Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why We Broke Up

Why We Broke Up Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman

Dear Ed,

In a sec you'll hear a thunk. At your front door, the one nobody uses...I'm telling you why we broke up, Ed. I'm writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened. And the truth is that I goddamn loved you so much...

The thunk is the box, Ed. This is what I am leaving you. Every last souvenir of the love we had, the prizes and the debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb. I'm dumping the whole box back into your life, Ed, every item of you and me.

And the box does have everything from their relationship-- bottle caps and flower petals, ticket stubs and a coat, a protractor and some sugar... and the world's longest letter, detailing every detail of Ed and Min's relationship and where, and how it went wrong.

Ed is the jock, co-captain of the basketball team, with a string of popular girl girlfriends. Min is... not arty. Don't say she's arty. But she's smart and I guess we can call her alterna-girl. Not the kind Ed usually goes for. But he goes for Min.

We know it won't work for a number of reasons-- the premise of the book and the first page tell us it already ended. As an adult reader, you just know they're doomed from the set-up of personalities, but as Min details their relationship, pointing out all the red flags, you still end up cheering for them and their love and you hope they won't break up.

I love the structure-- the telling through the objects that Maira Kalman so beautifully paints. I love this book as an object-- the paper is heavy and glossy, like a coffee table book.

I had a hard time getting into it at first, but I think that was more about my head space than the book itself. But, because of it, I read it over the course of a month and in that drawn-out time frame, I became really invested in this doomed love. The way Min writes about it, it sounds like a relationship that slowly unravels and then you get to the moment of the actual break up and... Min, sweetie. You don't need 354 pages to tell Ed why you broke up. It's one sentence. He isn't worth the ink.

And that was a very disappointing end.

But, I did like portions of it. I like that Min was an "arty" girl who wasn't arty. I like that she thought she was so much deeper than she was. It was a bit annoying, but very, very, very true.  I was friends with Min in high school. I like that we never found out the exact deal with Ed's mom. I liked Ed's sister and I liked that we saw more to Ed than the stereotypical jock, but he was still a total popular boy jock.

My favorite was Min's friend Lauren, who would sing hymns at Min to torture her into spilling information. When Lauren was seven, she saw symbols in a speech balloon, and her super-Christian parents were too God-fearing to explain that the symbols meant fuck so freshman year she had this joke of saying "numbersign questionmark you" and "astrisk exclamtionpoint the world." If I were still in high school, hanging out with Min, this would be a speech pattern I'd immediately adopt. (You are so lucky you didn't know me back then. I really was insufferable)

So. This is a book that I can understand why people are gaga for it, but in the end, I wanted to like it so  much more than I actually did.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Taft 2012

Taft 2012: A Novel Jason Heller

In the fall of 2011, a giant, mud covered figure rises from the White House lawn and stumbles towards a Presidential press conference. After extensive testing it is determined to indeed be William Howard Taft, the 27th president.

Luckily, this is a Rip Von Winkle situation, not a zombie-Taft. Heller has our Taft disappearing on the day of Wilson’s inauguration, only to awaken 100 years later. In Taft’s world, he laid down to take a nap on his way to the ceremony and awoke in a strange new world.

Soon, a grassroots organization has sprung up, calling themselves the Taft party. They have rediscovered a president who is “conservative yet forward-thinking, pro-business yet pro-regulation, principled yet open to compromise.” In a nation torn apart of partisan politics, the Tafties have discovered the ultimate moderate.

The novel is attempting to be political satire (one of the main Tafties is Allen the Electrician) but the ridiculousness of our current political climate makes it pretty hard to satirize. It ends up just being a pretty straight representation. We don’t even get the fantasy of so many people joining together to call for moderation-- everyone’s just reading what they want into how they think Taft would handle our current situation.

But in the craziness of our current political climate, Taft’s main issue is processed food. While this makes sense for a president that might be most famous for getting stuck in the bathtub, it gets a bit preachy and old.

That said, where this book really stands is when it explores Taft as a man trying to come to terms with this strange new world. At its heart, this is a novel about a fish out of water, a man who had lost much when he fell asleep but woke up to find that he had lost everything, and now has to find his own way. These are the portions that I’m sure Publisher’s Weekly was referring when they called it “surprisingly poignant.”

Taft's surprisingly ok with most of the technology (he's not sure how to use it, but he really enjoys Wii Golf and the fact that the White House chef can use "the google" to find old timey recipes to make.) I like that Taft's main surprise with cell phones isn't that the exist, but that it took them so long to exist-- in his time Marconi had just made it possible for ships to communicate over open water, so why not people over open land? His views on race relations are a little too rosy to fully be believed (he just kinda goes with it and there isn't a lot of introspection there)

But when he tries to find himself and the life he lived in the history that has since been written, as he takes stock of his life and his second chance at a new one, the book really shines. I think this is often shown in the character of Irene, a 6-year-old girl that writes Taft a letter after he loses re-election and is still alive when he awakes. Taft's connection to her, as the only person he knows who has memories of the world he knew, is heartbreaking and beautiful.

Short chapters are interspersed with “stuff”-- craigslist postings, Twitter streams, TV talk show transcripts, Secret Service memos and even an Etsy listing for a Taft mustache. Such things are always welcome in books I read and help paint the bigger cultural picture.

Overall, it was a quick and enjoyable read that pulled me out of a pretty long (and depressing) reading slump. It’s not a perfect book, but I do recommend it.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Only One Year

Only One Year Andrea Cheng, illustrated by Nicole Wong

The summer before 4th grade, Sharon’s parents send her little brother Di Di to China for an entire year. In China, Di Di will live with his grandparents, surrounded by aunts and uncles and cousins. He will learn Chinese and a year isn’t that long.

Sharon and her younger sister Mary eagerly await the weekly photographs that Nai Nai sends, but as the year goes on, their own lives take over. Then, a year is over and Di Di is back. He doesn’t remember English or his sisters. Just as they learned to live without him, they have to once again learn to live with him.

This is a short book aimed at younger end of books that I talk about here (about 3rd grade and up.) We are shown, rather than told, how Sharon and Mary deal with life without (and with) Di Di. Their play shifts from looking at photographs to playing school and adding rooms to their toy house. By showing through action instead of telling us with extensive internal dialog, Cheng perfectly balances the emotional tone-- it doesn’t diminish the pain of when Di Di leaves or the confusion when he returns, but it also doesn’t turn to wistful poignancy.

An ending author’s note explains that Di Di’s story is based on practice in some immigrant families and further goes into the details of how and why parents might send their young children abroad.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Cinder Marissa Meyer

Cinder is a cyborg-- a cross between android and human. She's a rarity and a freak, and hides her robotic parts when she can. She's also the best mechanic in New Beijing and the main source of income for her family. A large part of this story is Cinderella (Because you couldn't guess from the title.) The other part involves the Queen of the Moon (who is way freaky and evil) coming to Earth to attempt to marry the prince and TAKE OVER THE WORLD. There are missing princesses, a deadly plague, creepy medical testing, a lot of questionable motives and alliances, PLUS! Evil stepmother + ball.

New Beijing is the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth, which seems to include all of Asia. As such, there is a mish-mash of Asian touches-- a character with the last name of Nguyen (Vietnamese) and a street called Sakura (Japanese). This is TOTALLY on purpose-- as the capital of all of Asia, of course different Asian cultures would blend in this way. As someone who's used to seeing bad Chinese settings, it initially set off some warning bells until I could talk myself down. But that's totally my own issue. I think Meyer was very deliberate in how she combined cultures and created a whole new world.

My big complaint is that I figured out all the twists about 1/3 of the way through. However, I liked the world enough that I kept reading. Only to find that nothing really resolves, the stage just gets set for the next big adventure.

Several people have complained that there's not a lot of spark between Cinder and Prince Kai. There's not. There's some "oo hot guy that I oddly respond to" but no swoon or insta-love. I'm ok with that, because it's not like we're being TOLD that they lurve each other and not seeing it. They're attracted to each other but don't really know each other and I can see this turning into a slow burn that ratchets up over the next few books.

BUT! I loved the world building. I loved the politics. I loved Kai being unexpectedly thrust into power and having no good solutions or answers to very big problems facing his people. Plus, it's a fairy tale retelling. You know how I love those. The titles of the next 3 books have already been announced-- Scarlet, Cress, and Winter. I have ideas where those names come from based on this story, but I'm also hoping for Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow Queen. Too bad we have to wait until 2013.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Elephant Scientist

The Elephant Scientist Caitlin O'Connell and Donna M. Jackson

Hey look! Another awesome Scientists in the Field book!

This one's a little different because Caitlin O'Connell, the first-billed author is also the scientist being profiled. O'Connell works in Namibia, studying elephants.

While there is a lot of information about elephants in general, a lot of the book focuses on how elephants communicate. The problem is that I read Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication first, and Elephant Talk is a longer, more in-depth look at that same subject. I can't pretend that didn't color my reading and enjoyment of this title.

I really enjoyed learning how the scientists live when they're observing the elephants. It's not lab work and they can't go home at the end of the day-- they have camping tower that's very sophisticated and rustic all at the same time. They have to protect themselves from lions, take careful measurements and data, and live for months at a time on the savanna-- very interesting.

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, February 09, 2012


Hey guys.

I'll be back next week with content.

This week has too much snot.

Stupid sinus infection.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Breaking Stalin's Nose

Breaking Stalin's Nose Eugene Yelchin

I hadn't read this one yet when it won a Newbery Honor last week, but I *did* have it already checked out from the library. WIN!

Sasha is going to be inducted into the Young Pioneers tomorrow, and his hero, his father, who works for State Security will be there performing the ceremony. But in the middle of the night, his father is arrested and the neighbors claim their room. At school the next day, starting with a snowball fight gone wrong, everything unravels and Sasha starts to see the truth about Stalin, the system, and the country he loves so much.

It took me awhile to get into Sasha's voice. He buys the communist line completely and sometimes his spouting of Communist rhetoric can seem like clumsy insertion of background info, but it's not. From what I know about living under a communist dictatorship with a strong cult of personality, that's exactly how a kid who was taught to believe in the system would talk. Plus, when Yelchin is actually adding in background information, it's not clumsy. It works really well

Recently, my dad caught a gang of wreckers scheming to blow it up. Wreckers are enemies of the people who want to destroy our precious Soviet property. I can't imagine anybody who would dare to damage a monument to Comrade Stalin, but there are some bad characters out there. Obviously, they're always caught.

I think that Yelchin's black-and-white graphite drawings really add the text and the story. I especially liked the way he plays with perspective and proportion to really give a Sasha-eye view of what's going on.

As things unravel at school, Yelchin ratchets up the tension and suspense, but this is still a solidly middle grade novel.

I do wish I would have read this before it won, so then I wouldn't have read it with my 'Is this Newbery worthy?' lens. Because with that lens on, I'm questioning "would he have become disillusioned so quickly? would he really have done X?" (X is a spoiler, so I won't tell you.) And I don't think those questions would have plagued me before Monday.

BUT! All doubts aside, it is a GREAT book. I think Yelchin does a FANTASTIC job of painting a society in its ideal and its horror in a way that's understandable and gripping for younger readers without diminishing the scope or facts. After I got into his voice, I loved Sasha. I loved seeing the world through his eyes, even as that world shattered. My heart broke for him.

Also, I LOVED the ending. It's a great ending without being too neat and tidy. Yelchin also has a great author's note.

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, February 02, 2012

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next Door Stephanie Perkins

Lola believes you should never wear the same outfit twice. Clothes are a costume. She's dating an older guy, a musician, and her dads don't like him (that's the worst part about having gay parents-- you get TWO overprotective fathers!) But everything comes crashing down when the Bell twins move back in next door. Lola and Cricket's weird relationship that may have been friendship, may have been more comes crashing back. Lola's birth mother shows up and moves in. And everything, everything is just wrong.


That is all.

Ok, it's not all, but seriously CRICKET BELL OMG!

So many things done so well! I love the sense of place to the point where San Francisco and the Mission are almost characters, the same was Paris was in Anna and the French Kiss. I love that Anna and Etienne are minor characters in this book (Anna and Lola work at the movie theater together, Etienne is in school with Cricket.)

I loved the character of Calliope-- Cricket's twin sister and famous figure skater. I loved the look at how her career has overshadowed and driven her family's life. I loved how close they were--Cricket's the greatest brother ever and even though Calliope can be a bit evil, she obviously truly cares for Cricket.

I loved Lola's crazy clothes and the crisis she has with them and how it resolves.

But really, I just love Cricket Bell *sigh*

Book Provided by... my local library

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Reluctant Heiress

The Reluctant Heiress Eva Ibbtoson

Last week I was in A MOOD and this book perfectly fit the bill.

Guy Farne was found on the docks in Newcastle and made his fortune to become on of the richest men in the world-- all in order to win over the snobby family of a girl he once loved.

Tessa is the under-wardrobe mistress of an opera company in Vienna. She also happens to be a Princess and heiress to Austria's most stunning castle, but it's post-WWI and Austria's nobility is crumbling. Luckily, the castle has a buyer and Tessa can devote herself to the music she loves so much.

You can see where this is going.

I love a good surprise reveal scene (like when Guy finds out Tessa's actually a Princess!) and a fun reunion and Ibbotson does them really well. I loved the glimpse into interwar noble life. I've seen it on the British side often enough, but it's different here because Austria lost and their vast empire was carved up and they turned Republic. It's a lot for them to handle and they're doing it with various levels of grace. I also loved the crazy characters in Tessa's opera company. Little details like the Yogurt Mother make it such a fun read.

The plot is predictable, and characters flat and not at all nuanced, but it was still very enjoyable and exactly what I needed.

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.