith makes awesome use of color.

AND! In October we finally get the last book in the trilogy, ArchEnemy, and a new volume of the Hatter M graphic novel, Mad With Wonder.

I'm super excited!

Waiting for October

Do you know the song Waiting For October by Polaris? It's a great song and in my head and also today's theme song, because there are SO MANY books I'm looking forward to that come out then!

2 new Looking Glass Wars book!
2 new Fables/Jack of Fables books! Including a NOVEL.
1 new Georgia Nicolson (the last one!)
1 new Blue Bloods!
1 new Luxe!

I can't wait!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Radomly Reading Eileen Chang

So, I've been cooped up in the house the last few days with PINK EYE. Blargh. It's pretty sucktastic.

But, I have gotten a bunch of reading done.

I did some decided to use the random number generator and have a book picked for me for the Random Reading Challenge. My number was 263, which happened to be...

The Rouge of the North Eileen Chang

At the end of the Qing dynasty, Yindi lives with her brother and sister-in-law above their sesame oil shop until she's married off to the second son of a wealthy, but fading, family. He's an invalid and she finds herself attracted to her husband's younger brother. Yindi is not satisfied with her lot in life, but not strong enough to break out of the mold. Instead, she scandalizes the family by talking about taboo subjects without discretion and turns to opium. She becomes more and more controlling and demented, turning her household into the same place she always hated, but with her in charge.

Yes, the plot is the same as Chang's novella, "The Golden Cangue" which can be found in her Love in a Fallen City, which I reviewed here (and loved). After reading The Rouge of the North, I reread "The Golden Cangue" (so, I've read it three times now.)

In her short stories and novellas, Chang is the queen of the understatement. I often have to reread scenes so I can figure out what happened (let's not talk a bout how many times I had to read the ending of Lust, Caution because I figured out what had gone down.)

The Rouge of the North lacks this understatement. The full length novel (written in English, while "The Golden Cangue" was written in Chinese) explores things more fully and gives more explanations and motivations to Yindi's behavior. Here, we see a woman who is dissatisfied with her female role in society, but trapped by it. In "Cangue" Qiqiao was just crazy insane. It wasn't all opium, but you're unsure as to why she is the way she is. I didn't like Yindi, but I understood her more.

English was Chang's second language and while she writes in it very well, it lacks some of the poetry of her translated works.

Take this passage from "The Golden Cangue":

A gust of wind came in the window and blew against the long mirror in the scrollwork lacquered frame until it rattled against the wall. Qiqiao pressed the mirror down with her hands. The green bamboo curtain and a green and gold landscape scroll reflected in the mirror went on swinging back and forth in the wind--one could get dizzy watching it for long. When she looked again the green bamboo curtain had faded, the green and gold landscape was replaced by a photograph of her deceased husband, and the woman in the mirror was also ten years older.

Compare it to the same transition in The Rouge of the North:

[this is preceded by a chapter where she attempts to hang herself. This is how the next chapter starts]

The green bamboo blind kept moving in the summer breeze coming in the window. Sunlight tiger-striped the room and swayed back and forth. A large black-framed photograph of Second Master knocked on the wall. That time it had been he who called out and she was let down in time. She had never worn mourning white for him because Old Mistress was still alive. Heavy mourning would have been a bad omen pointing to the head of the house. Now she worse mourning for Old Mistress.

Not my favorite one of her works, but Chang remains one of my favorite authors and I did very much enjoy reading this.

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Challenges

Oh, and I signed up for 2 more reading challenges.

The Japanese Literature Challenge (so, I have to read a book of Japanese origin by Jan. 30)


The Random Reading Challenge. I'm going to go whole hog and do Level III. So, by July 30 I have to read 12 books chosen randomly. And chosen REALLY randomly-- get out your TBR list (or a permeation thereof) assign a number to every book, and then go to do get a random number off your list and there you go! Luckily, I live my life off spreadsheets. All my TBR books, lists for different challenges, library books, etc. etc. I've already started this one by combining three spreadsheets: books checked out from the library, review copies I haven't gotten to yet, books I've purchased this year, and the list o' doom. The spreadsheet is nice because it assigns numbers for me! Ha!

Nonfiction Monday

Well, it's not for kids, but it's Nonfiction and might be a good one for those of you signing up for my China Challenge!

Also, check out other reading challenges at the brand new Reading Challenges Clearinghouse. I did a lot of work over the weekend and its success will depend on your help.

Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang Zhao Ziyang, translated and edited by Bao Pu, Renee Chiang, and Adi Ignatius with a foreword by Roderick MacFarquhar

Zhao Ziyang joined the Communist Youth Leage in 1932 and the Party in 1938. In 1939 he was party secretary for Hua County. He then rose through Party ranks. He was temporarily purged during the Cultural Revolution, but reinstated before its end, by being appointed Party Secretary and Deputy Director of the Revolutionary Committee for Inner Mongolia in 1971. In 1973, he arrived in Beijing and rose through the ranks of the Central Committee. By 1980 he was Premier and in 1987 he became General Secretary.

The bulk of Zhao's career was spent on China's economic reforms, but he is best remembered for opposing Deng Xiaoping's orders for martial law during the 1989 Tian'anmen Square protests. He refused to the be man who ordered the army on students. Because of this, he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Historians always wished that he had written his memoirs to tell his side of the story, but he didn't. After his death in 2005, it came to light that while Zhao hadn't written his memoirs, he had secretly recorded them and hid the tapes in plain sight.

This book is the transcription and translation of those tapes.

It's an undeniably important document and parts of it are very accessible. I really enjoyed the chapters on the Tian'anmen protests and all of the cut-throat politics used in the upper echelons of Chinese power. The false rumors, two-faced comments, and back-room maneuvering is rather spectacular. The chapters on economic reform are actually probably the most useful for those studying the current Chinese market, but I found it to be dragging, because frankly, I'm not that interested in such things.

I wouldn't call this book overly academic, but you should have some China-geek tendencies. The editors do all they can to make this book as accessible as possible-- every chapter has an introduction to give background information and there is a really hand list of who's who in the back. That said, you'll probably want some background on 1980s China or at least the Tian'anmen protests.

Overall, I found most of it fascinating.

Book Unbanned

We don't often hear about this, especially in countries where books are seriously banned country-wide.

Well, Fei Du by Jia Pingwa is now available again in China. 13 years after publication, it's been unbanned!

I can't find an English translation of it, although Jia's Turbulence is available in English.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

China Challenge!

We hear about China all the time in the news. It has one of the richest and longest literary histories in the world. It's a huge and changing country, and there are a million books out there to enjoy. In order to help us understand China, join the China Challenge!

The challenge will last a year and a day, from September 1, 2009-September 1, 2010. Feel free to snag a button and sign up in the comments!

Audio books are fine, as are books for all age levels. If you want ideas of things to read, just click on the "China" tag at the end of this post to see a bunch of my previous reviews of all sorts of books about China.

There are several levels to choose from:

Armchair Traveler:

Read 1 book about China. I'm defining this pretty loosely, but the majority of the action should take place in China. For the sake of ease, places such as Hong Kong, Macau, Tibet, and Taiwan count.

Fast Train to Shanghai:

Read 5 books about China

1 should be a translated work of fiction by a Chinese author (or not translated if you have the language skills.) I will make exceptions for Chinese authors that also write in English-- their English works are fine.

1 should be nonfiction

Hiking the Great Wall:

Read 10 books about China

1 should be a work of translated fiction

1 should be nonfiction.

Here you can read 1 book (but only 1) about Chinese immigration. So, stories of Chinese people abroad, or nonfiction about overseas Chinese communities.

Silk Road Trek:

Same as "Hiking the Great Wall," but you also have to do (and blog about!) at least 3 of these other China-Related activities:

1. Listen to a lesson or two on Chinese Pod (the Newbie lessons are free for all) and learn some Mandarin

2. Check out a Chinese cookbook and make a dish that's new to you

3. Go out for Chinese food. If you can, dim sum brunch!

4. Read a blog about China (my daily China reads are: Shanghaiist, Danwei, China Beat, and Laura & Tony. Don't worry, they're all in English!)

5. Listen to some Chinese music! Peking Opera might not be your cup of tea, but try Shanghai Lounge Divas or listen to some current Indie music from China here or the phenomenal Afterquake.

6. Watch a Chinese film

7. Check out a travel guide and plan a vacation to China-- it's a huge country--what cities do you want to go to and what do you want to see while there?

8. Actually take that vacation! Or a different trip to China.

9. Attend a Chinese cultural event or art exhibit in your area.

UPDATE! Mr. Linky is my friend again. If you signed up in the comments, you're good to go!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Kate and M. Sarah Klise

I do love the way these two sisters team up to tell their stories in "stuff"-- letters, chalkboards, newspaper clippings and advertisements, pictures, and school assignments. All with good humor and silly puns and other word play.

Regarding the Bees: A Lesson, in Letters, on Honey, Dating, and Other Sticky Subjects Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise

This is the last book in the Regarding The... series. The kids in Mr. N's class are back. This year though, Sam's filling in while Principal Walter Russ is on leave, so the erstwhile Florence Waters is the class's sub, via correspondence, of course! Big issues loom--mainly the standardized testing and spelling bee. Florence can't see a use for such things, but the kids don't want to repeat a grade! Plus, there's a teacher in a neighboring town that takes these things very, very seriously.

It was time to end this series. The kids are growing up (lots of awkward romance in this one) and the basic premise of everything and the characters had run their course.

It was a lovely addition to the series, though and fans will want to pick it up.

BUT! There's a new series! Same format, different characters and plot!

Dying to Meet You: 43 Old Cemetery Road Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise

I. B. Grumply is a children's author who is a year behind on the latest installment of his next book.

Seymour Hope is a young boy abandoned by his parents.

Olive C. Spence is a ghost. When she was alive, she was an unsuccessful author of mysteries. She built the rambling house at 43 Cemetery Road and haunts it still.

Seymour and Olive are the best of friends, but when Mr. Grumply rents out the house, he is horrified to discover it's already occupied. All Grumply wants is to be left alone so he can finish this stupid book in peace. All his editors and lawyers want is a book so he can start paying off his massive debts. All Seymour wants is for Grumply to leave and to raise enough money to buy the house he loves so much. All Olive wants is for Seymour to have a family that is actually alive.

A great premise and lots of fun. This one is mostly letters, a few newspaper clippings and drawings by Seymour. It's a ghost story, but a friendly one and not at all scary. Like the Klises' previous works, it's very funny and sure to be a hit with lower middle grade readers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Greek Mythology that isn't Percy Jackson

Today, for your pleasure, I bring you two books for teens that deal with Greek Mythology.

Radiant Darkness Emily Whitman

You know how the story goes. One day Hades shows up in Demeter’s garden and steals away Persephone. Demeter searches the earth for her, allowing the fields to dry and the people to die. Except, maybe that’s not quite how it happened. Maybe Demeter was so into her plants and the mortal adoration that she didn’t let Persephone ever leave the garden. Maybe she was keeping Persephone young and sheltered, despite her blossoming womanhood. Maybe Hades courted her. Maybe Persephone let willingly, excitedly, and was, frankly, surprised that her mother even noticed.

This is the version of the tale that Whitman imagines. One with a goddess not entirely used to being, well, a goddess. A woman learning to use her powers for herself, learning to see what powers she has, learning the role the gods play in the lives of mortals.

Whitman has taken a story that usually is less than a page and created complex characters with varied motivations for actions they can’t foresee the consequences of. Whitman’s Persephone captures much of the angst of growing up—parents who aren’t able to let you go, coming to understand the wider world view, discovering lands and places and cultures and lives outside what you have known, feeling like you’re ready to take on the world and still longing for home. A must for any fan of Greek mythology. Or pomegranates. (Mmm… pomegranates. Is it fall yet?) But also enjoyable for anyone who likes a good coming-of-age romance..

Oh. My. Gods. Tera Lynn Childs

Phoebe is NOT HAPPY. Her mom comes back from vacation ENGAGED and is moving Phoebe from LA to a small island in Greece. As if this weren't bad enough, her new stepsister is straight from Cinderella and her new school is seriously hard-- hard enough she's worried about keeping the B average she needs for her scholarship to USC. Oh, and here's the kicker-- all of the other kids at school are descended from the Greek Gods. Because being the new kid isn't bad enough, she has to be the only NORMAL kid?

This was fun and enjoyable, although totally predictable. It's an great frothy, lie-around-on-a-summer day read. I will definitely be looking for the sequel, Goddess Boot Camp.

One complaint though. At one point Phoebe says "I'm not a feminist or anything, but I like my rights and I'd like to keep them." Sorry Phoebe, but YES YOU ARE.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

South East Asia One-Shot

When Colleen asked us to read books from a South East Asian country, my first thought was "cakewalk!" I'm sure I had a library* full, just waiting to be read. Yeah, not so much. I have a library full of Chinese and Japanese books. I have a few books on the Vietnam War left over from a college class. I realized that I was woefully unprepared for this assignment-- all the more reason to take it on!

*By "library" I mean "dining room with overflowing bookshelves and no dining room table."

I decided on reading a book from Indonesia.

This Earth of Mankind Pramoedya Ananta Toer

This is the first book in the Buru Quartet, which Pramoedya wrote while in prison. I highly recommend reading this obituary to find out more about the author and this book (which was banned under Suharto).

It is 1898 and Minke is the son of noble Javanese and the only Native at the Dutch HBS high school. Boarding in town and going to the Dutch school make him more Dutch than Javanese, according to his mother. It's upon meeting a rich concubine and her beautiful daughter that Minke enters a world where being Native isn't a bad thing. The troubles that arise from his relationship with this family form the plot around which Pramoedya offers a condemnation of Dutch colonialism and the racism and number of levels in Dutch-Indonesian society. One problem with reading the translation is that, according to the translator's beginning note, there are subtle implications and power struggles inherent in which language or dialect is used by a character in such a polyglot society. Much of this subtlety could not survive a translation into one language. This, of course, is not the fault of the translator, but a problem with reading translation.

While this is certainly a damning look at the colonial regime, it is a lushly told story that shows a society on the edge. The edge of the technological advances that the twentieth century would bring and the edge of a revolution. It also tells the story of a boy on the edge of becoming a man.

It is a love story, a school story, a coming of age story.

It blew me away and the ending will haunt me for a very long time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


These books took me forever to find. Drina is an eleven book series, all of which are out of print. The first 5 were favorites of mine as a munchkin, but the last 6 were never released in the US. I finally got them through the University on ILL, but they were marked Library Use Only, so I had to read them in the college library. Since then, I have collected them all. phew. I reviewed the first 6 here.

Some over-arching things apply-- these books are unbelievably old-skool British. In a vaguely racist way. Drina's temper is always blamed on her Italian blood. Or, such sentences as Drina though yearningly of summer warmth and the delights of wearing few clothes, for she was half-Italian and so naturally delighted in sunshine and warm air. eye roll.

WARNING: I am reviewing series books! While there aren't spoilers for individual titles, there might be spoilers for earlier titles in the series. It's the nature of the beast.

Drina Dances in Paris Jean Estoril

After falling so hard in luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurve on her trip to New York, Drina has some issues readjusting to the Dominick. But, Grant surely only thinks of her as a kid, and ballet must always come first. Well, maybe. Diary of a Dancer is becoming a West End play and Ilonka and Terza really want her to audition. And then... Drina gets to go to Paris to revive Casse Noisette. And... there's a surprise visitor!

Even better though, is that Drina has some issues balancing her friends, which makes her a little more human than usual!

Drina Dances in Madeira Jean Estoril

Drina's back for the new term in London. Of course, after Paris and Grant, it's a bit of a shock getting back, especially when she learns that the lease on the school in Red Lion square won't be renewed and the school will be moving. Lots more of the plot about Diary of a Dancer. There's going to be a movie and Drina's acting in the stage version again. Then, the vacation to Germany gets cancelled and it's off on a cruise instead. But there's dancing on the cruise! Of course there is!

This is where we start to see the development of my favorite subplot--Jenny's economic woes. Her father's firm fails (which I think happened in an earlier book) and so Jenny has to leave school and become a secretary, giving up all her dreams of becoming a farmer. It's a nice juxtaposition to everything going so freaking RIGHT all the time for Drina. Also, with their divirging paths, the two friends are starting to grow apart, which is heartbreaking for both of them. I love this plot line because it's the most real thing in the entire series.

Drina Dances in Switzerland Jean Estoril

Drina's grandfather has been ordered (for health reasons) to leave England for the winter, so Granny and Grandfather are off to Switzerland and they're taking Drina with them. Drina's new boarding school is not the right place for her to be by any stretch of the imagination. First off, the only ballet instruction is a twice-weekly lesson with the ballet master from La Scala. The lessons are good, but not enough, and her teachers don't understand why she wants to practice a full hour a day (a concession that Granny had to get from the headmistress.) The school is for training future diplomatic wives and is more a finishing school than anything. Drina, used to running around London and other various European capitals by herself is horrified to find she's watched every minute and not trusted here.

Drina's really tested in this book, because things are genuinely hard at her new school. She does try to make the best of it, but it doesn't come easily, and where people have tried to keep her from dancing in previous books, everyone around her at least understood (a) what dancing meant to her and (b) the amount of work needed to become a professional and (c) how good she really was at it. No one really gets that in this one, which is a first for her.

Drina Goes on Tour Jean Estoril

So, here's the book where we really realize how old Drina and her friends have gotten. Jenny's getting married!!!! And after Drina finishes her exams, she and Rose and everyone become members of the Corps de Ballet! Before that, Drina has to get used to really being famous, because the secret fact she's Ivory's daughter becomes public knowledge.

The great thing about this is how hard touring is. Drina always thought she'd love it, and she doesn't. I mean, she does, she loves the dance, but there are nights when it is work. Touring is everything she's ever heard it was and that takes a bit of adjustment.


Drina Ballerina Jena Estoril

And here's the last book. Within the first four chapters, three big things happen:


2. Drina and Grant get engaged! (Ha ha, Jenny's childhood prediction was right! Drina does end up with a businessman!)

3. The Dominick (company, not school, because Drina's all grown up now) is going to do the ballet Drina wrote for her school in Switzerland, staring Drina.

My one quibble is that Jenny has a computer. Yes, this came out in 1991, so it's possible, but the first book came out in 1957 and while they grow up, they don't grow up THAT much. My guess is in this last book it's, at latest, 1970. A small computer to help with the accounting? No.

This is a lovely wrap-up to the series. I'm so glad I was able to track down these books. If you read the Drina books growing up, do try to seek out these sequels. It's wonderful to watch as she and her friends grow up and what happens to everyone as they find their way.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Nonfiction Monday

Two Announcements:

Don't forget to give me all your challenge info for The Reading Challenge Clearinghouse.

Last Tuesday, I ordered a bunch of Diary of a Chav books from The Book Depository. Two of them arrived today! I bet the rest will come tomorrow! (Each book was shipped separately.) Not bad for free international shipping! (Seriously, not affiliated at all, except that I love them because of their awesomeness.)

And now, for your Monday non-fiction-y goodness:

The Frog Scientist Pamela S. Turner

Ok, I'm putting the full disclaimer information up on top for this one, because it may look a little suspect. Usually, I don't review books that are under 100 pages on this blog, just because I have to draw the line SOMEWHERE (just like I don't review audio books here, I have to get some semblance of control.) However, I occasionally make an exception if there is a book that I want to talk about or if the content level is bigger than the 100-page length.

I went back and forth a little bit when Turner offered me this book to review (so, to spell that out, this copy was provided by the publisher) because I knew it was under 100 pages. BUT! I also knew that the Scientists in the Field series was awesome and a great series to give to kids. (I mean, the cover alone on The Bug Scientists will sell it.) So, I decided to review it. I just wanted to let you know what was going on up front.

This story follows an experiment in Dr. Tyrone Hayes's lab at UC Berkeley, where he's studying the link between the pesticide atrazine and the femalization of male leopard frogs. Along the way, we get Dr. Hayes's life story (with some awesome pictures from his college days at Harvard in the 80s--seriously awesome New Wave hair) we meet his family and the students working in his lab and why they're interested. Many are interested in biology and science and want to continue working in the field, but one was the child of migrant workers and was more interested in how the pesticide effects people who breathe it in everyday while working in the fields.

The book focused a lot on pesticide risks to frogs, because that's where Hayes's research is, but did talk about other things effecting frogs and other variables in the puzzle, and it also talked about why we should care.

Lots of big pictures of frogs (and frog dissection) as well as daily lab life illustrate the text and make it an easy hand-sell. I really liked the fact that the lab was full of women and people of color doing science, but I kinda wondered where the guys were. I also liked how the reader gets to see how lab science really works (let's do this experiment over and over again to make sure our results are consistent! Now! To wash the test tubes!)

I like this entire series and this is a good addition.

Round-up is at MotherReader!

Introducing My New Project

I started a new project that I'm really excited about, but I need your help.

My favorite thing about the blogging community are the fun and games-- mainly, reading challenges. Because of this, one of my biggest disappointments is when I find out about a cool challenge when I stumble across everyone's wrap-up posts.

In light of this, I started my new project, The Reading Challenges Clearinghouse. This blog will post (and link) to all the reading challenges out there for all types of book blogs. The long ones, the short ones, the serious, and the silly. I'm only blogging about challenges that start August 1, 2009 or after, but the blog has lists of all the challenges going on, and I'll add challenges that started before this month but are still going to those lists.


Please, let me know about all your challenges--the ones you're hosting, the ones you're participating in, the ones you've seen in your daily surfing.

Thanks! I hope this new project will serve as a useful tool for all of us who love our challenges!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Guardian Challenge!

Leave your links for your August reviews below.

As a sweetener, I'll be headed back to England in September and will pick up some more goodies for all reviews posted May-September. Every review gets you an entry, so get to it! I'll also be in Paris on my way to London, so there might be French stuff involved. YOU NEVER KNOW!

There's news on the Mr. Linky front, but I don't have time to wade through it to get it to work. So, I haven't updated July's review post yet, because I'm hoping that me and Mr. Linky will be friends again by tomorrow night. Just leave your comments and I'll Linky you up when I figure it out!

UPDATE Mr. Linky is back! If you've left me comment, then you're good to go.

Challenge Update

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

Yes, I did just copy and past that sentence from last month.

Well, there's the TBR challenge, where I make a list of 12 books (and 12 backup) and read at least 12 by the end of the year. I'm still holding steady at 3.

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

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 23 and read 10!

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
Harry Potter Should Have Died

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

There's the filling in the gaps challenge, where I came up with a list of 100 books and commit to finishing 75 of them within 5 years. 4.5 years in, I've done 4.5!

Julie of the Wolves
Whale Talk
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

.5 because I'm in the middle of listening to The Dark is Rising

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

None so far, but we're going to fix that by next month. Promise.

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.

Then there is me trying to finish Anita Silvey's 100 Best Books for Children, of which I had 26 left. I've read 2.5!

Millions of Cats
Julie of the Wolves

The .5 is once again The Dark is Rising

Thursday, August 06, 2009

My New Favorite Series

Diva without a Cause Grace Dent

The British original was called Trainers V. Tiaras and the US hardcover was just called Diary of a Chav.

Shiraz Baily Wood is NOT a Chav, thank you very much. Even if the local paper does refer to her school as super-chav academy. Just because she likes track suits and gold hoops doesn't make her one!

(Ok, it kinda does, but chav really isn't a nice thing to call someone, so we can forgive Shiraz her denial.)

Her career goals are to go on Big Brother and create lots of controversalities, which she will, because she totally keeps it real, and then spin that into an empire and make two million pounds, just like Tabitha Tennant. Meanwhile her best friend's boyfriend is a bit minging, her older sister Cava-Sue is in drama school and dressing like a hobo, and her brother Murphy is just gross.

Hilarious. Dent's writing is pitch-perfect. Astoundingly so. I'm so glad that the American publication didn't touch the lower-working-class British dialect at all.

What I love most about this book is it's more than funny British chick-lit. There's a lot going underneath the surface, most of it class related. Going to college or university isn't a goal Shiraz's parents want for her. They don't even care about her A-levels-- her mum thinks she should get a job and start earning money and find a nice rich man to marry, preferably a builder because they can fix things around the house. A lot of the family tension comes from the fact that Cava-Sue is doing her A-levels. But, Shiraz has a new teacher who's forcing her to think about some things. This is not a side of British life we see in lit very often, especially the stuff that makes it over here. Most readers will think Shiraz's mum is crazy and that her ideas of what's classy are CRAZY (seriously, think Chardonnay from Footballers Wive$) but the way Dent portrays them isn't mockingly.

Some of the drama, like in most teen lives, is created by Shiraz, but a lot of the bigger issues are not. I loved her.

It's laugh-out-loud hysterical, but Shiraz has a lot of heart and is, really, a proper legend. As a note though, unless you're very, very good at British-English (and not just your regular ones such as "trainers" and "GCSEs" but you need to know words like "minging" "WAGs" and "ASBO"), you'll want to make use of the glossary at back.

The sequel, Posh and Prejudice comes out in December.

If you're good enough at your British to not need the glossary (like those of us who used to live in the dodgier parts of Manchester), this series is up to book 6 in the UK. BOOK 6!!!! And, may I remind you, for all of your British book buying needs, there is nothing better than The Book Depository. Regular prices and FREE WORLD WIDE SHIPPING with no minimum order. Yes, I make money off Amazon, but not Book Depository, I just love them. And I've ordered the rest of the series through them. Huzzah!

And now, an excerpt:

I LOVE going to bingo with Nan. Nan is the bingo queen. Nan always reckons that she has a bad heart and bad eyesight, but when she gets to bingo she can do six bingo cards at once while smoking a Lucky Strike and talking about everyone else there with Gill. Nan don't even get shaky when they do the live national link up for ₤40,000!!! I only did one card and my hear was thumping like mad! Nan said that if she gets the big national one she's moving to Spain with Gill and they're going to sit in the sun and drink rum-and-Cokes and find themselves new fellas, seeing as their old ones have gone and died. Nan said I can come with her and get myself a Spanish fella with brown eyes. (Even Nan is obsessed with me getting a lad.)


It was a right bother getting Nan and her mates home after bingo 'cos Gill won a bingo line and spent the ₤30 on rum-and-Cokes for her, Nan, and their mate Clement. "You can't take it with you when you die," said Gill. They were singing on the bus all the way home. They are worse than us hoodies.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Books For Big People

My friends Jack and Ruth got married this weekend. It was awesome. I've never had such a good time in South East Michigan, which is sad considering that I used to live there.

Anyway, here are two books that are in no way related except that Ruth loaned both of them to me, so I read both of them last week so I could give them back when I saw her. Also, they're both adult books.

Long Way Back Brendan Halpin

Clare and her brother Francis have always been pretty close, and when tragedy strikes Francis, Clare is there to pick up the pieces. This is a story about many things--

-Clare's awe of Francis's deep and true faith in the Catholic Church and her confusion and pain when Francis loses that faith.
-A man dealing with extreme loss and grief and his struggle to regain "normal"
-The toll it takes when someone close to you is in deep grieving and you're taking care of them
-A brother and sister and how their relationship changes over the years
-Punk rock

It's at turns sad and hysterical and just really wonderful. I believed Clare at 14, I believed her when she was a rebellious punk rocker, I believed her as a suburban mother of two. I believed her relationship with Francis--deeply caring but still mocking him whenever possible. I believed Francis's devastation and his gradual recovery.

I really recommend this--one of my favorites this year.

It also gets me wondering, where is the line between "religious fiction" and "fiction with religious characters"? I wouldn't classify this as religious fiction, because there's swearing and (off screen) sex and a gay-punk band, and anger and betrayal over the scandal involving molesting priests being moved instead of dismissed, but at the same time Francis's relationship with God and his struggles with Him are a huge part of the story. For those of you who read a lot of Christian fiction (because I don't, so I'm less qualified to discuss it) is there a line or difference between the two? And where is it?

The Dirty Girls Social Club Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez

Ok authors, this is a reason to be wary of your online presence. Valdes-Rodriguez wrote a post last summer on her blog about race and Twilight, which I read because it caused quite a furor. I can't find it now and imagine it got taken down (but here's a nice rebuttal that quotes heavily from it) I don't doubt she had a point, but she blamed everything on Meyer's Mormonism which seems cheap to me, and she got major plot points just... wrong. It was beyond annoying.

So, that was my mind set when I set off to read this book. I was building myself up to not like it because that post had annoyed me so much. There were a few things about the actual book that irked me:

-The diversity in the group and the political rants various characters went off on sometimes seemed to be there just to educate the white reader about the Latina community in the US today.
-At one point they make a thinly veiled reference to Rupurt Murdoch (sorry, Mandrake). If you can't use the real name, then make something totally different up.
-I wasn't entirely sure why some of them still hung out with the group (by which I mean Amber. She didn't seem to like them and they didn't like her...)

That said, I did, overall, enjoy the book.

Lauren, Liz, Amber, Usnavys, Rebecca, and Sara are six friends from college who still keep in touch and hold a mandatory reunion dinner twice a year. The story fills us in on their past, but chronicles what happens in their lives mainly in the six months between dinners, which a bit of what happens next thrown in. The women all lead very different lives, so there are six plot lines going on.

I liked the shifting P.O.V and the different stories and lives that went through. Parts were a bit issue-y, but it's a soap-opera beach read novel that's designed to make you laugh out loud, and I did. I also liked the struggle some characters had with their own ethnicity and with that of their friends. Sometimes, this was what got overly educational, but I do enjoy a good story about trying to fit in multiple cultures, and trying to figure out what you are, and it was interesting to read one about adults instead of teens.