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I was scrolling through the pictures on my screensaver this afternoon, as one does when one is trying to avoid reading a chapter on control in management, and I kept coming across photos of delicious summer fruits.

And delicious things made from delicious summer fruits.

So I went to the freezer to see what I’d stashed away from last summer’s harvest.  When I realized I had 2 gallon bags of strawberries, two of blueberries, one of rhubarb, and a quart bag of marionberries, I sprang into action.  We are now eating a rather unphotogenic strawberry-blueberry-rhubarb crisp, with a sadly not-so-crispy top but a delicious fruit interior.

What else should I do with my frozen fruits?  Crisps a-plenty?  Cobblers?  Pies?  Tarts?  What works best with frozen fruit?  I have a week and a half left with butter as my faithful companion, and I’d like to do some good eating.

My dad, referring to some child star: “She sounds like she was raised by adults.”

[insert uncontrollable laughter from my mom, my sister, and me]

Me: “As opposed to us, who were raised by…wolves?”

Oscar night always reminds me of how many movies I meant to see this year, but never got around to.  And then I come home and watch a few episodes of Big Love, and remember why it is that I watch so few movies in theaters.  I’m too busy watching past seasons of TV shows on DVD.  I need to get out to the Laurelhurst more for some $3 movies.   But of course the only time I can go is the weekend, the time reserved for social activities and procrastinated assignments.

My sister and I did make it to the ballet this Saturday, for the first time in years.   One of the things that I always assume people know about me, but they often don’t if I met them past the age of 16, is that I danced for 10 years.  Ten Years.  Crazy.  So this thing happens when I go to the ballet, where I have this phantom muscle memory and I’m thinking in my head, “I could totally still do that.”  HA.  HA.  But I can remember what it feels like, which is a bit eerie.  Also, I still have Bolero stuck in my head.  There were these people sitting behind us who sounded like regular ballet goers but not experts or snobs, and it was totally worth the price of admission to listen to their commentary between pieces – the program was four shorter pieces, with a nice variety of styles and music and moods.  Anyway, the people behind us would gasp with pleasure at the end of some pieces, or discuss the decline in grammar in program notes (and society in general).  One piece had a feel that I can only describe as delightfully kitschy – a pas de deux with old-style costumes, very Coppelia* with the  guy looking like a hunter, complete with tall boots with little tassels, and the girl in a full skirt with a hilarious little hat perched on her head.  The people behind us gasped when she ran onto the stage.  Me, I couldn’t stop chuckling over the boot tassels.

*Spell-check wants to change this to Copperfield or Zeppelin.

At long last I’ve got my hands on the 2008 Newbery winner, and it has my seal of approval (actually, I just put the Newbery sticker on the spine, since it was my library’s copy and has been in circulation constantly since before it won the shiny gold medal). I can with near certainty say I would’ve loved this in middle school. We did a whole medieval unit in about 6th grade, just like Schlitz describes in her forward, with model castles and everything. We even enacted a play about Sir Gawain, and this book would’ve been a perfect addition to our curriculum. At the very least, Bronwen and I could’ve read it aloud to each other while we textured our castle walls.

In all seriousness, it’s a great combination of things. There are the dramatic monologues and dialogues that make up the bulk of the book – some are funny, some are depressing, but they all manage to pack in an incredible amount of information without sacrificing emotion or interest. Footnotes (found delightfully in the side columns) define archaic words or cultural references. A few sections called “a little background” are inserted in between stories, giving more information on pilgrimage, the Crusades, Falconry, Jews in society, town vs country life, and farming practices. Far from being dry, these answer questions about What It Was Really Like that were rarely found in my 6th grade history book. As Schlitz points out in the forward, she usually got that sense of history from novels, not history lessons. I’ve had exactly the same experience, and I’m happy to say this book falls into the “novel” camp.

I was pleasantly surprised by Robert Byrd’s illustrations, and how much they added to the book. From the tiny image of the cover art seen online, I was underwhelmed – it all looked a bit too soft and cartoony. But up close, the details really bring the illustrations to life and compliment the stories perfectly.

I keep talking about middle school, but I think the book could go a few years younger, too – although I don’t know if younger students could manage to actually memorize and perform the monologues.

This would pair nicely with Karen Cushman’s medieval novels – I’m reading The Midwife’s Apprentice at the moment, and I feel like Alyce could have showed up as one of the characters in Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!   It’s a Newbery medieval extravaganza!

I’m not sure why a little afternoon coffee sounded like a good idea – but I’d done the dishes and eaten my lunch, and my first cup of coffee this morning had been rushed as I was going to sit on some babies, so a second round of coffee sounded comforting and reasonable.  Now I just feel a little twitchy and unable to focus on getting anything done.  Hey, maybe I’ll make myself sick of coffee and ready to take a break for Lent, that great sea of no cream for my coffee!  I wish.

Lent is very late this year, and I’m relieved to have this much more of winter for the hearty consumption of meats and dairy, all those filling comfort foods.  But it’s coming – tucking into the last of the meat this week, and the last of the dairy next week, and then it’s all beans and rice, all the time.  At least, that’s what it always feels like.  Whine, whine, but part of me relishes it.

I watched my god-daughter and her sister this morning – we went over a variety of their nicknames.  There’s Q & M, as I’ve called them before.  McGillicutty and Peabody, as their grandmother calls them.  There’s also Q-Tip and Q-Ball (“like pool,” the 4 year old Q explained) and Cucumber Face for the baby.  The baby who talks like nobody’s business.  It’s disconcerting to meet a not-yet-two year old who can correctly pronounce not only her sister’s name, but my name as well.  She also does a great Rose Festival Princess wave when anyone leaves the room.  Q planned an un-implemented picnic for us, which involved making oatmeal and taking it to the park, and compromised by cracking walnuts in the back yard.  We read books until I began to stumble over my Dr. Seuss.

I’ve been on a little bit of a book buying spree lately – nothing compared to some people’s habits (ahem, Lazy Cow) but quite an extravaganza for little ol’ me.  Between gift cards, vouchers, library donations, and impulse buys, I’ve ended up the proud owner of:

  • The Arrival – so I can browse the gorgeous illustrations at will
  • The Wednesday Wars – chrysanthemum, Gary Schmidt, chrysanthemum
  • Jacob Have I Loved – it’s been too long since I reread it
  • Love That Dog – because I Love That Book, and it was a $3 hardcover
  • The Sparrow – I bought a copy but gave it to my brother before I had a chance to read it – I snatched this copy off the library sale shelf
  • Not the End of the World – I read these before I fell for Kate Atkinson, so I’m curious to reread them; I’m only missing two titles from my KA library
  • Brat Farrar – I own too few Josephine Tey books
  • A Wrinkle in Time – love the new covers, and I was tempted to buy the whole series
  • The Moonstone – because I love some good old-fashioned suspense

Now it seems my adult fiction/poetry collection has outgrown its shelves – I might have to steal some space from the crafts and games.  Plus I’m collecting a little pile at my desk of more library donations – at $1-2 dollars a pop, it’s hard to resist.

As a belated Valentine’s Day recommendation, I offer up the movie Sweet Land.  It was, well, incredibly sweet.  Set right after World War I, in a farming community in Minnesota, where Inge has traveled from Germany to meet her Norwegian husband-to-be.  The community, of course, is very anti-German, and the minister won’t marry them and the judge won’t give her citizenship and marry them – this whole attitude reminded me of the world of Hattie Big Sky.  There’s a fantastic pie eating scene, which I think Babelbabe will appreciate, and the landscape is gorgeous, and the tension between characters is great, and even though I could tell where the story was going, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.  And you know I don’t recommend movies often, so take this one seriously.  It’s out on DVD.  Available at my local library.

Now I want to make a pie.

I’ve decided to take the plunge into the world of MP3 audiobooks with The Abstinence Teacher – yeah, yeah, not like it’s some huge technological change for me, but the selection at the library is extremely limited – about 200 – so it feels cutting edge.  I haven’t actually started listening to it, but I heard an excerpt on one of my bookish podcasts and it sounded promising.

I’ve become mildly obsessed with the fact that currently, there is only one copy of Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! in circulation in my county (our children’s librarian was all on top of things and ordered it in the fall, but the rest of the libraries still have it on order).  I’ve had it on hold since October.  Currently I’m 1st in line, and it’s checked out to a staff member at another library.  Who has it out overdue.  What is the world coming to?  I’m SURE this person knows it’s a hot item, and sees the huge list of holds, but still they hang on to it.  When I get my hands on that puppy, I’ll be reading it pronto and turning it in quickly for the next person in line.

I’m still enjoying Drowning Ruth, and I’m nearly at the end of The Golem’s Eye, which is just awesome on audio.  Sometimes I lose track of the details, listening while I drive, but the delightful narration more than makes up for it.  I am cracking up all the way from home to work and back again.  Next up on audio are The White Darkness and Slam.  

Sure, sure, we’re almost halfway into February, but I never went over everything I read in January.  Because I’m obsessive like that, I’ll do it now.

  1. My Mother the Cheerleader, Robert Sharenow
  2. Red Glass, Laura Resau
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, Jay Asher (audio)
  4. Gideon the Cutpurse, Linda Buckley-Archer
  5. A Great and Terrible Beauty, Libba Bray
  6. The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
  7. The Amulet of Samarkand, Jonathan Stroud
  8. To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis
  9. The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, Lloyd Alexander
  10. Run, Ann Patchett (audio)
  11. The Tea Rose, Jennifer Donnelly
  12. Rebel Angels, Libba Bray
  13. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Jack Gantos (audio)
  14. The Exception, Christian Jungersen
  15. The Madonnas of Leningrad, Debra Dean
  16. The Winter Rose, Jennifer Donnelly

I actually read SIX books published for adults!  Shocking.  Hmm, well, that seems to be the only thing I have to say about that list.  With the exception of two Mock Printz titles that I didn’t care for, I was pleased with everything else I picked up.

Now on to the present, where I am still awash in books and reading too many at once.  Last night I finished up Then We Came to the End,  which was pretty funny, but the only time I cared was for the brief moment it switched out of second person.  The ending was strangely satisfying, and the very last sentence was intriguing, but I was too tired to figure out what it meant.

Today I polished off the marvelous The Museum Book, which I recommend as a good quick non-fiction pick for anyone who shares my abiding passion for museums.  Especially museums in London.

Now I’m reading, on Kate’s recommendation, Drowning Ruth.  I conveniently found a copy on the library sale shelf right after she mentioned it, so I paid my $2 and took it home and stuck it on my shelf.  Then today it occurred to me that, like Kitri, I ought to put books I own and haven’t read yet on my library shelf, so that I’ll remember I want to read them when it comes time to pick out something new.  So I loved it over, as well as Anil’s Ghost, which Jenna gave me for Christmas so that I would read it.  (Which is kind of funny, because it sounds pretty intense, and last time Jenna was asking for book recommendations, she turned down a lot of suggestions because they sounded too intense/depressing.)  Anyway, I picked up Ruth while I ate my popovers and drank my coffee.  And I really think a study ought to be done on the effects of consuming popovers and coffee while reading, because it becomes difficult to stop.  I think the three things have some bizarre symbiotic relationship.  Witness my reading of The Winter Rose last month (okay, that may have been because the book was that addicting).

Yesterday I became overwhelmed by how many books I had going at once.  So what did I do?  Started (and finished) a new one.  Right now I’m listening to 2 books and reading 3.  That’s about 2 too many.  The Opposite of Invisible came in on hold yesterday, though, so I picked it up on my break.  And stayed up past 1 to finish it.  Solid contemporary YA – although I had to laugh when Alice said she only has one friend.  At the Mock Printz, the teen in my group had noticed this YA trend of characters with only one friend, and she said it drove her crazy.   But be appeased teen readers of the world, she makes more friends.  That part was very nicely done, plus I had a great sense of (and empathy for) Alice as a person, and the arc that her relationship with Simon rang true.  Some of the details felt a little self-consciously placed – specific locations, details about her family, articles of clothing – and that distracted me from the narrative, particularly since it was told in the first person.  But overall, it’s a good look at the high school dynamic, with decently well-rounded characters (apart from the football player who keeps eying Alice like a piece of meat) and believable emotions.

Now I’m focusing on Jack Plank Tells Tales, which has been on my shelf for an embarrassing length of time.  Basically a linked series of stories, some funny, some mysterious, some adventuresome, told by a pirate who’s been kicked off the ship because he didn’t care for plundering (just say no to pillaging, anyone?)  Seems like it would make a good read-aloud, and each story is enjoyable, but as always I crave more plot.  I know where it’s going – in each chapter, someone suggests a different profession for Jack, and he tells a story about why he wouldn’t be suited for that job.  So obviously he’s going to end up being the town storyteller.  Which doesn’t take away from the charm of the book, but gives me less impetus to keep picking it up.

Here’s my review – now I have to go find the first book in the duet.

If I finish a book and then am vaguely dissatisfied with my other reading options, that’s when I know I finished something good. This was definitely the case with Elizabeth Knox’s Dreamquake, my little experiment in reading the sequel before the first book. Since it won a Printz Honor, and should thus be able to stand alone, I wanted to find out for myself. Would I still enjoy it without the backstory? Would the characters and world still be engaging? Would it feel incomplete?

It does feel complete. While the beginning was a little confusing, figuring out who is related to who, how old they all are, the parameters of the semi-historical, semi-fantastical world they inhabit – it was no more so than any good, demanding book that throws you into the action and lets you figure things out as you go along. This quality, plus the tone, tight plotting, reticent characters, sense of place, and the historical/fantastical combo, all reminded me of Megan Whalen Turner’s books. So if you liked those aspects of her books – particularly The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia – then I definitely recommend this.

The ending was incredibly satisfying, and has been on my mind ever since I finished it. Things are wrapped up, but not too tidily. Now I get to go back and read Dreamhunter and find out if any of my guesses about it are correct – I avoided reading any plot summaries or reviews in the interests of a fair and balanced experiment. Overall, a success. Good for a somewhat patient reader looking for a story with good characters, an intriguing premise, and plenty of maps to consult.

February 2008
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