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I stopped beating myself up about writing something about everything I read (quality over quantity being the idea) and instead I’ve been writing…nothing much. So here’s an attempt to dip my toes back into the water and make it fun again. These are all February reads that I haven’t already blogged about, but wanted to put out there as well worth picking up:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This one hardly needs more buzz, and books with buzz often end up being disappointing – but this is the exception. The buzz is not wrong, but it’s still best if you can set it aside and enjoy the book on its own merits. It’s funny and raw. Some readers have accused the book of doing exactly what the characters hate – somehow romanticizing kids with cancer or turning into entertainment – while others wonder whether teens actually talk and think this way. The second question bugs me because I want to see more characters like these – smart, intelligent teens who also act like teens. While I can’t claim to being this smart or well-read in high school, I would’ve eaten these characters up with a spoon because I would’ve wanted to read and think and discuss like them. There is nothing wrong with a high standard. The first question is trickier, and I won’t try to answer it except to say that it didn’t prevent me from finding the book emotionally and intellectually stimulating. Also, I started this on a dinner break at work, but for the love of dignity, read the second half alone, or around people who understand crying over books.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright. I listened to this one, as read by the incomparable Katherine Kellgren. It’s full of nods to the works of Charles Dickens, and he features as a character in the story, but they’re more extras than essential to enjoying this fun story of a cheese-loving cat and a band of mice. Fun, and especially recommended to fans of stories told from the perspective of  animal characters.

The Isle of Blood by Rick Yancey. I had this one checked out forever before picking it up, but I’m glad I did because it’s my favorite so far in the series. This one has all the appeal factors of the first two – Victorian style, gore, monsters, fabulous characters – but the relationship between Warthrop and Will Henry deepens in a way that caught me off guard. Will Henry is growing up! Plus, the whole monster chasing bit at the end had some great twists. Recommended to fans of the series, but you should really start with The Monstrumologist and go on from there.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos. You’ve got to listen to this one on audio if you’re an audiobook fan, because listening to Jack Gantos read you the story of Jack Gantos is perfection. His voice is quirky and distinctive and serves to highlight all the black humor. The cover does this a disservice, because the story is dark and funny and a bit rambling, but filled with a fascinating sense of history and place and childhood. The whole thing is awash in nosebleeds and dead old ladies, with some fantastic obituaries and an appearance by the Hell’s Angels. Just read it already. This year’s Newbery winner!

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. After something of a slow set-up (I was puzzled by the alternate chapters from different viewpoints for quite a while) the story gets going. It’s both suspenseful and ordinary, dealing with the disappearance of Cullen’s younger brother and the everyday despair of a dying small town. It’s also frequently funny, enough to keep the whole thing from dragging down, and has brilliantly realistic characters. Recommended for teens & adults who like stories that pack a punch without much action, and for readers who like character-driven stories. This year’s Printz and Morris winner!

I have a few longer reviews that I’ll post separately, and then we can move onto March and (sooner or later) my hesitant embrace of ebooks.

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I thought I’d do a little catch-up on what I read in November, since I haven’t been good about writing it all up as I go.  I posted about my slump a while back, and I don’t think I ever quite recovered from it – at least in terms of speed and quantity, although there have been a few great books along the way.

  • Icefall by Matthew Kirby – as I said before, this is pretty fabulous.  I loved the claustrophobic atmosphere and the way Kirby kept me guessing, even through the dramatic conclusion.  It’s not fantasy, but it as a lot of the same appeal factors in terms of world-building and tension.
  • The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout – a lot of fun, and it will be easy to recommend to young scifi/futuristic fans, but it was a let-down compared to Icefall.
  • After Hamelin by Bill Richardson – enjoyable, but it never quite caught me up in its magic (this one was for bookgroup).  Funny, though – last night I was talking to a now-college-student who was in the bookgroup long ago, before my time, and they read the book then, and it made such an impression on him that he told me about it out of the blue (while I was helping him try to remember historical fiction he’s read, for a class).
  • Marty McGuire by Kate Messner – an awesome, funny short chapter book that begs to be handed to young tom boys (and maybe the princessy girls, too, to see what life is like for other girls, and I think most boys would enjoy it, too).
  • A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todda character-driven mystery set in WWI, perfect for those of you waiting for the next Maisie Dobbs, or for people who like thoughtful historical mysteries in general.  I think I like this series more than Maisie.
  • Captive Queen by Alison Weir – here’s what I said in my Goodreads review: “Interesting enough to keep me reading, but it was never quite satisfying. Part of this is probably due to the fact that true stories don’t always make the best novels, but I had a hard time developing real interest in the characters. The sense of history and the world of Eleanor was great, but the rest was more mediocre. By the time I reached that conclusion, I was so far into the book that I figured I should just finish it.”
  • Strings Attached by Judy Blundell – I loved the atmosphere and mood, and found the characters intriguing.  The resolution felt a little disjointed and not as satisfying as I hoped.
  • An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd – back to the Bess Crawford series for another satisfying installment.  The fact that I love this time period doesn’t hurt, but I’m also drawn to the mysteries that are as much about human emotion as they are about solving crimes.
  • This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel – the only audio book I managed to finish in November (seriously?)  I didn’t give it the attention it deserved, since I listened while distracted at the gym, but what I did absorb I really enjoyed.  Goodreads review here.
  • Hidden by Helen Frost – this is off this year’s OLA/WLA Mock Newbery, which I will (sob) not be attending due to a previous engagement with (yay!) The Nutcracker and two young ladies who will see it for the first time.  However, I’m still trying to read through the list and I’m glad because otherwise I might have missed this one.  It’s gripping from page one and one of those verse novels that justifies its existence as a verse novel (ie, not just prose broken up randomly into shorter lines).
  • Tighter by Adele Griffin – which just made me think I should really get around to reading The Turn of the Screw (should I?)

And then suddenly it was December!  Yikes.  Time to sort out which Christmas traditions I can squeeze into our schedule (and a tiny apartment).  We skipped a tree last year, but I’m itching for a smallish one that will fit on the end table and hold a few of my lighter ornaments.  We have stockings to hang (off the bookshelf with cheer) and there will be Christmas cookies and a little party in the week between Christmas and New Years.  Just the words “little party” make me feel all warm and cozy (especially if there are cookies and leftover-from-the-wedding sparkling wine along with good company).  I just have to figure out how to fit more than four people at a time in the apartment.

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.

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.

I’m often torn between writing nice little reviews of what I’ve read, and just gabbing about books as I go along.  A more gossipy approach with a little critique thrown in – and today I’m in a gossipy mood.

I polished off three books last night, which sounds more impressive than it really was.

  • The Curse of the Wendigo by Rick Yancey, the sequel to last year’s Printz Honor book The Monstrumologist. Horror’s not really my cup of tea, and in this one the gore was less concentrated in a few key scenes and more generally spread out through the book, but never anything I couldn’t handle.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from a sequel, even though the first one definitely set itself up as the first in a series – would it follow the same basic pattern of Will & the doctor chasing a monster?  Yes and no – the doctor doesn’t believe they are chasing a monster, describing the wendigo as a fiction and decrying fellow monstrumologists for believing it be real.  We see more of the doctor’s background, and the story becomes a little more personal.  Along with that, it’s also a little bit more depressing at the end.  The story has enough resolution but leaves you hanging on larger questions about Will’s identity.
  • Janis Joplin: Rise Up Singing by Ann Angel – I picked this up when it made YALSA’s shortlist for the Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults (what a mouthful!)  My sister has been a Janis fan for as long as I can remember, and certain of her songs are completely linked with certain memories for me, so reading the book had me pulling out her music and singing along.  I didn’t know much about her life, and Angel’s biography provides just enough information to give you a sense of both her personality and the time and culture in which she lived, without ever overwhelming the reader with information.  Short enough to read in one sitting on the couch, but enough depth to come away with a new appreciation for her music.  The book also has a fantastic design with easy-to-read columns and the rest of the page taken up with psychedelic designs.  The pictures were fascinating, but I would’ve liked just a few more (although that may have been an issue of getting rights).
  • After I finished Janis, I remembered that I’d never quite finished the last chapter of They Called Themselves the KKK by Susan Campbell Bartoletti – another YALSA finalist that was also on this year’s Mock Newbery list and Mock Printz list.  So I whipped that out and polished off the last chapter and browsed through the timeline, notes and afterward.  It’s definitely an impressive work of scholarship, but I didn’t find it quite as gripping as her Hitler Youth from a few years ago, and I thought it was interesting that she left the story of her visit with a contemporary Klan group until the very, very end of the back matter.  I can respect that she left it out of the main book, since it’s not really within the scope of the book, but I wonder if any more casual reader would ever find it, stuck in after her extensive bibliography?  The writing is strong, though, and I learned more than I ever did in school about Reconstruction and the challenges faced by all sides.  The book also does a great job of showing the effects of individuals on history – from choices made by politicians to the decisions of ordinary people.

I’m not quite sure how the last two weeks slipped by without a post, but it’s sure not for lack of things to write about.  I spent a few days in California visiting Bronwen and Kate, and came back with lots of pictures of Linnea and some of the grown-ups in the kitchen, which is where we quite happily spent a lot of our time.  (I still need to go through the pictures and upload the best of the bunch.)  Bronwen and I caught up on some Long Distance Kitchen recipes that we’d both neglected and we shopped for unusual grains, and at Kate’s we were treated to tuna that Keith caught, fresh chanterelles and enormous oysters, and of course some extremely local bacon (as in, from their pigs).

I’ve also neglected to talk about all the mock awards I’m going to this year – I’ve done one or two each year for the past few years, but this year I’m doing the triumvirate of mock awards: Mock Newbery, Mock Caldecott, and Mock Printz.  Hooray!  I love mock awards.  The tricky part is making sure you squeeze in all the books around the rest of your reading.  Fortunately the Mock Printz isn’t until January, and the Mock Caldecott books are short.  Here are the lists for anyone who’s curious or wants to follow along at home:

Mock Newbery

  • The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan. Illustrated by Peter Sis. Scholastic, 2010.
  • Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Josee Masse. Dutton, 2010
  • The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Balzer & Bray, 2010.
  • The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrated by Angela Barrett. Candlewick, 2010.
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia. HarperCollins, 2010.
  • They Called Themselves the KKK: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. Houghton Mifflin, 2010.
  • Woods Runner by Gary Paulsen. Wendy Lamb, 2010.

I’ve read them all except They Called Themselves the KKK (which is also on the Mock Printz list), but so far I’ve only written about the ones I linked above.  My favorite so far is still One Crazy Summer (and I recently finished listening to the audio version and thought it was even better on rereading).  I’m also partial to The Night Fairy and I’d vote for The Dreamer, too.

Mock Printz

  • They Called Themselves The K.K.K.: The Birth Of An American Terrorist Group. Bartoletti, Susan Campbell.
  • Spies Of Mississippi: The True Story Of The Spy Network That Tried To Destroy The Civil Rights Movement. Bowers, Rick
  • Incarceron. Fisher, Catherine
  • Finnikin Of The Rock. Marchetta, Melina
  • As Easy As Falling Off the Face Of The Earth. Perkins, Lynne Rae
  • Fever Crumb. Reeve, Philip.
  • Revolver. Sedgwick, Marcus.
  • The Last Summer Of The Death Warriors. Stork, Francisco X.
  • Nothing. Teller, Janne
  • A Conspiracy Of Kings. Turner, Megan Whalen. (I actually never wrote about this book – WHAT? – but what I said about the rest of the series holds true for this one.)

I still need to read Nothing, Revolver, As Easy as Falling off the Face of the Earth, Spies of Mississisppi, and They Called Themselves the KKK. In an ideal world, I would also reread A Conspiracy of Kings and Finnikin of the Rock, although not back-to-back like I did initially (Finnikin suffered).  While it would take a miracle for anything to supplant COK in my affections, I do owe Finnikin a fair shot.  I also just got Incarceron on audio – I don’t know if I’ll listen to the whole thing, but I wanted to have it a little fresher in my mind before the discussion and before Sapphique comes out at the end of December.  In a flash of brilliance, I just put the audio version of Finnikin on hold, and hopefully I can squeeze that in.

Mock Caldecott (I left this list at work, but let me see if I can remember it)

  • City Dog, Country Frog
  • Mama Miti
  • Dave the Potter
  • Paris in the Spring with Picasso
  • Henry in Love
  • Dust Devil
  • Art & Max
  • The Extraordinary Mark Twain
  • The Boss Baby

I’m sure I’m forgetting one, but my mind is blank.  Right now my favorite is City Dog, Country Frog – not only because I just plain love it, but also because I it’s most effective at being a picture book.  I mean, I can pore over the illustrations in Mama Miti or admire the genius of Art & Max, but neither of these has that seemingly effortless combination of pictures, text and story.  The award is for “the most distinguished American picture book” and to me, this one fits the bill.  Some of the others might have more extraordinary illustrations, but this is a picture book that really has “a collective unity of story-line, theme, or concept, developed through the series of pictures of which the book is comprised.”  And yes, I don’t think it’s in the criteria but I’ll admit a preference for books that make good read-alouds.

Let’s see if I can get through the rest of last month, shall we?  Because I’m already looking ahead to what I’ll be reading in November and December as I start digging into the Mock Newbery and Mock Printz lists for this year, plus I’d like to take a stab at the National Book Award nominees in the young people’s literature category (last year I read everything except Stitches, which I flipped through but never managed to finish).

  • The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork.  This one’s on the Mock Printz, and I think rightly so.  The characters are absolutely fascinating and drive the story in all their glorious complexity.  Plenty of issues at play, but a good amount of humor, too.  I wish I’d written about this one while it was still fresh in my mind.
  • Fat Vampire by Adam Rex.  This is the kind of funny book that begs to be read aloud – especially to someone nerdy who will get all the jokes.  The send-up of vampire fiction is a good antidote to all the overly dramatic stuff.  If the plot goes a little wonky, who cares – I was too busy enjoying the ride.
  • The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness.  I thought I’d reread this middle volume in the Chaos Walking trilogy before embarking on Monsters of Men, and I’m glad I did.  The first time I was anxious to see what would happen, and this time I was less concerned with plot (and pace – it’s much slower than The Knife of Never Letting Go) and could focus more on character and how Ness was setting things up for the final volume.  Intense stuff, but definitely recommended to fans of dystopian fiction.
  • Amulet: Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi.  It had been too long since I read a graphic novel, and this one is on this year’s ORCA list – another list that I’d like to hopefully maybe work my way through before voting in the spring (even though I’m not a “young reader” and therefore not eligible to vote, the list is a great resource for recommending books to kids and to suggest to my bookgroup, since we have multiple copies on hand already).  It’s fast-paced and fantastical, with rich full-color pictures.  It’s a story that could have been told as a regular novel, but the graphic format lets you soak in all the strange creatures and landscapes without slowing things down.  It’s the beginning of a series, and some issues are left hanging while others are resolved – a good compromise.
  • The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West.  I would’ve loved this book as a kid – a spooky old house, pictures that you can crawl through into a shadow world, a down-to-earth heroine who tries to stay out of trouble, and the kind of fantasy where the real and the magical mix in unexpected ways.  It bills itself as book one in the Books of Elsewhere, but things are pretty wrapped up at the end, so I’m curious to see where West goes next.
  • Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson.  Why on earth did I never read these books as a child?  I feel deprived.  I’d heard a few people mention them, and then I saw that they were being republished this year.  My library had one elderly copy of one of the books, so I decided to get the whole set.  Then I figured I should try one myself, and I’m glad I did.  Funny, in the sense that you often laugh at the characters, and fun in an old-fashioned adventurous sort of way.  I itched to read them aloud – they’d be great for a family read-aloud.

Ta-da!  Now I’d better start catching up on Long Distance Kitchen again – I’ve been cooking but not posting, and I’m actually about to run off and make some Roasted Vegetable Minestrone if anyone wants to join in.

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