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September always feels like the start of awards season – the time when people who are into children’s and YA books get serious about what they think should win awards. I haven’t read nearly as much as I’d hoped to (isn’t that always the case?) and in no way am I trying to make predictions about what will win. These are just my favorites, out of the books I’ve managed to consume so far. If you have a favorite that I don’t mention, please suggest it in the comments!

Newbery:

  • Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. She’s already won once, but not for a novel. This one felt like a heavy hitter – tons of atmosphere, great characters, rich historical setting, and some fantastical elements. Top of my list, so far.
  • Liar and Spyby Rebecca Stead. Again, she’s already won once. Some books by previous winners don’t live up to the expectations, but I thought this had a lot of the strengths of When You Reach Me without feeling derivative.

Those are the two that feel completely deserving of a medal. A few others that have felt solid, but not quite as distinguished, are The Humming Room by Ellen Potter, See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowlesand Wonder by R.J. Palacio. These feel worth a look and some discussion.

Printz:

  • Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. That magical combination of superior writing and a story that I love, love, loved. I can’t imagine anything else this year beating this as my favorite for the award.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Yeah, it’s a tearjerker. But John Green has a way with characters and sharp dialogue.
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Fantasy! Dragons, like you’ve never seen them before! Oh, and great characters and world-building. Please give it an honor.
  • The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats. More historical fiction – characters you love to hate and a time period I was fascinated to learn about.

Any suggestions for me? You can check out the complete list of everything I’ve read this year to see what I’ve read that didn’t make the cut (so dramatic!)

A Room Made of WindowsA Room Made of Windows by Eleanor Cameron

It’s a remarkable sensation to go back to a book that meant a lot to you as a child and wonder if the story and characters helped shape you in some way, or if you were already that way and it simply resonated with who you were then. I’m not sure which it was, but I know I read this several times, and as many of the other Julia Redfern books as I could get my hands on. The Private Worlds of Julia Redfern was another favorite – probably because these two are about the adolescent Julia, and I seem to remember finding her during middle school.

Cameron’s style is a combination of details and impressions – the mood of the moment, with delicious descriptions of things like meals or homes alongside the descriptions of impressions and thoughts and characters. Definitely not for the reader who likes action and drama, but perfectly suited to the more introspective, character-driven reader. This time around I loved Julia for her imperfections, the ways in which she’s blind to other people’s feelings, as well as her enthusiasms. Like L.M. Montgomery’s books, Cameron’s stories make me want a lovely house to live and write in, with a view of something natural and beautiful.

Copy from my library system (although I wish I owned it).

Oh, and how could I forget to mention Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations?  I love everything she did, and I’m sure I’ve picked up books just based on the fact that she illustrated the cover.

Previously: my review of The Court of the Stone Children.
View all my reviews

I heart Ellen Emerson White.  Her books are so addicting that I keep thinking they’re fluff, but they’re not.  They’re awesome and well-written.  I even just ordered myself the complete Meg Powers set so that I can have them at my fingertips.  (I put my tuition on an Amazon credit card, and then I pay it off right away and get gift certificates, and right now I’m swimming in them since I just paid fall tuition.  When I was at Powell’s picking up my copy of Octavian Nothing last month, the clerk made a jokey comment about my Amazon card, and I told him if Powell’s did the same thing, I’d be all over it.  I just like free books.)  They’re totally the kind of books I’ll want to reread, because they’re engrossing and the characters are fab and always feel real, and there’s always so much tension that you can’t put them down.  Sure, it makes me a little tense, too, in a staying up till 1 am reading kind of way, but I love it.

I finished White House Autumn a few days ago.

White House Autumn White House Autumn by Ellen Emerson White


My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the sequel to The President’s Daughter, but it can easily be read out of order – but why would you want to miss any of the books in this series? Here are a few of the things I find so compelling about White’s books in general: the characters are always down to earth, regardless of the extraordinary circumstances of their lives. The families act like real families with believable problems. When the characters do stupid things, you understand why, because the tension is very real. This, in turn, makes the books hard to put down, because you believe in the characters and their problems and you want to make sure they’re okay. But you also don’t want the books to end, because they’re also snarky and fun and intelligent. The teenagers feel like teenagers, the adults feel like adults.

The President’s Daughter is probably the lightest one in the series, in terms of content. In White House Autumn, the family is dealing with an assassination attempt, which heightens all the issues that the first book brought up, about how to be a family in the public eye, and how Meg feels about her mother being president. The next one, Long Live the Queen, is the most action and suspense filled installment, and then Long May She Reign goes back to the inner turmoil – and college life. They’re all gripping, and I will definitely go back to this series again for good, involving rereads.
View all my reviews.

This morning I finished Life Without Friends, which is pretty much the same kind of awesome, minus the politics.  Also, instead of a shiny new paperback with a great cover (I love the reissue covers!) I read a beat-up copy from 1987 with a cracked spine and a cover that looks slightly…chewed.  It didn’t really detract from the experience.  Oh, another thing I like about EEW’s books is that the characters wear sweatpants.  I was all about sweatpants (in 1987).  I was also six years old, but still.  They also eat a lot.  Or rather, a lot of their meals are described.  Life Without Friends is a sequel to Friends For Life, but no library in the tri-county area owns a copy.  At least I’ve still got beat-up copies of The Road Home and All Emergencies, Ring Super waiting for me at the library.  And I can always reread.

Oh, and here’s a link to an interview with EEW, by Liz B., which includes links to plenty of reviews and info and all that good stuff.

There’s being a nerd, and there’s being a nerd.  This morning, Kitri and I held our own “Octavian Nothing Release Party.”  Just like when a new volume of a bestselling series comes out, and bookstores host parties and kids line up in costumes to get the book at the stroke of midnight.  Just like it.  Except Powell’s wasn’t open at midnight, so we pre-ordered a couple copies and showed up at 9 am to pick them up.  And then we had breakfast and chatted.  It’s the grown-up nerd version of a release party, okay?

So far I haven’t let myself jump into it – there are a lot of other things I should read first.  How long will I hold out?  Maybe an hour.  Already the title page delights me:

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing

Traitor to the Nation

Taken from accounts by his own hand and other sundry sources

Collected by Mr. M. T. Anderson of Boston

Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves

I love holding a book in my hands that I know I will love.  Actually, I’ve been surrounded by a lot of fantastic works of creativity lately.  I inhaled Nancy Werlin’s Impossible on Saturday – and I’m still trying to digest it to give it justice in a review.  My brother and I went to heard the Portland Baroque Orchestra do Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on Sunday – an absolute delight.  I started reading Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music on Julia’s recommendation, and it’s made me put all kinds of music on hold at the library to compliment the reading.

And then, on Saturday we’re going to see Swan Lake. Can you believe I’ve never seen Swan Lake live?  It’s an over-the-top confection and I adore it.  Tragedy, romance, impersonation, evil magicians, flocks of swans, swoony music, and a really great party scene – classic Tchaikovsky.  What more do you want from a ballet?

In addition to all that, I’m swimming through piles of children’s books for my classes feeling overwhelmed, not by how much I have to do, but by how many great things there are out there to choose from.

And in addition to my giant pile of library books, I’ve got Paper Towns and White House Autumn being shipped to me.  If I neglect the blog, it’s because I’m too busy reading to come up for breath.

Just when you start to think that September will never stop being warm and sunny, you get a cool, cloudy morning that reminds you to appreciate that sunshine while it lasts, for crying out loud, and don’t start wishing you could wear that new sweater just yet.  Because it’s Oregon, and your wish will come true before you’re really ready.

I finished watching the second season of Dexter – I know, I know, it doesn’t sound like my kind of thing at ALL, but I have a soft spot for it.  Except I prefer the regular ol’ episodes to the Big Dramatic Season Finales.  Anyway, having gotten my fill of serial killers, I moved on to watching movies.  And I remembered why TV shows on DVD are really best for my schedule – when you don’t get home until after 10 pm, by the time you take a shower and fix some dinner and sit down, you don’t really have time for a 2 hour production.  Not that this ever stopped me from watching 2 episodes of any TV show in an evening, but I could still get to bed at a decent hour if I wanted.  With a movie, you’re stuck staying up late.  Oh well.

The other night I watched Atonement.  I loved the book – the only Ian McEwan that I was really enthusiastic about – and I felt a little trepidation about seeing it brought to life, as one often is with a well-liked book.  I really enjoyed the first section of the movie – the house, and all the clashing patterns in the upholstery, and the costumes – I love that kind of stuff.  It did a remarkable job, too, of portraying the inner lives of the characters through sheer visuals – remarkable because the book is so, well, word-based.  And focused on the thoughts and feelings of characters, rather than words and actions.  But it really translated well onto the screen.  But then it moved to the WWII storyline, and I got a trifle bored.  It lost the same sense of suspense – the “how will things go wrong?” tension that drove the first part of the story.  I don’t remember if the same was true of the book – maybe I didn’t feel the tension because I knew what would happen.  But I felt tense during the first part even though I knew how that would end.  On a completely different note, I couldn’t decide if I loved the typewriter-sounding score or not.

Last night I watched I’m Not There – the one that’s kind of about Bob Dylan.  The one that features Cate Blanchett looking eerily like Bob Dylan.  It was bizarre and oddly fascinating, but it turns out that it takes a bit more plot to keep my interest through to the end.  That said, I think it’s a love it or hate it kind of movie, and I’d have to fall more on the love side than the hate side.  If you’re someone who’s watched Don’t Look Back more than once, I’m Not There is worth watching just for laughs.

On a completely different note, I really enjoyed Ellen Emerson White’s The President’s Daughter, which was just republished.  The new covers for the whole series are pretty smashing – not just updates of dated late 80’s/early 90’s covers, but spins on classic paintings that really match the mood of the series.  I read the 3rd and 4th books a while ago – Long Live the Queen and Long May She Reign – while I waited for the first two to go back in print.  Now I’m eagerly awaiting #2, White House Autumn.  They don’t sound at all like my kind of thing – politics, sports, kidnapping, PTSD, etc.  But they’re so gripping – once I start one, I can barely put it down.  Not necessarily because of the plot, but because the characters feel so real – especially the family dynamics.  Meg is perfectly snarky – a kindred spirit with completely different interests.  This is definitely a series that I’ll reread – and I kind of want to own copies so I can have those nice shiny covers on my bookshelf all the time.  Also, I’m thinking about voting for Meg’s mom come November.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves.

October 14, 2008.

Okay, a few more words.  You may remember that I have a deep and abiding love for Volume I: The Pox Party.  Not only do I think it was one of the most finely written pieces of fiction (not just Ya fiction – fiction in general) to pass in front of my eyeballs, I adored the period language and the history and the character of Octavian himself.  I’ve been keeping my ears perked ever since I finished it for the second volume.  I want it in my hands now.  Or at least as soon as I’ve had a chance to reread the first one.

If you haven’t read The Pox Party yet, and like smart historical fiction and fab language, what are you waiting for?

I finished I, Claudius!  It was great!  The ending took me totally by surprise – I knew I was almost done, but then I turned the page expecting more and that was it.  I had slumped a little about 2/3 through, probably because I started to get that feeling of how much more crappy stuff can happen?  A lot, it turns out.  I need a little break, but then I might attempt the miniseries and the sequel.

In the meantime, the big book news in my world is that I finally got around to reading Mary Doria Russell’s The SparrowIt had been recommended by Babelbabe, and I had read A Thread of Grace and thought it was great, and I was sort of saving The Sparrow for a rainy day* because I knew I would like it.  I even picked up a copy from the library’s shelf of donations for sale, so I could read it at a moment’s notice.  I picked it up on Sunday night for a little bedtime reading, and it was awfully hard to put down to go to sleep.

The best way I can describe it (or the experience of reading any really captivating book) is this: you start a book, sort of a doorway into another experience.  And sometimes you step through for a while, and forget a little bit about the world behind you.  And those are good books.  And some books, you just peek through and think “I can imagine how someone would like it over there, but nothing is pulling me through.”  And books like this?  You step into the other room and close the door.**  Every once in a while, you remember the door is back there, and you step out for a moment to eat or sleep or talk to other people.  But you’re entirely capable of sitting on the couch and downing several chapters while your roommate watches a movie, without being truly distracted.  And, okay, let’s pull this metaphor to death and describe the experience of finishing the book as leaving that door ajar, so that even though you’re not in the other room anymore, you still get the occasional glimpse.

So I spent most of Sunday afternoon and evening reading the book.  I came home from church, chatted with K, ate some toast and tea, and sat down with the book.  Somewhere around 10 pm, I realized that my eyes were tired and I had less than 100 pages left.  I felt like I needed a break, physically and emotionally, so I saved the end for this morning.   Here’s my Goodreads review:

Wow. If the premise of this book sounds at all interesting to you, and if you have some time to devote to being completely addicted to a book, don’t pass this by. Even if you don’t have time to be addicted, it will be worth it. I’m not a big sci-fi person as a rule, but the combination of spiritual struggles, friendships, travel, anthropology, linguistics, and, yes, humor, was so engrossing that I practically swallowed this book whole. It’s that rare combination of a completely engaging and expertly written – like a delicious but healthy meal, like dinner and dessert at the same time. I want the sequel NOW but my sanity might require a small break. Say, a few hours. 

*Actually, it hailed.  One minute it was sunny, less than five minutes later the ground was white.

**I’m cracking myself up here, remembering a Sunday school class in high school, where we listened to some spiritual talk on tape, and the guy had this very polished English accent and described death “as though they had stepped into the other room and closed the door.”  I think you had to be there.  Although perhaps it’s appropriate that I’m associating these two things, because the book is definitely centered around faith – “the risks and beauties of religious faith,” Russell says in the readers’ guide.  And it feels rare – especially in contemporary stuff – to find fiction that really deals with faith in any meaningful way.  I don’t want preachy and I don’t want warm fuzzies – I want to see characters that feel real dealing with life.

Ah, Historical Fiction Month continues in full force.  While not all technically historical fiction, I am using my librarian-in-training superpowers to make them so.  Just to review, so far we’ve got:

  • The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.  A good solid read for anyone who never knew they wanted to know all about Rose, excuse me, Josephine Bonaparte.  Sequel awaiting me on my bookshelf.
  • Hattie Big Sky.  Determined orphan heroine.  Prejudice.  Homesteading.  Influenza.  Just enough in the way of little surprises to keep you on your toes.
  • Year of Wonders.  Read it.  Seriously.  It’s catching, kinda like the plague.  It will consume you (no boils, though, thank God).  Although I had to stretch my suspension of disbelief a bit for the ending, I must say I never saw a particular twist coming.
  • Accidents of Nature.  Set in 1970, so it totally counts as HF.  This was somehow not what I expected, and I mean that in a good way.  Set in a cripple camp, makes you realize what idiots some of people are.  “You’ll never walk alone”?  Priceless.
  • Our Only May Amelia.  Oh May Amelia, why did you have to make me cry so?  I’m also really intrigued by the ‘voice’ in the book – all told as if casually relating a story rather than formal and all with “quotes.”
  • The King of Attolia.  So not historical fiction…but it feels historical.  Loosely modeled on ancient Greece and all that.  It was painful to finish it.  (Even the second time around.)  I feel as though it has been violently wrenched from my side.  Speaking of…
  • The Thirteenth Tale.  Apart from the twin fetish, I enjoyed this.  Okay, I had a few other quibbles with it, like annoyances with Margaret and the tone and…did the Angelfields have to be quite so insane?  But, the twists and turns were fun.  I listened to it on my ipod, and at work at that, and there were quite a few moments when I would stop, mouth agape, hoping no one would come across me until the tense moment had resolved itself.  Wanna talk spoilers?  Shoot me an email.  (I know who you are.)

During winter quarter, my favorite part of the week has been round about Thursday when I realize I really must sit down and read an excellent YA book to review.  Sure, I’ve got other things to do like read the last two week’s backlog of essays for class and watch a couple lectures.  But this review has got to be done by Sunday, so like it or not, I’ve got to sit down with a cup of tea and reread The King of Attolia.

I could pull a good dozen titles from the suggested list that I’ve already read and write a decent review from memory, but I don’t feel like I’ve got a grasp on a book until at least the second read.  Last time I read KOA, it was in a hungry, devouring fever of book lust.  This time, I’m reading carefully and trying to imagine what it would be like for someone unfamiliar with the delights of The Thief and The Queen of Attolia.  I still, though, want to put Eugenides in my pocket and take him home.  Except he would probably escape and piss me off and draw me into some kind of intrigue, and pretend to be one thing when he’s really another.  I’d be okay with that.  More than okay.

Ahem.  What was I talking about?

Oh yes, enforced reading of YA.  I was browsing through the ginormous list of possible titles, trying to pick one that was either fantasy or a category justifiably unique from adventure, reality fiction, and graphic novel (which I’ve already done – no repeats on genre).  I felt kind of bad, because I’ve only been reviewing titles that I know I love, except for Sea of Trolls, which I knew I’d love.  Maybe I should have been branching out and taking more chances?  But then I realized that I had happened to read plenty of titles on the list, I just hadn’t realized I could have reviewed them.  Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Accidents of Nature, Dairy Queen, to name a few.  So that made me feel a bit better.

Does anyone else feel this nagging guilt over all the books you don’t have time to read?  The ones that get nudged aside in favor of a brand-new title, or an award winner, or one that just plain looks more fun?  I try to read a mix – new titles & classics, adult, children’s & YA, contemporary and historical.  But I never feel like it’s enough.  I could try to keep up on one genre, maybe, but I don’t want to limit myself.  How do you deal with it?  (And what a ridiculous problem to have, really.)

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