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Normally I go to the library at least twice a week, since I usually work twice a week.  That gives me plenty of opportunities to return things, pick up my holds, browse on occasion – although I tend to get most of my things in on hold, since it’s so easy, plus it feels odd to browse on my breaks.  But lately – using the excuse of needing books for classes – I’ve been going for fun at least two more times each week.  I worked on Friday; on Saturday my mom went in and I gave her a big pile of picture books to return.  On Sunday I stopped in to pick up a DVD that came in on hold.  On Monday I went in to observe a story time, return another pile of books, and browse for my next few assignments.

Both of my classes have moved on from picture books to chapter books and non-fiction.  One class requires all the titles to be new to me, with some being award winners, the other class requires a variety of genres.  I stared at the shelves for a few minutes, completely blanking on things I’ve been meaning to read.  Then I went into whirlwind mode, snatching up titles left and right.  I love having chapter books be “homework” – I feel like I’m in 6th grade again, being “forced” to write a book report.  When everyone knows that it’s just a big excuse for me to spend even more time reading, and more time at the library.  And then when this is over, I’ll appreciate my YA and grown-up books all the more.

Right now I’m reading:

  • The Lazarus Project – every time I pick it up, I like it.  But then I forget to pick it up for a while.
  • The Whipping Boy – I know I read this ages ago, but I don’t remember anything except the premise.
  • Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time – so funny.  It’s been a while since I read Millicent Min, Girl Genius, but I’m enjoying the perspective from the other side.
  • The Lace Reader – on audio in the car.  I just got hooked, a few discs in.
  • Sunrise Over Fallujah – from the mock Printz list, which I’ve been neglecting ever since I realized I have all these younger chapter books to read.

Goodreads thinks I’m still reading Octavian Nothing, but I just can’t find words to do it justice.  One of these days.

I went through a giant pile o’ picture books today, for both of my classes, and this is the one I fell for hardest.  Leonardo’s little tummy – oh Lordy, it makes me chuckle.  I even read it to my mom (how’s that for a role reversal) and she was cracking up.  I present to you, thanks to your pal Mo Willems, Leonardo the Terrible Monster!  (drumroll, please)

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster (Ala Notable Children's Books. Younger Readers (Awards)) Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who can resist Mo Willem’s charms as an illustrator? With a few simple lines, he gives us Leonardo, a monster who teaches us both meanings of the word terrible. Instead of being scary-terrible, he’s just terrible at being a monster. Leonardo is perhaps the most adorable and amusing monster in fiction, but he longs to “scare the tuna salad” out of someone, anyone! The cartoonish illustrations, shown against large expanses of lightly-colored page, show Leonardo on his quest. Oh, his careful tip-toeing! His fierce face and arm-pump of victory when he makes Sam cry! As usual with Willems, the humor is in the details, and the changes in font and color are used effectively to give emphasis to the text. Scaredy-cats and monsters alike will enjoy this story of friendship – once the adults are done hogging it.

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Quick, help!  I’m not usually a big Halloween costume person, but I’m working at the library on the 31st and have been asked to wear one (they’d better put me on the desk if I do!)  Any ideas for something simple and recognizable – and easy to work in?

On to the books.  So many books!  First, let’s talk about eery similarities between two books I finished recently: Steve Kluger’s My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins & Fenway Park and Marc Acito’s How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater. Yeah.  You don’t need to look any further than the titles, really.  Both stories have a lot of musical theater.  Humor.  High school friends.  Hijinks.  Characters realizing they’re gay.  Appearances by musical celebrities.  And both are written as assignments for English class.  But here’s where they part ways.  My Most Excellent Year is a novel of love – romantic, yes, but also familial.  These are characters who genuinely love and (for the most part) get along with their families.  They take in people, and treat their friends like brothers.  Parents talk to – and understand – their children, and vice versa.  Book-long romances culminate in simple kisses.  The relationships, however improbably, survive high school.  How I Paid for College is a novel of sex.  And almost-sex, and sex faked for blackmail purposes.  There’s some romance, sure, but that’s not the focus.  The characters are going off to college and don’t really get emotionally entangled.  It’s not trying to be sweet and romantic, and the off-to-college thing is more realistic, but in the end the book really doesn’t have a heart.  Just a lot of laughs. My Most Excellent Year has both – give it a try.

(My Most Excellent Year is also one of the titles for this year’s Mock Printz – and given how much I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read so far, this will be a tough year for voting.  I’ll be curious to hear how other people react, and how that sways my vote.  Between this, Little Brother, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks…it’ll be tough.  Side note – why on earth isn’t Octavian Nothing on the list?  Don’t worry – I have a whole Octavian post to write sooner or later.)

Both books, though – I blame both of them for all the show tunes stuck in my head.  A sad after-effect of my own years of musical theater.  I remember a frightening number of lyrics from Kiss Me Kate, as it turns out.  I also have this picture from the high school yearbook, recently sent to me by a former classmate. Go ahead and laugh.  I am.  I’m just to the left of Michael – I mean Bill.

A typical Oregon day – you look out the window, notice it’s sunny, and then notice that it’s still raining.  At the same time.

I’m halfway done voting – although the most entertaining part, the ballot measures, is still to come.  The pro and con arguments are guaranteed to provide a few laughs.  I’ve never known anything except vote by mail, and I really like it.  I can stretch out the process, or get it over with.  Then I get to take it in to work and stick it in the ballot box.  It’s always fun, seeing all the people come into the library with their ballots.

Hmm, I’d hope that any self-respecting person dropping off a ballot at the library will have voted for the library ballot measure.  Honestly, I care more about that library district ballot measure than all the other issues – and candidates – put together.  My particular library will lose a significant chunk of funding over the next few years, unless it passes – but our 25% of funding is nothing compared to the libraries that will lose 50-80% of their funding (the rest of the funding comes from the invididual cities).  And it’s not like “oh, we want more money and if it doesn’t pass, we won’t be able to get raises/afford that remodel/increase our budget in proportion to the number of new users we’re getting.”  If the ballot doesn’t pass, we lose our current county funds.  A bunch of libraries will close.  The rest of us will probably cut back on hours and ordering, if not staff.

I get ticked off when I see letters to the editor against the measure – especially one today that talked about how we can’t vote for new taxes in these tough economic times.  Blah blah.  These tough economic times are exactly why our circulation goes up every month, and why there was a 25% increase in participation in the summer reading program.  We’re the place people go when they penny pinching.

Okay, enough of that.  I don’t think anyone reading this lives in my county, plus I’m preaching to the choir.  I’ll just shut up and put on my “vote for books” button.  And go check out a stack of stuff from the library.

By the way, Octavian Nothing II rules.  The vocabulary!  The sentence structure!  The characters!  Oh, the joy!

Impossible Impossible by Nancy Werlin

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
While this is technically a fantasy story, centering around the life of a teenage girl whose family has been cursed for generations, it really doesn’t feel like one. Sure, there are the three (or four) impossible tasks to be performed, and the devilish figure pulling the strings of the curse – but really, it’s a story about growing up. Most YA books have some coming-of-age element, but this one is about facing up to life, not prolonging your adolescence, and maturing due to strength of character and the obstacles faced. Werlin really does a fine job of combining a realistic present day story with the fantastic elements. Lucy’s relationship with her foster parents is completely believable, as is her relationship with her best friend, who, despite her limited time on the page, is delightfully rounded. Then there’s a swoony – but not idealized – romance. Lucy’s reactions to all the tough things in her life never feel melodramatic or trivialized. So, it’s all very well done. Plus, the plot moves along at a nice clip, and forgive the pun, but the book is “impossible” to put down – I read it in an evening.

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It’s a gray, dreary morning, and I keep thinking that it’s still the crack of dawn.  When really it’s after 9 am, and I should be doing something more productive than drinking coffee and reading blogs.  I have a stack of books to review, a story time to observe, pizza dough to make, plus it’s my turn to do the milk run.  With a couple other families, we take turns going out to the “country” to pick up raw milk for the week.  It’s a nice drive, once you get out of town, and you can say hello to the cows and then load up your coolers and head back to town to distribute the creamy goodness.  I like knowing where my milk comes from – plus it’s damn good.

Speaking of dairy animals, I was listening to some NPR podcast the other day (probably from months ago) and they were featuring a woman in Seattle who keeps an urban goat farm (I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one).  In the segment, she was making blackberry ice cream using all ingredients from her farm/neighborhood.  At one point you could hear the goat being milked, and it took me right back to visiting Kate, this time last year.  I remember her mentioning some radio segment that featured the everyday sounds of life – and she wanted to submit audio of a goat being milked.  It’s an awesome sound.  And now I can’t find the piece online.  Oh well.  Kate knows what it sounds like.

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.

A cold, drizzly October day calls for one thing – a pan of brownies.  Okay, two things – a pan of brownies and a few cups of coffee (or tea).  After adding a bajillion new books to my Goodreads to-read list, I set about making these Chocolate Zucchini Brownies.  I’ve been craving chocolate (when don’t I crave chocolate?) and it’s getting a bit chilly for ice cream, and lately I’ve eaten more than my fair share of chocolate chips straight from the bag.  So brownies it is.  I haven’t cut into them yet – any minute now – but I’m looking forward to it.

One of my favorite things about living here is that the mail carrier goes down the other side of the street first, so if I see the truck go past, I know I have a few minutes to finish up a letter, find that DVD that needs to go back, dig out the stamps, find my shoes, etc. and still get it into the box in time.  This is the life, I tell you.

I’m about to start listening to the new Kate Atkinson – whee!  And I have a pile of YA books that are calling my name.  Plus all those picture books to review.  It’s like a book orgy around here.

I’ve (inadvertantly, but this is what happens when you read a lot of YA) been reading a bunch of stories dealing with high school life lately.

First was Looks, which falls into the brutally honest category of high school fiction.
Looks Looks by Madeleine George

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of those books that takes a good hard look at what it’s like to be in high school. Although the story focuses on two girls at extreme ends of the weight spectrum, with the perspective shifting between them, it really captures all those timeless struggles of the high school student. Although eating disorders obviously play a role in the story, it never feels like an after school special, and the focus is not on whether the girls will change their eating habits, but on whether they will figure out how to be friends. Finely written and a quick read.

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I also listened to The Truth About Forever, set during summer vacation but with school issues as part of the story.
The Truth About Forever The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
A very enjoyable example of a realistic teen novel – probably with a girl audience. It’s realistic without being too gritty – you know things will work out well in the end, even though there’s a little heartbreak along the way. Macy is recovering – or not recovering – from her father’s sudden death a year before. It’s not until she makes a new group of friends through a summer job that she realizes how much she’s restricted herself in an attempt to try to be what her mother wants. The developing friendships with her coworkers are at the heart of the story – including, of course, a developing romance. But Macy and her sister also work through some things with their workaholic mother, and with how they will remember their father. Part funny, part sweet, this is an engrossing but not too challenging read. Probably appropriate for middle school up. There’s some drinking at parties, but the romance is positively chaste.

Finally, I’m listening to How I Paid for College by Marc Acito – which falls more into the slightly hysterical and absurd category of high school stories.  The deadpan delivery is great, but although the characters are often immature, this one is the most, um, “mature” in content.

End result?  As always, I’m glad high school is long gone.  I can muster a bit more nostalgia for my undergrad days, but I don’t see as many books about college as I do about HS.  Hmm…

For my children’s services class, we’re reading a banned book and then discussing how we would handle a challenge on this title.   This seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which I missed as a kid.  I missed ALL of Judy Blume as a kid, mostly because I didn’t really care for realistic stories.  I wanted old-fashioned stories, or magic and mystery.  Real life, right now?  Boring.  Give me On the Banks of Plum Creek over Ramona anyday.  Needless to say, these days I love realistic kids fiction.  I just don’t (sshhh) love Judy Blume.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Reading this for the first time as an adult, and as someone who is more likely to swoon over a children’s or young adult book than a grown-up book, I have to say that this one belongs to the pre-teens. Some books can capture adolescence perfectly, but also appeal to me as an adult. This one captured a few key aspects of adolescence perfectly, from questions about religion, to relationships with peers, to issues with your own body, and the writing was perfectly suited to the story. I think it’s a fantastic book for that audience of children who are dealing with those things – but I was bored with it. I’m trying to put my finger on why this title didn’t work for me, but something like Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree or A Crooked Kind of Perfect does work. It just didn’t have that extra something, or a zing to the writing, or a character that I was drawn to. I think this one is more a classic for the topics it covers, and its straightforward, approachable style than it is for its literary quality or memorable characters. And there’s room for both kinds of stories, thank goodness. You just won’t catch me rereading this one for fun.

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October 2008

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