Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cold Comfort Farm

Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons

In 1930s England, Miss Flora Poste is orphaned and without means, so she moves in with her rural cousins. They are crazy and backwards, just as Flora figured they must be, but with a firm hand and some common sense, she sets everything to rights.

This is a loving spoof of a British agrarian novels (think Hardy). And while I didn't find it as hysterical as those who love it do, I did find it amusing. The characters in and of themselves are fairly funny, but my favorite part was the cows, who are always losing body parts, much to the chagrin of their keeper.

Definitely not a book for everyone, as it does go a bit over the top in parts, and does assume a knowledge of the books it's sending up, but I found it rather enjoyable.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What's a Diorama?

The Washington Post's Peeps diorama contest are up!

Lots of booky goodness!

Casino Royale

Although I will fail mightily at the 1% challenge, I am trying hard to cram in as many books at the end here as possible. Luckily, they tend to double count with other challenges.

Casino Royale Ian Fleming

The very first book to introduce Bond, James Bond, to the world. A communist agent has been doing bad things with Russia's money and needs to get it back. He's going to risk it all on high stakes baccarat. London is sending the coolest agent they have to Royale-les-Eaux to win all of Le Chiffre's money. Broke, Le Chiffre will be no use to the communists, who will send SMERSH, their assassin league, after him.

Eh. It started off exciting enough with a random bomb blast before the big card game, but Fleming loses a lot of plot momentum and tension with long explanations about how high-stakes games work, and how to play baccarat and the strategy involved.

If your big central plot is a card game, you need to be able to maintain tension (Eileen Chang's Lust, Caution is about a double agent waiting for her mark/lover at a coffee shop and is the tensest thing I've ever read) and Fleming just doesn't do it.

Also, the very, very end was sooooooo anti-climactic.

Given the time period, Bond's character, and the Britishness of it, I was expecting the subtle racist stereotyping and was expecting a Mad Men level of sexism (which is pretty high) but Bond makes Don Draper look like Gloria Steinem. Seriously.

I did enjoy reading it, but I was really disappointed by the ending. This is one case where I think the movie will probably be better, because the tension and action will probably be handled better (I haven't seen it yet, but now I want to!)

Book Provided by... my local library

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Poetry Friday

It's Poetry Friday AND my dad's birthday, so I'm reposting a poem I wrote and shared a few years ago:

A Phone Call with my Father

I called to thank them for my birthday present.
I fill him in on life here,
The latest micro-dramas,
The antics of the dog.

He tells me of life there and how
My mother is working too hard
(as usual).
We worry.

He tells me of mill closings and
Changes in the football roster.

He also fills me in on the latest family gossip
Telling tales of my sister,
Once again proving she's a
And even though she's younger
When I grow up, I want to be

Three things before you go.
Two are standard father/daughter things.
The third--
You hadn't read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee?
Erm, no.

And then before we hang up,
Before he tells me he loves me,
Before he sends his regards to Dan
(and the dog),
He wishes me good luck,
Knowing full well the world we live in,
The obstacles I face,
But still fully believing
That his little girl can do

Round up is over at The Drift Record

Happy Birthday Dad!

Year of the Historical: Jimmy's Stars

Jimmy's Stars Mary Ann Rodman

Ellie's older brother Jimmy is one of the last men she knows to get drafted into the war. Ellie's used to giving up things "for the duration"-- meat, her roller skates, sugar... but this is something she's not willing to give to the war effort. Not her brother.

What an absolutely fantastic look at the home-front during WWII. Ellie and her friends compare whose brothers are the biggest heroes. They reenact famous battles for fun. But they quickly learn that war is more than what they see on the newsreels. They dread the gold stars that appear in people's windows, the Western Union man who stops in front of a house to deliver the horrible news. They see the soldiers who are missing body parts, and even the ones that look physically fine but are irreparably damaged in other ways.

I feel like we've built WWII up in our collective consciousness to the point where it wasn't a war anymore. It was back when men were men and we all pitched in to do our part and it was a war worth fighting that no one questioned. But people died, and people were injured. People did question. It was a war. And sometimes it's worth remembering that hands-down THE BEST movie made about re-entry and PTSD was made in 1946.

All in all, a wonderful book, although I really wanted an author's note at the end to help put it in context.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Anything but Typical

Anything But Typical Nora Raleigh Baskin

The basic plot is that Jason is autistic. He's in 6th grade and this is his first year without a one-on-one aide. He struggles with fitting in, with remembering all the rules he's been taught about social interaction. He likes writing stories and makes a friend in an online community friend where he posts his stories. It then becomes apparent that this friend is a girl. This is a really good thing for Jason, until they both plan to be at the website's conference, and Jason knows that she will see him, and learn the truth about him, and no longer like him.

Of course, it's so much more than that. It's told from Jason's point of view, but not the way he would like to tell it, because:

"But more than people like talking in their own language, people like to hear things in a way they are most comfortable. The way they are used to. The way they can most easily related to, as if that makes it more real. So I will try to tell this story in that way.

And I will tell this story in first person.
I not he. Me not him. Mine not his.
In a neurotypical way.
I will try--
To tell my story in their language, in your language."

It's about Jason not fitting in. Sometimes he cares, sometimes he doesn't, depending. It makes life hard, not being neurotypical. What struck me most was his mother, who just couldn't let anything go. She wants to fix him, to make him better, to make him normal. His father accepts him for who he is, but his mother can't reconcile the child she wanted with the child she has. This is a major source of tension and the part of the story that spoke to me the most. But, I'm also an adult and I wonder if it will speak to child readers in the same way. But that's the mark of a good book, right? When you find new meaning in various plot lines depending on where you are in life at the moment? Also, what a perfect ending!

A side tangent about book covers. The cover pictured above is the paperback. This cover is the hardcover. Quite a difference! The swirls on the cover are also used in the chapter headings in both versions. I think the paperback cover has more kid-appeal, which is useful for getting it into the hands of readers, but I like the hardcover version, especially as it unifies the design concept. What are your thoughts?

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, March 24, 2010

Fat Cat

Fat Cat Robin Brande

So, I initially read this because my friend Molly told me I ABSOLUTELY had to. She's usually not wrong about such things.

The premise of Mr. Fizer's Special Topics in Research Science is that on the first day of school, you draw a picture from a stack. You have an hour to design a science fair project related to that picture. Your project remains top secret until the end-of-the-year science fair. Mr. Fizer's students tend to win, and a college recommendation from him can open doors at universities that Cat wouldn't otherwise be able to consider.

And then Cat draws a picture of Homo Erectus. At the end of the hour, she figures out her project. She will live a life as close as possible to that of Homo Erectus. No cars, no technology (with exceptions for homework and emergencies). She's carved out an exemption for shampoo, but not one for make-up. She wants to prove how our diet and lifestyle is hurting the human body, and she's doing it by peeling back the years. In the mean time, she also just might loose the weight that has ruined her life.

I kept expecting this one to get preachy about the benefits of vegetarianism and the evils artificial sweetner. And... it never really did, which I appreciated, because I can get pretty defensive about my frozen pizza.

I also liked how Cat's self-esteem issues didn't magically go away with the weight. There were deeper issues there that needed to be explored and were.

And of course, there was a romance storyline. Even at the beginning of the story, before Cat designs her project, her friends try to set her up with different guys, because she's awesome. As she loses more and more weight, more and more guys notice. But of course, there's just one guy. The guy who broke her heart. The guy she totally hates, and totally misses. A guy who's hot and smart and perfect for Cat, if only he hadn't been such a complete jerkface.

Loved the romance. Loved the book. As I said, Molly's usually right about such things.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Going Bovine

Going Bovine Libba Bray

I wasn't expecting to like this one. I wasn't a huge fan of A Great and Terrible Beauty, which is the other Bray I've read. Some people I know loved Going Bovine, and some didn't. Most of the criticisms were things where I thought "ok, that's also stuff that bugs me in a book." So, I figured this one wasn't for me. And then it won the Printz, so I felt obligated to read it.

And! Yay! I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed it!

For those who don't know, Cam is an apathetic teen who gets mad cow disease. He embarks on a road trip with his friend Gonzo and a yard gnome who's really a Norse God. Along the way he's helped by a punk rock angel. Cam is not the most likable of characters, but that doesn't mean he's not believable as a character. He's selfish before he finds out he's dying, and when he gets sick, he doesn't see it as an experience to turn his life around. Instead, he gets pissed off. Which, while not likable and not what we tend to see in books, is frankly, the same thing I would do.

I didn't like Cam in the beginning, but I loved his voice, so I didn't mind that I didn't like him. I really liked Cam by the end.

I most loved the happiness cult and what the snow globe company does to protect people. (Yeah, that's vague, but I don't want to spoil it.)

This draws a lot of inspiration from Don Quixote, which I haven't read (but I have read a few plot summaries, and seen the Animaniacs version). Bray's not shy about the Don Quixote connections (Cam's reading it for school) and c'mon! The angel is named Dulcie!

My one complaint is that much of the tension comes from wondering if Cam's adventures real or a hallucination brought on by his brain's disintegration. The truth is too obvious too early. I wanted her to stretch that out further. While I knew what was what, I didn't want my feelings to be confirmed that early...

The other was the end, which I'll talk about here, because MAJOR SPOILAGE.

But overall? A really great book that's really enjoyable on the surface, but underneath lurks an homage to great literature and lots of other little things that make it secretly amazing.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Nonfiction Monday

The Norman Conquest of England Janice Hamilton

A great introduction to Anglo-Saxon England follows into the story of lead up to, the Battle of Hastings, and what happened next.

Overall a great introduction to life at the time and the story of the battle and conquest, with a great chapter about the very long-reaching effects and why we should still be interested in this one battle that happened almost 1000 years ago.

But, what I loved most of all was the back matter. There's a great section on how historians do research, with primary and secondary sources, and a good discussion of the problems of primary sources about the Battle of Hastings and how historians deal with that. There's a translation of a few panels of the Bayeux Tapestry, a glossary of Anglo-Saxon words and their modern English equivalents and the same with Anglo-French. We have a time line, a glossary, and a directory of who is who. Also, source notes, index, bibliography, and further reading. Even better, the bibliography and further reading lists are fully annotated and primary and secondary sources are listed separately.

A great look at a famous battle and why it matters, but overall a fantastic example of what nonfiction for kids can look like-- something for everyone to strive towards.

Round up is over at Books Together!

Book Provided by... my local library

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Ash Malinda Lo

Ash was shortlisted for a Morris Award this year and got a lot of discussion in the blogosphere.

It has many of the markings of Cinderella stories we have seen before. A cruel stepmother and stepsisters who force Ash to be a servant, a prince looking to get married, a few balls so he can find his bride, and fairies who help her get there.

But, in this telling, Ash doesn't want to go the ball to see the prince, instead, she's befriended the King's huntresses, Kaisa. She goes because Kaisa asked her to. She goes for Kaisa.

And in this telling, there is no fairy godmother who gives wishes willingly. There are faeries, the traditional British ones, who have a different morality than we do, the ones who trap people in faerie rings, the ones where you can't eat or drink food if you ever want to leave. Not many believe in faeries any more, but Ash's mother held to the old ways and Ash does, too. Sidhean will grant Ash's wishes, but there is a price to be paid, a price that may be too much.

I love stories that dig into the traditional, British lore of the dark side of faeries. I love that this story inserts these faeries into a tale that usually has the nicer, Disney-esque version. This is a darker and deeper tale, with more stories and dimensions than you usually see, even in other novel-length versions.

The other thing I really appreciated was Ash's sense of loss and the portrayal of her extreme grief over the loss of both of her parents. Unlike other Cinderellas, Ash isn't all goodness and light. She's angry, she fights back, she runs away. She's a much more complicated and fully realized character.

Overall, it's fantastic.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Little Women SMACK-DOWN pt II

After my Little Women mash-up post on Friday, I got the following press release. It makes me wish I were going to be in New York!

A discussion of vampires, werewolves and Louisa May Alcott
moderated by Pulitzer Prize winner John Matteson
on May 6th at Symphony Space

Lynn Messina, coauthor of Little Vampire Women (HarperTeen), and Porter Grand, coauthor of Little Women and Werewolves (Random House), sit down with John Matteson, author of Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father (W.W. Norton), which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Biography on May 6 at 7:00 p.m. at the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway at 95th Street).

The evening will be introduced by Ron Hogan, of, the well-known literary blog, which is presenting the event. The discussion will explore their mash-ups of Alcott’s classic, Little Women. Both authors will address the challenges they faced reworking the text. Alcott’s own work, published under various pseudonyms, included many sensational elements such as spies, murderers, drug addicts and mummies, and Matteson will explore whether inserting vampires and werewolves into the beloved story would be truly anathema to the author.

In writing Little Vampire Women, Messina insists that she was just following Alcott’s lead. Messina says, “I found the inspiration for the book in chapter eleven, when malaprop-prone Amy calls her Aunt March ‘a regular samphire.’ ‘She means vampire,’ corrects Jo. I was absolutely stunned to see the word vampire in Little Women. I knew vampires weren’t a modern creation, but it still surprised me to realize that they were mainstream enough in the 1860s that Louisa May would drop it into a book.”

Grand, on Little Women and Werewolves says, “Bronson Alcott, Louisa May’s father, was a staunch vegetarian who forbade his family to eat meat and preached ‘without a flesh diet, there would be no blood-shedding war.’ The family obliged Bronson in this, as in all things, but once Louisa May’s writing put her in a position of financial comfort, she ate a great deal of meat. It is quite fitting then, that carnivorous werewolves have been added to the very novel which had put her in the situation to eat all the meat she craved.”

John Matteson says, "With a teenage daughter in the house, I have been alternately intrigued and scandalized by the vampires-in-literature craze. But Louisa May Alcott herself loved writing thrilling tales, and I think it's nice for people to know that Alcott fans can enjoy something more lurid and exciting than the proper folding of pocket handkerchiefs."

The event will be held at Peter Norton Symphony Space’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theater on May 6 at 7:00 p.m. Symphony Space is located at 2537 Broadway (at 95th Street). Tickets are $10 and available through

Lynn Messina is the author of four novels, including the best-selling Fashionistas, which has been translated into 15 languages and is in development as a feature film. She attended Washington University in St. Louis, where she studied English Literature. She lives in New York City.

Porter Grand, a Cleveland native, holds an AS in liberal arts, a Bachelors degree and a Doctoral in Theology. She has worked, among other jobs, as a waitress, bartender, carnival barker, go-go dancer, shampoo girl, welfare caseworker and Reference Librarian, and now writes daily in her Huntsburg, Ohio, farmhouse.

John Matteson is a Professor of English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York. He is author of Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father (W.W. Norton), which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. He is currently at work on a biography of Margaret Fuller, also to be published by Norton.

Sunday Salon-- This That and the Other

It's been a bit of a surreal week in my world, first off, thank you to the anonymous commenter who told me that Meg Cabot linked here in on Twitter on Tuesday. She also called me Twirltacular.

MEG CABOT THINKS I AM TWIRLTACULAR. Life doesn't get much more awesome than that!

I wonder if I can put that on my resume.

Then a female Ghanaian king came to the library yesterday.

Yes boys and girls, I finally got to meet royalty, and I was wearing my Babymouse t-shirt.*

And one of my friends had a baby yesterday and another friend is leaving tomorrow to go to Korea to bring home her son.

Meanwhile, the weather's been gorgeous lately. I've been listening to a lot of this album and sitting in front of open windows, reading Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, enjoying the sun and warm breeze.

*My shirt no longer seems to be available in T-shirt form. It's the Queen of the World graphic on one of the tote bags, but on a pink t-shirt. I was wearing it a few years ago and one of the girls at work say "Miss Jennie, what's that on your shirt?"

"It's Babymouse!"

She looked confused.

"You guys don't know Babymouse?"

She shook her head no. I took her and her friend over to the graphic novel section and handed out a few copies. Other kids saw I was handing out books and joined the crowd until they were all gone. About ten minutes later, one of the boys, who was very into being macho, stomped over to the desk. "Miss Jennie! I want that pink book that everyone else is reading!"

Babymouse hasn't stayed on the shelf since.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Little Women SMACK-DOWN

There are 2 literary mash-ups of Little Women coming on May 4th.

From HarperTeen (a division of HarperCollins) comes Little Vampire Women

From DelRay (a division of Random House) comes Little Women and Werewolves.

Who will win? The readers? Or are we the losers?

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 missed the snow drops this year, but the daffodils are coming up. The ones next door bloomed yesterday. It's warm enough the my plan today was to spend all day reading in my hammock, until I remembered that no leaves = no shade = blinding glare off a white page = impossible to read. Leaves are starting to appear on my butterfly bush and the grass is turning greener, which puts me in the mood to listen to my favorite musical, based on one of my favorite books, The Secret Garden.

Winter's On The Wing

Winter's on the wing,
Here's a fine spring morn'
Comin' clear through the night,
Come the day I say.
Winter's taken flight
Sweepin' dark cold air
Out to sea, Spring is born,
Comes the day say I,

And you'll be here to see it.
Stand and breathe it all the day.
Stoop, and feel it. Stop and hear it.
Spring, I say.

And now the sun is climbin' high,
Rising fast on fire,
Glaring down through the gloom,
Gone the gray, I say.
The sun it spells the doom
Of the winter's reign,
Ice and chill must retire
Comes the May say I,

And you'll be here to see it.
Stand and breathe it all the day.
Stoop, and feel it. Stop and hear it.
Spring, I say.

I say, be gone, ye howling gales,
Be off, ye frosty morns!
All ye solid streams begin to thaw.
Melt, ye waterfalls,
Part ye frozen winter walls.
See, see now it's starting.

And now the mist is liftin' high,
Leavin' bright blue air
Rollin' clean 'cross the moor
Comes the day I say.
The storm'll soon be by
Leaving clear blue sky,
Soon the sun will shine,
Comes the day, say I.

And you'll be here to see it.
Stand and breathe it all the day.
Stoop and feel it. Stop and hear it.
Spring, I say.

And a refrain from another, Wick, that I've been singing all week:

Come a mild day, come a warm rain,
Come a snowdrop, a-comin' up!
Come a lily, come a lilac!
Come to call, calling all the rest to come!
Calling all the rest to come!
Calling all the world to come!

Round Up is Over At Some Novel Ideas!

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Saving Maddie

Saving Maddie Varian Johnson

It's been five years, but Maddie Smith is back in town. Joshua Wynn is the preacher's son who's always been so preoccupied with being the perfect example to his father's congregation-- Ceaser's wife and the preacher's family must be beyond reproach. The problem is, he's just always followed the rules and never thought about what he wanted to do.

And then Maddie Smith shows back up, with purple-painted lips and tops cut down to there and a history that has tongues wagging. Joshua's father wants him to save her, to bring her back into the church's fold. Joshua's not entirely sure Maddie needs saving in the first place.

I cared so much for Maddie and Joshua. I loved how complicated it all was. Johnson tells a fairly straightforward story, but Maddie wasn't a bad girl, but she also wasn't just a misunderstood good girl. She had issues. The church wasn't the answer or the problem. I will admit that, initially, Joshua's parents really angered me, in their attitude towards Maddie but that had lessened towards the end. My anger at Maddie's father though... that just got worse.

I was surprised by how strongly I reacted to this book. I struggled with it. I was so angry about how the adults in this community were so quick to judge based on looks and rumor, how Maddie was thrust into this role and had to play it, which happens way too often in real life. But then, it ended so perfectly.

This is a quietly powerful book. It didn't whack me upside the head with its power, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

Book Provided by... the author for review consideration

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Skin I'm In

The Skin I'm in Sharon Flake

Maleeka Madison is sick of being teased for her homemade clothes, her dark skin, and her good grades. She has a deal with the bad girls that they'll look out for her if she does their homework, but it doesn't solve everything. Then a new teacher comes and tries to turn everything upside down. Maleeka knows she needs strength to do the right thing, but she's not sure if she'll ever find it.

We don't see a huge number of books for tweens written about inner city life and schools. (Off the top of my head, I can really only think of the Bluford High series. My middle school readers love these books, but they read too after-school-specialy to me.) This is also a different type of bullying than I've seen in other tween books-- Maleeka's not afraid her "friends" will dump her and she'll be ostracized if she stands up to them. She's afraid they'll beat the crap out of her.

Although it's packaged to look like Flake's teen titles, this is a book that older tweens will eat up. Maleeka skips a lot of class, her friends make-out with boys, and the trouble she gets in is criminal. At the same time, the language is clean and all of Maleeka's actions have severe consequences without reading like a moralistic lesson. It's fairly short, a quick read, and is a great one to hand to reluctant girl readers.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Puzzling World of Winston Breen

The Puzzling World of Winston Breen Eric Berlin

Winston loves finding, making, and solving puzzles. When some puzzle pieces mysteriously appear in his sister's birthday present, he's on the case. The first puzzle is to discover where the pieces came from. Winston soon discovers they're one of 4 sets of clues that lead to treasure. He and a motley crew are on a scavenger hunt of epic proportions that's about to turn very dangerous.

This book has a lot to recommend it to tween readers. In the lead-up to the adrenaline packed climax, there are many puzzles and mysteries for Winston and the reader to solve. In addition to the big puzzles that lead to the treasure, there are smaller puzzles that Winston comes across or makes up. These puzzles have very little to do with the plot, but are very fun to solve and the answers can be found in the back. The nice thing about this book is that it will appeal to many different types of readers-- the action/adventure/treasure hunting plot will appeal to the more reluctant or occasional reader, while the frequent puzzles and Winston's puzzle-loving character will appeal to more voracious readers.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Glitter Girls and the Great Fake Out

Glitter Girls And The Great Fake Out Meg Cabot

This is why I love Meg Cabot (this is what happens when little brothers spill secrets):

It is really hard to sit on a kindergartner, because they're so squirmy and difficult to get a grip on. Kevin wouldn't keep still long enough for me to properly sit on. (p 70)*

How can you not laugh at that?

In the latest installment of Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls, Allie wants to go with Erica, Sophie, Caroline, and Rosemary to see Missy compete in the Seventh Annual Little Miss Majorette Baton Twirling Twirltacular, middle school division. But, then she finds out that her mom has already said Allie would go to Brittany Hauser's birthday party. Ugh. Who would want to hang out with Brittany and all of the other mean girls from Allie's old school?

Allie's given the choice to cancel on Brittany, but... Brittany's party will involve riding in a limo into the city, going to Glitterati, dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, and then spending the night in a hotel!

Allie decides to go to the party instead, but it's apparent pretty quickly that that was the worst decision ever.

Oh, you know how much I love Allie. Cabot strikes the perfect tone with this character-- she's strong and hilarious while still being real. Her problems are the daily dramas that come from being in 4th grade, and while many are self-created, they're not completely annoying in the way that self-created drama can be. You know how sometimes you just want to whack a character upside the head and tell them to snap out of it? I never want to do that with Allie. Usually because I'm laughing so hard. And usually because the situations Allie gets herself into are rather universal and getting out of them is tricky to do while still sounding like a real kid. As an adult I love Allie because she's a good "role model" character while still being believable. A good friend without being a doormat, she stands up for herself without being a jerk. She's a good big sister, but will still sit on you if you spill her secrets, etc.

As a reader, I love Allie because her voice is so awesome.

So yes, this is a most excellent addition to the series, and not just because Cabot uses the word "Twirltacular" on a regular basis.

*quoted from the ARC, so it might be different in the real book.

Book Provided by... the publisher at my request.

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, March 08, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Kelly Milner Halls

Last month I took a class on Tweens through ALA, taught by Ed Sullivan One of the fun things about the class was that the teacher got many authors to talk about their work with the students.

One of the authors we got to talk with is Kelly Milner Halls, so I read five of her books.

Overall, what I really like about her work is that she picks topics that kids want to read about. She covers these topics from many different angles, and really shows how the research is done by the experts in the field. Many, many scientists appear in her books in many forms, but what I really love is that most of them have interview transcripts with different scientists, or parts written by scientists, so they can talk about their work in their own words.

Dinosaur Mummies: Beyond Bare-bone Fossils

Ok, did you know that dinosaurs didn't just leave bones behind? But when conditions were just right, parts were mummified? Not in the same way that people have been, because they're too old, but mummy fossils? We have more than just bones from these lizards, but pieces of flesh and skin and these bits are changing the way people think about dinosaurs.

This book takes us to different dinosaur mummy discoveries, the people working on the find, and what these finds mean to paleontology.

We always need more dinosaur books, but this is one that adds something to the shelf and the field.

Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or May Not Exist with Rick Spears and Roxyanne Young

This is an interesting one, because it looks at creatures that many look at as mythical- Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, mermaids and others. They unpack why people think these creatures exists, what evidence there is for and against, the fact and fiction surrounding each creature.

I especially liked when they looked at creatures that exist around the world (such as Big Foot) and how the information changes, or doesn't, in different locations and cultures.

My favorite was when they looked at "mythical" creatures that have been proven to really exist, such as the Giant Squid, Coelacanth, and the Chacoan peccary.

It teaches kids to keep looking and keep believing.

There's also a super-awesome mini-encyclopedia of Cryptids with a sketch and description of each creature, as well as a rating on how likely it is to be actually exist.

Albino Animals

A genetic condition that results in a complete lack of pigment can occur in every living thing. Starting with an explanation of genetics, Halls then looks at different albino animals, insects, and plants, and discusses the issues they cause in the wild. Many exist only in captivity and have very special health concerns that they often don't understand. For instance, alligators have to sunbathe in order to digest their food (!!!) but albino alligators will severely sunburn if they do this (!!!!!). In captivity, they have special warming rocks so they can digest while not burning.

Also, albino plants! They can't live long, because you need chlorophyll for photosynthesis, but dude ALBINO PLANTS.

There's a reason this is on our summer reading list.

Wild Dogs: Past & Present

An excellent look at the evolution of Canis over the millennia. We see how myths and bad feelings towards wolves sprung up, how branches split off to form the different species we know today, where they live, and the prehistoric creatures they all come from.

I especially liked how it looks at all these different species around the world and the current issues surrounding these species today, plus all the pull-out boxes of fun facts. A great, different look at a dog book.

Possibly, the best recommendation? I was reading this and Dan leaned over and started reading over my shoulder. His comment was "Why don't you read THAT book in story time? That'd get the boys interested!" There followed a brief explanation of age levels and text to picture ratio, but it became quickly apparent that he was jealous he didn't have this book when he was a kid.

Wild Horses: Galloping Through Time

All you need to know is that this is a horse book that boys and girls will BOTH like.

Like Wild Dogs, it looks at how horses evolved and where they live now and how they differ from each other. Many wild horses face many great concerns to survival and this book outlines those concerns and also what people can do to help, as well as places to see while horses.

Overall, Kelly Milner Halls just writes great books that kids love. She makes hard information easy to understand and fun to learn about. An author you need to know about.

Round up is over at Lost Between the Pages

Books 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.

Merlin's Harp

Merlin's Harp Anne Eliot Crompton

Welcome to the latest stop on the Merlin's Harp blog tour.

As you can probably tell to the title, this is a book about Arthur. It's also a re-release of a book that first came out in the mid-90s.

Nivienne is Fey, the daughter of the Lady of the Lake. She grows up on Apple Island, in an abandoned Roman villa, listening to Merlin's songs, one of the only Fey to have an idea of the world beyond their forest. You might know her name as Vivienne, her home as Avalon.

Legends unfold around her and many facets of the Arthur tale get folded in, while still being a different take on most of them. In the end, it's up to Nivienne and Merlin to try and keep Arthur's peace, even though we know they will ultimately fail.

I really liked this one.

First off, I liked it so much more than I liked Damosel which is similar in its premise.

I especially liked Nivienne's inner conflict between learned Human feelings and ideas and her Fey-ness. She develops feelings and affection for other characters and doesn't understand why. The Fey are supposed to be disconnected and unfeeling (there is a lot of faeries kidnapping Humans for their own pleasure, which often has dire consequences for the Arthur story). There is also a lot exploration between the world of the Fey (which Crompton keeps fairly British-traditional) and the Human. I appreciated the explanation of why the Fey got involved in the Arthur story, which I think is important when going with the traditional detached world of faerie.

Even more, it's a story of a world on the brink of change. The Church has come to Britain, and the role and world of the Fey is changing because of it. It's a side issue, but one that's really interesting and I'd love to see more work explore such things.

I also just loved the language. It's a voice and pattern and rhythm that will not work for everyone. I know that, but it's one that I really get into. You can read the first chapter here.

Two nights more, and the moon would flower. Drums would thrum, pipes sing. From the deepest, farthest fores shadows the Fey would gather in glades like this to dance, cavort, feast and love. Silent folk who carefully did not cross paths all month would meet that night as friends and lovers. And I had meant with them, this time.

Book Provided by... the publisher, for blog tour review

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, March 06, 2010

Star Wars: Rebel Force

So, I must admit that my first and foremost fictional love is not Mr. Darcy, or the Weasley twins, or even Gilbert Blythe.

It's Han Solo.

I'm a huge fan of the original movies (which I only watch sparingly, because I own them on VHS from before Lucas messed with them. I should probably upgrade the box set where the originals are part of the bonus features.) When I was in junior high, I read many of the sequels. Dan was rather taken aback when we went to see Revenge of the Sith and he asked me a question and my answer involved the spice mines of Kessel. Um, yeah...

The kids at work are also obsessed with Star Wars, but they have no idea who Han and Luke and Leia are! I once said something about Luke Skywalker to one of the kids and he said "Luke? Who? Do you mean Anakin?" I think I died a little inside that day.

That's why I was really happy when we got in the Rebel Force series by Alex Wheeler. Finally! A new series with my favorites on the covers! I wasn't going to read it, but I was in a funk the other day and decided that nothing would cheer me up more than reading a book with Han Solo on the cover. But, it's the third book in the series, so I decided to start at the beginning.

Overall, I really enjoyed the first three books. Action takes place in the three years between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The books assume at least a knowledge of the prequel movies and A New Hope. I highly recommend being familiar with the later movies as well because the books have some spoilers on the makeup of the Skywalker family tree. It's also overly obvious that Han and Leia have the hots for each other, not that they're admitting that to anyone, including themselves.


The Rebel Alliance may have just blown up the Death Star, but they still have many problems. The Emperor wants to know who fired the shot that blew up his battle station, and he wants that pilot dead. Rezi Shoresh lost his estranged wife and son in the explosion and wants to move up in the Emperor's esteem. He sends his assassin, X-7 to infiltrate the rebel forces, find the pilot who destroyed the station, and kill him. There's a twist though-- Shoresh wants X-7 to not get caught, so he can stay and report on rebel activities.

The Rebels know the Emperor is gunning for Luke, so the fact that he fired the shot is made a top secret. More pressing is the fact that most of their money and resources were on Alderaan-- the Alliance is broke. Han, Luke, and Leia are off to Muunilist, an Imperial stronghold where they have some secret bank accounts.

On their way, they meet a new friend, Tobin Elad. He's lost his entire family, like Leia. He respects Luke. He's a fellow badboy for Han. He's everything to everyone. He's also X-7.


Leia's on her way to the planet Delaya, Alderaan's sister planet. Anyone from Aderaan who wasn't on the planet when it was destroyed has gathered on Delaya. Leia's on her way to comfort her people, and to recruit them to the Rebel Alliance.

However, not all of the survivors are glad to see her. They blame her for Alderaan's destruction. She blames herself as well.

Tobin/X-7 knows how hard this is for her, and knows this is the perfect moment to find out who destroyed the Death Star. He has his suspicions, but needs confirmation.

The best part is the hidden currents of the Alderaan community. Leia's being shown a model resettlement, while most refugees are shoved in warehouses. There are different factions who don't agree on what the best course of action is, and far too many are willing to sell out our heroes to the Empire.


Now that Tobin/X-7 has confirmed Luke's status as the pilot who fired the decisive shot, he's going to kill him. But, the Force is with Luke and he survives (albeit barely) the first attempt. Han, however, is still blamed after being framed by Tobin. When Leia doesn't trust that Han would never hurt Luke, he's had enough. It's time for him to pack it in, repay Jabba, and get on with his life.

Luke knows Han didn't do it, but until they can discover who did, he and Leia has returned to Tatooine to gather with Luke's friends to say a final farewell to his childhood friend, Biggs, a member of Red Squadron who was lost trying to blow up the Death Star. (Officially, he was in the Imperial Navy and died when it exploded.)

Yoda and Obi-Wan have a plan to ensure Han will return to the Rebels, where he is desperately needed, not only as a pilot, but as a friend.

Jabba is impatient for Solo to pay for his past misdeeds. When he learns that Luke is on Tatooine, he sets a bounty hunter after him, to use Luke as a trap to catch Han...

And... that's when I discovered that this wasn't a trilogy and there's more to the story. None of my local libraries have the rest of the series (the 6th book comes out in May) so I've had to ILL them. Because I'm that sucked in. I know X-7 will never succeed at killing Luke, but I MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!

What I most love about the series is how it fills in some of the gaps. We see a lot of character development, especially from Luke and Han. I never thought it was weird how soon Han returned to the Alliance until I read this series. It shows a lot of his inner conflict between the fact he likes these people and wants to help and the fact that he has debts to pay and Jabba has put a huge price on his head. There is some of this shown in Empire Strikes Back, but it gets much more exploration in these books.

It also shows how Luke grows, trying to train himself as a Jedi (because he hasn't met Yoda yet). Also, going from some hick kid to hero of the Alliance isn't the easiest thing in the world.

Overall, it's a really fun series that I hope gets kids into the best part of the Star Wars industry and universe.

Books 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, March 05, 2010

Poetry Friday

Today's Poetry Friday is an offering of a verse novel review

On Pointe Lorie Ann Grover

By now you have all probably figured out that I have a weakness for ballet novels. Someday I'd like to do some research into the changing world of ballet novels-- when they started actively talking about permanent foot damage and eating disorders. When the heroine wasn't always guaranteed to grow up to be the world's biggest ballet star.

This one follows a more modern ballet novel plot and as a frequent reader of such things, the ballet plot was pretty predictable and wrapped up a little too quickly.

Clare is living with her grandfather for the summer, taking intensive ballet classes, preparing for an audition for the City Ballet Company. Failure, for her, is not an option, but she doesn't have control over everything and may have to face the unfaceable.

As a verse novel, this one is a bit different in that it is one long poem instead of a series of poems. As a poem, it falls into the trap of many verse novels and doesn't really work on the level of poetry. The moments of poetry come when Clare is dancing, but when it's general plot and dialogue, it doesn't work as well.

But, it is obvious that Grover is a dancer and danced at the intense level that Clare does. She's gone through the auditions and competitiveness of that level of dance and writes about it in completely authentic voice. And this is why the poetry works best when it's about the dancing.

Steamy sweat,
like a pot
of chicken soup.
Oak floors.
Pine rosin.
Sour breath
from deep inside.
We breathe it all
in rhythm.

Here is the moment
when the music flows into my bones,
and I don't have to
think of the steps,
and I don't have to count the movements,
and it really feels
like I might actually be
for a few seconds.

I'm a pale dust mote
swirling on a warm
I leap and float,
land deep and rise
to step and spin in the shaft of light,
showing everyone
who I really am.
It's like
I'm turned
inside out.

(pages 11-12)

Round up is over at Teaching Books.

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, March 04, 2010

Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: A Hercule Poirot Mystery Agatha Christie

When the richest man in town is murdered, the suspect list is long and varied. Everyone had a motive, but very few (if any) people had a way. There are marriages of convenience, heirs who have been written out of wills, affairs, black mail, and random drug-addicted relatives from America. The town doctor is our narrator and he's happy to tag along and watch his new next-door neighbor, Hercule Poirot solve the case.

I never would have guessed whodunnit except that the back says "Setting up the traditional rules of mystery only to shatter them, Christie delivers her most controversial detective novel ever, and it still startles." Which made me think in directions my mind never would have gone. My inner dialogue was a lot of "She couldn't! She wouldn't! Would she? OMG she totally did." (To not confuse you, the "she" is Christie, not a character.) I also loved the doctor's spinster sister, who is the queen of mad theories and village gossip. I think every English village has one, and her character is so perfect for the book and Poirot and Christie both use her for excellent purposes.

That said, I still loved it. I don't read a lot of mysteries, especially for adults, but I do like all the Christie I have read and I'm really glad I joined the Marple/Poirot/Holmes challenge so I have an excuse to read at least 3 more Christie books this year!

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, March 03, 2010


Cranford Elizabeth Gaskell

This is not really an actual story and more a series of vignettes that detail life in a small North England village in the mid-nineteenth century. All the gentry in Cranford are female, elderly, and not nearly as well-off as they once were or pretend to be. Mary is a younger woman who lives in the nearby city of Drumble and often stays with the Matty Jenkyns, an old family friend, in Cranford. It is through Mary's first-person narration that we meet the people and see the daily life of the upper classes in this small town.

Due to the lack of an over-arching plot, this is a slow, quiet book, but I liked it nonetheless and often laughed out loud. (The edition I have is heavily endnoted to explain some of the references.) Cranford originally appeared serially in Household Words, edited by Charles Dickens. There is a great interaction between characters as they fight over which author is better--Dickens or Samuel Johnson. Dickens is seen as lowbrow. As a modern reader, this is extra hilarious, as Dickens is what has lasted and while Johnson is still well-remembered, his novels aren't. Despite the frequent references to Dickens and Johnson, this has more in common with Austen then either of them-- it's the same focus on female gentility with a sharp wit and keen eye for the small details of daily life.

Of course, I squeed when I saw Gaskell lived in Manchester and her husband was the minister at the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel, which is where I went when I lived there. (Of course, the building's moved, as the chapel he was at was lost in the 1996 IRA bombing. Now it's in an office building.)

I must now read more of her stuff, as I'm sure she won't hate on the North! North and South is on the list, as is... OOO! More stories about Cranford and the ladies within-- Mr. Harrison's Confessions and My Lady Ludlow. here's a UK version that binds them in one 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.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Paris Pan Takes the Dare

Paris Pan Takes the Dare by Cynthea Liu

Paris hates moving every seven to eight months, but maybe this time will be different. She even manages to make friends on her first day of school. Unfortunately, she also discovers that a girl died on her family’s new property. At night, Paris hears all sorts of weird tapping noises and girls voices. In order to keep her friends and retain her non-freak status, Paris is going to have to spend the night outside in the woods that she’s convinced herself are haunted.

As an adult, there were certain aspects of the book that I had figured out early (the giggling) and some I didn't (the dolls. SO FREAKY.) Paris's struggles to make friends, her desperation for them is something I think a lot of tween readers can and will relate to. I also liked the dimension added with Robin's bullying. Paris knows it's wrong, but she also is so insecure in her place at the new school that she feels like she can't do anything to stop it. Paris's older sister, Verona, adds much needed comic relief. And, as always, I love Cynthea Liu for using real pinyin when Chinese appears in her books! But, I've blogged about that before. My favorite (for me) moment came when Paris's mom yells at her to "CLOSE THE LIGHT."

I had completely forgotten that, in Chinese, you open and close electronics instead of turning them on and off. When I studied in China, it was a construction that slipped into our English really quickly and when I came back to the States, was one of the last ones to leave my messed-up English.

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.

China Challenge: March Reviews

It's time to leave your March reviews below!

Also, I haven't done any prizes yet for this challenge. I haven't been to China in awhile, so I will be giving away books that would count for the challenge. Every review you've linked to so far in the challenge, including March's reviews, will get you one entry in a drawing. Winners will be posted in the April review post.

ALSO-- for those of you doing the Silk Road Trek, be sure to tell me about any of the supplemental stuff you did-- that will also get you an entry!

Sound good? Start reading!

Guardian Challenge 2.0

Even though I didn't finish it, I had a lot of fun with my Guardian Challenge last year, so I'm doing it again. I hope you'll join me! There are also a few changes...

So, for those who didn't play along last year, the British newspaper, The Guardian, came up with a list of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read Before They Die. (In case they take that link down, I've also posted the list here.)

UPDATE: I forgot to give the dates! Whoops! It's running March 1, 2010 to March 1, 2011.

There are 3 levels:

1. (This is the same as last year's challenge)

Read 10 books. You must read one book from each of the 7 categories. If possible, at least 1 title should be a book you hadn't heard of before seeing it on the list.


Read 7 books, one from each category.


Read any 5 books from the list.

Every month I'll have a round-up post for you to leave your links. There will probably be prizes of some sort, but I don't have any trips scheduled to England this year (I don't go for 6 years and then went back twice in a year! It was crazy. CRAZY AWESOME.) So they might not be British.

ALSO I STILL OWE PEOPLE PRIZES FROM LAST YEAR'S CHALLENGE. I haven't forgotten, I'm just still thinking.

Anyway, grab a button if you want, spread the word, sign up below and have fun!

I'm Back!

Sorry for the unscheduled break folks! After the week of being shut up in the house, I needed to not look at my computer more than necessary for awhile. Then I took a trip to New York. BUT! I'm back now with the biggest "to-review" stack in the world!

And let's not mention the to-read stack, shall we?