Friday, May 28, 2010

Changeless

Changeless (The Parasol Protectorate)Changeless Gail Carriger

SPOILERS! There are SPOILERS for Soulless in this review! It can't be helped!

There seems to be a plague of... humanity infecting London's supernatural. The Shadow Council can't figure it out, and to top it all off, Lord Maccon has some urgent family business crop up in Scotland and has gone to deal with it. As the plague spreads, Alexia follows it, along with Ivy, her sister, and a most intriguing French woman who makes the most marvelous parasols. The answer seems to lie at Maccon's ancestral home, where there is a pack of werewolves sorely lacking and alpha and feeling abandoned by the one they used to have.

Did you like the first? You'll like this one, too. The back is a bit misleading, as it makes it seem that Maccon and Alexia are having relationship issues when they're not. The same humor and manners and romance as the first, but takes the story further with the mystery of the humanity plague. Plus, some great new characters.

BUT HOLY COW THE ENDING! You might want to wait and read this at the end of August, so you can pick up Blameless right away and not fret over such a cliffhanger!

Book Provided by... my local library, then my wallet

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Soulless

Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate)Soulless Gail Carriger

My friend Dana read this during my blog birthday party. It looked good and she confirmed that I would like it. It then went on to win an Alex this year. So, I checked it out from the library and LOVED LOVED LOVED it. I got the sequel right away and then when I finished it, ran to the bookstore and bought both of them and pre-ordered the third (which comes out this fall.)

Basic premise is this-- Victorian London. Ghosts, vampires, and werewolves exist and are upstanding members of society. Not everyone can be a supernatural. It has to do with an excess of soul. If you have too much soul, then you'll survive being changed into a vampire or werewolf, or can stick around as a ghost after you die.

To balance this, there's Alexia Tarabotti. She's a spinster, half-Italian, larger with a big nose, and has horrible Bluestocking tendencies. As if that weren't bad enough she has no soul. This comes rather in handy when she's attacked by a hungry vampire in the middle of a ball. Preternaturals like her cancel out the supernatural elements when they come in contact. As soon as the vampire touches her, his teeth turn back into teeth.

Of course, then she accidentally kills him. And gets herself involved in the detestable Lord Maccon's (alpha werewolf) investigation, which discovers that there are vampires and werewolves going missing. And new ones turning up with no idea about the rules of such things...

SO MUCH FUN!!! Victorian manners + steam punk + urban fantasy + good food + horribly awful hats + a great romance? YES PLEASE.

It's just fun and funny. Many of the characters are outrageous and over the top. Alexia's mother and half-sisters are picture-perfect pretty and unbelievably shallow. Lord Akeldama is a mincing vampire whose fashion sense is much more Regency dandy than Victorian aristocrat, which a bevy of young men looking after him. And Alexia's best friend, Ivy Hisselpenny (Hisselpenny?!) has Empire's worst taste in hats.

It was also a lot... steamier... than I was expecting, but I'm not complaining about that, especially as it was really well done. ;)

Book Provided by... my local library, and then my wallet.

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

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Toads and Diamonds

Toads and DiamondsToads and DiamondsHeather Tomlinson

It's a tale that's not told very often (although Gail Carson Levine did it in The Fairy's Mistake.) Two sisters meet a fairy by a well. The good sister is rewarded so that every time she speaks, jewels fall from her lips. The bad sister is punished so that every time she speaks, snakes and lizards fall from hers.

Tomlinson's version is set in a mythical kingdom with many parallels to India during the Mughal era. In this version, both sisters are good (and how refreshing is it to get a fairy tale with a step-mother and step-sister who are good and nice and the entire family is extremely close despite their lack of shared blood?) In Tomlinson's version, both sisters find their abilities to be both curses and blessings.

Diribani's deepest desire was for beauty, and she started speaking diamonds and flowers. A prince took her back to his castle, collecting her jewels and sending them back home, keeping some for the royal treasury. He did it because Diribani kept starting a riot as people scrambled to pick up her jewels, while others tried to kill her for being a witch.

But she thought the goddess gave her the gift so she could use her wealth to help the poor, to improve life for her people. Now the bulk of it is going to the corrupt governor of her home province, probably to buy bigger guns.

Tana loves her sister, but has always be jealous or her effortless beauty and grace and goodness. Her deepest desire was to protect her family, but got snakes and lizards. Her neighbors like the the influx of good ratters, but her true curse becomes apparent when she tries to answer a marriage proposal and a cobra falls between them. The ruling class is afraid of snakes. Tana is driven away from town and on the run for her life when she sees just how corrupt her government really is, and how her curse can save her people.

So much wonderfulness. I loved the tensions between the foreign ruling class and the bulk of the people, and the religious issues. I liked how not all of the Believers were bad, not all of the Followers of the 12 were good. Tomlinson builds a world without too much explanation, it never gets in the way of the story.

Tomlinson doesn't change too much of the story (the main exception is that she makes the both sisters, and the mother, good people and realizes that in more complex story, there are greater repercussions to spewing jewels every time you talk.) But she still manages to make the story fully her own.

Love love love love love. A wonderful example of what a fairy-tale telling can, and should be.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy ParkerThe Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker Leanna Renee Hieber

In Victorian London, there are six members of the Guard, tasked with The Grand Work. The Grand Work involves keeping the spirit world at bay, keeping the human world safe. But things are getting harder. Hell hounds have been unleashed. The Ripper stalks and attacks the alone and defenseless.

The Guard waits for their prophesied seventh. The one who will bring a war, but will also enable them to win it.

Percy Parker has always been different. Not only can she see and hear ghosts, but she looks like one with bone white skin, ice blue eyes, and white hair. When she arrives at Athens Academy, she is thrust up against the Guard their enigmatic leader, the dark and somber Professor Rychman.

Amazon kept recommending this to me because I liked Soulless so much, so I checked it out from the library. It's no Soulless, but I did enjoy it. I liked the way Hieber works British History (such as Jack the Ripper) in with the spirit world and how it's all related to Greek Myth. (I won't say which ones, because that gives some things away, but lots of warped Greek myth here.)

I was a bit taken aback, because this is, technically, a romance novel. It doesn't get that steamy and while there is definitely a love story here, I feel it's almost secondary to the grander plot of the Guard finding their seventh and fighting back the forces of evil. (Also, it's a rather chaste love story.)

Rychman, however, a great romantic hero. He reminded me a bit of Snape in that dark aloof professor always swooping about the school. But he's more in the lines of Darcy-- smoldering and stand-offish that takes awhile to get to know the soft gooey center. Ok, maybe not gooey, but you know what I mean. (I hope.)

I also really liked the secondary characters. I most loved how the rest of the Guard (lovingly) mocked Rychman, which gave the reader most of our information about his character and appearance. Elijah thinks that Beethoven should start spontaneously playing whenever Rychman appears, so they start singing it when he enters and exits, much to his chagrin. It was those small moments that made the book for me.

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, May 20, 2010

Star Wars Rebel Force: Uprising

Uprising (Star Wars Rebel Force)Star Wars Rebel Force: Uprising Alex Wheeler

WARNING! SPOILERS FOR PREVIOUS BOOKS IN THIS SERIES!

This is hard, because in many ways, this was not the book I wanted, and part of that was a giant marketing failure, which I'll talk about later.

X-7 is dead. Soresh needs to eliminate Luke, and to replace his assassin. Could he break Luke and remold him as the new X-7? Vader wants Luke alive. Vader wants to deal with him personally, but Soresh isn't afraid of Vader...

Ok, so the fact that Soresh isn't afraid of Vader? That should tell you something right away about how stupid he is. I'm pretty sure this is the end of the series (given that the epilogue is really the opening scenes of The Empire Strikes Back. That, and there's a pretty high body count. Who dies and who lives is pretty easily answered by "Hmmm... who does and does not appear in Empire Strikes Back?"

Part of what I was expecting of this book based on the previous books never materialized-- we get some Vader action in this one, but I was hoping for a lot more. Also, we never did discover why the Rebels left Yavin 4 for Hoth. Ah well.

Pretty good on the action front, but I'll admit that what I liked best about the earlier books in this series was the politics and personal relationships. This is more action. (And these preferences shouldn't surprise long-time readers. I mean, that's why I prefer Catching Fire to The Hunger Games.)

Anyway, part of my initial confusion was because this book was very madly mismarketed. Amazon and Scholastic both gave this as the plot description:

Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca have been sent to the planet Tessacor, a long-time Rebel sympathizer. In need of some help on that side of the galaxy, Luke is looking forward to a mission that doesn't involve risking his neck.

That is, until they show up and find that a group of teenage Imperials has staged a coup, overthrowing the capital city's government and taking control, enacting the Empire's protocols and ruthlessly suppressing dissent.

Caught off-guard, our heroes must persuade the young leaders to join their cause . . . or find themselves at the mercy of the Empire once more.


Which has absolutely NOTHING to do with the book I read. I emailed Scholastic to point out the error and to ask if the book described above would come out, because I'd like to read it. I never heard back from them, but I have noticed that their website copy now matches what's on the back of the book and accurately describes the plot as much as the back of the book ever does.

Also, the original plot description sounds much more like an "Uprising." The title of this book made no sense! I really want to read the other one (and let's face it, I really enjoyed this series, so I'm just holding out all small hopes that there will be more) but given how this book ended, I don't really think it's going to happen.

Le Sigh

Book Provided by... my wallet

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

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Star Wars Rebel Force

Rebel Force: Firefight (Star Wars)Star Wars Rebel Force: Firefight Alex Wheeler

There will be spoilers for previous books in this series. Sorry! It can't be helped!

X-7 is still looking for Luke. He won't return to his Master until he sees the job done. He hires the best pilots in the galaxy to do what he couldn't. But when Luke, Han, Chewbacca, and the assassins crash-land on a pilot that hides horrors the Empire has been unable to contain, alliances have to be made...

Exciting! I've talked before how much I like this series and why. Another great installment.

Book Provided by... my local library

Rebel Force #5 (Star Wars)Star Wars Rebel Force: Trapped Alex Wheeler

X-7 is looking for the answers of his past and the Rebels have laid the clues for him, to use him as the Empire has used him, but this time for their gain. Old feelings and grudges have to be set aside in order for the plan to work, but it might not be possible. And, it might just all go sour anyway when Vader shows up.

I'm really excited for the next installment, because this book wraps up the X-7 storyline, but it looks like Vader's going to be more personally involved. I wonder how much, if any, truth will come out about Ferus and Div to the Rebels and to Luke. I don't know how long this series will be, but I'm looking forward to the big show-down that will force the Rebels to move from Yavin 4 to Hoth. It's weird reading this, knowing that Luke and Leia and Han and Chewbacca aren't going to die, knowing that Luke will find the Force eventually, knowing what's going to happen, but not knowing how we're going to get from here to there.

Star Wars fans sick of all this Clone Wars tie-in lately should seek out this series. (Although there are some characters I don't know that I'm fairly sure come from the Clone Wars part of the story. It's not hindering my enjoyment.)

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, May 18, 2010

Silver Phoenix

Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of XiaSilver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia Cindy Pon

When disgusting Master Huang claims that Ai Ling's father owes him money, but will forgive the debt if she becomes his fourth wife, she knows he's lying. She's started being able to read other people's minds. But, there's no way to prove it. The only person who can help is Ai Ling's father, but he went to the Emporer's palace six months ago and hasn't been heard from since. In order to escape Master Huang, Ai Ling steals away to find her father and bring him home.

Her journey is immediately beset by disaster as evil spirits and demons track her down and try to stop her. But then she meets Chen Yong, a young man of half Xian, half foreign descent who is looking for his birth parents. Together with Chen Yong's brother, they seek their answers, all the while fighting beings that they never thought actually existed outside of the books they've read.

Ok, I know this got some blogger love when it first came out but why hasn't it taken off in the same way Graceling has? This most reminded me of Graceling, but I liked it so much better! I don't know why. Not just because the worlds they explore are more Chinese than Western. (They're all Pon's own creation, but have a definite Chinese feel.)

Ai Ling's exploration of her powers, her feelings on the Immortals and seeing what she never fully believed in, the strength she finds in herself... I could not put this book down. So awesome. So very super awesome and fun. And exciting! Actually, with all the action and battles with things from the underworld, this would make an awesome movie.

And OMG the very, very ending. So wonderful but man am I glad to hear that there is a sequel coming. I need to know what happens next! Not a cliffhanger (don't worry) but real life doesn't wrap up nicely in the last twenty pages, and it doesn't here, either.


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, May 17, 2010

Just Ella

Just EllaJust Ella Margaret Peterson Haddix

When happily ever after isn't all it's cracked up to be...

Ella thought her life was made the day the prince came and slipped that glass slipper on her foot. She was leaving her Step-Evil's house forever, no longer an abused servant.

But life in the castle is confining. She's not allowed to see the sun, or hear unpleasant things. She has to be mean to the servants because "that's what they're there for." She can't even properly talk to her fiance. And everyone would rather believe that she has magical powers, or a fairy godmother, than the truth about how she got to the ball in the first place.

She took control of her life once, but she's not sure if she can do it again.

A really interesting and fun look at what might have happened next. The royal life isn't as magical once you're on the inside, when you know what lies just outside the castle walls. I also really liked the twist on the original story.

The writing and characterization didn't blow me away, but I did really like the plot and ideas on what happily ever after might actually look like.

A great book for fans of fairy tale things and of girls saving themselves.

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.

China Challenge: May Reviews


(picture from d'n'c's photostream on flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.)

Leave your May Reviews for the China Challenge below:

Guardian May Reviews



Link to your May reviews for the Guardian Challenge below:



(photo taken by me in Manchester, 2009. I used to live in that corner house.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Salon--Announcements

First off, I want to thank everyone who entered the My Best Frenemy giveaway!

The winner was Emily! Congratulations!

Coming up next month, on June 4-7 MotherReader is hosting the 5th annual 48 Hour Read-a-thon. Can you believe it's been 5 years?!

I have to work on that Saturday, but I'm hoping to get 25-35 hours of reading in. In the interest of channeling my competive reading skills into something good, I'm asking people to sponsor my reading to help support Room to Read, which helps build schools and libraries around the world. I have a sponsorship page here if you want to help!

I always look forward to the read-a-thon and I'm excited by the work Room to Read does.

And... reading might go down a bit this week. Dan and I got a new TV and a Wii today... :)

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, May 14, 2010

Rebecca

RebeccaRebecca Daphne duMaurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again...

So, the main reason I wanted to read this was because of the Mrs. Danvers clones that show up in the Thursday Next books.

For those who don't know the story, our nameless narrator is young, shy, and naive. She's a lower middle class girl who has a job as a paid companion to a vulgar, but rich, American. It's while Mrs. Van Hopper is vacationing in the south of France when our narrator meets Maxim deWinter.

She claims to fall in love with him, but their relationship is seriously messed up. Her feelings are that of excitement at his wealth and dashingness, he treats her like a child, or more precisely, like his beloved pet. Once they get back to his estate, Manderley, our narrator feels haunted and suffocated by the presence of Maxim's late wife, Rebecca. She's convinced Maxim still loves her and that his friends are always comparing her to him. And then there's the creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who keeps Rebecca's memory alive, her clothes set out on her bed in her closed-up bedroom (although it's a room that Danvers spends an unhealthy amount of time in.) Mrs. Danvers makes no secret about the fact that she wants the new Mrs. deWinter gone.

And then there are the pieces of Rebecca's death that don't quite add up...

This is one of those classic romances where I just don't see the love in the romantic relationship. I mean, the relationship is seriously messed up and that's part of the book, but for the fact that the narrator tells me she loves Maxim, I would never have guessed. Lots of things about the narrator are things she tells us, but never shows us. Some of that is that the book is told in flashback, so she has a different perspective on the person she was. Some of that is that she's just weird. I never liked her. I never took to her and I alternated between pitying her and wishing she would grow a spine and do something about what was going on around her.

I have to admit, I'm a little unsure why this is a classic of literature. Is it pretty awesome? Yes. Is it the stuff I remember from English class (and I enjoyed the vast majority of what I read for English class.) No. It's a little um... trashier? than that.

But oh! Mrs. Danvers. What a perfect villian! The housekeeper with a hidden agenda who is super-creepy looking and acting. And Jasper Fforde is right-- nothing is scarier than an army of Mrs. Danvers clones. *shudder*

Also, you should go back and read Leila's posts when she was reading it!

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, May 13, 2010

Wee Free Men

The Wee Free Men (Discworld)The Wee Free Men Terry Prachett

So I'm approaching Discworld a bit oddly-- the first one I read was Wintersmith, which is the third book in the Tiffany Aching arc. This is the first book in that arc. Eventually, I'll even read some of the adult Discworld books! I want to read the whole series.

This is the book in which Tiffany first meets the Nac Mac Feegles, those blue pictsies, with their drinking and shouting. I love the Nac Mac Feegles. It's also where she first meets a witch and the witches discover her.

Another world is colliding with this one. Tiffany first sees it when Jenny Green-Teeth first comes up from the river and Tiffany bashes her with a frying pan. Then, the Queen of Fairies kidnaps Tiffany's little brother. With a talking toad and the Nac Mac Feegles, Tiffany ventures into the darkness and nightmare of Faerie in order to save her brother, and the world.

HILARIOUS! I feel like I'm the last person in the universe to discover the genius that is Pratchett. He captures such profound truths of the human experience and makes it hilarious and moving all at once. I'm not sure how.

While there are many things that struck me when reading this, the one that stayed with me is the fact that Tiffany is from the chalk. Witches take their strength from the earth, they're born onto hard rock, not chalk. But Tiffany is from the chalk and has the Nac Mac Feegle on her side... she's one to keep an eye on...

Book Provided by... my wallet

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

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Still Sucks to Me

Still Sucks to Be Me: The All-true Confessions of Mina Smith, Teen VampireStill Sucks to Be Me: The All-true Confessions of Mina Smith, Teen Vampire Kimberly Pauley

Mina's back! She's all vampire, and she's all pissed. There were a few things her parents and the vampire council left out-- like she'd be faking her own death and moving pronto. To a small town in Louisiana.

And then George decides to go to Brazil to visit his parents.

Mina's life is falling apart. All she has for a support network is a jock who can't understand why she doesn't want to date him, and another teen vampire who may or may not be totally evil.

And then when Raven shows back up and is trying to kill Serena? Well, it kinda sucks being a vampire.

So much fun, just like the original, Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (maybe). One of the reasons I liked the first one was because you could take out all the vampire stuff and it would still be a good book. This depends more on the vampire-action, as it's heavily into the politics, drama, and history of vampires. But! There's still a good story of new girl moves to town and tries to fit in and misses the life she left behind.

We still get vampire myths and truths and cute drawings before every chapter, as well as lists as to why it sucks to be Mina. How can you not love this voice?

I have to say that flying is a totally different experience as a vampire than as a regular person. Basically, you're sitting in this flimsy seat that you could crush with your bare hands, listening to all these creaks and pops and other scary noises that the people around you can't hear. And the worst part? You can also hear every conversation goin on in the whole plane including

a) the pilot and copilot arguing about some reality TV show and apparently not paying any attention whatsoever to the plane
...
It's really kind of nerve-racking. I mean, if the plane goes down due to a couple of bonehead pilots who can't agree on whether the blonde with the long les or the brunette with the big butt should win the grand prize or not on some stupid TV show, I'll probabyl die a flaming death along with everyone else. I don't think even a vampire can survive a drop of 30,000 feet. Pretty sure, anyway. It definitely wasn't in the brochure.
(p34-35, quoted from the ARC, so it may be different in the actual book.)

Mina goes through some definite culture shock/adjustment and initially I was irked because it sounded like it was one big "everyone in the rural south is a hick with a truck and country music. Country music sucks!" but as Mina gets to know people, her initial impressions wear off. But I did laugh when the Louisiana vampires call vampires who drink animal blood (Mina and her family aren't strict no-people drinkers, but tend to go for animal over human) "pig swiggers" and the muttered "damn Cullenist" comment at the blood bar? Made me snort coffee out my nose. Which kinda hurt.

Anyway, if you liked the first one, this one is just as good, if not better.

And if you haven't read these yet, what are you waiting for? 

Book Provided by... the publisher, for review consideration

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

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Best Frenemy Blog Tour and GIVEAWAY!

My Best Frenemy My Best Frenemy Julie Bowe

Welcome to the blog tour for the newest book what is now being called the "Friends for Keeps" series. (Previous titles are My Last Best Friend and My New Best Friend) Yesterday, the tour was at Bildungsroman and tomorrow it's heading off to TeensReadToo book club.

So, I am a huge Julie Bowe fan, and not just because she's also from Wisconsin and also went to college in Iowa. (Although that's an awesome combination. Trust me.)

Her Friends for Keeps series (I reviewed the previous titles here) is awesome because it's a great look at the complications of female friendship before you get into the complications that come with puberty and boys. Also, Ida May is just awesome.

Jenna and Brooke have been best friends since forever, but lately they're not talking. Stacey's been spending a lot of time with Brooke and Ida's worried that she's losing her best friend. Meanwhile, Brooke's challenging Jenna for who will be top girl in Mr. Crow's class.

Everything starts to go really sour when Truth and Dare gets introduced and gets way out of hand and Ida feels like she doesn't have any friends...

My favorite character in this installment is Randi. She's the class tomboy and she's so not down with they eyeshadow trend, but good dares are something she knows how to do. I also really like Ida and Jenna's developing relationship that's building slowly over the books. I love how the friendship dynamics change on a daily basis, even if it is causing some traumatic flashbacks to me feeling alone on the occasional recess and being a total witch about it when I was in 3rd grade (really, it's a miracle I wasn't alone for more recesses with the way I could act. Aiya.) Ida and her friends capture so perfectly the pain and joy of being a kid and I love returning to them with each book.

I really hope you check out this series, because it's terrific and deserves the love. Excellent clean realistic fiction for middle grade girls.

AND! A GIVEAWAY! Julie and her publisher are giving away a copy of My Best Frenemy, a button, and bookmark to one of my readers! All you have to do is leave a comment below. If you Tweet about it or post the giveaway on Facebook or blog about it or something similar and then TELL ME ABOUT IT (you have to tell me!) you'll get an extra entry for each extra thing you do. Comments have to be posted by midnight (US Eastern time) on Friday night. The winner will be drawn and announced on Sunday.

Enter away, spread the word, and check out Friends for Keeps. The fourth book, My Forever Friends is due out in Summer, 2011! YAY!

Book Provided by... the author, for the blog tour.

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

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sunday Salon-- the Wikipedia Issue

Personally, I like Wikipedia. When researching something I know nothing about, a good Wikipedia article can give me some background that can help me formulate a search, and often has a full bibliography of sources that can't be changed by a bored 13-year-old.

Wikipedia is great for finding sources. It is never an acceptable source.

Last winter, I read Say What?: The Weird and Mysterious Journey of the English Language because it was a Cybil's nominee. I found it interesting, but seriously flawed. When I saw that the author used Wikipedia as a source, it shut the book down for me. There was no point in going through all of its flaws when it had such a major and completely unacceptable one.

One commenter told me "You were going to write a long review, so you must have found some enjoyment in this book. Instead you see "wikipedia" and throw a wobbley. You shouldn't be reviewing books if that's all it takes to sway your opinion."

I responded "If any of the elementary school students I help with their research ever quoted Wikipedia, they would automatically fail the paper. I'm sorry you have such disrespect for children that you think their nonfiction books can be held to a lower standard than their own homework. Why waste the time of my readers with writing a much longer review examining the books other flaws?"

Frankly, the comment pissed me off almost as much as seeing Wikipedia cited as a valid source. Students aren't allowed to cite Wikipedia, but their sources are? What the hell kind of message are we sending about authorative sources and research methods? But no, because I care so deeply and have standards, I shouldn't be allowed to review books? $%^# that.

Even worse, someone nominated it to be a an example of excellent nonfiction for middle grade and teen readers! It was also an "vetted" nominee for the YALSA award for Excellence in Nonfiction, which means you can stick a big ALA-approved sticker on it.

The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthyThis hit home again this weekend as I was reading The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy by James Cross Giblin. I was really excited by this book. I'm obsessed with McCarthy (I mean, until a few years ago, my hometown had a larger-than-life bust of him in the lobby of county courthouse.) I also loved Giblin's Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth.

I was about half-way though it, and really enjoying it, when I glanced through the back matter. Wikipedia, wikipedia, wikipedia, wikipedia, wikipedia. WHAT THE WHAT?

The School Library Journal Review mentions it and criticizes it, but it still was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize.

In introducing his sources notes*, Giblin states "In my research you'll see that I made extensive use of the Internet, especially Wikipedia. But I accompanied it with parallel research in the Columbia Encyclopedia because I still put more faith in a traditionally edited and cross-checked encyclopedia than in what maybe a more loosely-assembled Internet source."

Let's not touch the fact that he relies heavily on an encyclopedia (I stopped being allowed to cite an encyclopedia in 7th grade, being told to use more in-depth sources instead.)

Giblin instead conflates "Wikipedia" and "Internet" (for, as far as I can see, Wikipedia is the ONLY interent source used.) He uses quotations found on Wikipedia with no other source listed. And yes, some of the information he only used Wikipedia for is correct. But, he surely could have found another source to say that Nixon became President, opened up relations with China, resigned due to Watergate, and died in 1994. Wikipedia doesn't have an exclusive on that.

And maybe it's because Giblin relied on Wikipedia that he gets somethings just wrong about China. On page 18 "the Japanese invaded northern China proper and occupied key cities of Tientsin and Beijing, then called Peking." Later on the page he mentions "Mao Tse-tung (now spelled Zedong)."

Beijing wasn't then called Peking, it was then spelled Peking. The Chinese has always been 北京 (but, during WWII, the city was called something completely different.)** The same transliteration system change that changed Tse-tung into Zedong changed Peking into Beijing. It didn't change the Chinese at all, it just changed the spelling to more accurately reflect how the words are supposed to be pronounced. (He also fails to mention that Tientsin is now spelled Tianjin.)

But Giblin instead relied on lazy and shoddy research. Usually it didn't hurt him, but at least in this instance, it did. He's just WRONG.

I'm not going to finish the book.

I will spit if it wins any awards.

But I feel that others will think I'm "throwing a wobbley" because I think that Wikipedia shouldn't be cited as a source in nonfiction.

Am I alone here? Is there a reason why we should allow this to be ok? Should we accept Wikipedia as a source in our nonfiction? (And, if we do, should we allow students to start citing it in their research? because if we allow the first, we have to allow the second.)

And what's the best course to take when we see such research being published and awarded? What can we do to demand better standards for our youth?


*Ok, so at least he had source notes. So many other nonfiction books for younger readers, especailly those that are "young reader editions" of adult titles don't have any source notes or bibliography at all. But that's a different rant.

**And you may think this whole naming/spelling thing is petty but... let's also look at the fact that during WWII, the city was called 北平, which is transliterated as Beiping or Peiping. For "jing" means capital ("bei" means north) and during the Republican Era, the capital was in Nanjing ("nan" meaning south) and so Beijing (Northern Capital) was changed to Beiping (Northern Plain) and changed back to Beijing when the Communists declared it their capital. (Nanjing, "Southern Capital" got the stay Nanjing.) It's worth knowing this, because the US only recognized Taiwan as being China and for the next few decades refused to call the city "Beijing" and insisted on calling in "Beiping."

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Year of Living Biblically

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as PossibleThe Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible AJ Jacobs

AJ Jacobs is "Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant. Which is to say: not very." He sets out to explore the Bible in the only way he can-- by trying to live it as literally as possible for a year. He has a stack of different translations and versions, and several spiritual advisers from all faiths to call on with questions. He looks at the rules, how they're followed or not, and tries to follow them as literally as possible. He finds an adulterer in Central Park and tosses a pebble at him. He grows his beard. He takes a piece of string and ties a print out of the 10 Commandments to his forehead every morning. (He does at one point have someone over to show him how to wrap Tefflin, the traditional way that orthodox Jews follow Deuteromony 6:8 "Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.") He carries around a handi-seat so he won't accidentally sit anywhere a menstruating woman has sat (which ties in well with his germophobia.) His wife, in revenge, sits on every flat surface in their apartment one month. He wonders about how much trouble he'll be in with his landlord for painting his doorposts with lamb's blood (and does it when his son, who has developed a liking for drawing on walls, can't see him.)He visits different houses of worship, and goes to Israel to visit with the Samaritans and herds some sheep.

It's a fascinating look at the role religion plays in people's lives, especially those who are Orthodox in their faith. It's a hilarious tale of trying to live an old school life in modern New York. He struggles with lustful thoughts and tries to censor everything, including the Land O'Lakes girl in his apartment to make things easier. Then his bosses at Esquire assign him all the interviews with starlets, just to mess with him. He starts wearing all white in a city that dresses in black.

But, through the humor it's striking in how much the experience changes him. It doesn't necessarily make him a believer, but does make him more thoughtful about how he lives his life and how he interacts with other people. His insights as he tries to wrap his head around these rules, people who live their life by these rules, and how many religions spring out of various interpretations of them, are honest and sometimes profound.

Extremely readable and enjoyable, but will also change the way you look at religion and the role it plays in your life, and lives of others.

Book Provided by... my friend Kathleen, who loaned it to me.

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

ArchEnemy

ArchEnemy: The Looking Glass WarsArchEnemy: The Looking Glass Wars Frank Beddor

In this final installment of the Looking Glass Wars trilogy, all of Imagination is being held captive by King Arch. Loyalties are made and broken in webs of intrigue, betrayal and lies. If Queen Alyss is to save her queendom, it's once more onto the battle field, and back to Oxford and the Liddells.

If you liked the series so far, you'll like this. If you didn't then, move on along and find something else to tickle your fancy. I liked that there was still a lot of cool battle scenes with imagined weapons, but the back room deals and intrigue were much more pronounced in this one.

Also, we get such much more of the caterpillars, which was great. A most satisfying conclusion to a series I really enjoyed.

Book Provided by... my wallet

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Year of the Historical: Double Crossing

Double CrossingDouble Crossing Eve Tal

When Raizel's father buys his tickets from Russia to America, he also gets a child's ticket. Instead of her brother, Raizel will go with her father and help him keep house while he works to earn the money for the rest of the family to come. Raizel doesn't want to leave her home and family, but has no choice.

The journey is long and hard-- everything's more expensive than they budgeted for, and when there is food, unless they can guarantee that it's kosher they won't eat it. They don't have passports and have to sneak across the Russian border.

Throughout, Raizel remembers the stories her Bobbe told her, tying her to her home and family.

While this might sound like most immigration stories you've read before, it isn't, but I can't get into it what makes it different without MAJOR SPOILERS. So... just trust me on that, ok? It ends up being not what you'd expect.

Personally, I was most intrigued by the culture clash between Raizel's small village knowledge when she meets people from larger cities, people who make the richest people she knows look poor. Also, the different ways these people practice their Judaism. Raizel wonders what it is that makes someone Jewish-- is it the side locks and skull cap? Or something deeper inside? What if you keep a kosher house but eat tref when not at home?

Also, her amazement at the beauty of the Antwerp train station. It is such a beautiful station and I knew exactly what she was talking about.



Most historical details are explained in context, but I would have loved an author's note that went a little deeper explaining the mistreatment of Jews in Czarist Russia, what the Siberian War was (I'm assuming the Russo-Japanese War) and the Pale of Settlement.

Things you might want to know: Be prepared for a large dose of Antisemitism. Also, there were one or two comments about "Wild Indians" which are historically accurate to cultural stereotypes and attitudes at the time, but...

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Outer Space

I'm still working through my stack of Cybils books. All of them were read last fall, but in trying to get them all read in time, I didn't get around to formally reviewing them all yet. But here are two of the nominees, both about space!

Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the MoonMission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon Andrew Chaikin and Victoria Kohl, with paintings by Alan Bean

Chaikin, who also wrote A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts writes a kid's version, detailing all of the manned Apollo missions, from the first deadly one to the final one--the last time anyone has set foot on the moon.

There are several pull-out informational pages and great photography, but the best part is the paintings. Alan Bean, who walked on the moon as part of Apollo 12, turned to painting full-time after retiring from NASA. Many of his paintings, along with paragraph-long captions written by him, show moments that weren't captured on film, and ones that try to capture the emotion of the scene instead of just the visual facts. There's also a great section on how he creates his paintings-- including bits of moon dust and scuffing his work with replicas of his lunar boots.

But Jennie! Painting instead of photos is one of your biggest complaints about We Are the Ship! Why is it a feature here and a detriment there?

Simple-- because of how they're treated. Many of the paintings aren't mere replicas of photographs, however masterfully rendered. Also, the paintings are treated as works of art, making this almost a combination space book and art book. Each painting also has Bean's commentary-- what he was trying to capture and why he made the artistic choices that he did. They range from almost photo-realistic to fairly abstract. They also aren't the only visual elements in the book-- there are many, many photographs.

In addition to the paintings, my second favorite part of the book is the back flap, which shows a picture of Chaikin and Bean-- taken when Chaiken was 12 years old and Bean was training for Apollo 12.  What a wonderful story-behind-the-story, that a boy meeting one of his heroes would grow up and create something so awesome with that same person.

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

Cars on Mars: Roving the Red PlanetCars on Mars: Roving the Red Planet Alexandra Siy

In January 2004, two rovers landed on Mars for a mission that scientists had planned to last three months. Six years later, and they're still going. (I checked! You can keep up-to-date here!)

Cars on Mars details the first four years of the mission and what the rovers, and scientists back on Earth, encountered and discovered.

Lots of cool Mars photos and fun information and showing how, no matter how prepared you are and how many hypothesis you have, you'll always find something new to surprise you.

My main complaint was the food metaphors, usually used to describe bedrock. They were seriously over-extended and got a bit tortured at times. Plus, I kinda want to EAT Mars after reading this book. Even though I know it's not made of cake and ice cream, it was compared to it SO OFTEN, that I think it must be pretty tasty.* And, she also says that "Fancy cakes are indisputably delicious." (p14) Well, let me dispute that RIGHT NOW. Most fancy cake is rather disgusting. Too much frosting, and it takes so much time to put together that by the time you eat it, the cake is stale.

While I understand the cake and ice cream imagery might make it easier for some kids to visualize what was going on, there had to be a way to doing it that didn't keep bringing up food.

Or maybe I should have eaten before reading the book.

My favorite bit was actually in the back matter, a spread called "Much more about Mars and the rovers" which is little tidbits and facts that I'm assuming wouldn't fit in the main narrative. One thing I didn't know was that the company that makes the Rock Abrasion Tool (which the rovers use to scape rocks so the scientists at home can figure out what they're made of) is based in New York and the cable shields are made of aluminum from the World Trade Center as an outer-space memorial to those who died in 9/11.

*Also lots of references to blueberries, but that's NASA's fault, because that's what they named the small, round rocks the size of peppercorns

Book Provided By... the publisher, for Cybils consideration

Round-up is over at the Bookends Blog!

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Year of the Historical: Climbing the Stairs

Climbing the StairsClimbing the Stairs Padma Venkatraman

Vidya is 15, the daughter of a liberal family in Bombay during WWII and India's independence movement. When her father is beaten by the British during an independence rally, he lives, but his brain is damaged. The family is forced to move in with Vidya's conservative grandfather. There, Vidya's aunts make life even harder for Vidya and her mother. Vidya's only solace is the library, which is located upstairs in the male part of the house, and therefore forbidden to her.

There is a lot going on here-- Vidya caught between the freedom of her old life and the strictness of her new one, her pain at her father's injuries, the best way to get rid of the British, and the problems of nonviolence when it comes to Hitler. Despite all the meat, it doesn't get overwhelming or bog down. I always forget that the independence movement and WWII overlap. I also never realized how close Japan got to India (although once I thought about it, um... duh.)

A great look at a girl caught in a changing world and trying to find her own place in it.

I have one question-- at one point, Vidya's brother explains that Japan wants India because it'll give them access to China, Russia, and the Middle East. Now, outside of China, I don't know that much about the Pacific War, but I also know at this point (1941), Japan had been in China and Russia for years. Was Japan actively searching to attack these countries from multiple fronts?

Climbing the StairsI'm not a huge fan of the paperback cover and much prefer the hardcover. Vidya actively resists marriage and isn't into fashion and jewelry-- she prefers wearing half-saris to full saris because it's easier to climb trees. Also, what's with the downcast expression? Vidya's always getting into trouble because she won't lower her gaze or keep her mouth shut! I just don't see Vidya in the girl on the new cover.


Book Provided by... my local library

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Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Return of the BSC-- The Summer Before

The Summer Before (Babysitters Club)The Babysitter's Club: The Summer Before Ann M. Martin

I am such a huge fan of the Baby-Sitter's Club and am SO EXCITED that Scholastic is *finally* re-releasing them. Along with the re-release, we get a prequel, with what happens the summer before the BSC begins.

Kristy isn't sure how she feels about her mom's new boyfriend, Watson. All she wants for her birthday is for her dad to remember it, to do something special. She knows it's a long shot but...

If you though Mary Anne's dad was strict in the series, can you imagine having to have a co-babysitter? During the day? FOR JAMIE NEWTON? (Hi-hi!)

Claudia likes Kristy and Mary Anne... but they aren't into fashion and boys and all Claudia can see is a gulf widening between them. So, when a cute older boy offers a distraction, Claudia takes it.

Stacey is glad to be leaving New York behind. Ever since her best friend turned into Her Royal Meanness, New York doesn't have much to offer. Surely her new town will be better!

Just like in a Super-Special, the chapters alternate narrators as we get a look at these characters and their relationships, along with lots of babysitting. A great introduction to the series and a welcome addition for old-skool fans. My only complaint? When the Pike kids are described as all having dark hair. Everyone knows Mallory is a redhead!!!

Also, I heard that the new BSC books were supposed to be leveled down a bit and updated. Well, my awesome coworker Lauren and I flipped through a new and original version of Kristy's Great Idea and found that the font got bigger and the margins smaller. Also, they changed the baby-block logo of the club a bit.

Other changes-- "un-airconditioned" becomes "un-air-conditioned." Stacey's hair looks recently "styled" instead of "permed." The flier they put up advertising the club changes a bit-- the logo changes and the phone number is a 555-xxxx instead of a KL 5-xxxx. Also, the new flier doesn't have everyone's home numbers on it.

But you know what didn't change? Claudia and Stacey's sweet sweet outfits. We figured that was one thing that desperately NEEDED updating, but no. They're dressed as wacky as ever and praised for their awesome fashion sense. LOVE IT.

Book Provided by... my local library

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