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The Advent fast is always tricky, because you get a week or two into it and then you get this nice break for Thanksgiving.  Which, combined with the sudden influx of Christmas treats in the rest of the world, makes it really hard to get back to your rice and beans and cream-less coffee.  Which reminds me, I had this incredibly bittersweet moment this morning when I put vanilla soy milk in my coffee (I’ve been drinking it black, with a bit of sugar) and thought “hey, this tastes good!”  I shouldn’t think things like that.  It shows declining standards.  Anyway, it’s a pretty cushy fast, because we get fish every weekend.  Hello, sushi!  But then your mom makes beef stew and you sit, crying, into your incredibly dull tuna sandwich.

Food turns out to be the hardest part of living with one’s parents.  As in, the beef stew situation.  Also as in, Thanksgiving.  I always make a dessert or two – that’s my role in this family.  In the past, I’ve gotten up and, in the comfort of my own turkey-less kitchen, done my baking before heading over for the big dinner.  This year, though, I am the kitchen underdog.  I’m fighting for space.  Negotiations have begun.  Who wants to eat a cold, baked two days before chocolate bundt cake?  Not me.  I’ve been granted this incredibly tiny and inconvenient period of time in which to put a cake in the oven.  It’s not yet clear where I’ll be prepping this cake.  I might be found, around midnight the night before, in the kitchen baking.  So I can get the hell out of the way before the turkey invades.  It’s rough, I tell you.

I’ve read an awful lot of books this month.  Nineteen.  Not counting the one-sitting stuff I’ve read for class.  The fact that it’s taking me a few days to get through the very delicious Pretty Monsters is reassuring.  But my bookshelf overfloweth with things that I may or may not have a chance to read before I have to return them to the library – I’ve got:

  • Evan Ibbotson’s latest, Dragonfly Pool
  • The Time Thief, lent to me by Kitri ages ago
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • Hoot and Journey to the RIver Sea – I was going to use these for class, but didn’t
  • Tender Morsals by Margo Lanagan – not sure if it’s my cup of tea
  • Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff – one of the 2009 Oregon Reads titles
  • The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer and Black Box by Julie Schumacher, both for the Mock Printz
  • Judy Moody – for class
  • The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding, which looks super fun
  • Our White House, which I’m browsing through
  • Russell Banks’ The Reserve
  • Elizabeth McCracken’s An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination – which reminds me that I have a funny story to tell Lis
  • a book of Auden’s poetry
  • The Off Season and Mansfield Park on audio
  • Not to mention the books I’ve started and haven’t finished yet.  We won’t go there.

*Band name?

I’ve reached the overwhelming of the semester, when I’m swamped in books and I can’t remember which book I read for which class, or which class has which assignment (there’s a lot of overlap – each class is having me do 3 booktalks, for instance) or which assigment is due when.  My reaction, of course, is to sort of ignore school.  Um, maybe this is why it feels overwhelming…

Yesterday I was on this roll of gushing over things.  I was also in a very good mood generally, for no particular reason, and apart from the fact that I got no schoolwork done, yesterday was all happy and shiny.

  • I’ve been listening to Catherine Gilbert Murdoch’s Dairy Queen in the car – rereading it – and everytime I get out of the car, I’m sad to leave it behind.  It cracks me up, and all the little emotional moments totally suck me in.  What impresses me most about the book, though, is that it’s the only thing I’ve ever read that makes football seem remotely interesting.  Not like you’ll find me watching it anytime soon, but I can appreciate why someone might like to play.  Nothing short of a miracle, I tell you.
  • I made rice and beans for lunch, and it was like the best thing ever.  Weird, huh?  It’s That Time of Year again (actually, this happens many times a year), when meat and dairy are cut out of my diet.  Of course, in the True Spirit of the Fast, I then made a delicious loaf of pumpkin bread, going substitution crazy with coconut oil and egg replacer.  Somehow, in my mind, the fact that I used whole wheat flour makes it more “fast friendly.”  Um, yeah.
  • I discovered Adam Rex’s line of t-shirts (he of The True Meaning of Smekday, Pssst! and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich/Takes the Cake fame) and I am mighty fond of the Koobish shirt, although I can’t help wishing the Koobish were more prominent or that someone was biting off an ear (read Smekday).  But when I look at the J. Lo shirt, though, I can’t stop laughing (hey, Christmas is coming!)  Abraham SuperLincoln is nothing to sneeze at, either.
  • Finding Wonderland has had a really fab run of author interviews this week.  The interview with D.M. Cornish completely convinced me to pick up Foundling – how can I resist when he gives this answer to “what feeds that kind of mind”:

“The “Making of…” DVDs for the Lord of the Rings films and Star Wars are powerfully inspiring; Patrick O’Brian (whom I only began to read after a reviewer in the Washington Post mistakenly cited him as one of my influences), whose world building within the narrative is just awe-inspiring; real animals; odd moments; scenes glimpsed from a moving car; some odd bit of fact on the TV; any well-made movie (especially Stranger Than Fiction, Master & Commander, Anne of Green Gables, Pride & Prejudice BBC Version); history books; esoteric fact books; my favourite authors; music that sounds much like that of the Half-Continent; I am also rediscovering poetry at the moment through my friend and poet Aidan Coleman…”

  • Also good reads are the interviews with Elizabeth E. Wein and M.T. Anderson, whose books I don’t need to be convinced to read.
  • Somehow I ended up reading another interview with Wein, and I thought this comment of hers about the series in general really summed up why I find them so gripping: “I like to keep the tension cranked up even when there’s nothing going on.  None of my characters are ever safe.  Part of what I consider The Mark of Solomon to be about is how to live with fear.”
  • I started reading Melina Marchetta’s new Jellicoe Road, and either it has a very different feel from her earlier books, or I’m not remembering them well.  At any rate, I’ve been thoroughly confused about what’s going on for about the first half of the book, but simultaneously so intrigued – and emotionally involved – that I’m pushing through the confusion.  Or maybe it’s all me, and my brain turned to mush when I read Outlander. It’s a possibility.  (Side note: few things frighten me more than rabid fans who refuse to acknowledge flaws in a book, especially one that is fluff disguised as something more serious, but still strangely compelling, so that I can appreciate the fandom but its rabid nature.)  How did I get from Jellicoe Road to rabid fans in one paragraph?
  • That’s enough rambling for today.

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.

I thought I had to go to work at 11, but then I remembered I don’t have to be there until 12 and thought “yay!  Let’s waste some time on the internet!”  So here I am, drinking coffee and poking around.

Yesterday my good friend Lis was in town, and we borrowed baby Olivia for a while and got caught up and had a really garlicky lunch.  Poor baby O being carried around by a couple of garlic-breath aunties all afternoon!  She’s the most easy going baby – nothing phased her.  Unfortunately I never managed to get out my camera, being too busy talking and consuming garlic and trying to resist eating the baby for dessert.

BabelBabe wrote this post yesterday that had me agreeing all the way through – not only do we share a taste in books, but we have the same inherent laziness.  Sigh.  There are a lot of things I’ve done which might have turned out badly – I never had to work all that hard for the grades I got, I applied to one college and one grad school and got into both.  I tend to rent the first apartment/house I look at.  I’m not ambitious.  Not that I don’t have high standards – but I’ve never been the type to pull an all-nighter, literally or figuratively.  I only stay up past my bedtime to finish a book – or sometimes to bake.  I do have high standards when it comes to baked goods.  You won’t see me showing up at a church potluck with something I picked up at the grocery store.  So I guess I’m not a total sloth.  And I’ve read 13 books in the past 11 days.  So.

The atmosphere at the library yesterday was positively gleeful.  We were all sort of bubbly and bouncy, even the normally serious folks.  The ballot measure passing means a lot to my particular library, but it will mean even more to the libraries that rely on the county for 50-70% of their funding – and to the two cities that will get NEW libraries.  We hung a big dorky “thank you voters” sign above the circ desk, complete with streamers.  We all kept talking about how we didn’t believe the election results when we first saw them, that we all kept checking different sources and refreshing the county’s election results page in disbelief.  There was also one employee who couldn’t talk about Obama because she kept crying every time she tried.  It was a good day to be at work.

Today it’s back to my giant stack of books.  I finished Karen Hesse’s Brooklyn Bridge, which I’m still trying to sort out my thoughts on before I review it for class.  Last night I polished off Eva Ibbotson’s delicious The Secret of Platform 13.  Now I’m partway through Ella Enchanted, one fairy tale retelling that I’ve, shockingly, never read before – I’m really enjoying the premise.  I read Surviving the Applewhites over the weekend, and I was kind of disappointed.  I thought it was supposed to be funny – or maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood – but I kept wishing I were reading one of Hilary McKay’s books instead, because she does the quirky family thing so wonderfully.

In completely unrelated news, can you believe it’s November and I haven’t baked anything with pumpkin this fall?  Shocking.  I need to fix that.

I said before that in this election, the issue I’m most personally attached to is the Library Distrcit measure in my county.  It passes, we get secure funding – not just what we’re currently getting, which is adequate, but MORE funding.  It fails, they phase out the county funding and there are cuts at all the county libraries.

I didn’t get home from work until 10 pm, and all I caught on the radio was Obama’s win and some discussion of the statewide ballot measures.  I turned on the TV (I don’t think I’ve ever turned on the TV here before, it took me a minute to get it off the DVD setting) and watched some coverage for the fun/torture of it.  President elections always send me into flashbacks to the 2000 election, my first presidential election, when I was a sophomore in college and everyone in the dorms was super into the election.  We all stayed up way too late and still didn’t find out who won (and no one was very happy when they did find out).  Anyway, flashbacks.  This whole announcing a winner before bedtime thing throws me off!

The local news is scrolling Oregon results across the bottom, while people go blah blah blah on the screen, and then I see it – oh, sweet victory!  The Library District is passing by 61% – my new favorite number.


          Vote for  1
           Yes  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    36,812   61.10
           No.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .    23,435   38.90

I might manage to find a full-time job when I graduate afterall.  Okay, let’s not get too crazy here.  But I am feeling a great deal of affection for those 36,812 voters (that’s with 78% counted).  I’ll sleep well tonight.

Appropriately, I went to the library this afternoon for some school projects and I now have 71 items checked out – perhaps a personal record.  Just doing my part for stats…

My “currently-reading” shelf on Goodreads is actually accurate.  I can’t think of the last time this happened – there are usually a handful that I’ve finished but just don’t feel like reviewing (since joining Goodreads, I find it physically impossible to mark a book “read” until I’ve written at least a few words – I haven’t decided whether or not this is a good habit).  I suppose being caught up on something trivial like that is what happens when you spend a weekend on the couch, stuffed-up and achey.  I really don’t want to go to work today, but I haven’t called in sick because I’ve been feeling pretty good in the evenings.  It’s the mornings when I lay around and moan.  I also need to get out of the house.

I love that my classes are making me branch out and try new things.  Normally I would never have picked up a book like Nic Bishop Spiders – which relies on full-page, close-up photographs of spiders.  Eww.  While I’m not afraid of spiders, I’ve never enjoyed looking at close-ups.   But this book had me ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the colors (although I avoided looking to closely at the tarantulas) and reading spider facts out loud to whoever would listen.  If I enjoyed it, a spider fan would be in raptures.

I was similarly hooked by Team Moon – I’ve never been big into space and astronauts and all that, but like Spiders, the book was just so gosh-darned enthusiastic about the subject – and the text/photo combo presented the story so well – that the excitement was catching.

Between the two of these, I’m completely convinced to keep an eye out for other Sibert Medalists and honor books.  When non-fiction is good, it is very very good.

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

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
The action of Volume I: The Pox Party is summed up neatly in a broadside, allowing the plot of Volume II to stand on its own. The emotional content of this book, though, is probably better understood in light of the first book, but there’s enough going on here to completely occupy the reader.

Octavian, as a character, is a fascinating outsider in the world he occupies. He has the education of a well-to-do white man, he was raised as an object of scientific inquiry, but he also witnessed his mother’s horrific death and suffered his own indignities at the hands of Mr. Gitney and Mr. Sharpe. In some ways he is mature beyond his years, but he can’t bring himself to speak to a girl he admires. He is seen as a slave by most white men, both Royalist and revolutionary. He is seen as a pampered boy by many of his fellow former slaves in Lord Dunmore’s Ethiopian regiment. At times he brings a sense of history and philosophy to his situation, and at other times he is overcome by the world around him.

Not only is Octavian a fascinating character, but so are others around him. It’s an overwhelming example of historical fiction – overwhelming because it does not seem to impose our present day understanding on historical figures, but instead shows them as they were understood at the time. Both sides care only for the slaves in as far as they can further their cause. Nothing is glamorized or glorified. The language is amazing – and was the source, along with the character of Pro Bono, of a lot of the humor of the book. “I don’t cut so excellent a figure when I’m vomiting,” says Bono (or Private William Williams, as he is now known). “I bend from the waist, and it interrupts the line of beauty.”

At times the book is a delight to read – and at other times an agony. There’s action, and introspection, and views on the story from plenty of characters. We read Octavian’s testimony, his diary, letters between various characters, and the occasional document from real historical sources. “Sweet mercy in a firkin,” as Bono would say, this is a book worth reading. My own words can’t do it justice.

While it’s not an easy read, teens interested in realistic historical fiction or classics would find this a pleasant challenge. It is, at heart, an unusual coming of age story, concerned with an aspect of history that isn’t covered enough in school.

View all my reviews.

November 2008

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