I’m not quite sure what happened to the month of September…or June, July and August, for that matter. Although if you could see me right now, you might be able to figure out the answer to that question on your own. I’ve been putting a lot of my energy towards my latest from-scratch creation. Not a cake, not a pie, but a new, tiny human. He’ll need about four more months in the oven before it’s time to emerge.

Along with the effort of cooking this homemade creation come the piles and piles of books that, like a good little librarian, I want to read to keep myself informed. I thought I’d been doing well and felt on top of things until I realized that I can’t just read about childbirth and baby names, I need to keep right on with breastfeeding and baby care and general parenting because there’s no break! The baby doesn’t come out and then give you a break where you can read up on the next thing. Duh and yikes all at once. (Any book recommendations?)

There is also the search for a more spacious home – say, one with enough floor space for a baby to practice crawling without running into furniture every two feet. You can blame the hormones, but I’ve never had this much trouble finding a place to live. Fortunately, the hunt has paid off and we’re about to sign a lease on a tiny house with a yard. A yard! And a washer and dryer, hallelujah!

Oh, and in case I didn’t feel busy enough, I’m a first-round panelist for the Cybils this year! Last year’s second-round reading didn’t keep me busy enough, so obviously this year I need to go all out and sign up to read All the Books (well, all the middle grade fantasy and science fiction, at least). I’m super excited about it, and hopefully that will inspire me to post more regularly about the middle grade gems we’re reading! If you read children’s or YA books, go and nominate your favorites – you’ve got until October 15!

 

We’re having a lazy Labor Day around here. I always have aspirations of doing something exciting on three-day weekends, but I usually end up just taking the extra day to sleep in, maybe make something delicious to eat, and catch up on stuff around the house.

I’m hoping to go for a nice walk this afternoon, but at the moment I’m recovering from vacuuming and having glass after glass of sparkling water (it’s an addiction this summer). Why is it that vacuuming a tiny apartment is more exhausting than vacuuming a larger space? Answer: you have to move every single piece of furniture to reach even half the carpet. It’s like disassembling and reassembling a room-sized puzzle. I ignore the corners behind chairs for a while, but I just had to toss a vase of flowers and there were petals everywhere. Plus a nice layer of dust, I’m sure.

I made this blueberry tart over the weekend – the kind with crust, pastry cream, and berries on top. I never manage to get around to making the glaze, but I like the not-too-sweet result. Makes me feel better when I have a piece at breakfast.

I haven’t been baking much this summer – a combination of laziness and a few weeks of heat than made turning on the oven unbearable. But the temperatures have been back in the 70s and 80s and I’m finding my baking mojo again. I made the tart on Saturday, a Dutch baby pancake for brunch on Sunday, buttermilk biscuits to go with leftover soup on Sunday night, and another Dutch baby for breakfast this morning, this time with a nectarine sliced up in the skillet. YUM.

I got a deal on ten pounds of fruit at the farmer’s market on Sunday, so now we’re awash in apples, peaches, and nectarines. I have a recipe for a caramelized peach cobbler that I want to try, and maybe an apple pie after that. I can dream!

In the meantime, I’m not ready to let summer go yet. We’ve got a beach trip planned with my family, and then in the fall I have a girls’ weekend at another beach, and we’re still deciding what to do for our first anniversary.

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!)

I was about my post my review of Spark, the second book in this series, when I realized I’d never posted my (brief) review of Glow. So here are both of them:
Glow (Sky Chasers, #1)Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan

I’m completely conflicted about this one. On one hand, I was enjoying the pace and the tension and all of the mysterious unknowns, both plot-wise and in terms of Ryan’s world-building – what will her version of life in space look like? On the other hand, I never clicked with either of the main characters whose POV we follow. As the story went on, I found the ambiguity surrounding their actions more and more frustrating. Wait, do I trust him now or not? Wait, is she being reasonable or suffering the effects of trauma? How much can I trust each narrator? I wavered back and forth between thinking that Ryan was doing brilliant things with characterization and being completely annoyed. That pretty much sums up my whole experience!

 

Spark (Sky Chasers, #2)Spark by Amy Kathleen Ryan

This wins major points for addressing all the issues I had with Glow. This is really one of those series where it would be best to sit down and read them all in a row (if they were all out yet). Glow left me frustrated with a few things – I didn’t click with either of the main characters, and there was a boatload of ambiguity about how people were acting and why. Was I supposed to be siding with Waverly or Kieran? And what about Seth?

While I still didn’t completely click with any of the main characters in Spark, I certainly found myself less frustrated. More of the characters’ personalities were falling into place, and we got more of Seth’s perspective to help explain his behavior. Of course, the plot also continues to thicken, which again gave the book a brisk pace and plenty of action. I also became more accepting of the ambiguity – maybe I was just in the right mood for it this time – and I really appreciated the way Ryan doesn’t let the characters be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – they’re all somewhere inbetween, and increasingly aware of their own flaws. Nicely done, very nicely done.

I’d recommend this series to teens (and some middle-schoolers) who are interested in space travel, or who like morally complex stories that also have plenty of action.

Liar & SpyLiar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was so easy to slip into this story. Rebecca Stead does an excellent job with world-building, which is a concept I usually think of more with fantasy novels, but I think it applies to any story where a sense of place is crucial to the story. Here, it’s an apartment building. The whole story takes place within walking distance of Georges’ new building. It’s very much about discovering a new place, a place that maybe you’d rather not be, but which turns out to have its own rewards.

The story is also layered beautifully – lots of little things that add up to something bigger. There’s a hint of mystery, developing friendships, contrasts between now and then, school bullies, family dynamics. It all ends up feeling necessary.

I might even bump up my rating after I sit on this one for a while. It didn’t blow me away, but it has all the hallmarks of excellence.

Source: ARC from NetGalley
View all my reviews

Splendors and GloomsSplendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The fact that this took me a while to read should in no way reflect on its quality (I have a love/hate relationship with reading books on my phone, which is currently my only way to read ebooks). In fact, each time I opened it up again, I immediately knew where I was and what was happening in the story, with the whole thing as vivid as if I’d read it over just a few days.

‘Splendors and Glooms’ is really the perfect description of the story – the gloom is easy to spot, in the downtrodden lives of Victorian orphans; in the sadness of Clara, her parents’ only living child; in the brutality of puppeteer Grisini; in the agony of a witch torn between hanging on and finally letting go.

The splendors are there, too – Parsefall’s love of the puppet theater, and Clara’s, too; and the sense of redemption that the story brings (although telling would be spoiling). There’s magic and surprising humor and a delicious Gothic feel.

Also splendid is Laura Amy Schlitz’s writing – this woman has a way with her pen, and each story she turns out is masterful yet distinct. I think I’m bumping this to the top of list of Newbery favorites for the year.

Source: ARC from NetGalley
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Ah, finally the temperatures have slipped back down to the low 80s (the heat doesn’t usually last long in Oregon, but it’s always a shock to the system) and I feel human again. Part of the problem is that our whole, tiny apartment heats up if you turn on the stove for five minutes, so there’s been a lack of baking and real, balanced meals around here. Hopefully I’ll get in some serious baking time this fall!

As for books, I’ve been reading steadily but my numbers feel like they’ve slipped. I’ve been doing more ‘reading up on things’ and reading less fiction – boo! I’ll post some complete reviews soon, but here are a few recent reads that hit the spot:

The Changeover:  A Supernatural RomanceThe Changeover: A Supernatural Romance by Margaret Mahy

The writing style felt very old-school – not dated, necessarily, but there was something about the book that gave me flashbacks to my fantasy-devouring adolescence. This was my first Mahy, and now I’d like to try more.

 

 

 

For Darkness Shows the StarsFor Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

It’s been a while since I reread Persuasion, so I enjoyed the similarities without being distracted by any ways that this homage might not have lived up to the original. I particularly liked the ways that the futuristic setting allowed Peterfreund to explore social issues that often lurk in the background of Austen’s novels. Note: not set in space, and I’m not sure exactly why I thought it was (for a few chapters, actually).

 

 

Tender Morsels (Audio CD)Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Strangely enough, I didn’t love this on audio as much as I loved the print version. The narrators did a good job, but I think I appreciated the material more as ‘silent reading’ – I felt the mood of the story more strongly on my own. Plus, in the early, difficult sections, the audio version doesn’t let you skim over the horrors the way the print version does. I’d forgotten how the story wraps up (my poor memory makes for great rereading) and it was interesting to see which of my guesses were right.

While this was marketed as young adult in the US, I believe it was originally marketed to adults in Australia – and I think it could go either way. There are some aspects of the story that feel YA, and others that feel impossibly adult. I’d recommended it to older teens and adults.

 

Keeping the CastleKeeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Speaking of Jane Austen, this was a fun read-alike. It felt like something perfectly in between Austen and We Capture the Castle, and it won me over from the opening scene. Sure, there were some predictable elements, but it was sheer fun to read.

I always know it’s really summer in Oregon when I can go blueberry picking.

blueberries

 

(Okay, so this picture is from 2007, but do blueberries really change? No.)

I went on Friday – I had the day off for working the weekend – and there’s nothing like a not-too-hot hour spent wandering between overgrown bushes, picking and eating and picking.

Now, to turn them into a blueberry tart! I’m thinking one of those ones with a sweet crust, pastry cream filling, and blueberries mounded on top. With leftovers for munching or freezing or turning into muffins.

See You at Harry'sSee You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

Going into this book, I knew it would be sad. It has the subject heading “grief – fiction” for crying out loud, plus I’d read several reviews before ordering it for the library and that gave me a heads up. But sometimes I’m just in the mood for a tear-jerker, so I picked it up and waited to see what would be so devastating.

The first half of the book is the story of a family dealing with the usual upsets of life, with the added hurdle of running a family restaurant. Narrator Fern feels like the invisible one, her older brother hasn’t come out but they all know he’s gay, oldest girl Sara is taking a year off before college, and three-year-old Charlie is, as always, dirty and sticky and looking for affection.

When things go wrong for the family, Knowles writing felt like it tightened up. Each person blames themselves for what happened, and they have to figure out how to go on. The sadness never felt maudlin – it was always sharp and painful and vivid. Although the sadness in the story is specific to this particular incident, I always think that good tear-jerkers evoke a universal sort of grief. This may not be your tragedy, but if the emotions ring true, you are put in the character’s shoes. Their grief and any grief you hold get mixed together.

This isn’t an easy book to read, but I think it fits well into that canon of children’s books that do this sort of thing well. It made me think of both Bridge to Terabithia and A Summer to Die – books with very different plots but a similar ability to call up emotion.

Source: my public library

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I am alive, although awash in summer reading busy-ness and laziness at home. I wish “summer reading busy-ness” meant I’ve been reading in record quantities, but alas I’m just busy at work. We’ve been down a librarian for five weeks (sob) – two weeks longer than expected – and those of us holding down the fort are feeling the effects. We really do need three children’s librarians during the summer.

But the work is oh-so-satisfying, which helps make up for the occasional insanity. It’s endlessly entertaining to hand out prizes to kids and free books when they finish summer reading. It’s a relief to see some of the shelves empty off, and circulation go up, as people stock up for all that free time that summer brings. I suspect that parents are less likely to limit their school-age kids on how much they check out at once. As a librarian, I want to pile them up with books until they can’t see to walk upstairs!

Storytime is always a delight (except when all the background noise is coming from the parents, not the kids…) Three years into librarianship, I definitely feel like I have storytime down pat – I can throw it together quickly if I need to, and I feel confident in all my usual routines. I can’t decide if this means I should shake things up or leave them be.

Last summer I experimented with a teen craft program – teens have totally been the neglected group in my library for a long time – and it was poorly but faithfully attended (the same three girls came each week). This year I switched from evenings to afternoons and lowered the minimum age from 12 to 10. I think that combination worked, at least for now. I think most of the attendees have been between 10 and 13, but I’ve had much larger groups and they’re focused and enthusiastic. Last week we did duct tape wallets and roses (the wallets in particular required a lot of step-by-step instruction from me) and this week we did ‘make your own postcard.’ Next week we have someone lined up to come in and teach origami. I am calling it a success.

In terms of my personal reading, I’ve definitely slacked off on reviews (I gave myself permission to do that, but I didn’t expect to get this lazy…maybe there was a reason I became a perfectionist about it). Hopefully, after a little break, I’ll get back into the swing of things.

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