Friday, August 27, 2010

Last Apprentice: Rise of the Huntress

The Last Apprentice: Rise of the HuntressThe Last Apprentice: Rise of the Huntress Joseph Delaney

Ok, so I was under the impression that this was a 7-book series, making this the LAST book.

But I was wrong. This is definitely not the last one.*

The war that has always been in the background of this series has finally come to the county. Chipenden is a burned-out shell and the Spook's house, and library, are gone. As is Bony Lizzie.

The Spook, Tom, and Alice flee to Mona, an island between the County and Ireland. Mona's being overrun by refugees and they are cold people-- if you're lucky, you'll be sent back to the County. If you're not, the old are fed to the fishes, the young are pressed into labor, and many are tried as witches. And when Bony Lizzie also shows up on the island... it goes from bad to worse.

The people of Mona chilled me-- more than any of the supernatural creatures and Dark Magic that we've come across. In this book, it wasn't the buggane that creeped me out, it was the citizens of Mona-- their extreme cruelty. Also, the savageness of the invading army.

And, once I realized I wasn't getting all of my answers or a final resolution, I was actually really happy I don't have to say good-bye yet. I like the fact that this series never sucker-punches you at the end. There is an over-arching plot with unresolved issues, but you can stop reading at any time. I don't continue to read because I must know what happens next, I keep reading because Delaney tells such a good, creepy story. I keep reading because it's so good, not because a major bombshell is dropped in the final pages.

I have some thoughts I'm mulling through on the title of the book, but they're kinda spoiler-y, so I've hidden them here.

*In addition to talking about doing edits on Book 8, Delaney's website mentions that he's writing a separate book about Alice, and a separate one about Grimalkin. SWEET.

Book Provided by... my wallet. I couldn't wait for my library to get it in. I am impatient.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dead-Tossed Waves

The Dead-Tossed Waves (Forest of Hands and Teeth, Book 2)The Dead-Tossed Waves

Initially I didn't want to read this. The Forest of Hands and Teeth didn't need a sequel and why is EVERYTHING being turned into a series these days?

Then, I read a bunch of reviews here in bloggy land and learned that it's not a direct sequel, but rather the story of Mary's daughter. A related story in the same world? Now that I can handle. And crave. Like the Mudo crave to infect...*

Gabry has grown up in the lighthouse with her mother, helping her rid the beach of the Mudo after high tide. But one night, she sneaks outside the barriers of town, to the ruins of the old amusement park. Disaster strikes. Gabry gets away, but her friends that survive are severely punished. She goes back to look for Catcher, who is one of the missing, and what happens pushes Gabry, her mother, and others back into the Forest, running from the Recruiters, who help keep the Mudo at bay...

Did you like the first one? It has that same suspense and horror with a romantic subplot feeling. It's gripping. I'm not really one for horror-filled zombie stories, but I love the world that Ryan has built. I loved learning more about it, how the Return spread, how people survive, what's been happening elsewhere, outside of the forest, and off the beach. (We do get a few unresolved questions from Forest of Hands and Teeth answered.)

I could have done without the constant Elias vs. Catcher drama. THERE ARE ZOMBIES AFTER YOU! WHO CARES? But I did love Gabry's changing relationship with her best friend. And, I have to admit, I CANNOT WAIT until March, when we get The Dark and Hollow Places, which is Annah's** story. So, another related book, but not a direct sequel, which I really like.

*Yes, I am a book zombie. Like you didn't know that already. It's all about MY braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains.

**If you don't know who that is, I'm not going to spoil it for you.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Carrie Diaries

The Carrie DiariesThe Carrie Diaries Candace Bushnell

So, full disclosure upfront, I've only ever seen the show and movies of Sex and the City and haven't read the book. The Carrie Diaries is a prequel to the book. Carrie's trying to navigate high school, her youngest sister has turned into a juvenile delinquent, and she's trying to decide what to do next with her life. She's been rejected from the New School's writing program and will probably end up at Brown, which is where her father went and wants her to go. She's staunchly feminist and wears wacky clothing and tries to be a good friend.

The main part of the book is Carrie trying to juggle two relationships-- one with George, a college student she met while interviewing at Brown and Sebastian Kydd-- the bad boy every girl wants who's just come back to town.

While I really enjoyed the bits with Carrie and her friends and family, the romantic main plot left me cold. I couldn't understand why George liked Carrie (he meets a high school kid and starts a relationship with her even though she lives over an hour away? Really? WHY?) or what was going on with her and Sebastian. Lots of telling and not showing. I never bought either relationship and therefore didn't care, which left me bored for large portions of the book. Which is sad, because the dynamics of her social group, the bullying, and her relationship with her sisters was really well done and I wanted more of that.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010


ImpossibleImpossibleNancy Werlin

Short version-- it's a novelization of Scarborough Fair.

Longer version-- Lucy has a good life with her foster parents, even if her crazy birth mother, Miranda, shows up periodically to remind her how precarious it is. As Lucy prepares for the end of her junior year, everything goes wrong. Lucy's family is the subject of an ancient curse placed by a vengeful Elfin Knight. He worms his way into Lucy's current family, causes her prom date to rape and impregnate her, and is willing to claim her as his prize, like he claimed Miranda when Lucy was born and Miranda's mother when Miranda was born and so on through the generations. Lucy's only hope is to solve the riddles of the song-- to make a magical shirt without a seam or fine needlework, to find an acre of land between the salt water and the sea strand, and to plow it with just a goat's horn and so it all over with one grain of corn.

This is one of those I really enjoyed while reading it, but didn't do much for me afterwards. Lucy changes pretty dramatically in ways I don't always fully buy. Also, while I didn't like the Elfin Knight on principle, some of his actions were a little too easy-- he was really charismatic and everyone loved him and told him everything he needed to know, even things they'd never tell anyone else, and then he wiped their mind so they don't remember. It was frustrating, and not just because he was the bad guy, but he was just so... flatly bad to the point where he just started annoying me instead of me fearing that he might get Lucy, like he wanted.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Beyond

Beyond: A Solar System VoyageBeyond: A Solar System Voyage Michael Benson

Visually stunning. Benson takes full advantage of all the photographs sent back to Earth from the various satellites and telescopes and robotic explorers that we've sent into space over the years.

Exploring our solar system-- our Moon, the other planets, the asteroid belt, and some major moons of other planets, Benson walks us through the history of what humankind has thought about each body over the centuries and what we know now.

Throughout, there are many photographs of each body, helping illustrate his points.

It's a perfect combination of art, history, and science. It's fascinating and readable. While it is published for elementary school and middle school readers, I think it's really an all-ages book.

And seriously, it's jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Or at least, it does a really good job of showing the beauty of our solar system, because that's what's really so visually amazing.

Round up is over at Playing By the Book.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love

Cinderella: From Fabletown with LoveCinderella: From Fabletown with Love Chris Roberson

Here we go! This is the first Fables-verse story where Bill Willingham doesn't get top billing. In fact, he's not even on the cover. He's listed as a consultant on the title page...

Long-term fans of the series know that Cinderella appears as a flaky socialite, but is really one of Fabletown's top spies. Sometime after the war, before Fabletown is destroyed, Cinderella is sent on a mission to see who is smuggling guns into the Homelands and smuggling magic items into Mundy.

She has to team up with Aladdin and face some demons from her past...

Meanwhile, there's her cover life back in Fabletown, as the owner of a shoe store that she's too busy jetting around the world to actually work in. Crispin, her poor abused employee has some own ideas up his sleeves about what type of shoes they should be selling...

Very fun. I liked the adventure of it-- I fun spy story with some fun twists. I also liked the world of Ultima Thule (think East of the Sun, West of the Moon). The art was a little weird-- for the most part, it looked like most of the Fables art, but the Beast was a little off as was Cinderella in profile. BUT! I did like all the pink and how it was used to outline certain frames and panels.

And, of course we get more Frau Tottenkinder-- just what types of favors is she asking of Cinderella and will we ever find out?

Book Provided by... my wallet

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Friday, August 20, 2010

New Adventures of Jack and Jack

Jack of Fables Vol. 7: The New Adventures of Jack and JackJack of Fables Vol. 7: The New Adventures of Jack and Jack Bill Willingham

After the great literal battle, Jack and Gary are on the road, Jack never letting his money out of his sight. We start with a side story about Jack's time as King of the Apes. So, it's Jack's spin on how he was really Tarzan, but most of the animals he meets are talking Fables, including Pooh and Friends by other names (you can label him Saunders, but a stuffed bear who hangs out with a stuffed Piglet and Donkey and says "Oh Bother?") and a very curious monkey named George.

Then, the real story begins. Jack is getting touchier and touchier about the money and also really gaining weight and getting uglier and uglier. I thought they were going for some sort of Dorian Gray thing, but they weren't. The real reason is even funnier and better.

At the same time, Jack Frost has renounced the powers of his mother and has ventured into the homelands, performing good deeds with a wooden owl named MacDuff.

And, of course, random delusional interludes by Babe the Blue Ox.

I actually really liked this one. I liked Jack Frost's story, especially once he comes against the evil sorcerer.

Plus... what happens to Jack Horner is priceless. And perfect.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fables: The Great Fables Crossover

Fables: Great Fables Crossover (Fables 13)Fables: Great Fables Crossover Bill Willingham

So, this collects not just the next few issues of Fables, but also the next few issues of Jack of Fables, and all four issues of The Literals. Over all 9 issues, we have the entire story where Jack and the literals end their battle once and for all.

Some updates on the Fables story-- Mr. Dark is still wrecking havoc in Manhattan and his evil presence if felt up on the farm-- Bigby, the Beast, and Clara are crankier than normal and we finally see Bigby and Beast throw down.

Jack gets the Fables to help in his fight, but first beds Rose, who refuses to get out of bed and run things because her depression over Blue's death. And many of the animals think Jack is Blue come back.

Jack's son, Jack Frost has come back to help and in order to get rid of him, Jack Horner sends him on a quest to prove his worth. (Waaaaaay too many Jacks here!)

Of course, my favorite bits are the the parts with Kevin Thorne and the literals. There's the comedic value of how Kevin keeps trying to write Bigby out (and turn him into a pink elephant) but I most enjoyed the gathering of the genres and the roles they play in the battle.

I just like meta-fiction, and when meta-fiction elements go into battle against what they've created... well... it's pretty fun. Especially because if Kevin wins, he wipes us all out so he can rewrite the story from the beginning...

A really fun way to do the crossover-- a good flavor of both series and a good finish to the storyline...

Book Provided by... my wallet

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Peter and Max

Peter & Max: A Fables NovelPeter & Max: A Fables Novel Bill Willingham

This is a new one for the fables-verse... a novel. There are a few black-and-white illustrations by Steve Leialhoha-- more than you usually get in an adult novel, sure, but not nearly as many as we're used to because this is a comic book series...

So, how does the jump to straight prose work? Really, really well.

You don't have to be a Fables reader to enjoy this one (although after the epilogue, there are 8 pages of comics, an epilogue to the epilogue if you will, about the war, so if you want that to make sense, you should be up on your Fables. Or ask me. I'll explain it to you. But you should really just go and read the series, ok?) If you are a Fables reader, this book takes place in the two years leading up to the war against the Empire.

Anyway, you know Peter as the boy who ate a peck of pickled peppers and who kept his wife in a pumpkin shell. Both of which aren't true, of course, but have their roots in reality. His older brother, Max, is the piper who stole all the children of Hamlin.*

Peter's family were musicians and Peter was the most gifted. His father gave him Frost, a magical pipe that plays beautifully, but will cut your lips with its razor-sharp mouthpiece. It must stay in the family and can, for each owner, drive away danger three times.

Max never forgave his father for for giving Frost to Peter, the younger son. When the Empire's forces come knocking, the family is scattered and Max's heart is twisted to a point of no return-- so horribly that he can make a mildly magic flute into an instrument of pain and suffering.

Peter ends up as a thief in Hamlin, his long-lost friend Bo Peep, one of Hamlin's deadliest assassins. But Max and Empire are looking for them, and they have to find a way to escape to the Mundy world, our world.

The book flips back and forth between their story in the Homelands and the Mundy world in the modern day, for Max has come to the Mundy Hamlin, and it's time for Peter to end this for once and for all.

Exciting and heartbreaking, a very in-depth story about life in the Homelands and life under the Empire and how two Fables escaped, and how, despite the amnesty, fleeing to the Mundy world doesn't solve everything, even centuries later...

Really, this is up there with Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall for my favorite Fables book.

*What is it with Frau Tottenkinder and the children? I really want more of her story. Hopefully in Fables, Book 14: Witches?

Book Provided by... my wallet

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Depending on how often my feed feeds to your feed reader, or if you clicked over at the right minute, y'all just got a sneak peek of Thursday's Fables post.

Oh, the joys of sloppy pre-scheduling.

Anyway, it's down now and you can wait until Thursday to read it if you missed it, BUT! to make up for it, check out this twitter feed: Chrisvstwilight with such amazing tweets as:

How can a book about a werewolf who builds motorcycles be this boring? 

At this point, I have to wonder how much of this book is going to be devoted to the fact that Bella is really, really, really sad. #wegetit
It's like if Dickens had taken 200 pages to establish that Marley was really, really, really really really dead.

He reads Twilight  so you don't have to.   

Jacks' Big Book of War

Jack of Fables Vol. 6: The Big Book of WarJack of Fables Vol. 6: The Big Book of War Bill Willingham

Basically, this is just a lead-up to the Fables Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover which will deal with those literals once and for all.

I don't enjoy the Jack spinoff series nearly as much as I enjoy Fables, but I do like the concept of the literals-- characters populating the world who have the power to delete and rewrite.

In events that have been twisting for a few volumes now, Mr. Revise and the Page sisters are on the same side as the Golden Boughs Fables in their battle against the Book Burner.

Lots of battle in this one. But, really, it's a place holder book, helping build up to the final battle.

Although, I did like the twist at the end when we find out who Jack's parents are. HA! HA! HA!

I also enjoy all the forgotten Fables that have been locked up at Golden Boughs.

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.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Fables: The Dark Ages

It's Fables week here at Biblio File!

I love this series and the various spin-offs. I'm also really, really behind in reviewing it, so let's take the entire week to head down to Bullfinch Street and up the farm and maybe even back to the Homelands to see how things are going ok?

First up is...

Fables Vol. 12: The Dark AgesFables Vol. 12: The Dark Ages The Dark Ages

I just cannot talk about this book without MASSIVE SPOILERS. So sorry, but. I'm also not going to hide the spoilers because this book has been out for a year now, longer if you read them issue by issue instead of omnibus form, like I do.

So, if you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for? I've read other reviews that didn't like it that much, while I absolutely LOVED it, so... go read it and then come back.

Now, down to business...

So, we have 4 stories in this one, but I'm really only going to talk about the 5-issue "Dark Ages" arc which sets up Fabletown's next crisis-- with the Empire fallen, dark forces are loose and Fabletown's in more danger than ever. We also say goodbye to some pretty major characters here.

1. Prince Charming's funeral. Interestingly, there's no talk of him coming back, although he's a very important fable, having a staring role in many very popular stories.

2. KAY! Poor Kay. He was never a major character in the series, and I'm not sure he's entirely dead, because Mr. Dark is pretty scary and weird, so... I'm more than a little worried about what it means that Kay's now under his control.

3. Blue. Blue dies horribly and it's sad and awful. There is a lot of talk about him coming back-- everyone's worried because while he was very important to Fabletown, in the mundy world, he just got 1 minor nursery rhyme. No one knows if it will be enough.

With everyone now living on the farm, there is also more to the discord that led to the problems in Fables Vol. 2: Animal Farm. There is also a lot of discussion on who gets to come back and why.

Sadly, none of these issues has been touched on again in what's come out in the last year. (To be fair though, we've only gotten 1 volume of Fables proper since then, and it was a cross-over with Jack and solves Jack's major storyline. But I'm hoping we'll see more in Fables, Book 14: Witches, which comes out in December.)

So many interesting questions raised in this issue concerning the nature of the Fables.

Because, looking back at the series, we never see any Fables come back from the dead, the popular ones are the strong ones and they're just really, really, really, really hard to kill. So they never die in the first place.

So, what do we think? Are Charming and Blue gone for good? Or will we see them again? And what about Kay?

Book Provided by... my wallet

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Nonfiction Monday: The Other Wes Moore

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two FatesThe Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates Wes Moore

The chilling truth is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.

In December 2000, there were two stories in the Baltimore Sun about two different men, both named Wes Moore. One had just won a Rhodes scholarship, one was wanted in connection with a jewelry store robbery in which an off-duty police officer was murdered. For years, the Wes Moore that won the Rhodes scholarship wondered about the other Wes Moore, who was now in prison, serving a life sentence without the chance of parole. They both grew up poor at the same time, without fathers. Why did one end up speaking at the Democratic National Convention mere hours before Obama accepted the nomination and one end up in prison?

This book doesn't answer the question, because they're not clear. But it tells a story of two boys who grow into two men and the choices they made and why. It shows two very similiar, and two very different lives. I could talk about the details of their lives, but you should read it for yourself to find out. Or, watch Moore explain his book to Stephen Colbert: embed clip:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Wes Moore
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionFox News

But, beyond the subject matter, it's just really well written. Moore can tell a story, and tell it well. When I picked it up, I just started reading the introduction. The introduction was not new information for me-- I'd seen him on Colbert and listened to an interview with Moore on the Diane Rehm show. Even though I knew the information from the introduction, I just couldn't put the book down. It's gripping and readable and worth the hype its been getting. Moore also includes information on over 200 organizations to help at-risk youth across the country.

My only quibble with the book is that is says both Wes Moores grew up in Baltimore which is... not entirely true. The author was born on the DC/Maryland border, probably extremely close to where I work. After his father died, his mother moved the family to the Bronx, to live with her parents. He then ended up at Valley Forge military school in rural Pennsylvania before moving back to Baltimore to attend Johns Hopkins (his mother had moved back a few years prior.) Meanwhile, the other Wes Moore spent his entire life in Baltimore City and Baltimore County (which surrounds the city on three sides-- it's a very odd set-up that still doesn't make entire sense 5 years after moving to this area.)

What really shocked me was at the end of the book, when Moore is starting his Rhodes scholarship, right after 9/11. That's when it hit me that the Wes Moore who wrote this book was only a year above me in school, two years older than me. When I was growing up in a mid-sized town in the midwest, watching the crack wars and inner city the evening news, these men were living it. It brought the book back to me in a way that was more personal than a lot of nonfiction is.

In a million different ways, it's an amazing book, and you should read it. I think a lot of teens will really enjoy it as well, and be able to get a lot of it.

Round up is over at Apple with Many Seeds! Go check out the other offerings.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Guardian Challenge: August Reviews

Leave your links to Guardian Challenge reviews for August below!

China Challenge: August Reviews

It's the last month of the China Challenge! Add in your links for China Challenge reviews below and your wrap-up posts (if you haven't left a link yet)! Good luck. I hope y'all had fun. I know I did.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Poetry Friday: Song for Baby-O, Unborn

In my post last week about the 30 most influential books in my life, I mentioned that On the Road led to me to the rest of the Beats and influenced a large part of my high school angst.

I mentioned that, even now, "Song for Baby-O, Unborn" is still one of my favorite poems. So, I pulled my well-read and worn copy of The Portable Beat Reader off my shelf to share it with you.

Song for Baby-O, Unborn

when you break thru
you'll find
a poet here
not quite what one would choose.

I won't promise
you'll never go hungry
or that you won't be sad
on this gutted

but I can show you
enough to love
to break your heart

--Diane DiPrima

Round up is over at the Stenhouse Blog! Check it out!

Book Provided by... my wallet, over half a life-time ago.

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.

Year of the Historical: Flygirl

FlygirlFlygirl Sherri L. Smith

This one (rightly) got a lot of buzz when it first came out. All Ida Mae has ever wanted to do was fly. After her father passed, she still flew his crop duster plane. People around their farm knew her-- they didn't mind she was a girl or colored. But, even though they knew a place that would give a colored person their pilot's license, they won't give one to a woman.Then the war happened and the plane and fuel were saved for the war effort. When the service starts hiring female pilots, Ida knows they won't take her, unless... she's always been light-skinned and knows she could pass for white. So, with a borrowed outfit and forged pilot's license, she's off to help the war effort.

Only, passing means she has to deny her family and her past. When her mother comes to visit, she has to pretend to be Ida's former maid. She can't openly mourn that her brother's missing in the Pacific. A small mis-step will get her kicked out of the WASPs- if she's lucky.

A wonderfully written story about family and home, following your heart, friendship, and flying. Most of the discussion about this book deals with Ida's passing, and the fact that, as far as anyone knows, no one passed as white to get into the WASPs. These are such heady and important issues, that not a lot of people talk about the flying. In addition to everything mentioned above (which is done beautifully) this is also a great book about flying in the 40s, daily life as a WASP pilot, and the hardships these pilots faced just because they were women.

A wonderful story that's beautifully written.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time

Stanford Wong Flunks Big-timeStanford Wong Flunks Big-time Lisa Yee

When I was in grade school, it was a lot easier to figure out if a girl like liked you. All you had to do was hit her. I don't mean slug her, but just sort of hit lightly and laugh lightheartedly while you were doing it. If the girl hit you back and smiles, she like liked you. But if she screamed and then slugged you really hard or worse, kicked you, it meant that only did she not like like you, she hated you, which automatically meant that all her friends did too. page 94

We all know how Millicent felt about tutoring Stanford over the summer, but here's Stanford's side of things.

All Stanford likes is to play ball. He's keenly aware that he's not a genius like his sister or father. He thinks his life is over when he fails English and can't go to basketball camp, even worse, if he doesn't pass it in summer school, he won't be able to play ball next school year. And he's just been named to the A-Team. 7th graders NEVER make the A-Team. All he has to do is keep his friends from finding out that he's a failure and pass English.

Of course, his friends keep fighting so even basketball isn't entirely fun at the moment, his parents keep fighting, they stuck his grandmother in a nursing home where she's miserable, and Stanford has to spend his summer with Millicent Min, who has set the bar for Chinese students way too high.

Even though this is a story I've read from Millicent's point of view before, this is still completely new. Yee's humor is in full force, and Stanford tries to juggle way too much for one summer. I also love how he's a secret knitter for stress relief. His relationship with his father was probably the most heart-breaking subplot. I also love his interactions with his friends. They're boys and gross (like the time they decided to see if farts smell better to the person who farted them than to other people) but there were also a lot of interpersonal dynamics under the surface. I also loved the truth about why Millicent changed schools and why she and Digger hate each other so much.

A great read on its own, but even better if you're already a fan of Millicent Min.

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, August 11, 2010

Year of the Historical: Countdown

CountdownCountdown Deborah Wiles

I run a book club at the library for 9-12s. Every month everyone reads a book and then we get together to discuss it. This spring, we read T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, about the space race. When we started our discussion, I talked a little about the cold war and "mutually assured destruction" and... they just didn't get it. It took me awhile, but in our conversation I realized that most of these kids were born after 9/11. Terror threat levels and suicide bombers and rogue nations have always been the background of their lives. They actually found our fear of an enemy that may attack, but hadn't actually done so yet, cute and funny. It blew my mind. It's still blowing my mind.

Countdown is the story of Franny Chapman. Her older sister is keeping secrets that Franny can't figure out. Her younger brother is annoyingly perfect in everything he does. Her uncle is suffering from PTSD based on his experiences in WWI and often doesn't realize he's no longer in the trenches. His outbursts frequently embarrass her in front of her friends, and worry her. Her best friend is spending time with another girl and it seems she no longer wants to be friends with Franny.

But, none of this seems to matter any more when President Kennedy gets on the news and says that the Soviets are sending missiles to Cuba.

At the heart of this story is one could be told today--trying to find your place in your family and changing friendships.

In the background though, is one that's never been told like this before. Frequently, between the chapters, are ephemera collages--pictures, advertisements, quotations from song lyrics and politicians... I think these collages will initially confuse readers, but only to the point where they'll want to know more. Luckily, it's heavily indexed in the back, because some things won't be easily recognized for those of us who didn't grow up in the 60s. I only recognized the text from "The world is a carousel of color" as a Kodak ad campaign because of diligent Mad Men watching. There is some rather dark humor in there as well-- a photo essay of Soviet war ships and the Duck-and-Cover cartoon is labeled with the lyrics to "Locomotion."

This is the first in a project trilogy of companion novels about the 1960s. One thing I'll be interested in for the next novel is if it gets into the Civil Rights movement. Race relations aren't really a part of this story (although Franny's sister's secrets involve "secret codes" that Franny can't figure out, but readers familiar with the history of the Civil Rights movement will recognize SNCC.) It also comes up frequently in the ephemera sections-- pictures of segregated water fountains, text and photos of lunch counter sit-ins, the King family, the freedom rides, and other information. So, the foundation is definitely there, and I'm excited to see what happens next.

A very interesting presentation that's backed by a solidly wonderful story that's not all about a historical event, but about the daily life that goes on while you're worried the world will end.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Night Tourist

The Night TouristThe Night Tourist Katherine Marsh

While on his way home from New York City, Jack meets Euri at Grand Central Station. Euri promises to show him something cool, so he follows. What Euri shows him is the New York underworld. Not like in the crime-and-gangster sense, but in the Greek and Roman afterlife sense. Jack wants to see his dead mother one last time. He has three nights before he has to leave, or stay forever. Meanwhile, he has to outrun crooked cops who want to feed him to Cerebus as punishment for being alive.

A great, quick read that offers a different take on the recent literature obsession with the ancient Greeks and Romans (which is an obsession in 110% cool with.) I love all the people, famous and not, that Jack runs across in his travels through the underworld and how the dead govern themselves and use the city as their nighttime playground. I love the though that Marsh put into the dynamics of being a spirit who hasn't yet passed into Elysium-- some are ok with it and some, like Euri are very much not. It was great to see this world from an ordinary person instead of the god or goddess point of view. It's a really interesting look at what a Roman afterlife would be like in our modern world, while still being a great story about friendship, life, and loss.

I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, The Twilight Prisoner

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, August 09, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Weird But True!

Weird But True: 300 Outrageous Facts (National Geographic Kids)I have two awesome books for you today!

Weird But True: 300 Outrageous Facts and Weird but True! 2: 300 Outrageous Facts, both by the National Geographic Kids

Both books have a brilliant design-- graphic heavy with great colors and lots of different fonts. Visually, this is the type of book that kids absolutely love to look at. Even better, it's just a collection of facts, so it's a great book for kids to pick up and leaf through and put back down. Although, once you start leafing through, you won't be able to put it back down until you've read it all.


The facts are just fun!

I liked the Monopoly facts because Dan gave me the Monopoly app and sooooooooooooooo addictive.

The longest game of Monopoly played in a bathtub lasted for 99 hours.
The longest game of Monopoly played in a tree house lasted 286 hours.

Weird but True! 2: 300 Outrageous FactsAlso, I learned a lot about hippos:

They sweat red, can be more dangerous than lions, can run as fast as humans, and their lips are about two feet wide.

Speaking of Lions, did you know that South Africa's giant bullfrogs sometimes attack lions?

Some of the facts are things that I already knew-- French Fries are Belgian, not French, a tiger's skin is striped like its fur, and there are more plastic flamingos in the US than real flamingos.

But, some I didn't and are just plain fun:

It's illegal to sell a haunted house in New York without telling the buyer.

Recycling 1 soda can saves enough energy to run a TV for 3 hours.

There's a one in one trillion chance that your house will be hit by space junk. TODAY.

Super fun and a sure fire hit.

HELPFUL LIBRARY HINT: My best display of the summer was "fun books to look at while waiting for your turn on the computer." So, a lot of picture riddles, various illustrated editions of the Guinness World Records, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, and books like these from National Geographic.

The kids love the display and it keeps them from getting into too much trouble on those days when 5 large groups decide to come to the library at the exact same time. Not only are these two books fun, they're a lifesaver for the busy librarian.

Check out the full round up over at Moms Inspire Learning!

Book Provided by... my local library (the first one) and my wallet (the second one.)

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 to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North KoreaNothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea Barbara Demick

While working as the LA Times Korea correspondent, Demick met several North Korean defectors now living in Seoul. Through many interviews with them and their family members, she learns the stories of their lives in North Korea and why and how they left. The why tends to be a much easier question to answer than the how.

The people range in experiences and backgrounds-- Mi-Ran had tainted blood (her father was actually a South Korean who was taken as a POW during the Korean war and never returned) and many avenues of schooling and advancement are closed to her because of her bad class background. Mrs. Song was a true believer. Her father was killed in the Korean War, which gave him the status of "martyr of the Fatherland Liberation War"-- a class status that helped his daughter. She married a Party member, and was frequently the leader of her inminban.* Mrs. Song's daughter, Oak-Hee, didn't believe in the regime and saw through its lies. Jun-sang was Mi-Ran's secret boyfriend, and a university student in Pyongyang. Kim Hyuck was given to an orphanage when the economy tanked and his father couldn't support him anymore. After getting caught smuggling goods across the river to China, he ends up in a labor camp. Kim Ji-eun was a doctor and wanted to be a Party member. She watched her patients starve to death and the hospital run out of supplies. All of the people interviewed came from Chongjin, a city in the northern part of the country.

In their stories, and the others told here, the reader is introduced to life in North Korea during the last 20-30 years. Things go from bad to worse to unfathomable. A few months before the death of Kim Il-Sung (July 1994) Jun-Sung and his fellow university students were forced to sign a petition swearing they would volunteer for the army in case of war. They were literally forced to sign in blood.

What this book is great at is showing the daily life and how it indoctrinates citizens into believing in the regime. A math problem in an official textbook reads A girl is acting as a messenger to our patriotic troops during the war against the Japanese occupation. She carries messages in a basket containing 5 apples, but is stopped by a Japanese solider at a checkpoint. He steals two of her apples. How many are left? (page 120) a school song contains the lyrics

Our enemies are the American bastards
Who are trying to take over our beautiful fatherland.
With guns that I make with my own hands
I will shoot them. BANG, BANG, BANG.
(p 121)

What was also interesting were their escape stories. As everyone lived in the north, they crossed the border into China. However, once in China, they weren't safe, as the Chinese deport all North Korean refugees they find back to North Korea (where they will be killed). The embassies in China aren't allowed to take them in, either. They have to find a way out of China so they can find an embassy that will get them to South Korea. Amazingly, if you enter Mongolia and get arrested, you automatically get deported-- but to South Korea. The cheapest way to get to South Korea is to cross into Mongolia and hope you get arrested.

Every time I read something about North Korea, I'm amazed. I've spent most of the last decade studying (for school and just on my own) modern Chinese history. I've read countless memoirs of the Great Leap Forward, Great Famine, and the Cultural Revolution. I've read all about the truth under the economic boom China's currently going through. North Korea isn't China, I know. But, there are enough parallels that when it comes to human tragedy I feel I should be on comfortable ground, but... no. I'm not. Maybe because this happened within my lifetime? Because I remember it happening on the evening news? While all I actively remember of China is the economic miracle (I mean, Tiananmen certainly happened in my lifetime, but I missed it. I was obsessed with Germany and the fall of the Iron Curtain at the time.) And even as I become more comfortable in my knowledge of North Korea, where I think that I'm familiar with the basics of the situation... no. I'm not. I'm shocked and horrified every single time.

Very readable and a fascinating look into an area of the world it's so hard to get information out of.

*North Koreans are organized into what are called the inminban-- literally, "people's group"--cooperatives of twenty or so families whose job it is to keep tabs on one another and run the neighborhood. The inminban have an elected leader, usually a middle-aged woman, who reports anything suspicious to higher-ranking authorities. Personal files were local offices of the Ministry for the Protection of State Security and, for extra safe-keeping, just in case someone dared to think of tampering with the records, in the mountainous Yanggang province. p27-28

Book Provided by... my local library

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Flash Burnout

Flash BurnoutFlash Burnout L. K. Madigan

Blake often feels torn between Shannon, his perfect girlfriend, and his best friend Marissa. Things get more complicated when Blake takes a picture of a meth addict passed out in an alley way for photography class. A meth addict that just happens to be Marissa's missing mother. Blake tries to support Marissa as she finds her mom and tries to (once again) get her cleaned up, but balancing Marissa's needs with Shannon's wants is more than Blake can handle.

For about the first 100 pages, Blake's voice really annoyed me. I felt like he should be narrating something that was much more laugh-out-loud funny than the story he is narrating. It's not that there's a voice shift after 100 pages, that's just when I got used to it so it stopped bugging me.

I really liked Blake's family. I liked the dark humor of how his dad's job as a medical examiner encroaches on their home life. I liked how Blake's parents and brother were in the picture and very supportive. Even Blake's brother, whom he doesn't always get along with, was there when push came to shove, which was nice to see.

But seriously, OMG, Shannon's mom was such a @#$$%&!@$%^&! I can understand how Blake was probably a rather annoying boyfriend from a parental perspective, but woah, way to actively sabotage everything. Blake really didn't need her help in messing things up. But because of how evil her mom was, I wasn't nearly as sympathetic to Shannon as I should have been. I also think Shannon got the short stick in the Blake-Shannon-Marissa triangle, because Shannon didn't have any real drama in her life and Blake was spending all of his time with Marissa, so Shannon was just kinda there, but wasn't really given a chance in the story for the reader to connect with her. Poor Shannon.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Thursday, August 05, 2010

One Crazy Summer

One Crazy SummerOne Crazy Summer Rita Williams-Garcia

This one's already received a lot of well-deserved hype. In 1968, Delphine's father sends her and her sisters from their home in Brooklyn to Oakland, to spend the summer with the mother that walked out on them. Everyone says Cecile was crazy. Delphine remembers the words and poetry she used to draw all over the walls of their apartment before she left. Now Cecile has a printing press in her kitchen and won't let the girls in. Cecile's changed her name to Nzila. Cecile doesn't make a secret about the fact she doesn't want her daughters there. The girls are forced to spend all day at the summer camp that Cecile's friends, the Black Panthers, run.

While Delphine's grandmother worries the girls will make themselves a Grand Negro Spectacle, the camp shows Delphine a very different side to the stories she's seen on the evening news.

But, while this is a story of the Panthers and of Delphine's changing race consciousness, it's also a story of a girl who's tried to take care of her younger sisters way too long, trying to make sense of why her mother left and what she has become. It's a story of three sisters and their changing relationship. It's a story about poetry and family and finding a new community.

Such a beautiful story that was better than the hype made it out to be. I'll add my voice to those who like to mention this book and Newbery in the same sentence.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

If I Stay

If I StayIf I Stay Gayle Forman

I'm not sure why this gets recommended to/compared to Twilight so much. This is so much better-- the writing is better, the characters are more developed, the girls are strong and the guys aren't jackasses, also, no vampires. But, whatever.

One day, Mia and her family are driving to visit family friends when there's a horrific car crash. Mia's parents are instantly killed and Mia is med-evaced to the hospital, where doctors try to save her. Mia's spirit is outside her body, trying to decide if she should stay, or join her family in death. As she lies in a coma, she flashes back to parts of her life-- her parents, her brother, her extended family and large group of family friends, her best friend and her boyfriend.

Mia's a classical cellist on her way to Julliard, her parents are former punk rockers, and her boyfriend's band is starting to take off. In many, many ways, this is a novel about music-- about people who live music, and the role music plays in our lives. I also loved the conflict in Mia's relationship with Adam-- if she got in (and she was probably going to get in) she would be moving from the Pacific Northwest to New York for Julliard. Adam's band was starting to take off-- he had to stay in the Seattle area and it wasn't easy. Neither wanted to break up, but neither wanted to give up their dreams, and were wary of a long-distance relationship, which put strain on things. I love the fact that while Mia was very troubled by it and obviously loved Adam in a more mature way than a lot of high school loves, she never seriously considered choosing him over Julliard. I also liked the conflict between Mia's classical style and Adam's rocker sensibilities-- she has a hard time connecting with Adam's rock friends at concerts and such and it is a source of tension.

On the other hand, this has the greatest (and hottest, and most emotionally intense) scene of love-making ever. And they don't even have sex and it's not really graphic. But... damn.*

I also love the role her family and the family friends play in this novel. I have an excellent relationship with my parents, and it was good when I was in high school, too. My sister and I are close. My parents also have a strong group of friends that I grew up surrounded by and while they aren't all former punk-rockers, most of them are folk musicians. So much of it mirrored my own upbringing in a way we so rarely see in teen literature.

I never skip to the end of the book. NEVER EVER EVER EVER. Seriously, NEVER. But it became apparent very quickly that I was getting way too emotionally invested in Mia's story. Before I went any further, I had to know what was going to happen, if she was going to stay, or die. I peeked. For the first time ever, I skipped to the last page.

That didn't stop me from crying throughout the entire thing. The best parts of the book are near the end, but aren't really spoilery, plot-wise, but kinda spoilery like the trailer of a movie that shows you all the good stuff and there's nothing left the movie. Not that this is the case here, but yeah... I've hidden them here.

In short, awesome and love. But have your tissues handy.

*I flip-flopped on commenting on it, because it's not a sexual book and it's not a huge scene, and so I don't want people to think that it has graphic sex or whatever, because it TOTALLY DOESN'T. But that scene, which shows that "sex" and "making love" aren't the same thing by a long shot, was super hot, and frankly, my favorite love scene that I've ever read. EVER. So I had to comment, because, as I said before... damn.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, August 02, 2010

The 30 Most Influential Books...

I turned 30 last week. To celebrate, I ate a lot of cake. I also came up with a list of the 30 most influential books in my life so far. It was a fun exercise that surprised me in some ways. Some books were easy to pinpoint. For some, I thought about phases in my life and various obsessions through the years and tracked them back to the book that was responsible (a book is almost always responsible.)

These aren't my 30 favorite books, or the 30 best books I've ever read, but these 30 books fundamentally changed my life in some way, large or small. They changed the way I look at the broader world, the way I look at storytelling, or just had a heavy influence on my later reading tastes.

The list is roughly in chronological order.

Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever (Golden Bestsellers Series) Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever Richard Scarry

According to my parents, this was the book I demanded they read to me every night. No story, just words and pictures. Then again, when I look up a word in a print dictionary, I often get distracted by the other words and it ends up taking me 30 minutes.

Hop on Pop (Beginner Books(R))Hop on Pop Dr. Seuss

I demanded the book be read to me so many times that I memorized it. Being 4, I thought I could read it. I was so proud of myself. I have very strong memories of me declaring I knew how to read and reading this book out loud. It's only with hindsight that I realize now that no, I didn't teach myself how to read that book. But, don't tell my inner 4-year-old. She's pitching a major fit right now just because I typed out the cold, hard truth of my memorization skills.

Chronicles of Narnia Movie Tie-in Rack Box Set Prince Caspian (Books 1 to 7), ThThe Chronicles of Narnia C. S. Lewis

Yeah, when it comes to series, I'm cheating. My parents read the first few books out loud to us, a chapter or two a night, when my sister and I were young. In later elementary school, I finished the series on my own. I walked around in a funk for a week after finishing The Last Battle because it was over. There were no more Narnia books and I wasn't entirely sure what to do with myself. I revisited the series in college for my final paper and project in my Jesus class, which showed me how much more to these books there was than what I got out of them the first time around.

Meet Samantha: An American Girl (American Girls Collection, Book 1)Meet Samantha: An American Girl Susan S. Adler

I know the arguments against American Girl and I understand them, I really do. But...

I was one of the girls that received the very first American Girl catalog ever. Back when there were only 3 dolls and 3 outfits for each. And for some messed up reason, I remember the day I got that catalog. (Seriously, I had just come home from Melissa Paiser's birthday party across the street. I tell myself it wasn't the marketing, but just the unbridled joy of getting a piece of mail JUST FOR ME when it wasn't my birthday.) My obsession with Samantha over the next few years spilled into a general obsession with American Victorian fashion and times, and all things lacy and frilly. Samantha taught me about child labor, how hard societal change is (yes, there was the subplot about women's voting rights, but I'm mainly thinking of how controversial her uncle's car was) that too much salt will ruin ice cream, taking care of nice toys, and the meaning of "rustic" and "taffeta."

The Secret Garden: Centennial EditionThe Secret Garden France Hodgson Burnett

I've been watching a lot of Bones lately. In an episode I saw this weekend, it ended with Brennan reading to her niece in the hospital. You can't see what book she's holding. All you hear is "Why was I forgotten?" Mary said, stamping her foot. "Why does no one come?" The young man whose name was Barney looked at her very sadly. Mary even thought she saw him wink his eyes as if you wink tears away.

As soon as Mary stamped her foot, I knew the book. I have no idea how many times I've read this over the years. My romantic notions of Yorkshire's moors have nothing to do with Wuthering Heights. No, I knew their mystery and magic and desolation back when the only Heathcliff I knew was a cartoon cat who was up to no good, making trouble in the neighborhood.

This is the book that makes me want to garden.

After reading this and A Little Princess, I wondered why all these British people were in India in the first place, which lead to a lot of research on India and British Imperialism and Gandhi and partition... this book is also one of the reasons I love to explore the changing notions of British identity, but we'll get into that a bit later.

Also, the musical based on this is AWESOME and gave me a very useful lyric that I repeat to myself on a fairly regular basis:

It's this day, not me, that's bound to go away

Drina Jean Estoril

While I love Drina to bits and pieces, as silly and old school British as it is, that's not what makes this an influential series. When Dan and I moved to Michigan, I finally moved the vast majority of my stuff out of my parents house, including most of my childhood books (they have since found a few boxes that are still in their basement.) As we were finally combining book collections, I did a major weed of my books-- we really didn't need two copies of Argument Without End In Search Of Answers To The Vietnam Tragedy (we were in the same history seminar) or our Calc textbook. I got rid of many of my childhood books because, when the time came to have our own children, I'd buy them new shiny copies. If I wanted to read them before then, well, I'd just get them from the library.

Fast forward 2 years and I'm starting my job as a children's librarian. I decided to reread my childhood favorites. This is when I discovered that DRINA IS OUT OF PRINT. As I searched eBay and used book sets to replace my beloved books, I discovered that there were 6 books in the series that never came out in the US. Those took years to track down and save up for.

Totally worth it.

And now, when someone suggests that I weed my books, I just scream, "DRINA! OUT OF PRINT!" at them.

I also use this to justify my hoarding of books. If I like a book, I better acquire it. The library might not have it! ACK!

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerFrom the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler E. L. Konigsburg

This book is the reason why I really like Dan Brown. I know that's heresy, but ever since reading this book, I've enjoyed mysteries and thrillers that are based on art. That includes mass market fun like Dan Brown, or more serious fare like Chasing Vermeer (which I like better than The Mixed-Up Files.)

Sadly, when I reread this as an adult, it had lost a little something, which broke my heart in a huge way.

But, seriously, art-based mysteries? I love them, and it's all because of this book.

Charlotte Sometimes (The New York Review Children's Collection)Charlotte Sometimes Penelope Farmer

This is the book that initially sparked my interest in WWI. An interest that has never died down.

This was also a lost book for me. I remember reading it in the car when we drove to Indiana to visit my grandmother at some point. I remember being happy we were caught in traffic, because I was almost to the end and didn't want to get to grandma's apartment when I only had 10 pages left, because I wouldn't be allowed to finish it until bedtime. There was a Steak and Shake out my window. (Why the @#$^ do I remember that?)

Then, as I was reintroduced to the world of children's books 5 years ago, this book niggled somewhere on the fringes of my brain. I remembered parts of the plot, but couldn't figure out what the book was. A few months of searching and I found it.

When I first read it, I read the revised edition that came out in the 80s. When I reread it, I read the original 1969 edition. DIFFERENT ENDINGS. The re-release has the original ending. I now own the 80s version and the most recent edition. I'm trying to track down an affordable copy of the 1969 edition. I keep getting burned by people promising me it's the 1969 edition and then sending me the 80s one. Grrrrrrrr.

Anne of Green Gables (Puffin Classics)Anne of Green Gables L. M. Montgomery

Growing up in the 80s, all my dresses had puffed sleeves. I totally knew why Anne also wanted puffed sleeves. Puffed sleeves is where it was at.

Gilbert was my first fictional crush. (And he's still one of my main ones!)

Also, her name was Anne. WITH AN E. Just like my middle name, which always got spelled incorrectly.

This is another that I've read multiple times. I get something new out of it every time. And when I saw that Lauren Child had illustrated a new cover and written an introduction? I had to buy it.

Someday, I will go to Prince Edward's Island.

Remember MeRemember Me Christopher Pike

This list is in roughly chronological order.

When I was in 5th grade, this was my favorite book. My other favorite book was Matilda. I try to remind myself of this every time I see kids leave the children's room for the teen section when I think they're too young.

I don't know how my mother did it.

This was my first Christopher Pike book. I spent the next four years devouring everything he wrote.

Seriously, my biggest SQUEE fan-girl moment at ALA was when I saw the ARC for his new book, The Secret of Ka. Also, I love it at work when kids come up to me and say "Do you have books like Goosebumps, but you know... scary?" And I always say "Let me introduce you to a very old friend of mine..."

Betty Crockers Cookbook

It was bright orange and a lot of the pages were falling out, but this book was the first one that got me cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. I have the 2005 edition, but it's not the same as the 1969 orange one. I inherited a 1969 one from my great-aunt and TOTALLY FORGOT to get it from my parent's house when I was there a few weeks ago.

After leaving home, I went through my Mrs. Rombauer phase and now pretty much rely on How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food by Bittman.

But, it all comes back to the bright orange Betty Crocker. Yum!

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret Judy Blume

This was the very first book by Blume I read. I got this book from a former youth minister for my birthday. I'm sure she gave it to me because of it's exploration of faiths, but I was pretty focused on the puberty section, which was more relevant at the time.

I have since read everything Blume's written. Her work taught me a lot about growing up-- physically and emotionally. Looking back, she also was my first introduction to people living a Jewish life. In her works, almost everyone was Jewish, but the books weren't about being Jewish (although Margaret is about being forced to choose between Judaism and Catholicism.)

Although Judy Blume isn't the reason I'm becoming Jewish, I'm not about to deny her influence!

Two Moons in AugustTwo Moons in August Martha Brooks

I was just thinking of this book on Sunday, when watching the Mad Men Season Premeire because Jantzen bathing suits play a big role in the book. This book is also the reason I bought A Night in Tunisia.

No other book captures so well the scariness that comes with opening yourself up to emotional attachment, the pain of loss, family dynamics, and the importance of living your life fully... Also, it perfectly captures the wondrous beauty of the small, everyday things, like plums.

AND! Just to give it push in relation to recent discussions on literature and race, although it's historical fiction from the late 50s, the main character's older sister's boyfriend is a super-hottt Chinese guy and the inter-racial aspect of the relationship is touched on in a few passing comments, but not a big deal at all.

On the Road (Penguin Classics)On the Road Jack Kerouac

This is a book I haven't read more than once, and I'm not about to. This book would annoy me today. But, summer before sophomore year of high school, when I took the train out to San Fransisco, listening to that Art Blakey CD?

It made a huge impact and lead to multiple readings of The Portable Beat Reader throughout high school. "Song for Baby-O, Unborn" by Diane DiPrima is still one of my favorite poems.

Also, it claims that the prettiest girls live in Iowa and it does have one of the best last sentences ever (it's half a page long.) I haven't reread the book, but I have reread that sentence a million times. In college, we frequently used to exclaim "Des Moines! That's almost to Denver!"

...and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear?

TrainspottingTrainspotting Irvine Welsh

I read this book because my British penpal told me to. Summer before junior year of high school, and I'm standing in my bedroom, reading out loud to get through the dialect and learning about a different side to Britain than Shakespeare and Drina.

That year in school, we had to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. My teacher suggested that when we go to Jim's bits, we read out loud until we get used to the dialect. Ha! After a summer of deciphering Begby and Spud? Jim was a breeze.

One of my biggest complaints about people obsessed with the UK is that they think that all of England is like living the upper class life of a Jane Austen novel. I like things that show the varied facets of modern England.

Also, an entire novel told mostly in dialogue and monologue blew my mind on a craft level. And I learned a lot of new curse words.

(at some point, listen to a Kindle (which sounds like a Speak-and-Spell) read an Irvine Welsh novel out loud.)

Irvine Welsh is also one of the few authors Dan and I both really like.

Oh, and the movie is also really, really good.

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald

I had to read this one for school a few times... it was a classic, but not only did I not mind it, I loved it. Classics could be wonderful, I could read them in an afternoon because they'd suck me in and hold me and make me forget that I had to write an essay about it as soon as I was done.

I loved the glamor and the subtlety and the heartbreak. I love how my friend Heather compared Gatsby parties to the ones in Sabrina which gave us all a frame of reference. (Yes, that's the remake. It's really good and was in the theater at the time.)

Most of all though, I loved that it made me not afraid to seek out the classic book on my own, not because they were important and I should read them, but because they might be really, really good.

As I Lay Dying (Norton Critical Editions)As I Lay Dying William Faulkner

Now, this is one of my favorite books. I was taught this three times in school-- twice in high school and once in college. This is one of the books that taught me that people have differing ideas on books-- even if they're classics, even if they're professionals. (I had very good English teachers in high school and college.) So, depending on the teacher, this was either a tragedy or a very dark comedy. (Personally, I find it hilarious.) I loved that multiple narrators could happen in a book that wasn't a Baby-Sitters Club Super Special. I love the mixing of the heartbreak and the humor and the sheer absurdity of everything.

"My mother is a fish" remains one of my favorite lines in all of literature.

Bridget Jones's DiaryBridget Jones's Diary Helen Fielding

I read this for the first time the summer before I started college. It was extremely reassuring that, as an adult, Bridget didn't have her act together at all, so it was completely ok that I had no idea what I was doing.

Plus, this book led me to Pride and Prejudice, and it also introduced me to Colin Firth.

All while making me laugh.

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War IIThe Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II Iris Chang

The very first book of Chinese history I read, so right there, that's a big one. It gave me a context for what I saw in Nanjing, 60-some years after the events. It gave me a stronger idea than anything else the role that history continues to play in our modern world and international relations.

It was also one of the first books I read that delved deeper into something that doesn't make the history books-- history isn't just names and dates and battles, but people trying to figure out what to do in their daily lives, and how their decisions play out through the weeks and months and years. And sometimes, the truth is more gripping and exciting and terrifying than any novel out there.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Book 1) (Hardcover)Harry Potter J. K. Rowling

I read the first three books in three days about a month before Goblet of Fire came out. It was the summer before junior year and I was working in ILL in my college library and my boss was horrified to learn that I hadn't read them yet. She loaned me the first one and I read it in one night. In the middle of my college career, full of reading SERIOUS BOOKS OF LITERATURE and history tomes, finding a book that sucked me in on page one and wouldn't let me go (even to the bathroom!) until I turned the last page was a refreshing reminder of the power of story.

You can't deny that Harry changed a lot of things about publishing-- children's books became ok for adults to read and got longer. The entire world was caught up in the mania and people of all ages and nationalities lined up for a midnight release of a BOOK. So many libraries try to do a one community/one book program, and they never come close to what it was like in the weeks following a Harry Potter release. I remember the week after Deathly Hallows came out-- my bank teller was reading it (I've never seen her read a book before or since), everyone on the metro was reading it, no matter where I went, everyone had a copy in their hands.

Being part of that phenomenon was an amazing thing to be caught up in. Nerding out about a book with the rest of the world was awesome.

ee Matt Beaumont

This hilarious tale is one of the few books that Dan and I both really, really like. It's given us many phrases that has worked their way into our daily conversations.

But, this book also taught me a lot about craft. The entire book is told in the email being sent back and forth among all the staff members of an ad agency-- you have to pay close attention to the date stamps on the messages. I love books told in "stuff" and this was the first one I remember reading using this format. The format was a perfect way to tell the story (especially as one of my favorite plot lines involves the fact that the boss's email keeps getting CC'd to all the other branch heads.

East of EdenEast of Eden John Steinbeck

I had to have some Steinbeck on this list. I read this one on a train back to Nanjing after spending the weekend in Shanghai. Reading Steinbeck on that trip was like running into an old friend and falling right back into an old conversation that had never ended.

I then forced my parents to mail me their Steinbeck collection (and the Vonnegut) which was then passed among all of my classmates. They always flocked to my room when a new box of books came, hungry for English-language reading materials. Even then, I was a book-pusher...

White Teeth: A NovelWhite Teeth: A Novel Zadie Smith

As I said when discussing The Secret Garden, it gave me the first taste of my interest in exploring the changing notions of British identity. White Teeth is the book that helped solidify this interest and fuel it. While I think Small Island was a better exploration of these ideas, I read White Teeth while I was living in Manchester, in a Pakistani neighborhood, in the middle of this debate.

I've read scholarly works and news articles about the issues facing Britain as it deals with its colonial past, but what it really means, for people in their daily lives, and how it's changing the face to England, comes most alive in the works of fiction that I've read.

How Far Can You Go?How Far Can You Go? David Lodge

This is a book that Dan loaned me. I got so engrossed in it that I missed my bus stop.

But, this is an influential book because it introduced me to my love of books that explore issues of faith but aren't faith-based fiction. I love explorations of faith and religion and how they affect our lives. This is the book that made me realize how much I love that.

And, in this case in particular, the exploration of the changes associated with Vatican II.

The Garlic Ballads: A NovelThe Garlic Ballads: A Novel Mo Yan

Mo Yan is my favorite author. I had to have one of his books on this list. His work tends to be more visceral and have more description than most other Chinese fiction (at least that we see in translated into English.)

This book is the first one of his that I picked up after college. I loved the look at the frustration of Chinese peasants with their government and officials. It's a great look at the other side of the Chinese miracle. There is more to China and the Chinese population than the booming factories, newly rich, upwardly mobile young people, and the coastal cities.

This book also marks an interesting shift in Mo Yan's style to longer works with more symbolism and extended metaphor. I don't like his newer stuff as much I love his older books, but this book is the bridge between the two.

I also don't entirely get it, which doesn't happen that often. It's a nice reminder to always be looking deeper at books.

The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel (Thursday Next Novels (Penguin Books))The Eyre Affair Jasper Fforde

Not only did this book introduce me to one of my favorite authors (Fforde) it introduced me to a million other books.

Everyone told me I should read this one, but I had never read Jane Eyre, so I had to do that first.

After falling in love with Thursday Next and her alternate version of Swindon, running amok with various fictional characters.

Because of Thursday Next, I revisited Wuthering Heights. Because Thursday, I read Great Expectations and The Wind in the Willows.

Thursday entertains me and makes me laugh, but she also makes me reach for one of those books that I know I should have read by now, but haven't. I've often bemoaned the fact that my English-language education focused heavily on the American cannon and, with the exception of Shakespeare, left out most of the Brits. Thursday's helping fix that. Plus! Dodos!

Feeling Sorry for Celia: A NovelFeeling Sorry for Celia: A Novel Jaclyn Moriarty

I never wanted to be a children's librarian. It was something I feel into by chance that I then fell head-over-heels in love with. One of the happiest accidents of my life! After catching my eye on book cart I was supposed to be shelving, this was the first teen book (with the exception of Harry Potter and occasional re-readings of old favorites) that I had read since my own teenage years. It was 5 years ago this month and I had no idea how behind I was when it came to teen books.

Yes boys and girls, this is the book that created the monster you all know and love today. I used to only read adult books-- now they're a luxury!

From Cover to Cover (revised edition): Evaluating and Reviewing Children's BooksFrom Cover to Cover (revised edition): Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books Kathleen T. Horning

Ok, I read the original edition, but I hear the revised version is even better. I had no background in children's books when I started at this job, except that I had read a lot of them when I was a kid. This book was super easy to read and understand and gave me a crash course in the the knowledge and tools and language I needed in order to do my job really well.

I even bought my own copy and refer to it on a regular basis. Her information on book design (such as why there needs to be a lot of white space in easy readers), especially, is invaluable.

Fables: The Deluxe Edition Book OneFables Bill Willingham

This is the comic book series that got me over my snobbishness about comic books. I used to draw a distinction between Graphic Novels (one-offs that were much more serious, such as Maus and comic books, which were the small magazines of super heroes that you got at the comic store and were occasionally bound together in nice omnibus editions.

Not that there was anything wrong with comics, but they were more fun fare (the graphic version of a beach read) and in general, not for me.

But, there are a lot of rules I'll break for a twisted fairy tale. I'm not ashamed to admit that I was WRONG. The level of storytelling and art that goes into this series is amazing, as is Willingham's imagining of classic characters in our modern world. And, because of this, I was much more willing to pick up such things as Sandman.

I still don't read a lot of comics that aren't one-offs, but that's more because I'm afraid that I'll get sucked in and won't be able to wait for the library to get the next volume and I'll have to buy it and I can't afford that! especially for a serial! than any past snobbishness on my part.

Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China (P.S.)Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China Peter Hessler

I knew a lot about China before I discovered Hessler. But, the way he talks of China, the way he tells the stories of his own life and travels, and the people he meets, the way he explains the country, people, and culture, while all the time being aware of his own limitations as a foreigner trying to understand... damn.

This book, and his work in general, raise the bar on what good reporting out of China is (and there's so much bad reporting out there-- those links all go to stories about bad reporting, not actual bad reporting.)

This book set my standards on what I want books to look like, not just on China, but current events in general.

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