Saturday, December 26, 2009

Crazy Lady

Crazy Lady! Jane Leslie Conly

Vernon is a big, clumsy kid who got held back a year, as if he didn't tower over everyone else already. He's growing up poor in Baltimore, the middle child of 5. After school, all his friends can come up with for entertainment is to make fun of Maxine and her son Ronald. Maxine's an alcoholic and Ronald is special needs. But after failing most of his classes and faced with being held back again, Vernon starts getting tutoring from Maxine's next door neighbor, Miss Annie. Miss Annie knows Vernon can't afford to pay her, so she makes him work it off by helping Maxine and Ronald. What happens next transforms Vernon, Ronald, and the entire neighborhood.

Here's what makes this book something special (it won a Newbery Honor in 1993)-- the plot description above could very easily describe a really saccharine, cheesy book. And this isn't that. While some things change, some things don't, and this book doesn't offer a fairy tale version of life. Not everything that Vernon discovers in what is, more or less, a coming of age tale, is because of his friendship with Maxine and Ronald, but it's all tied together during the same time period. And being able to see a different side to these people who thought he knew helps him to see a different side to his family, friends, and other neighbors. Also, a great addition to the list of "books about poor people that aren't historical fiction or about race."

Book Provided by... um... not sure. It was on my bookshelf, so I'm assuming my wallet?

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Holidaze

To my Christmas-celebrating friends, I hope it's a good one.

To all my friends, today's a perfect day to curl up with some Meg Cabot. How do I know? Because EVERY DAY is a perfect day for Cabot!


Ready or Not Meg Cabot

In this sequel to All-American Girl, Samantha Madison is still trying to balance her new-found fame, being UN teen ambassador, her awesome boyfriend, and her usual loser-dom middle sister status. Add to this the fact that her parents have made her get a part-time job and she's started taking life drawing lessons (which she didn't realize would involve naked people) and Sam doesn't have that much time on her hands. Then, David (the awesome boyfriend, who just happens to be the President's son) asks her to spend Thanksgiving with them at Camp David, which can only mean one thing-- he wants to take their relationship up a level and Sam's not so sure she's ready for that.

Lots of agonizing about ready or not Sam's ready for sex and how to handle the situation. Coupled with this is that Sam's supposed to show support for the President's new (and highly controversial) "Return to the Family" initiative. Overall I really liked this. Of course Sam's sister Lucy reads Cabot's She Went All the Way and Sam shares a few things with Allie Finkle (a cat named Mewsie and a dislike of red food. I have a mental list of things that frequently pop up in Cabot novels. If I ever get to interview her, I'm totally asking her about them!) Overall, a fun, funny read about sticking up for yourself and what you believe in, and making the right choices for you.

Book Provided by... my local library


How to Be Popular Meg Cabot

In 6th grade, Steph Landry tripped and accidentally spilled a Red Big Gulp all over Lauren Moffat's white skirt. She apologized and even bought Lauren a new skirt, but for the next 5 years, Lauren has made Steph's life hell. (Anytime anyone does something dumb, the catch phrase for the entire town is "Don't be such a Steph Landry!") Steph's had enough. She found an old book in her grandpa's fiancee's attic called How to Be Popular. Steph's going to use it, get the star quarterback and rule the school. The amazing thing is, it actually works. But, Lauren's not letting go that easily and Steph's other friends have some serious issues with the new-and-improved Steph Landry.

I'm not going to deny that it was rather predictable and didn't offer anything earth-shattering, but it was still funny and fun. I loved the character of school bimbo goddess Darlene, who had hidden depth. I loved how close Steph was with her grandfather. (Also, can I just say, I love the families in Meg Cabot books?! I know her home life wasn't great growing up, but her books regularly feature parents that are involved with their kids and who their kids generally get along with. We don't see this a lot in literature, especially books for teens. The parents are rarely around and if they are, they're often a main source of conflict.) I also really appreciated that the story takes place in a small town that is not populated by quirky characters.

But seriously, what is it with Meg Cabot and red food? Steph's little brother also does not eat red food.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Piper Reed


Piper Reed Gets a Job Kimberly Willis Holt

Piper and the Gypsy Club need a club house where they can meet away from prying little sisters. The found the perfect one, but it costs $1999 so obviously Piper needs a job. She starts a birthday party planning business, agrees to illustrate Sam's new book, and gets a job babysitting triplets. Of course, this means she's too busy to do her big report for school...

While the hijinks are almost over the top, they are still very believable and entertaining. I love the adults in this book. They're funny without being characatures, and aren't absent parents. Unlike the other books, this has very little to do with military life, except that it takes place on base. I most loved how Michael takes to baking, which is a surprise for all involved.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Token

Token Alisa Kwitney and Joelle Jones (there should be an umlaut over the first e in Joelle)

This is the final installment of the doomed Minx line. Shira lives in South Beach in the 80s, feeling out of place and out of time. She's the odd duck out at school and her best friends are her grandmother and another elderly woman in her building. She's the school loser and when her lawyer father starts dating his secretary and everything starts changing, well she's had enough. With the help a mysterious Spanish guy, rebelling has never been so fun.

Lots of things packed into this story about finding your place in a changing world. I most appreciated how most of the drama wasn't self-created. Shira's father was a bit of a one-dimensional jerk who didn't listen to her feelings, but I think some of that was just Shira's perceptions of the situation. South Beach in the 80s was also a really interesting setting. I've been there once and it didn't go much for me, and Shira's South Beach is a little run down and getting a bit seedy. She longs for its heyday, when Rat Packers would ask if you wanted ice in your champagne and casually toss in a diamond. Overall, one of my favorite Minx titles. I really miss the imprint. I liked the direction it seemed to be going in, but DC seemed to have doomed it from the start, never actually doing any of the things they said they would. Ah well.

Book Provided by... my wallet

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Princess Plot

The Princess Plot Kirsten Boie, translated by David Henry Wilson

Jenna's mother has always been freakishly overprotective. So, when a movie crew shows up at school to hold auditions and tells Jenna she has the part solely due to her presence, well... on hindsight maybe she shouldn't have fallen for it, but she wanted an adventure, she wanted to be special, so she went with the movie crew to Scandia. Once she gets there, she finds out her final audition is to stand-in for the Scandian Princess, who wants some time to herself. It takes awhile for Jenna to discover what the reader has known all along--the Scandian Princess has run away and the Regent needs someone for the cameras to help get some controversial legislation accepted by the people of South Scandia. Legislation that spells doom for the people from North Scandia.

There are several plot lines running through this middle grade political thriller with frequent shifts of point of view as different pieces come to light. There are several things adult readers will figure out very quickly and there are several things the readers get to see way before most of the characters do. That said, I think this one will keep most middle grade readers guessing, especially when it comes to who Jenna can trust and who she can't. I most enjoyed the conflict Boie builds between the two groups of North and South Scandia that parallels situations in several countries today. Boie gives middle grade readers a lot more credit than many authors do, and I love her for it. Better yet, lots of court and political intrigue, all while still being a fun and entertaining read.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Leviathan

Leviathan Scott Westerfeld

I'm usually not a huge steampunk fan and no matter how true the descriptor of "rollicking good adventure" is, it won't draw me in. Neither of these are things that will turn me off a book, but they also won't make me go "ooooooo" the same way saying "China" or "Fairy Tale" or "Hysterical British Girly Book" or "World War I" will. Oh, wait, "World War I?" Yeah, that's what made me pick up Leviathan. World War I will get me most of the time.

So, Leviathan is World War I, but a steampunk slightly alternate history version of it. Alek is the only child of the Archduke Ferdinand, roused out of bed and sent running for his life after his parents are assassinated in Sarajevo. Derwyn has disguised herself as a boy to join the British Air Force. All she's ever wanted to do is fly like she did with her hot-air ballooning father. There's more, of course. The Central Powers are known as Clankers, relying on intricate machinery for their armed forces. The Allies are Darwinists, combining several strands of DNA from different species to create fabricated beasts for theirs.

The action follows both of these characters before their stories collide. Beyond the intriguing premise (and the rollicking good adventure) it's just a damn fine story of people finding themselves and trying to save themselves and war and friendship and all sorts of good things. I like the conflict within the Darwinist countries-- there's a subgroup called Monkey Luddites who feel that fabricated creatures are soulless and evil. I also like how much politics comes into play, especially with Alek's plot line, which closely follow the actual politics of the day. Westerfeld's ending note is also great, commenting on what is real and what isn't, both in terms of war and politics, and also the technology used. Cannot WAIT for the sequel. (Also, due to the placement of the ending, you might actually want to wait to read this until the sequel is out, so you can read them together.)

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Chop Suey

Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States Andrew Coe

Coe attempts to explain how Chinese food in the States evolved over time from what was solely eaten by Chinese immigrants to what we know today from our local take-out place.

Coe is a food guy, not a China guy, and there are some China-things that he just gets wrong that drove me up a wall. Such as inconsistent transliteration. I'm also not sure he realizes that Nanjing and Nanking are two different transliterations of the same city (南京) instead of two different cities. More disturbing is the fact that some of the history is off. Most glaringly, on page 232, "After Mao's death, they [Shanghai party leaders] would become key members of the radical Communist group known as the Gang of Four." The Gang of Four were blamed for most the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and they were all arrested within a month of Mao's death, so I'm not entirely sure how you could become a key member after the death of Mao.

There are other odd inconsistencies. Coe attributes the acceptance of the Chinese restaurant by "main stream" America on Prohibition, because Chinese restaurants often had player pianos and dance floors but had never served alcohol so weren't affected by the loss of sales like many other establishments, but two pages later (1/2 of which is taken up by a picture) he says, "These restaurant owners were all two aware that they weren't selling caviar and champagne, but chop suey, ham and cheese sandwiches, and the like--food everybody liked by nobody wanted to spend much money on. The real profits were in volume and in liquor; the businessmen rented the largest possible spaces and featured a wide array of exotic cocktails on their menus." (191)

Such errors throw the rest of the book into doubt, especially as Coe makes some big claims in the history of Chinese food, such as the history of Chop Suey. The story I always heard was that it was invented in San Fransisco's China town. Coe claims that the main urban legend is that visiting dignitary Li Hongzhang introduced it to the US on his 1896 visit. Coe asserts that in fact Chop Suey was common peasant food in Toishan and brought to the States by gold rush immigrants. Because it was southern peasant food, it wasn't recognized as authentically Chinese by later immigrants who came from better off backgrounds and points further north. It's an interesting theory that I would like to explore more, but Coe did not convince me. The history-of-Chop Suey section came before the errors I mention above, but I remained unconvinced, a feeling that was thrown into sharper relief as the book wore on.

If you're interested in the history of American Chinese food, read The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee. If you want to know more about Chinese immigration to the US and the issues surrounding that, read Iris Chang's The Chinese in America: A Narrative History.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

snOMG

My favorite pizza place, Lost Dog, was open tonight, so Dan and I bundled up and walked on over. It was surprisingly full, and the pizza was fantastic, as usual. On the way home, we saw this poor inflatable snowman, a snowpocolypse victim:



This is the latest from my backyard. The snow seems to have pretty much stopped. Poor Sassy--the snow is almost as deep as her body. She doesn't know what to do! It's much deeper than the level of water she tolerates for swimming in...



It's about 3-4 inches deeper than when I posted this afternoon. As best I can measure, it's about 16-18 inches.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

SNOWPOCOLYSE!

Or, as they're calling it in twitter-ville, #snOMG

This is what my backyard looks like:



Sassy's doggy water cooler is completely buried. I've curled up with coffee and a book and have no plans to leave my house for a few days.

We've been measuring the snow on our roof top, but had to give up an hour or two ago, because our 14-inch ruler was completely submerged. I've always complained that DC doesn't get enough snow... I've been doing a happy dance all day.

BUT! I must thank Devourer of Books for being a Most Awesome Secret Santa.



YAY!

So, if you are also caught in #snOMG, stay off the roads, have a nice warm beverage, and read a good book! Merry Blizzard!

When You Reach Me


When You Reach Me Rebecca Stead

Things have gotten very weird in Miranda's life. Her mom's going to go on $20,000 pyramid. Her best friend since forever doesn't want to be friends with her anymore. Oh, and she's getting really weird notes that tell her what's about to happen. One of the weird notes asks Miranda to write the anonymous note-sender a letter. This book is Miranda's letter, full of anger and bewilderment at what's happening.

I can't say too much about it, because it gets spoilery quickly and it might ruin a large part of the mystery of what the heck is going on here? Now, I knew the major thing before I read the book, and it didn't ruin it for me, but I'm trying to be nice here.

I just loved this book. I loved Miranda's anger at the note-writer for scaring her. I loved the pain and confusion and reasons behind her changing friendship with Sal. I loved her relationship with Julia and how Miranda was so fixated on perceived slights from second grade. I loved how bits and pieces came together to form this amazing puzzle of, well, awesome. Also, I love the fact that Miranda is named after Miranda Rights. So, obviously, I just loved this book. Love love love.

BUT! Read A Wrinkle in Time first. This book should have a spoiler warning for Wrinkle of Time! Big, Huge, Wrinkle in Time spoilers!

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Top 50 Books For Our Time


Senator Joe McCarthy Richard H Rovere

I read this as part of My Friend Amy's Newsweek 50 Books Reading Project.

Newsweek said this was one of the books we should be reading now because it is "An elegant short-form primer on the machinery of Washington's morality-and a timely reminder of what happens when demagogues gain access to what Rovere calls "the dark places of the American mind."

When Amy wanted volunteers, this was my top choice because it McCarthy and I share a hometown of Appleton, WI (where he is, to many people, our hometown hero) and he did most of his damage in my current town of Washington, DC.

What is initially most striking about this book is when it was written. 1959 was a mere two years after McCarthy's death and only five years after his political downfall. It's interesting how focus has shifted since then. While parts of Joseph Welch's cross are quoted, his most famous line, "Have you no sense of decency?" is never mentioned. We get a deep exploration of the roles of other people-- McCarthy's staff (and brains of the operation) Roy Cohn and David Schine, as well as other Senators and politicians and the roles they played. Looking back from today, it can be hard to remember that McCarthy was not acting alone. At the same time, the book is very beltway-insider focused, so it's hard to truly get a sense of how the American public felt about things and what the effects were on the people that McCarthy named as being Communists. Rovere covered McCarthy (as part of his Washington beat) for the New Yorker, so parts of the book are told in first person and Rovere has a different perspective than the historians and biographers of today.

The problem of course, with such things, is that the original audience of the book knew the basics of the story, that they lived through the hours of TV coverage and probably watched it. They knew which names were named and what happened and how far and deep it all went, all of which can't necessarily be said of current readers. Overall it is a deep and penetrating look at man who only believed in one thing-- himself. Anti-communism wasn't a deep cause of his except in that it could be used to springboard himself to fame. Today, I think McCarthy would have aspired to cable news instead of the Senate. An author today would be better comparing him to our talking heads than Rovere's disappointingly frequent comparisons to Hitler. Sadly, it also shows that McCarthy succeeded because the American people wanted soundbites and drama, not intellectual conversation. America's focus was on McCarthy's made-up list of 205 communists instead of missile defense, diplomacy, or a myraid of other issues facing the nation.

The arguements here ring so soundly true of our current political climate that it is deeply chilling as it shows how ripe we currently are for another like him. And THAT'S why this is one of the books we should be reading now.

And a footnote from page 215 to file under "the more things change, the more they stay the same:"

"In the perspective of 1959, it appears more vital than ever. Russian progress in missile development increases the need for effective warning systems, and ours, as of this writing, is not as effective as it needs to be. An intercontinental ballistic missile fired from Soviet territory would take thirty minutes to reach this country. It takes twenty minutes for the countdown on the best of these we have in various stages of development. This leaves ten minutes for detection, the elimination of ambiguities, and the making of the decision to retaliate--which, under existing law, requires Presidential approval. The elimination of ambiguities is far from easy. A flock of geese could be mistaken for unrushing missiles by our radar; a bombardment of aluminum foil might thoroughly confuse us. The Fort Monmouth people were working on these problems, among others, and their work was clearly essential to the national interest."

But, in 1954, the Fort Monmouth people were on trail in the Army-McCarthy hearings creating headlines and newsreel, not working on missile defense. Sadly, if you replace "Soviet" with our more recent communist enemies (North Korea anyone?) this sounds eerily familiar?

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Poetry Friday

I have a million things that still need doing in every aspect of my life, but I have a long winter vacation ahead of me (over two weeks of annual leave, holidays, and the dreaded furlough which is closing the entire library system between Christmas and New Year.) We're supposed to get a foot of snow tomorrow, so I look forward to curling up with some cocoa and taking care of these small tasks so that I can enjoy my vacation/temporary lay-off.

Today's poem is by Oliver Herford, which I discovered through Angela's blog.

I Heard a Bird Sing--

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

‘We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,’
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

Round up is over at Susan Writes!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

You Won't be Bored if you Vote for Keena Ford!

Keena Ford and the Field Trip Mix-up Melissa Thomson

YAY! Keena's back and just as hilarious! This book has a student council election, an accidental partial haircut, and a hijinks filled (but realistic hijinks that will get you in trouble with your teacher, but not picked up by security) trip to the Capitol building.

Now, I've never fallen down the steps inside the capitol building, but I've been afraid of it every time I've been there (especially when I'm wearing dress shoes, which is every time I've been as an adult. Those stairs are all worn and slick stone. In a word, deadly. I'm surprised more Congress-people haven't broken their necks.) I laughed out loud when that became an issue in the book. Ok, I laughed at loud throughout most of the book. Especially the part with the thesaurus.

Everything I loved about the first Keena Ford book is true for this one, too. I also really liked the relationship between Keena and her brother. Thomson hits that balance just right of caring and loving for each other, all while teasing and driving each other up a wall. And oh, how Keena thinks it's so important to be the last person in line because Ms. Campbell calls that person the caboose? Such a stupid thing to care about, but oh!, what a realistic thing for a second grader to care about! Such early elementary school drama. I hope there are many more Keena stories to come. I love this series both as a librarian and as a reader, and the kids I work with love Keena, too.


Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

China Challenge



Leave your link to your December reviews below:

Guardian Challenge!



Leave your December reviews below!:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Stop Hating on the North!

The Ballet Family Again Jean Estoril

Not much time has passed between the end of The Ballet Family and its sequel. There is certainly lots of ballet and Joan's attempts to fit in with the Garland family, but most of the focus is on Anne and her changing relationship with Lisa, who stopped attending the Thorburg School and started attending the same school as Joan and Peigi. Joan and Peigi naturally take Lisa under their wing, which convinces Anne that she's lost her dearest friend forever. There's also a fun subplot involving Edward and his girlfriend, who seems to only be attracted to him because of his family's fame. Delphine, as always and even more so, continues to be a piece of work and constantly creates a nuisance of herself.

A few things irked me-- Joan's life is pretty well settled in this book, and the narrator seems to place the success of this on Joan changing and that the initial friction was because there was something deficient in Joan (and how could there not be, growing up in the North of England! She really was raised under a rock!) Grrrr. I really feel that fault actually lies with the Garlands. They were not all that nice or understanding to Joan.

Also, there is the continuing saga of Pelagia and Timothy. Pel's very set that she doesn't want to get married and instead concentrate on her career (which makes sense. She's 18!) but everyone else (including her parents) seem to think such feelings are very silly and encourage her to marry the boy already. Uhhhhh... The book's a bit old fashioned, but 1964? Should she really be pressured into marrying so young?

And, of course, my resentment at how awfully the North is portrayed. I asked the British History expert that lives in my house if the North really was so bad in the mid '60s. He says (and this is largely based on the stories the old men used to tell at the pub) that the canals were nasty and that everything was much dirtier and grimier, but that was the only difference. Sadly, this London snobbery about the North is still true today. Stupid London.

But, I do like the role of food. Estoril often proclaims how hungry ballet dancers are and how much they have to eat. She seems to have them all on the Michael Phelps diet. Of course, she was writing when Balanchine was still in the process of transforming the ideal image of a ballet dancer, so I think it was more true then. Now, I'm not so sure.

Overall though, while it's no Drina, I did rather like it, but that's because it's Estoril and there are many things I will forgive her.

Book Provided by... my wallet

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hi!

Just checking in to say "Hi!"

Today is officially Biblio File's 5th birthday.

Here's my first post:

Currently Reading: The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life Amy Tan

Yep, so here's my new website to talk about the books I'm reading/have read etc. etc. Soon, there will also be a spoiler site, so there will often be links to the spoiler site where I will continue my train of thought, but give away crucial details, so I won't ruin the book for other people on this site. I'm not really going to start posting right now, just get things set up.


Ah, those were the days.

Tonight, I'm celebrating with Cybils reading, a bottle of champagne, and the Glee season finale.


I'm also looking at my post-Cybils life. I have 2.5 weeks off coming up-- an combination of vacation, holidays, and furlough days. I have very little planned besides relaxing during those weeks. Oh, the books I will read! My mind is already wandering in that direction.

But, before I sign off for the night, I want to thank the kidlit bloggers out there who talked me into Glee at kidlitcon. You were so right! As the Glee kids sing, My Life Would Suck Without You. Dan describes it as a dark High School Musical. (Not that he's ever seen it.) I enjoy filling him in on the politics of show choir versus real choir, which is oddly not an issue on the show, but is very much there in the choral world. Trust me.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Spook Field Trip

The Last Apprentice: Clash of the Demons Joseph Delaney

Ok, some REALLY big things going on here. Mam's returned and needs help in her homeland of Greece. The Ordeen is an old and powerful witch and returns to Earth every seven years and kills everything in her way. She's usually contained by the prayers of the monks in the monasteries around the plain where she appears. This year, with the Fiend on Earth, the prayers won't be enough. Mam needs all the help she can get if she's going to stop the Ordeen. In addition to Tom, the Spook, and Bill Arkwright, Mam's also enlisted the witches.

The Spook's black-and-white way of seeing the world, good, and evil, continues to cause rifts between him and his apprentice. They are driven even further apart at a time when they most need to be together. This series continues to explore some big ideas of good and evil while staying an exciting adventure story that ups the ante with every new addition. In this particular volume, I really enjoyed the new setting and how the Greek views of how to make a good Spook differ from the British ones. Also, you thought you knew the truth about Mam? Yeah, I thought I did too. Apparently not. Delaney blew my mind with that one!

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

A different look at the war...


Wanting Mor Rukhsana Khan

After Jameela's mother dies, her father takes her from their small Afghani village to Kabul. In the city, Jameela's devout and conservative following of Islam is seen as proof that she is nothing more than a slack-jawed yokel. Her refusal to change, to do what she considers sinful acts (such as going without her porani to cover her hair and face) leads her father to ultimately abandon her.

Jameela finds her way to an orphanage where she learns to read and write and tries to live up to her mother's advice, "If you cannot be beautiful, you should at least be good. People will appreciate that."

While definitely a bleak premise, this novel is ultimately hopeful. I most appreciated that as Jameela grew, she never did cave on what she felt was the right way to practice her faith. Eventually, she chooses to wear the chadri (burka), as it frees up her hands so she doesn't need to always draw her porani across her face to cover it. I also liked her confusion about the role of Americans. One on hand, the American soldiers are the ones who killed her entire extended family, they are the ones who bombed Kabul, but they're also the ones who pay for the orphanage and give Jameela surgery to correct her cleft lip. She never can decide if they're good or bad or somewhere in between and I think this reflection and indecision are very real, especially for a girl from a traditional village that didn't see the effects of the removal of the Taliban like they did in larger cities like Kabul.

A beautiful book.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Quite Possibly Meg Cabot's Greatest Series to Date

Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: Stage Fright Meg Cabot

Short Version: Allie Finkle is totally awesome and this latest installment doesn't disappoint in any way. Go read it. NOW.

Long Version: For Parents Night, Allie's class is doing a play. Allie really wants to be Princess Penelope, the lead. Unfortunately, so does Sophie. How can Allie be a good friend and still be the star? Then, after all the casting drama, there is lots of wonderful diva-fighting. No one does diva better than a fifth grader (and that's a rule.)

Allie continues to be strong and hilarious while still being 100% real and staying away from ever turning into a completely comic figure. She remains my favorite Meg Cabot character (and regular readers know how much I love Meg Cabot.)

Allie learns many new rules about being an actor (May the best man--or woman--win, There are no small parts only small actors, Practice makes perfect) and about being friends (If you know the right thing to do you have to do it, Best friends rescue each other when someone's evil sister has them trapped, Treat people the way you yourself would like to be treated) all while never coming across as didactic or heavy-handed.

Allie remains a favorite who's still going strong!

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Let the Party Begin!



Yay! It's Biblio File's birthday and my party has started!

All the details are here.


Basically, take 5 hours this weekend to read a book that you WANT to read (not HAVE to read) in your favorite reading spot. Take some time for you and a book and remember what this is all about.

Have fun! It's a party!

When it's over, leave comment or blog about what you did and leave me the link. Lots of goody bags to go around!

I'm combining this with Dreadlock Girl's Read Read Read a thon. Feel free to do the same.

Save some cake for me!

UPDATE: I'm making this a sticky post until Monday, but I don't know how to redo that except for just reposting it when I post something else. Sorry.

Hour 17

Hours Spent Reading: 12.75
Books Read: 6
Pages Read: 1025
Listening To: "Flight of the Prince" by Oliver Boyd and the Rememberalls

Just finished up The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming

All Reviews, links, and pictures will be coming later this week.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Hour 14

Hours spent reading: 9.75
Books Read: 5
Pages Read 878
Currently Listening To: "Morena" Luiz de Aquino

I read Almost Astronauts by Tammy Lee Stone and was in a Space-y mood, so I then read a non-Cybils book, the graphic novel T-Minus by Jim Ottaviani and illustrated by Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon.

Book Provided by...

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Birthday Party + Read a Thon

Hour 10.45
Hours Spent Reading/Blogging: 6.25
Books Read: 3
Pages Read: 633
Listening To: "Split Second" Lisa Loeb

Well, I spent 6 hours for my party reading! I curled up on the futon, watched the snow and read my books. I finally decided to read the three books in the Once Upon a Time series that I haven't read yet. The first I read was the newest one, Winter's Child which I decided to read because it's snowing! Then, even though it really doesn't have to do with the weather, I read Snow and finished up with Midnight Pearls. I'm holding off on reviews because I'm itching to read more (Cybils nonfiction from here on out! There are some great books in my stack!) and because the first and last are based on stories by Hans Christian Andersen that I haven't read yet. I want to read the source material before writing my review and as Andersen tales are longer than Grimm ones, it's not going to be for awhile.

Book Provided by...

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Read a Thon Birthday Party Extravaganza

Hour 2.75
Time Spent Reading/Blogging: .25 hours
Pages Read: 0
Listening To: "Pretty Girl" by Ani DiFranco

I still haven't decided what I'm going to read, but I have a huge stack of books. I'm going to start with a book just for me and then move into the last bit of Cybils reading. It's time to start whittling the pile down to a short list!

Yesterday I got a present from my Secret Santa that includes the Putumayo Christmas album (OMG! Best present ever! I'll do a post later about the complete package of awesome.) So I'm off to pop that into the CD player, curl up on my couch under a blanket with a cup of coffee and a book.

Luckily, I'm by the window because IT'S ACTUALLY SNOWING! Huge fat flakes! They're sticking to things! SO EXCITED! The one thing I hate about the DC area is I really, really miss the winters I had in Wisconsin and Iowa. I never thought I'd miss bitter cold, but I do. I miss real snow most of all.

Book Provided by...

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Eternal Smile


The Eternal Smile: Three Stories Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim

Three stories, joined together by the same twist ending. The first one, about a knight on a quest to win the princess's hand, didn't do much for me. I liked the second a lot, but because it reminded me of Duck Tales, but with frogs. I really liked the third, because there was a different twist to the twist ending. But, for some odd reason, I read the third story first. I don't know if I would have liked it as much if I had read it third.

The stories are all about taking control of your life, but done in a not-overly-subtle way. At times, it seemed manipulative. I'm a big fan of Yang and Kim, but this one just didn't do it for me.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Friday, December 04, 2009

R&J Redux


Manga Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare, ill. Sonia Leong

Ok, so... it's Romeo and Juliet, manga style. The words are (heavily edited) Shakespeare and the pictures set this in modern day Tokyo.

The good: Leong certainly didn't phone it in on the art, which was what I was expecting. It also uses several manga conventions that you normally don't see in Western producted manga-style comics. We see little chibis to underscore someone's childish behavoir or to show inner thoughts and faces take on animal characteristics to show emotion. I'm not well-versed in my visual manga clues, but I'm glad they were there. I think these add a layer to the storytelling that we don't see in a most Western manga.

The not-so-good: I realize it cannot be easy to abridge a play that is so well known as Romeo and Juliet but some of the cuts were really jarring. Mercutio's Queen Mab speech is a mere 5 lines. Juliet, while whinging on the balconey, hopes Romeo will "deny thy father and refuse they name" but that's where it ends. She never offers to do the same "if thou whilst not." Sigh

I think I would have prefered a retelling of the story with this art instead of such a cutting down of the original text.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Cybils Nominee!

Before Columbus: The Americas of 1491 Charles C. Mann

This is a young reader's version of Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

It's visually stunning and completely changes everything I had ever been taught about what life was like in the Americas before Columbus. I appreciated how it handles some controversies between experts. It gives both sides of the issue in a way that's completely understandable, but still respects the reader's intelligence. Did I mention visually stunning? Really excellent book design. And the content just blew my mind, I can't even begin to get into all of it here without just summarizing the entire book.

My only fault with it lies in the back matter-- or rather, the lack of it. There is no bibliography or source notes (except for illustrations. Lots of source notes for illustration.) I see this a lot with young reader versions of adult nonfiction. The author knows all this, because he/she's essentially condensing and argument already made, a story already told. If we want sources, we can go to the "real" version. They don't want to cite it all over again. Grrrrrrrrrrr. That's not something that really holds with me. Young Readers need sources, too. Also, the "further reading" list has only 13 titles, many of with are written for adults, not Young Readers.

It's too bad, because with better back matter, this could have been an outstanding example of what nonfiction for kids should be like.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Nature of Change

The Nature of Jade Deb Caletti

Jade DeLuna likes to watch elephants on the zoo's webcam as a way of dealing with her panic disorder. One day she notices a boy with a baby. They become regulars and Jade sees that on the days they don't come, the boy will show up at the elephant enclosure in the middle of the night. In her desire to meet this boy, Jade eventually starts volunteering with the elephants every day after school. But that's not what the book is about. It's about relationships and how they change and Jade taking control of her life and not letting the panic and fear rule her.

There is a lot going on in this novel. There are so many relationships being explored: Jade and Sebastian (the boy), Jade and her mother, Jade's parents, Jade's father and Jade's brother, all sorts of elephant-relationship craziness, Jade and her friends, Jade's father and sports...

Most interesting is the relationship between Jade and her mother. Jade's mom is super-involved at Jade's school and seems to try to be recapturing the high school experience she never actually had. So, Jade's mom chaperones the homecoming dance, complete with new dress, salon appointment hair, and a freak out about finding the perfect shoes, while Jade opts out and instead watches movies with friends. Jade and her mother are extremely close, but Jade can't help but slightly resent her mother's involvement at school. Their relationship is further strained by the ever-present fact that Jade will be going off to college next year and this colors their intereactions.

It does sometimes get bogged down under the weight of everything that's being explored. Near the end, Jade lacks the real anger needed to make her truly believable. Also, the final twist with Sebastain had me going "Really? That's where you want to go with this?" because it hijacked the rest of the novel--instead of being an exploration of all these relationships, the last bit became out this other thing entirely, which really wasn't necessary.

Overall though, I did generally like it although it dragged in places.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Cybils Nominees!

Say What?: The Weird and Mysterious Journey of the English Language Gena K. Gorrell

I was writing a really long review in my head as I read this book about the history of the English language. Mostly fascinating with some flaws. But then, reading the source notes, for a small pull-out box fact, she cites Wikipedia. That shut it down right there. If you can't find a better source than that, don't use the information. So not acceptable. The rest of the review and my feelings are moot. Nothing makes up for using Wikipedia as a source. NOTHING.

And now I'm just cranky.

Book Provided by... the publisher for Cybils consideration.

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Oh no! It's the pursin' o' the lips and the tappin' o' the foot!


Wintersmith Terry Pratchett

Ok, this is my first Tiffany Aching and, in fact, first Discworld book. While it was obvious it's the third in a series, I think it stands alone fairly well.

Tiffany is an apprentice witch who goes to see the Dance of the Seasons. She can't help herself, the music is in her feet, and she throws herself into the dance. As a result, Winter falls in love with her. Winter sets out to find what makes a man so that he can be human for her. Meanwhile, the world is trying to turn Tiffany into Summer, because Winter partners with Summer. Summer isn't overly happy about this.

Winter's attempts to woo Tiffany are disastrous to those Tiffany loves (it never stops snowing flakes that look like her, giant iceberg sculptures of her likeness cause ships to be lost) and his attempts are humanity always miss the mark.

But the Feegles are there to help and Tiffany won't let Winter bully her into never-ending cold.

Hilarious! I loved it (especially the Feegles). It's funnier than Nation (which I found to be really funny.) but still meditates on the fear of the unknown, the changing of the seasons and what makes a man. I've only read the two books by Pratchett, but am so impressed with his ability to have deeper meditations on the meaning of life and what makes us human while still making me shoot milk out my nose.

I'm so excited for Pratchett 2010 Reading Challenge!


Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Cybils Nominees!

The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix

This book outlines how the rector of Paris's Grand Mosque helped save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Mainly, what the Mosque did was give Jewish people who looked North African new identity paper as Muslims. Other Jews they helped smuggle through the Mosque, through the catacombs, and then out the Seine where they could often take a boat leading to a free area.

The details of this story are sketchy, which the authors discuss in the back matter to the book. The Mosque wouldn't let them access their library and most of the information is taken from a documentary made in 1990. It will be interesting to see what information would come out if someone were allowed to use the Mosque's library. The back matter is excellent, containing a glossary, bibliography and recommended reading/watching list. The bibliography and recommendations are broken into media types (Books, Articles, Movies, etc) and those that are appropriate for younger readers are asterisked. Additionally, on the recommended list, after each citation the authors list in parentheses who the audience is for that item.

The books is illustrated entirely in oil painting with no photographs, which isn't my favorite but I'm under the impression that there aren't many photographs around that would adequately illustrate the story.

Overall an interesting addition to Holocaust literature for younger readers.

Book Provided by... the publisher for Cybils consideration

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.

Nothing will ever beat Shel Silverstein as a pirate.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days Jeff Kinney

Usually when I have a book release party (such as Harry Potter and the Party of Anticipation or A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Pitiful Party) I get a lot of large care groups that come. Overall, this is great. A lot of larger day care/after-school care groups use our library. But, that means a lot of kids are at the party who haven't read the book. After a few years of this, for my Wimpy Kid party, I was prepared. In addition to not doing a trivia contest or any activity that needed knowledge of the books, every activity came with a lengthy introduction to place things in context.. But, for the first time, IT WAS NOT NEEDED.

We played Cheese Touch Tag (which used Dan's awesome Cheesehead Coaster) and I was introducing it and said "Ok, in the books, there is a piece of cheese that lives" and everyone shouted "ON THE BASKETBALL COURT!" It was awesome! In addition to Cheese Touch Tag (which is normal tag, but once you're tagged, you have to take the piece of cheese. And you're not allowed to throw the cheese.) We played the Fregley game that was on Jeff Kinney's website (hilarious!) and the Loaded Diaper game (buy a pack of disposable diapers. Fill them with such things as soy sauce, thousand island dressing, mustard, etc. Kids have to smell each diaper and guess what it is. Soy sauce was the hardest. NO ONE could get it.) We also had sheets with frames in them for kids to draw their own comics and pages from comic books and comic strips with the dialog whited-out so the kids had to write the words. (Other great comic ideas can be found on Jessica Abel's website. I only wish I knew about them BEFORE the party!)

We then drew names for copies of Dog Days and the Do-It-Yourself Book and gave out some of our leftover summer reading prizes. It was a great party and everyone had fun and even more awesome than the fact EVERYONE not only read the books but was a HUGE fan? 95% of our turnout was guys. Very awesome.

As for the book itself?

Not my favorite of the series (honestly, I don't think Kinney's ever going to top the Shel Silverstein moment from The Last Straw. Greg's an even bigger jerk than usual and there's an interesting friendship war with Rowley. A lot going on, but I didn't find it as funny as his others. Not to say it's not enjoyable, he just has a really high standard bar at this point.

Book Provided by... my local library

Links to Amazon are an affiliate link. You can help support Biblio File by purchasing any item (not just the one linked to!) through these links. Read my full disclosure statement.