You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2011.

January 28th, and I just got around to starting a new page for my 2011 reads (located under the banner image).  Sheesh.  Well, I do have a reasonably good excuse – my young man and I got engaged this month and plans are underway for an October wedding.  Also, my sister got engaged this month.  Things have been busy!   It’s thrilling and exciting and a little nerve-wracking, and wedding and marriage related reading has kind of overtaken my usual fiction.  Of course, most of these are browsable books and not cover-to-cover types (with the exception of the splendid and highly entertaining Miss Manners book that you’ll see on the ’11 page) so my reading list makes it look like I’ve been slacking off.

I also took a week’s vacation and didn’t even manage to make it through this year’s Newbery winner in that whole time – what has become of me?  I did dive into seriously this week and ended up quite liking it by the end – thoughts to come, sooner or later, you know how it goes.  I also read one Honor book -Turtle in Paradise which was pretty fun and brisk.  It didn’t feel as substantial as Our Only May Amelia (gosh, that made me cry!) but that’s not to say it wasn’t deserving.

I’ve also been working on this year’s Odyssey Honor titles – I’d already listened to the winner, The True Meaning of Smekday, in 2010 (don’t wait – listen to it now!)  One honor went to Alchemy and Meggy Swann, which I finished this month, narrated by the marvelous Katherine Kellgren – it’s great to hear that kind of rich, old-fashioned language brought to life, and the book held up well the second time around.  Right now I’m listening to Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which is hilarious and occasionally depressing, just as I remembered.  It’s an interesting one to reread, seeing how the pieces fall into place and noticing more nuances of point-of-view and character.  The other two honors are Revolution and The Knife of Never Letting Go – both are on my “to-listen” list.

Hopefully some proper reviews will follow – and a few Long Distance Kitchen recaps.

My goodness, three whole days since the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced and I haven’t opinionated on a blessed thing!  What is the world coming to?

I went into work a bit late so I could watch the live webcast – since the announcements were at 7:45 am Pacific time, going to work on time would’ve meant missing a good chunk of the later announcements, with the risk of not getting it work once I showed up!  So stay home I did, and I took notes so I could place an order once I got in (I don’t understand why the press release isn’t put online at the close of the announcements, but there’s often a delay and I wanted to get our order in).

Fortunately we owned most of the titles – there were a few Belpré and Batchelder winners we didn’t have, and no copies of Dave the Potter, but otherwise quite respectable.  Our copy of Moon Over Manifest had already circulated a few times, so no embarrassment there.

Here’s a quick run-down of things I have opinions about:

Newbery

I had my money on One Crazy Summer and was pleased to see it take an honor.  My initial review of it said: “Just go read it already. If this doesn’t get some kind of shiny sticker come awards season, I’ll be surprised.” (It also won the Scott O’Dell Award for historical fiction – woot!)

I thought Dark Emperor was absolutely brilliant, but it’s the kind of thing that isn’t “typical Newbery” so I was doubly pleased to see it get an honor – both for being outside the historical middle-grade novel box and for it being all-around awesome.  As I said in my review, “each look reveals new, fabulous details,” and I’m glad this is getting the attention it deserves.

I haven’t yet read Moon Over Manifest, Turtle in Paradise, or Heart of a Samurai, although I just started Turtle and I have Samurai waiting on my shelf.

Caldecott

Hurray for the Steads!  This one caught my eye when I read about it over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, and I loved it when I got my hands on it.  Sometimes Caldecott winners are books where I can admire the artistry of the illustrations, or the marriage of pictures and text, but I don’t necessarily like the book aesthetically.  This book does all of it for me (I kind of want to live in Amos’ house).

Honors went to Dave the Potter (which falls into the “admire the artistry but don’t personally respond to it” category) and Interrupting Chicken, which I’ve only looked at briefly (when it came through in a stack of new picture books to process) but I’m happy to see David Ezra Stein get an award, and I’m glad to see something on the sillier side.

Printz

The Printz went to Ship Breaker – which was dark and tense and great for fans of dystopias (although not a personal favorite, something I can stand behind).

A whole slew of honors: Stolen, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Revolver, and Nothing.  I read the last two for the Mock Printz this year, and can’t argue that they were both finely written (although Nothing was the kind of book that’s so finely written it’s horrifying).  Revolver had fantastic, tense plotting and a great use of setting.  The first two I’ve yet to read.

Coretta Scott King

There are several CSK awards – author, illustrator, and new talent for both author and illustrator (the Steptoe).  Not too much of a surprise here – One Crazy Summer took the author award (yay!) with Lockdown, Ninth Ward, and Yummy as honors – I haven’t read any of the honors yet.

The illustrator award went to Dave the Potter (see my comments on the Caldecott) with one honor book – Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow.  I peeked at Jimi on award morning, since it was on the shelf, and I’ll have to go back to it since at first glance I found the artwork overwhelming – loud and busy, but that probably suits the story.

The Steptoe author went to Zora and Me, which I’ve been meaning to read, and the illustrator went to Seeds of Change, which I haven’t yet seen.

Schneider

This one’s for books that portray the disability experience, and it’s always interesting to see which topics are covered in a given year’s winners.  There are three – one for ages 0-10, one for 11-13, and one for 13-18.  I don’t think I’ve seen The Pirate of Kindergarten, which won in the youngest range.  After Ever After won for 11-13 (I’ve liked Sonnenblick’s other books and meant to read this one), and Five Flavors of Dumb won the teen award (I’ve got this one waiting in my basket at work).

Wilder

This award is for a lasting contribution to children’s literature and went to Tomie dePaola.  Now I want to reread Strega Nona.  This one is interesting because I’m not really aware of who’s won in the past and who hasn’t won yet, so apart from agreeing on whether or not an individual’s work is lasting, it’s hard to form an opinion.  With this one I don’t get the sense of “but another person deserved this award!” because a) that person could still win another year and b) I don’t know who’s been left out.

Edwards

Same idea, but for young adult literature and honoring a specific body of work.  Who can argue with Terry Pratchett?  Really?  Anyone?  (The fun part about the live webcast is hearing the cheers and applause in the room – Sir Terry got a lot).

Odyssey

I’ve started paying attention to this award in recent years, both as an audiobook listener and as the person who orders children’s audiobooks.  If a year goes by that Katherine Kellgren doesn’t get at least an honor for a book she’s narrated, then I don’t know what the world’s coming to.  This year the gold went to The True Meaning of Smekday, which is an awesome book – but can I just tell you how much more I loved it on audio?  Sure, you miss the comics – but in exchange you get Bahni Turpin making the sounds of sheep stepping on bubble wrap.  So happy about this one!

Kellgren got her honor for Alchemy and Meggy Swann, which I just started listening to (I read the book earlier in the year).  Man, can she do voices and ballads!  The other honors went to The Knife of Never Letting Go, Revolution, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I’ve read all three already, but now I’m itching to get my hands on the audiobooks.  Good year!

Belpré

Again, we’ve got author and illustrator awards.  The author award went to The Dreamer, which I quite liked, with honors for ¡Olé! Flamenco, The Firefly Letters, and 90 Miles to Havana (haven’t read any of these yet).

The illustrator award went to Grandma’s Gift, one of the titles my library doesn’t yet own, with honors for Fiesta Babies, Dear Primo, and Me, Frida.

Sibert

Okay, I haven’t read the whole thing yet but I was totally hooked by the first few pages of Kakapo Rescue, which won the gold.  Two honors for Ballet for Martha (lovely) and Lafayette and the American Revolution (I’m feeling a little tapped out on the American Revolution lately, but I’d like to read it sometime soon).

Stonewall

I do believe this is the first year that this award (for books relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered experience) has been announced with the other ALA awards.  The winner was Almost Perfect, with honors for The Boy in the Dress, Love Drugged, Freaks and Revelations, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (which I loved despite the ending).

Geisel

If you’d asked me which three books to give shiny Geisel stickers to, there’s a really good chance I would’ve picked these three: Bink and Gollie for the gold (and if you haven’t yet met Bink and Gollie, you’re missing out – sequel, please?) and We Are In a Book! and Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same! for honors.  A splendid round-up of easy readers.

Morris

Now the Morris is nice because they give you a shortlist – very considerate of them.  I’ve read two off the shortlist – Guardian of the Dead and Hush, and both were great in completely different ways.  The others off the shortlist are Crossing the Tracks and Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and I have both waiting for me.  The award went to The Freak Observer, which is of course the only one that wasn’t in the library catalog.

YALSA Nonfiction

Another award with a shortlist, which this year included: They Called Themselves the KKK (excellent), Spies of Mississippi (which I was supposed to read for the Mock Printz but didn’t get to), The Dark Game, and Every Bone Tells a Story, with Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing as the winner (hurray – well done and with plenty of teen appeal, I think).

Whew, my typing fingers are worn out and there’s reading to be done – not to mention all those 2011 books that are starting to pop up!

Last catch-up post from 2010!

  • The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn, John Bellairs: A fun, rompy story with hidden treasure, old buildings, floods, and a great librarian.  Recommended if you want a light mystery.
  • Incarceron, Catherine Fisher (audio): I wanted to refresh my memory of the book before the Mock Printz and before getting my hands on Sapphique.  It was a bit harder to follow on audio than on the page, and the narration was competent but not amazing, so I’d recommend reading over listening.  But it served its purpose.
  • A Tale Dark and Grimm, Adam Gidwitz: Fans of fairy tales, rejoice!  And when I say fairy tales, I mean the creepy and bloody versions in Grimm, the ones with grotesque illustrations and wicked parents.  Gidwitz puts a marvelous twist on things, starting with Hansel and Gretel and throwing in a handful of less famous stories, with a very obtrusive narrator and plenty of false endings.  Things do get dark and grim (and very Grimm), but there’s a fair amount of humor to balance things out, along with a brisk pace and the fun of comparing his versions to the originals (well, at least what the Brothers Grimm recorded).
  • Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey: What fun to find a fantasy story that incorporates unfamiliar mythology and landscapes.  Add in a prickly but likeable protagonist and several characters who refuse to be defined as “good guys” or “bad guys” and you’ve got a winner.  The set-up was my favorite part, as Ellie tries to figure out what on earth is going on and who to trust.  The second half didn’t have quite the same suspense for me, but I still enjoyed the story.  Healey has an interesting author’s note about using a culture’s mythology as an outsider, which I thought was a nice touch, and she explains where she deviated from the authentic Maori stories.

Continuing my catch-up from 2010, here are a handful of mysteries (all part of a series written for adults, all historical, all with female sleuths – I’m nothing if not predictable).

  • The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear (audio): The Maisie Dobbs series has had ups and downs for me, but this one hits all the right marks – an interesting mystery (involving WWI, of course) and some developments in Maisie’s personal life (hurray!)  Winspear has an interesting style – very steady and calm, and somewhat repetitive, which makes these work well as audio books.  The narrator’s tone is suited to Maisie’s deliberate habits, and there’s never any danger of losing the thread of the story, even if you listen while baking.  Definitely start at the beginning of the series, though, to appreciate Maisie’s backstory and development as a character.
  • Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn: The Lady Julia books are historical mystery fluff, but I continue to enjoy them (just remember to suspend your disbelief and go along for the ride).  I enjoyed the trip to India (and the microcosm of British society) along with Lady Julia.
  • A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander: While there are plenty of similarities between this series and the Lady Julia books, I give Alexander credit for creating a more historically likely heroine.  In the first book, she had a reasonably gradual transformation into a more iconoclastic character, and by this second book she’d grown on me.  I appreciate that Emily wants to flaunt certain of society’s rules, but in the end is still a product of the Victorian era.  Recommended for historical mystery fans.
  • The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley (audio): In contrast to the measured tones of the Maisie Dobbs audiobooks, Flavia de Luce is another matter entirely, and the audio version has a more snarky, frantic tone.  Flavia is as sharp and annoying as ever, yet somehow still endearing. My only complaint about the whole thing is that these are not the type of mystery where you’re constantly guessing and re-guessing how it will turn out. Apparently I prefer that kind of mystery to one where you’re along for the ride but not particularly invested in how the mystery will resolve itself.  Recommended for fans of the first book.

As of this moment, my email inbox is down to 12 (necessary) items, my Google Reader feed has no unread items, and my Goodreads currently-reading list is accurate!  I feel ready for 2011, after a shaky start on the 1st.  And before too long, my apartment might even be clean and my cupboards stocked.  The sun is shining and I’m looking forward to whatever the year brings.

(My sister and brother at Mt. St. Helens, in September – this was about all you could see.)

The Cybils finalists were announced recently, and I was so happy to see one my nominations on the Fiction Picture Books listA Beach Tail by Karen Lynn Williams and illustrated by Floyd Cooper.  It’s like a little piece of summer on a cold day.  Not like I can take any credit, really, since I’m sure someone else would’ve nominated it, but it’s a fun story and I’m glad to see it made the list.  There are a lot of intriguing choices in the finalists, and plenty of ideas if you need to fatten up your to-read list.

Whee!  Here we go, a last-ditch effort to clean the slate from 2010 so that I can start talking about what I’m reading in this bright and shiny new year (it may be below freezing, but the sun is out, making the day bright and shiny) (why yes, I did have more coffee than usual this morning).

  • Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin: Fun, but not as gripping as Impossible.
  • As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth by Lynne Rae Perkins: LRP has redeemed herself in my eyes – I am no longer a hater (cough, Criss Cross, cough) and enjoyed this one completely.  Her style suits the unlikely coincidences of the story, and I might even vote for this one at the Mock Printz.
  • Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi: Dark and tense and definitely recommended if you like that kind of dystopian adventure that re-imagines a landscape we know.  I don’t know if I enjoyed it, necessarily, but it was quite well done.
  • Amulet: The Stonekeeper’s Curse by Kazu Kibuishi: I’m really enjoying this graphic novel fantasy/adventure series – the illustrations are what pull me in, but the story is a lot of fun, too.  Start with book one, The Stonekeeper.  Book three is out, and the whole series has been really popular at my library.
  • The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan: Do I keep reading the prolific Mr. Riordan because I enjoy his books or so that I can be a well-informed librarian?  Both reasons, actually.   In case anyone’s been hiding under a rock, this one is set in the same world as the Percy Jackson books, but follows three new characters.  Riordan definitely hasn’t run out of stories and creatures from mythology, although he does mix things up a little bit here with more Roman mythology, and he hasn’t run out of jokes, either.  A must for fans – he doesn’t disappoint.

It just occurred to me that, as much as I’d like to really write a review of everything I read in 2010, I’d rather have a fresh start for the new year.  So here are some quick thoughts about all the books I finished in the last few months that never got a proper review.

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve: This is on the Mock Printz list for this (next weekend!) and I’m always impressed by how individual each of Reeve’s books are.  I haven’t read the series to which this is a prequel, but it stands on its own and is some kind of fascinating.  Absorbing world and characters, although the plot has faded in my memory.

Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen: After being forced to read Hatchet in middle school (or maybe it was read aloud?) I swore off Gary Paulsen.  Until this one made it onto the Mock Newbery list this year and I had to give him a second chance.  He’s still not my cup of tea, but I can respect what he does and the appeal that his stories have for lots of readers – to the point, visceral, often brutal.  There’s not a lot of pretty shiny language here, and the character development is sometimes slim, but the pace is gripping.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well the non-fiction interludes worked – they could have been choppy, falling in between the chapters, but they gave key information with info-dumping into the storyline, and they gave me a chance to catch my breath before jumping back in.

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter: One of those stories that you itch to reread as soon as you reach the end, just to see how it all came together.  Plenty of secrets and red herrings and truths hiding in plain sight (even a mystery about the narrator).  One thing that bugged me while I read was the inconsistent use of Britishisms, but once someone mentioned that it could have been intentional, fitting with all the other quirks of the story, it stopped bothering me.  It’s been over a month since I finished it, and that “want to reread” itch is still there, so hopefully I’ll find time to revisit this one.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly: Oh, wow.  Jam-packed with musical references, old and new, details of Paris now and Paris during the French Revolution, visits to the catacombs, artifacts,writing and hearts (literally), with a main character who’s so broken it hurts, yet whose story you can’t put down.  Gripping.  Totally gripping, and the kind of big YA novel I love to find, and completely different in scope from Donnelly’s other novels.

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson: Are you an Eva Ibbotson fan?  If not, what are you waiting for?  I would’ve loved her as a child – that blend of magic and adventure and cozy comfort, always with a hard-won but happy ending.  I adore her books, even meeting them for the first time as an adult.  Lucky me, I still have several I haven’t read, plus I know they’ll be comfort rereads some day.  I was sad to hear that she died recently – there’s a really lovely piece about her by Laura Amy Schlitz that you can read – and if that doesn’t make you want to pick up one of her books right this instant, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.  All of which is to say that A Company of Swans is lovely and fun, and I know it was written first, but for me it was a chance to revisit the Amazon setting of Journey to the River Sea, plus it has ballet!  Love, love, love.

More to come!  I still have a frightening number to write about.

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Dinner success - the rare occasion when we eat exactly the same thing (except no hot salsa on his rice & beans).

Trucks, always trucks (and the water tables).

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